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Tour Life: Northeast Corridor

Did ol' Hank really do it this way?

Location: Gaithersburg, MD

Miles: 1178.4

Morale: Pretty tired, feeling good

Munchies: Chicken bacon wrap, Southwest chicken salad

So it turns out that even though Motel 6 advertises their WiFi, their employees know better.

The last two nights I've stayed at a Motel 6 and asked about connecting to the WiFi, and both nights the desk clerk has blanched and told me the connection wasn't worth the $2.99 fee.

So that's why there was a throwback to a January trip on yesterday's blog, instead of the thrilling tale of my visit to The Silver Unicorn bookstore in Acton, Massachusetts.

And that's why today's blog is probably a little light on pictures; it's a chore and a half uploading shots, even after Motel 6 comped me the $4.99 upgraded internet at no charge.

So we started Friday in Saco, Maine, with only a couple hours' drive south to the Boston area for the evening's event.

Obviously, we took advantage of the free time and chased some trains, catching Amtrak's northbound "Downeaster" crossing the bridge into Saco in the morning, and then driving south out of Maine and through New Hampshire to Massachusetts and the Harvard area.

I'd been inspired to check out Gardner and Fitchburg by Kevin Mosio's fine photographs of the area, and luckily the two towns were very close to Acton and The Silver Unicorn.

I snapped a couple of shots before heading into Acton itself, which is a lovely little town bisected by a busy train line and featuring a gorgeous independent bookstore and also a craft brewery.

So essentially it's heaven.

I ate a chicken salad on the brewery patio with Lucy snoozing beside me, and we wandered happily around in the sun until it was time for the reading.

The Silver Unicorn is a new bookstore, only 56 days old. The owner, Paul Swydan, was a longtime sportswriter who retired from the scene to open the store, and he and his staff have done a wonderful job.

We had a nice turnout for my event, including a few readers I know through social media--one of whom, Amy, brought a chew toy and Boston Red Sox jersey for Lucy, and a train puzzle for me!

It was a great event, and I hope it portends good things for Paul and the store. I certainly had a blast.

After the event was done, I had to pack up the truck pretty quickly and drive about ninety minutes south to the Hartford area, where I was spending the night.

It's like an eight-hour drive between Boston and Gaithersburg, Maryland, in the DC area, where last night's event took place, and I wanted to cut a chunk out of that the night before to ease the driving on Saturday.

I'm glad I did; Saturday's drive was challenging enough as it was. It was a rainy day, particularly in Connecticut and New York, and as I followed I-95 out of New England, the population density increased dramatically and so did the number of cars on the road.

Driving through New York and New Jersey is not something I particularly relished; as a Canadian who enjoys the outdoors and solitude, I think I've all but lost my appetite for the urban milieu.

And certainly for crowds.

In any case, we made it through, and soon enough we'd traded northern New Jersey for the southern part of the state, which was calmer and greener and much more relaxing. Even the rain seemed to be slowing.

In the early afternoon, we crossed into Delaware (my first time in the state), and then Maryland (ditto), and stopped at a rest stop to stretch our legs before continuing over the last leg through Baltimore and into Gaithersburg.

My GPS gave me a back route into the town, which was lovely, as it took me back onto two-lane roads into lush green hills and vast estates and hobby farms.

And then we'd arrived at the Motel 6, where I unpacked and ate and prepared for the night's event, the first ever Noir at the Bar in Gaithersburg.

For those who aren't familiar, the Noir at the Bar model is a really fun way of doing book readings, involving a lot of authors doing quick reads in a setting that usually involves alcohol.

It's a loose, social environment that really makes for a nice alternative to your standard reading/signing. Last night's event was the brainchild of my friend Ed Aymar, who'd even gone so far as to commission a trophy for the best reading, as selected by the audience.

The thing about these Noir events is they often attract wonderful, hilarious showmen and women reading astoundingly funny stories of appalling human depravity. Which is to say, they attract a Noir crowd.

This isn't really my type of writing, and I was glad, once I looked at the trophy, to know that there was no chance I would win it.

This certainty was bolstered after Eryk Pruitt's awesome reading, which featured an Irish accent, a fighting chimpanzee, and repeated and gleeful use of the C-word.

Unfortunately, the bar was about quadruple-booked that night, with a crowd of hockey fans, Preakness fans, an eighties tribute band and us crime writers all vying for attention.

The room was noisy, so I resolved when it was my turn to try to project my voice as much as I could and perform the reading as dramatically as I possibly could in an attempt to overcome the acoustics.

I also promised people they'd get to pet Lucy if they voted for me. And I donned a Washington Capitals hat gifted to me by my friend Bill Bride, a reader who I've gotten to know online and was meeting in person for the first time.

My agent, the incomparable Stacia Decker, was also there with her husband, so I had a few ringers to stuff the ballot box, and lo and behold, I won.

Which is lovely! And it also means I have a huge trophy to bring with me on the rest of the trip, in a truck that was packed to the gunnels when I set out from PEI and is only getting more and more full.

In any case, it was a glorious evening. After the readings, Stacia, Bill, Matt and I repaired to the patio with Lucy and my trophy, and stayed out much too late talking about this, that and the other thing while the dog stared balefully at us, just wanting to go to bed.

Today I'm headed up to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for another Noir at the Bar event. I'm planning to hit some railfan meccas along the way, and with any luck my motel tonight will have decent WiFi.

In any case, this has been a wonderful road trip so far. I'm tired, but it's worth it; people have been so welcoming, and I'm grateful that I get to do something like this and call it work.

See you down the road!