Here’s one of those “It could only happen on an RV book tour” kind of stories. And even though I should be taking a nap right now (I need it!), I can’t sleep because I really want to – NEED to – tell this story.
I’ve been sick – as in two trips to the ER, it’s going to cost me over 10 grand sick – so I thought I better find someone to help me do the 1,400-mile-drive from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas. (Actually, I did have someone lined up but a broken front tooth took her out of the running.) The deal for the co-driver was I pay for all their meals and their one-way airline ticket. I emailed a few unemployed people I know in LA to see if they could spare a few days off. In LA, it’s not too hard to find film editors and actors and other creative types in between gigs. But as a back up, I also posted a want ad on my Facebook business page, TheWorld Needs More Pie. Within five minutes, Barbara Fascat Szendrey, a woman in Austin – my destination – volunteered her husband. She even suggested flight times. I didn’t think I could get an affordable one-way ticket from Austin to LA at the very last minute, and I wasn’t even sure her husband would say yes, but lo and behold, everything fell perfectly into place all within an hour of that Facebook post.
My parents drove me to LAX the next evening to pick up Paul Szendrey, Barbara’s husband, who had been a longtime follower of my blog, ever since I lived in Terlingua, Texas. Since before Marcus died. I had never met him in person. But I have learned the ways to build trust in strangers, especially when the relationship centers around pie. It worked so beautifully last summer when Facebook friend Sue from Allentown, Pennsylvania, flew to Iowa to spend a week working with me at my Pitchfork Pie Stand. We had never met in person, but after five days spent in the American Gothic House drinking coffee at the kitchen table by morning, making pie by afternoon and eating dinners outside on the back patio by night, we cried at the airport when we had to say goodbye.
|My dad holds the sign like a glorified limo driver.|
Except limo drivers don't smile nearly as much.
At LAX, my mom dropped off my dad and me while she drove off to find parking. I had told Paul, “You’ll recognize me because I’ll bring the ‘FREE PIE’ sign.” My dad held the sign as I searched the throngs of passengers streaming into the baggage claim area. Many of them smiled when they saw the sign. Or gave us the thumbs up. That alone made for a fun and interesting way to spend an evening at one of the world’s busiest airports. And then we saw Paul. Or he saw us. We exchanged warm welcoming hugs and soon we were giving him a tour of the beach communities, pouring him a martini, and putting him to bed in preparation for the next morning’s departure back East.
|That's Paul, left, and my dad, right. With waffles, far left!|
Oh, and Paul's tiny travel companion, Ribirto the Frog.
We had a nice send off of a hearty breakfast of waffles, bacon and eggs – Thank you, Mom! – and off we went in The Beast. Riverside, Palm Springs, Blythe, Phoenix, Tuscon…we checked off the cities as the miles clicked by and the gas gauge dipped lower. The following line became our constant refrain: “I wish we had more time to stop and check this place out,” as we passed wilderness areas and mountain ranges and rock formations and Joshua trees and Saguaro cactus fields.
|Thumbs up to this Benson, Arizona KOA campground.|
Especially the classical music playing in the clean showers.
We stopped overnight at a KOA Campground in Benson, Arizona, so we could “refresh” the RV (i.e.: empty the waste tanks and refill the water tanks). And since the water heater hasn’t been working this entire six-week book tour, we used the campground’s showers, which was an unusual treat because not only were they spotlessly clean, they had piped in classical music. While I think this is a very nice touch, I can’t say it helps in their desert water conservation. Because I was enjoying the music so much I took an extra long shower! Just saying.
When we passed through El Paso and then came to Van Horn, Texas, I managed to keep the grief pangs at bay. This was where one takes the turn off to Big Bend National Park. It's my old travel turf from that summer, the summer of 2009. The summer I rented that miner’s cabin in the Chihuahua Desert. The summer I was working on my pie memoir, the first version. The summer Marcus died. I was in love with that part of Texas. I still am. I felt the longing to go back. To take the exit south. To breathe in the wide open space. To gaze at the black sky filled with a billion stars. But in this case our refrain was probably a blessing. “Too bad we don’t have time to stop.”
|Soaking my feet in the Llano River, while Team Terrier swims.|
In fact, we were pushing so hard to get to Austin with so little time, we didn’t even stop for a proper meal until the third day of the journey, when we reached Llano, Texas. “There’s a good barbeque place,” Paul insisted. But when we arrived it was only 10:30AM. The place, Cooper’s Texas BBQ, didn’t open until 11. We found an easy solution. We walked Team Terrier first, discovering by accident the Llano River and an ideal place for the dogs to swim – and for me to soak my feet. This was a luxury. Anytime I've had a chance to just sit still and take in a dose of nature has been a luxury on this 6-week trip.
|Cooper's BBQ. A must-stop on any RV tour!|
And then, at last, a meal. A big meaty, saucy, Texas-size meal. Oh. My. God. Yum!
Meanwhile, back in Austin, Barbara (Paul’s wife), had been texting and sending photos of what she had been doing to pass the time while her husband was driving me, my two terriers and my RV across the country. She had been baking pies! Barbara had just retired from her job as a sheriff’s department supervisor. She had also just read my book, “Making Piece.” She had never made a homemade pie crust before. Nor had she made any of the kinds of pies I write about in my story. My book is a memoir, not a cookbook, but I do include five recipes in the back, recipes that have direct relevance to the story. So while Paul and I were rattling down the highway at 60 miles per hour, Barbara was banging around in her kitchen making pie after pie after pie. She made the ones included in my book and several others, so by the time Paul and I pulled up in the driveway, we were greeted with EIGHT different pies to try!
Barbara saw us approaching – you can’t miss The Beast when it motors down a cul de sac – and rushed out to greet us. Another warm hug was exchanged with a woman who was previously a stranger, who is clearly now a friend.
|Barbara Szendrey's Pie Experiment Extravaganza!|
A whopping success!
I sat in the Szendrey’s kitchen – perched on a bar stool at the island where all the pies were lined up as if it were the Iowa State Fair – and proceeded to sample slices of each of her creations. In this order I ate the following: coconut cream, French silk, peach, apple, Shaker lemon, peanut butter, Tollhouse Cookie, and something called Jeff Davis, which is a buttermilk custard pie. There was no banana cream, but I didn’t say anything, as I had enough to fill my belly as it was! And the verdict? Every single bite was amazing, stupendous, mind blowing! This was damn impressive pie!
“Barbara,” I insisted in between gobbling down bites and moaning with approval. “It’s clear you are too young and energetic to retire. I know what you are going to do.” I looked up from my pie plates and smiled at her. “You are going to open a pie shop.”
I don’t know if she will. But I hope she does. What I do know is that I’m so very grateful to this Texas couple I met on Facebook. I am grateful, once again, for the community building, connecting powers of pie. I’m also grateful my health is returning and that The Beast is still holding together for its final leg of the trip. (I'm on my third roll of duck tape. And Paul made some repairs, donating six screws and some caulking to keep one of the side walls from falling off.) This time next week I will be parked at the American Gothic House, where I will be making a few pies of my own. The Pitchfork Pie Stand opens May 26.