A little over a week ago we hit the road for our holiday vacation. All of the preparations were done. At 7 am, as planning, I pulled the car out of our driveway for the 560 mile drive to our hotel on the I-95 corridor in Savannah, Georgia. We have been doing these holiday road trips since 2012, driving the approximately 1,000 miles from our house in Virginia to Kelly’s mom’s house in the southern gulf coast of Florida. We didn’t do the holiday trip last year because of Covid–the first time we’d not gone down to Florida for the holidays since 2009, when Zach was an infant.
We generally do drives like these in two days, with the first day being the longer day. Back when the kids were younger, we did them in 3 days, but now, we like getting to our destination as quickly as possible. It was unseasonably warm when we left the house, the temperature right around 50°F. I prefer it to be cold with a light snow flurry when we leave. It makes it that much more fun when we cross the St. Mary’s river from Georgia into Florida the following morning, and I roll down the window and feel the warm air in December.
The first day’s drive takes about 9 hours, depending on traffic. I drive the whole way. Kelly acts as “cabin resource management.” The kids have their phones and iPads and plenty to entertain themselves. Over the years, we’ve taken to packing food with us on the initial day so that we can minimize stops. I look forward to these drives because it means I can get in a lot of reading–audio books, of course. Indeed I got nearly 7 hours of listening time in on the first day, with just over 5 hours on the second.
There are a number of books I’d planned on reading while on vacation. I’ve already written how I planned to spend some time in Florida with Mel Brooks. For the drive, I decided to go back to the early days of my audio book reading, way back in February 2013, and look at books that I’d obtained but never read, or never finished. I picked two to get me down to Florida: Life Itself by Roger Ebert and Dracula by Bram Stoker. The latter I had read back in 2013, but it was a blur in my mind and I felt I needed to read it again for clarity.
I actually started Life Itself a day or two before we left for our vacation. I remember ordering it–it had to be one of the first 10 audio books I’d ever gotten–back in 2013, but for some reason, after ordering it, I never got around to reading it. I’m so glad that I did. Ebert’s memoir is wonder and insightful, especially in light of the illness that plagued him in the final years of his life. I love reading books about journalists (for instance, Ida Tarbell, Ben Bradley) and Ebert was a newspaperman through and through. I loved his descriptions of the people he knew, and especially enjoyed his descriptions of travel all over the world. I also picked out some of the advice he gave by way of example. For instance, writing about his newspaper days, Ebert said,
Lyon watched as I ripped one sheet of copy paper after another out of my typewriter and finally gave me the most useful advice I have ever received as a writer: “One, don’t wait for inspiration, just start the damned thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it’s going?”
The first of these confirmed for me what I do here on the blog. It is impossible (for me at least) to have new inspiration every day. Some day, I feel like I have no good ideas to write about. But the show must go on, so I pick a less inspired idea, and set about writing. In summing up this advice, Ebert writes,
These rules save me half a career’s worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town. I’m not faster. I spent less time not writing.
That last is pure gold, especially in these days of distractions and the accompanying distraction-free writing tools. If there is a single explanation to how I manage to write every day on the blog, and to produce well over 300,000 words a year here it is this: I try to spend less time not writing.
I finished Roger Ebert’s memoir somewhere in northern North Carolina, and almost without pause, started listening to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The edition that I am listening to has an “all star” cast that includes Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren, Susan Duerden, John Lee, Graeme Malcolm, and Steven Crossley. Normally, I’m not fond of “full cast” audio book performances, but Dracula‘s epistolary form lends itself to this perfectly. It is a joy just to listen to.
It also reads as a remarkably modern novel with suspenseful story-telling, and engaging characters. There are things that are still not entirely clear to me, a how Van Helsing knows so much about vampires in the first place, but I can set that aside as unessential in favor of the story itself. It is not a monster story, it is not the stories portrayed in the Christopher Lee movies I used to watch on Saturday afternoons on Creature Double Feature in the early 1980s. Instead, it is the story of science and technology overcoming darkness
The book took me through North Carolina. Our brief stop in Fayetteville for gas and a restroom break was rushed because I wanted to get back to the story. South Carolina was a blur, for I had by then left Transylvania and made my way back to London. The following morning, a we crossed from Georgia into Florida, I witnessed the sad demise and destruction of Lucy Westenra and the chilling scene in the crypt.
We arrived at our destination with just over 2 hours left in the book. I was tired from two days and 1,000 miles of driving, but as I went to sleep, I drifted off looking forward to how Mina and Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing, Seward, Morris and the others would ultimately defeat the Count.
These were great road trips books. Not all of them are. And since the drive home always seems longer than the drive down, I am already trying to figure out what books would make good companions for our return.
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