And Now For Something Completely Different

I think this may be the first time I’ve ever opened up a blog post with something as alien as a cactus, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

Over Labor Day weekend, David and I made a whirlwind trip out to Scottsdale, Arizona to promote his book that he wrote last year, Tehran’s Vengeance. We had scheduled dates at one of the Barnes & Noble bookstores out there, as well as at a bookstore famous amongst the thriller genre, The Poisoned Pen. Joining David were two other authors, men that David had actually worked with closely back in his CIA days, and there was a lot of catching up and war stories traded back and forth among the three old friends. David’s time back at the Agency seems like a life time ago to me, and I’m still amazed that we once lived that life.

This was my first time to fly since 2012 when we flew to New York City to hear Meghan play at Carnegie Hall with her high school band ensemble. I’d forgotten how nerve-racking it is to go through TSA! Ack! It was raining the morning we left our little airport, but by the time we cleared the cloud cover and hit cruising speed, the sun was out and blue skies were our friend the rest of the week.

The heat! Oh my gosh, the heat that embraced us when we touched down at the Phoenix airport was unbelievable. Everyday, temperatures were a toasty 104 or higher, which made this sign so appropriate and also made me chuckle:

We checked into our hotel and cleaned up before heading over to one of the author’s houses for dinner. Driving down the interstate, surrounded by low brown colored buildings, palm trees and cactus everywhere, tasteful malls and gated communities, all ringed by majestic mountains, gave both of us the feeling of being on a different planet. Parks were scarce, as well as green lawns, most people opting for gravel covered yards, making me appreciate all the more our green grass and tree covered hills of the Ozarks. But there was a certain kind of beauty to the place, especially once we got out on the bike trails Sunday morning and had a chance to ride and explore. The cactus and palm trees fascinated me, as did the tiny little lizards that would dart in front of my bike tires as I pedaled along the gravel-y trail. And water. We never went anywhere without water bottles; in fact, I’m surprised that David and I didn’t sprout gills while we were out there.

We rode all the way around this mountain Sunday morning.

Just as the heat and the scenery were extreme, that second day we were there, we encountered a dust storm, and in my head, it seemed to be straight out of the Dust Bowl days. We were driving back from David’s first book appearance at Barnes and Noble and we had been marveling at the growing storm clouds that were forming over the mountains. They were huge and dark and very ominous looking, looming over the highway and the Phoenix/Scottsdale suburbs. And then we saw a tumbleweed blowing hell for leather across the interstate and great clouds of dust and dirt making red clouds that covered the horizon.

Now, most normal people would seek shelter and not want to venture out in such a storm, and most husbands probably wouldn’t let their wives talk them into finding a dead end street near a plot of scrubland so she could get out in the howling wind and flying debris, but then again, David isn’t your typical husband. Without even being asked, he turned down a street that had a dead end sign posted, pulled over by the curb, told me to be careful and watched from the driver’s seat as I braced myself against the wind, tucked my elbows in tight by my side and began clicking away with my camera.

I really do think I have the best husband in the world.

Taken from our hotel room.

Detail of palm tree bark.

Monday morning, Labor Day, we made the pilgrimage to Sedona, about an hour’s drive north of Scottsdale.

Wow, talk about an abrupt change of scenery! It was hard to remember we were in the same state. Sedona is colorful and beautiful and jaw-dropping. It made me think of Utah with the reds and the pinks of the rocky faces of the mountains. There was slick rock there as well . . . because we rode on it and (ahem) I crashed along one of the trails. But the pain of getting banged up and having a swollen hand didn’t get in the way of the beauty of the place.

It was truly one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen.

On our last day, Tuesday, we rode the trails that we rode that Sunday, but this time a different set of trails that led us to a large rock formation with a rock balanced on its end. The sun was out, the skies were blue, we were the only ones on the trail and we had a ball, riding fast through the sand and gravel, cornering switchbacks, going up and down little hills, weaving in and out of cactus groves (perfect motivation to stay upright!) until we reached Balanced Rock, which the trail we were on was named after.

And the best thing about that last ride before heading back to Arkansas and the green Ozark mountains the next day? I didn't fall once, prompting David to give me a proud hug when we got back to the parking lot!

It’s the little things that matter the most, right?

And now for the book talks.

The first one held at Barnes & Noble was more of a meet and greet event, with a table provided for the three writers to display and sell their books to anyone who stopped by while shopping at the bookstore. It was a chance, also, for David to shake off any nerves he may have had and to practice for the big event on Tuesday night at The Poisoned Pen. He sold a couple books, signing them for the people who bought them, laughed and joked with passersby and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself.

The night at The Poisoned Pen was really the reason we flew out to Scottsdale. Michael Trott, one of the three writers who had written a book about his time at the CIA, orchestrated the evening to help promote his book, as well as David’s and the third writer, Thomas Pecora. At the last minute, however, Michael had to be called away to deal with a work emergency and couldn’t attend the book talk Tuesday evening, which was a real shame seeing as he did most of the heavy lifting to make the evening happen in the first place.

The evening was a wonderful success. The small bookshop was crowded with chairs filled with eager ears ready to listen to two former CIA agents and the special guest speaker, Stephen Coonts (who reminded me a lot of my grandaddy). David and Tom were both relaxed and joked with the audience and answered questions, listened with rapt attention to what Mr. Coonts had to say, and at the end of the evening, met with the customers, posed for pictures and signed books.

It was a really fun night.

What can I say about our whirlwind trip to Arizona except to say that it was full of fun, hot days and beautiful vistas, a little painful, delicious food and friendly people everywhere we went. It was wonderful meeting David’s former co-workers and watching them catch up after not seeing each other for years. It was wonderful meeting Mike’s wife, Cheryl, who hosted us that first night at their house, serving up a delicious lasagna and her big, welcoming smile. Who knows the next time we’ll all meet up again, but at least we have three books to join us altogether.

If you’d like more information on Tom’s and Mike’s books, you can find that at the following links:

Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA's War on Terror by Thomas Pecora

The Protected by Michael Trott

And for information on David’s book, Tehran’s Vengeance, you can find that here:

Dave Austin Books