Dear Chuck Thompson,
Thanks for killing my dream. Since the Lewistown Public Library doesn’t carry your book Smile When You’re Lying, I had to fork over $3 to pay for inter-library loan shipping, but it was worth every penny to read the “confessions of a rogue travel writer” even if it meant realizing that my own dream of becoming a travel writer should be as dead to me as my late dog Zoe.
But before you killed my dream, you killed my mom’s dream of visiting New Zealand. I suppose I should thank you for that too because you saved us (she’d never have gone to New Zealand alone) from “traveling sixty-five hundred miles to see a junior-varsity version of the Pacific Northwest. Only with lousy food.” My mom actually hates traveling, and she hates lousy food so she shouldn’t have wanted to visit New Zealand in the first place, but I imagine some travel writer, like the ones you tsk tsk in your book, planted a seed in her head that it was a magical place so if her daughter was to eventually succeed in cajoling her into taking a trip, it would be the ideal destination. But nope. You proved it’s not, and then you went on to prove that a career as a travel writer is not as glamourous as it seems. What moved me the most was your revelation about accepting free trips and things.
“One of the problems with accepting comps at swanky resorts is that you end up paying for them with dinners so boring that they leave you wanting to scrape your own face off with a souvenir conch shell.”
That sounds excruciatingly painful especially if the PR people you are subjected to have “iron bladders” and never need to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom so that you can take a breather too. I was definitely not that PR person, but I worked with many who would rather hold a gallon in than let a journalist out of sight. That’s one of the reasons I left PR to pursue a career in travel writing. I didn’t like being pushy or having to sell things in a subtle and almost deceptive way, but after reading your book, I’m convinced that most travel writers are just as guilty. They are just not as obvious as the local man in the Philippines who almost robbed you.
“Someone had taught Rivera the salesman’s trick of establishing rapport by repeating the mark’s name, but hadn’t mentioned that overusing it was more creepy than congenial.”
Good for you for getting yourself out of that dangerous situation alive so that you could go on to write a book that would crush my dream of being a travel writer. I knew I could trust you when you described your Ford Torino as the color of day-old guacamole. No one makes up details like that. Day-old guacamole is as depressing as Thai food is spicy, and I believe you said spicy food in Thailand is best described as someone shoving a blow torch down your throat for twenty five minutes. I wish more writers were that brutally honest. And that editors would let them be that brutally honest. But then the advertisers would be unhappy and then, like Achebe says, Things Fall Apart. Not that I worry about things in my life falling apart right now because in order to do that, they must first come together.
While you spent your days after working for Travelocity’s now defunct magazine in Oregon “wandering around like a weathered Lakota chief looking for an empty piece of desert or lonely mountaintop to fold your legs, stare into the sky, and quietly pass into the next world,” I’m smart enough to know I can’t die with my dream. Instead I have to criss cross applesauce in front of my computer to search for other fulfilling jobs to replace my former dream job of being a travel writer. So far I’ve had about as much luck as you had that time you ran out of gas after racing that GTO in British Columbia. Like gas stations along that long stretch of deserted road, dream jobs are few and far between these days. But just because I’m without a dream job (partially thanks to you) doesn’t mean that I will stop traveling (also partially thanks to you) because as you say:
“Just because the reality doesn’t often line up with the advertised fantasy—that the staff will be competent, that none of the previous fifteen hundred people who’ve crashed in your hotel room will have dried deep into the crack of their ass with the towel you just used to wipe your face, that the locals actually want you there for reasons that have nothing to do with your money—doesn’t mean you should stop traveling. It simply means that you need to travel smarter.”
You seem like a smart guy, and that’s not just because you’re old or because you have more passport stamps than I have freckles. It’s because you’re from Alaska where the state motto is “north to the future.” Speaking of future, thank you again for killing my dream to be a travel writer, and thank you for saving my family the $6000+ it would have cost to fly my folks and I to Auckland. I’ll cut my financial losses at $3 unless I can find anyone else in Lewistown who wants to borrow your book from me before it’s due back on June 6th. I will probably charge them $4 just so I come out a buck ahead.