Panama City, FL -- August 18, 2007

The plan had originally been, for the Florida destination, to go to Disney World, to take pictures of readers with the backdrop of Mickey, Minnie and the Magic Kingdom. As with the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, it was a quintessential American locale where I'd never been, one of those places where, when you travel abroad, people regard you as an incompetent countryman if you admit it.

My incompetence remains.

Because we ran out of gas, pushing my schedule too far back to go as far south as Orlando, I changed my destination to Jacksonville--a town I wasn't all to excited about. Not that I have anything against Jacksonville--maybe it's paradise, but it was a Saturday and, I had learned, it's difficult, in cities that may or may not have a good coffee shop culture or places people congregate, especially when the weather is too hot to sit in a park, to find people reading in public. I love cities only on weekdays, when commuters, people from all social classes, from different backgrounds, swarm together with their books.

I boarded the bus shortly after five a.m. in Mobile, AL and, at nine o'clock, when the sunlight on my eyelids was finally too persistent, I opened my eyes and found myself in Panama City. Are there beaches here? I asked hopefully and a grandmother and once-stranded trucker seemed to think there were. I got on my phone and called the Greyhound automated 800 number, checking to see if stopping here could still put me into Savannah the next day as planned, and with confirmation that, yes, it could, so long as I got back on the bus that evening, I aborted the Jacksonville mission and opted for a lovely day at the beach.

Beaches are fabulous places to find readers.

First, though, I had to get there. I explained my project to the Greyhound agent and she called me a taxi. The ride was long and expensive.

At the Waffle House I ate a hearty breakfast as well as a salad which was, if not as nutritious as something with a darker leaf, colorful...and learned about the trolley. The town had public transportation! Why, I wondered, hadn't the Greyhound agent told me about the public transportation system? I felt angry. It's hard to be a visitor and ask all the questions you need to ask. People, I've learned, can't read minds. My tack eventually became to voice everything, from the blister on my little toe to experiences I'd had in other cities, and hope that the advice-giver would take it all into consideration when making recommendations. Little Money. On a Mission to Find Readers. No car.

I waited for the trolley, twice, hosing off my feet at a hotel water spigot between each visit, running to get to the designated stopping point at the designated time, and then waiting. I would give the bus thirty minutes and passed the time with, hypocritically, phone calls to my Dad, instead of opening my copy of The Fountainhead, which I'd been gifted on the Upper Peninsula. I always resented people who were holding books at bus stops but talking on the phone instead of reading them. It's my theory that, if we didn't have cell phones, we'd have more time to read and this would, I think, not only make us better planners and maybe, ironically, even better friends, but also give us greater fulfillment than the sometimes trivial conversations we have. Not to say that all cell phone conversations are trivial. It was good to talk to my dad.

The trolley didn't come either time and there was a reason, which directed my anger away from the Greyhound agent and to the Waffle House cashier--not only had they served me nutrient deficient iceberg lettuce (not the cashiers fault, in reflection) , but I'd been given faulty advice. Trolleys only run on weekdays. I called another taxi, waited in the shade, relaxed, read, and got to my next destination--the public library--before it closed. The driver was great in pointing out construction on what would be the town's new library, and giving me walking directions from the library to the Greyhound station, but, his helpfulness didn't lower his fare--it was still exorbitant.

Are people without cars supposed to stay home on the weekends?

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