Notes on a Tour in Progress

The Verandah Cafe, a popular spot on the Lusitania.

The Veranda Cafe, a popular spot on the Lusitania.

So, my new book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, has now launched, and the reception has been amazing. I just finished the first leg of my very long book tour, which took me from Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., to Odyssey Books in Northampton, Mass., to Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, to Gibson’s in Concord, NH, to Northshire, in Manchester, Vt., and then back to NYC via the Taconic State Parkway, which, may I say, is the second-most-beautiful road in America, after my beloved California State Route 1, the Coast Highway.

As many of you know, I hate flying. I am six-foot-two and claustrophobic, and prone to panic at 40,000 feet. Happily, this leg consisted of me driving from place to place. I’ll take road rage over high-altitude thunderstorms any day. I love driving long-ish distances. I always turn on NPR, and always get a road coffee, sometimes a little road food. (Quarter Pounders and Egg McMuffins, you know who you are.) I was a bit bummed today. I stopped at a Mobil station in Bennington, Vt., to ask how to get to the Taconic, because my GPS was having a bad day—it refused to pull up addresses in Manhattan, where I now live. The young woman at the register was very sweet, and pulled up directions on her computer, though when I told her my GPS troubles and the lack of Manhattan addresses, she said, well, maybe New York isn’t there anymore, which made me look at her twice and check for white robes and end-of-days memorabilia. Admission! It also drove me to check CNN on my iPhone as soon as I got into my car. What truly bummed me, though, was that the store had sold out of Hostess Ho-Ho’s. I know, I know, I feel your pity and I embrace it. I had to get Hostess Devil Dogs instead, which are essentially chocolate Twinkies. I devoured them reluctantly. Hmm, can one devour things reluctantly?

I measure the miles by food and drink. In Rhinebeck, the Beekman Arms—which bills itself as the oldest inn in America—has an incredibly cozy bar. I half-expected Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings, to walk in with a bunch of Hobbits. In Boston, I stayed at the Charles, one of my all-time favorite hotels, and on the morning of my departure had one of the best breakfasts ever, their “Red Flannel Hash” with two poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. From there I traveled to the Centennial Hotel in Concord, N.H.. The restaurant at the Centennial is terrific. I had a light dinner before my evening talk—a half order of the duck. Half order. My word. The duck was to die for, which in fact the duck did die for, and for which I honor the duck. Later in the evening, over drinks with Michael Hermann, owner of Gibson’s Books, and his wife, I also had the gnocchi appetizer, which was amazing. Next day I drove to Manchester, Vt., and stayed at the Reluctant Panther, an excellent inn. Before my talk, I had a glass of white wine and an order of pork belly. This was no ordinary pork belly. This was bliss. I wanted to stay and have eight more courses and waddle up to my room, the Library Suite, and continue reading Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, one of dozens of “Great Books” in the room.

That’s the problem with book tours—you stay at so many great places but just when everyone else is having dinner and sipping wine by candlelight, you’re out doing a book talk and by the time you get back to the hotel, the restaurant is closed! Which, by the way, is why God made potato chips.

The tour thus far has also led me to try to codify what makes a hotel really good. So, bear with me, here are Larson’s First and Second Laws of the Hospitality Industry:

First Law: The quality of a hotel is directly proportional to the quality of the glassware set out in each room. In one hotel, there was no glassware. At least, none that was made of glass.

Second Law: The quality of a hotel is inversely proportional to the complexity of the manner in which the cleaning staff is required to fold the hand towels. Earth to a certain hotel in Florida: You do NOT have to make your cleaning staff fold your towels into the shape of a sea turtle. A golden retriever, yes. But not a sea turtle.


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Erik Larson is the author of six previous national bestsellers—The Splendid and the Vile, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm— which have collectively sold more than twelve million copies. His books have been published in nearly forty countries.

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