When I arrived in Timonium on Thursday afternoon for the Maryland Horse World Expo, the thermometer had dipped well below freezing, the forecast called for snow, and I was battling a nasty cold virus.
In the lobby of my motel, the desk clerk watched me roll my suitcase up to the counter, where I’d reserved a room for the expo book signing of my novel, “Full Mortality.”
When I reached the counter, I didn’t like the expression on the clerk’s face.
“Our computers are down,” she said.“I can’t check you in. You could try coming back in about four hours.”
I forced a smile, shrugged, and headed for the “Cow Palace” exhibit hall at the Maryland State Fairgrounds where, on Friday, I would share part of a booth with a jewelry seller named Lynne Shpak. Outside the state fair buildings, cars, trucks, horse trailers and expo attendees mobbed the parking lot. People mostly had their heads down, trailing white breath as they hurried to get indoors.
Inside, I found Lynne’s booth and was happy with the small spot she’d assigned me on an aisle near the entrance. Not so happy about the set of eight fire doors facing my table only twenty feet away. Daylight showed plainly between each set of doors and through gaps at the bottom. My feet froze at the sight.
Suck it up, Sasscer. How bad could it be?
After successfully checking into my hotel room that night, I crashed. Friday morning, I peeked through the curtains and discovered both the parking lot and my car were covered in about two inches of snow and ice. It could be worse, I told myself.
I put my outer-gear on over my pajamas and went out to warm up the car, only the doors were frozen shut. With temperatures in the teens, I pounded with the sides of my fists until I broke the ice seal on one rear door, and yanked it open. Crawling inside, I poured myself upside down from the back seat into the front seat, twisted upright, and started the car. After hammering the driver door open from the inside with my feet, I left the car idling, fans and heaters at full blast, white exhaust pluming in the frigid air.
Back in my room, I loaded up on hot coffee, warm clothes and makeup, then proceeded to back my old Lincoln into a hydrant the Fire Department had thoughtfully left jutting out on a concrete peninsula. The hydrant looked okay, so I kept driving.
After parking at the Horse Expo, I opened the trunk of my car and an avalanche of snow fell through the crack between the rear window and the open trunk lid. The whole mess landed on my open box of my books, and I might have used a bad word.
Fortunately, it was so cold, the ice didn't melt onto the book covers. Using a towel, I dusted the crystals from each book, then dragged the carton and other supplies into the Cow Palace. After two hours, I’d sold one novel and was ready to commit bookacide. Hawking my book caused a sore throat, and my cold was blossoming like deadly nightshade.
Though freezing, our booth location received plenty of traffic and sales picked up later that day. Two expo booksellers even agreed to buy copies of FULL MORTALITY and added the novel to their book shelves.
The wind howled most of Friday, January 21, and sucked the heat from the overhead space heaters out through the fire doors, simultaneously pulling the biting cold in. The draft pierced my snow boots and gnawed at my feet. It could only get better right?
Saturday morning a large water main in Timonium burst, and at noon, the city shut off the water supply to the fair grounds. There were hundreds of horses at the expo, tons of people, food services and toilets that no longer worked.
Water was trucked in for the horses, and rollbacks brought in a load of Porta Potties and dumped them outside the Cow Palace. By the time I used one, it was nineteen degrees outside, dark and the “potty” so dimly lit inside that I repeatedly bumped against the little plastic urinal sticking out on the side. This made me want a bath, but, of course, there was no water.
An additional problem I call “Firedoor Woman,” liked to use the big emergency-exit-only doors every time she snuck a cigarette.
When I’d see her ready to bust out, I’d yell, “Don’t open those doors!”
She ignored me totally, but the cold she let in didn’t ignore me at all. Previously suicidal feelings turned homicidal, but I restrained myself throughout the rest of Friday.
In my room that night, I carefully set a combination on the room safe, made sure it worked and locked my jewelry inside.
Saturday morning the combination wouldn’t work, and I had to wait for a maintenance man to unlock the safe. It only took him five seconds to open up, and my new plan is to hide the valuables safely beneath the mattress.
At the fair grounds, life improved. The water was on, and I had a serious talk with Firedoor Woman. Finding her in her booth, I said, “Are you the person who keeps darting out the fire doors?”
“Yeah,” she said, not looking at me.
Voice calm, I explained to her that it was cold outside and that it might be a good idea to use the main entrance doors instead. I was spoiling for a fight, and she knew it. Though she refused to look me in the eye, she never busted out the fire doors again. At least not while I was there.
Later, a gal named Paige came by the booth to tell me she’d read FULL MORTALITY last summer, that she’d loved it, and couldn’t wait for the next in the series to come out. Moments like this keep me going against all odds.
Another gal stopped by with a Pomeranian she’d rescued. When she let me hold the little dog, the day warmed up even more. Later, I visited a man who hand-rolled roasted almonds into a hot butter and sugar sauce. Yum, life is good.
By five on Saturday, I’d sold forty-seven books, met a lot of really nice people, and was beyond ready to head home. I trucked everything out to the car only to discover someone had blocked me in.
In the end, I got home safely without committing a crime against the obstructive car owner, and finally got up the nerve to examine my car for fire hydrant damage. Wow! Just a smidgeon of red paint on the bumper. It could have been worse, right?