The LA Diaries, Part Four

March 30, 2004 3:10 LAX
I’m a couple hours early for my flight home and oddly, all of the restaurants in this end of the airport are closed. At first I thought, “Wow, do they close on Sunday?” and then I realized that today is Tuesday. I have completely lost track of time. How am I going to have any idea what day it is during the long Bay Area tour? Oh yeah, my cell phone’s readout screen tells me the date. Finally, a good use for that thing.

Had two phone interviews with newspaper reporters this morning from the hotel room. Both of them went well—these interviews all tend to be easy, comfortable conversations with people who are enthusiastic about the subject matter.

I told one of the reporters that I traveled with the worms and she said, “No way. You take them on the plane?”

“Of course,” I said. “They’re just in a little plastic container filled with dirt. They hang out in the hotel room in between appearances.”

“Are they in your hotel room now?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Put them on the phone,” she said.

Wow. No one’s every asked to speak to the worms before. I told her they were saving their voices for the talk this afternoon.

We arrived at Vroman’s around 11. They have a nice set-up upstairs for author events—plenty of space, a microphone if I need it, a table for the worms, and an enormous stack of books. It’s been selling well, they tell me. Do you suppose they say that to all the authors?

Anyway, there was a small but enthusiastic crowd—10 or 15 people in all—but some of them had come to Vroman’s to see my on my last book tour. It’s so nice to have that kind of continuity, that kind of connection with people. I chatted about earthworms and what it was like to track down earthworm scientists and figure out how to tell their stories, and after about a half hour people jumped in with questions. Eventually they all gathered around to see the earthworms and to look at some pictures I’d brought of the giant Australian worm.

Somehow during this process the lovely nightcrawler I’d brought sustained some sort of injury to its tail. I set it back in the dirt so it could at least retreat to a place where it felt safe. The audience members, bookstore staff, and I all crowded around, worried and not quite sure how its tail had come to be almost severed.

It was not until later that I realized how ridiculous it must have seemed for us all to be so concerned about the fate of one earthworm. But that’s what happens when you look at nature up close. Every individual organism starts to matter.