Dorsey: To tour or not to tour …Written by John Dorsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who has hung out with me during the past several years knows that I’ve toured the country in pursuit of small press literary celebrity and just enough cash to buy my next hamburger at Rally’s. I’ve always done it with a sense of humor and had a really great time, until recently.
The point of this column isn’t so much whether you should promote your work, but whether you should turn it into a business.
Several months ago, I was contacted by a business associate about doing a corporate-sponsored poetry tour. Not knowing what I was getting into, I said yes without hesitation. During that time I watched him change the tour dates — which I booked — a bunch of times, hire an underage filmmaker to document the process, screw up the reprinting of one of my books and bring in his on-again, off-again girlfriend to serve as the tour photographer/merchandise person. That was before we ever left Toledo.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I’m sitting in our Amtrak station, still hoping that it will all go well. My producer friend is telling me how he doesn’t always understand my poetry, but that he wants to help promote it. Something is telling me to run. After a few days, we arrive in Sacramento, my first tour stop. I give a reading to a packed house as part of a doubleheader with one of my boyhood heroes. It’s after this show that my producer asks me why I read so loudly and how can I defend my style? I tell him I don’t have to, that it’s served me well for years, and then hold my tongue. The car is silent.
As we head to San Francisco, with my producer and his girlfriend bickering endlessly back and forth — stopping at every tourist trap along the way — I start to see what this trip was really all about: I am on the family vacation to Hell that Chevy Chase never got to take. It’s after one such tourist stop to Fisherman’s Wharf that my producer pulls out when I am only halfway in the rental car, nearly killing me before this thing really gets going. Maybe he was trying to put me out of my misery. We make it to the reading, which again is rather pleasant, and then head to LA, which goes rather smoothly, mostly because my best friend is there and says, “Didn’t you say your leg hurt? You should just relax and crash here with me.” So I tell them to go on their next tourist outing without me. This sets the tone for the rest of the trip, as I start crashing with various friends to stay away from my crew.
Next we arrive in Kansas City, where an old friend of mine has graciously agreed to meet us at 7 a.m. There’s one problem — my producer’s girlfriend/photographer/merchandise person has not only brought her emotional baggage, but every piece of clothing she owns as well, so their luggage won’t fit in the car and somehow it is my very helpful friend’s fault.
Flash-forward to the tour close in Cleveland. My producer is telling me he thought he got to keep all of my merchandise after the tour to recoup expenses, even books he didn’t pay to print. I walk out after the show drunk and angry.
I guess the moral of my story is that sometimes things really are too good to be true, and while having your own sleeper car and eating steak every night may sound nice, there is indeed no such thing as a free ride.
I hope all of you get the same opportunities I’ve had, because I have been very lucky, but I hope they go better for you. As for me, I’m going back to Greyhound and that Rally’s hamburger. It’s just easier that way.
Until next time … keep your pencil sharp.
John Dorsey resides in Toledo’s Old West End. His work is widely published and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.