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Author Archive: "Tom Vanderbilt"

Crosstown Traffic

The strangest thing about being on morning TV these days, in my opinion, is the strange "robo-cameras" that seem to have taken over. There you are, sitting at some couch with an affable morning host, when these giant cameras, a bit like Daleks or some such (can I get some Doctor Who love out there?), come sweeping over, on their accord, fixing their mute, malevolent gaze upon you. Then, when you're done pitching your book in three minutes, the lights go up, and the cameras rotate silently to face the weather guy. I suppose these are cheaper in the long run than actual camera-men, and it's not like the filming is demanding or anything, but it's just... unsettling. Another strange thing is that, due to budget squeezes at many stations, hair and makeup is a thing of the past. Rooms marked "men" and "women" sit empty, their mirrors no longer reflecting the gaze of the procession of dog trainers, cookbook writers, and sundry guests who wake too early to appear too peppy to an ...


A few other entrants in this Powell's blogging tradition seem to have obsessed a bit about the book tour process. I now understand why. When you're in it, it becomes all consuming. There is no night, there is no day, there is simply another interview. It's a world of "hit times," call sheets, air dates, signing stock. Ambitious plans to explore host cities, catch up with old friends — all get tossed aside in favor of a terry robe and room service. I've not watched one moment of the Olympics, only the bits I've seen on the news segments showing on the monitors in those morning studios as I wait to go on. I've not even managed to really read the newspaper — is there anything else going on in the world beyond Traffic and its selling? But, as Allan Gurganus put it, in a good article by Ann Patchett in the Atlantic, the only thing worse for a writer than going on book tour is not going on book tour.

Today, in Seattle, I had the strange experience


Traffic at the Airport

It's hard not to have traffic on my mind wherever I go now. Earlier today, I arrived at Newark's Liberty Airport rather quickly, in part because my taxi driver had chosen to take the Staten Island route to the airport, rather than brave the Holland Tunnel (this after careful consultation of his nav device).

Newark, in August, is bedlam.> Just looking down one of the long hallways on concourse C is to imagine one's self on a broad avenue, thrumming with flows of pedestrians. In the middle, there are people-movers, rather like divided highways. On those people-movers, there are similar moments of awkwardness and frustration as is found on the road, involving confusion over direction, social norms, experienced travelers versus newcomers. People-movers were really meant to be walked on, but some choose to stand, and as "slower traffic" they are meant to stand to the right, but alas, they don't always do so. There can even be subtle conflict between people walking in the passing lane and the faster traffic behind. The moments between people-movers are rather like those "passing zones" one ...

The Depths of Nowhere

In a hugely flattering review in the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley noted that Traffic "is one of those rare books that comes out of the depths of nowhere." While I rarely seek to qualify praise from others, I would note that Traffic, like any book, really, comes from any number of definable somewheres. In this case, it's a mountain of reports, transcripts, notes, travels, random musings, and, of course, many books that in some way explored the very topics I'm writing about.

Given that I'm blogging for Powell's, a place whose delights are well familiar to me — and these delights exploded into new abundance on my last trip to Portland, when I discovered, belatedly, the myriad wonders of Powell's Technical Books, just around the corner from the main store, a place filled with curious books, gadgets, toys, etc., like the cottage of an eccentric uncle found on the far edge of the grounds of the main estate — I thought it would be useful to take a ...

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