I’m in Aurora, Illinois, back in the USA and midway through a seven-cities-in-seven-days lecture tour. I’ve given eight talks in two days in Minneapolis and Chicago, and am swimming in memories of the fun meetings I’ve had with travelers at all these gigs.
The group I’m talking to later this morning has put me up in an exquisite little “French Colonial” hotel, which I have no time to appreciate (as is generally the case when I’m on the road in the USA).
I’m lying in bed wondering why I won’t go for this opportunity to get a full eight hours of sleep. Three things are on my mind: I’ll be talking to a gang of a thousand in a sumptuous old theater. I have two hours to talk and I’m debating how light and happy versus how edgy and political to be. And I’m reminiscing about a 1993 trip to Russia.
My five events in Minneapolis were all jammed with travelers — huge, enthusiastic groups. My three events (bookstores and a luggage store) in Chicago were small and relatively disappointing. Even so, I met fascinating people. Because they were small groups, we kept things intimate and casual…with lots of Q&A.
One man asked about honeymooning in Ireland…in December. That seemed comical to me and the entire group, so we had fun with that.
A couple — the woman with harsh orange lipstick and the man with Borat hair — came up afterwards and showed me their “Rick Steves prayer cards.” The size of playing cards, they were laminated with goofy photos of me happy in Europe. One said, “Don’t be a grouch.” The other said, “Ricardo says ‘Though shalt not be grumpy.’” They explained that when they traveled, whenever one or the other was complaining or getting in a bad mood, the other would play their card…and they’d get back on track.
That reminded me of the American Girl Scout group I once met in the Swiss Alps (at Walter’s hotel in Gimmelwald). I dropped by one evening as they were eating dinner. As they had based their trip on my material, they were happy to meet me.
The woman leading the group had clearly worked hard and creatively to help make the girls good travelers. To show off, she demonstrated how they had taken a line from the Back Door travel philosophy I lay out in each of my guidebooks as a group motto.
She called the group to order and said, “If it’s not to your liking…” All twenty girls responded enthusiastically in unison, “CHANGE YOUR LIKING!”
Sorry for the delay in getting an entry up on this blog. I’ll finish this with the 1993 Russia trip (flames were coming out of the parliament building in Moscow, where Communist hardliners were holed up during the Boris Yeltsin stand-off)…on my next entry. But right now, I have a talk to give.