My Adventure at the LA Times Festival of Books

Sure, I expected going to Antarctica as a Doctor aboard an icebreaker would be an adventure, but going to a book fair? I was so organized prior to leaving for the Los Angeles Times Book Fair. I had everything mapped out and had even bought optional tickets in advance.

As I pulled into the first parking lot, the attendant was there to collect twelve dollars. I reached for my wallet only to realize that it was resting safely on my desk back home—an hour drive away. Damn, I thought, I won’t find any free parking nearby, I’ll have to go home. But then I thought, Maybe I’ll get lucky. I did, only four blocks away.

After ransacking my car and workout bag, I found three dollars in coins. I knew that would not even buy a hot dog. Rather than bemoaning my situation, I decided to label it “An Adventure” and proceeded accordingly.

Prior to the first lecture I sat two seats away from an elderly lady, meaning someone about my age. Although an introvert by nature, I thought this was not a good time to be shy or reserved. I started a conversation. She was also an author. As she was telling me about her most recent book, she opened up a large purse that was half-filled with food.

She asked, “Would you like a candy bar? I have lots of food.”

“Actually, I’d love one,” I said, “turns out I forgot my wallet today.”

“Then take another one.”

I couldn’t resist.

Then she said, “I could give you five dollars.”

I was amazed by her generosity, but declined her offer. Besides, I knew a true adventurer could survive a long time with only two candy bars.

As I left the lecture hall, I noticed that one of the exhibitor was passing out free iced coffee. Bingo! – a two course lunch.

I checked out other exhibitors and found one selling a book called “The Last Places on Earth.” I started talking with the author, Gary Mancuso. We had a very pleasant conversation and shared some of our thoughts about Antarctica.

I told him, “I’d like to buy a copy of your book, but I forgot my wallet.”

He said, “Do you have your cell phone and PayPal?”

“I do,” I said, “but I don’t know how to use it for PayPal.”

Between the two of us, we figured it out and I left with a signed copy. I thought, “That’s cool. I learned something new.”

Following a third lecture, I was getting thirsty. It was a hot sunny day. Voilà—I found another exhibitor passing out cold diet drinks. I sat in the shade and polished off my second candy bar. I was good for another half hour, but then my stomach started crumbling. I wanted some real food.

I checked out some of the food trucks. Everything was twelve dollars or more. Even the hot dogs cost eight dollars. Then it occurred to me, “You’re on a college campus. Think like a starving student.”

I went in search of ramen.

One dollar later I was seated at a table in the shade outside and enjoying  tasty noodles. Feeling chatty, I began a conversation with a young schoolteacher sitting nearby. He was there to learn more about children’s books. I told him about forgetting my wallet and how happy I was to be eating ramen. We shared thoughts about times in both of our lives when we had been quite poor and the positive aspects of such an experience. He offered to give me some money. I thanked him and told him he was the second person to have made such an offer.

 I said, “It’s amazing how nice people are, particularly when you need them.” I laughed and added, “I’m a retired doctor. I’m not poor anymore.”

There was a woman in the crowd behind us who apparently did not hear that last comment. She came striding towards me with a five dollar bill in her hand and yelling, “Here, take it.”

I said, “It’s okay, I’m fine.” I waved her off and turned away, embarrassed. For a second I stared into my cup of noodles.

Then I heard the fellow next to me say, “She left that.”

There almost under my nose was a five dollar bill. I turned to protest, only to see the woman disappear into the crowd as she yelled back, “It’s okay. I’m a mother.”

Adventures come in all sizes. I’m so glad I forgot my wallet.