For the entire month of February in 2006, I escaped the wintry weather of Wisconsin to conduct a nine city tour of Florida, promoting my book, “Don’t Fear the Big Dogs.” The first event was at the Barnes & Noble in Jacksonville, followed by Gainesville, Orlando, and Sarasota, after which I was to spend the night with a longtime friend in St. Petersburg. The next afternoon I was to be at the book store in Brandon, a western suburb of Tampa. On the drive toward St. Petersburg, I thought I’d save some miles and time by heading straight toward Brandon – just stay on Interstate 75 and avoid the long bridge across Tampa Bay and the city traffic the next morning. I’d just get a motel in Brandon. So I thought.
It was late night when I pulled into a Hilton Garden Inn. I’d stayed at one of those in Gainesville and liked it. I walked up to the desk and asked the night clerk if I could have a non-smoking room. He looked at me, kind of wrinkled his forehead, and said, “Are you kidding? You won’t find a room anywhere between here and Miami. Tomorrow’s the Daytona 500.” Huh? Guess I should have been following stock car racing more closely, and stayed at my friend’s place in St. Pete. I didn’t even try another motel, I just pulled up to the first convenience store I came to, went in and explained my situation to the clerk and asked if I could park in the well-lit area just off from the front door of the store, and spend the night.”I’m sorry, we can’t allow that. It’s company policy,” she said apologetically. Oh, great. . .another “policy” to deal with.
“Look,” I said. “It’s the Daytona 500. I’m on my way to do a book signing at Barnes & Noble. I know, let me give you your own personal copy of my best-selling book, and I’ll sign it for you. What’s your name?” That did it, I was in. I spent an uncomfortable night in front of the Circle K, in full view of folks pulling in for gas and Twizzlers, then arrived ahead of schedule at the bookstore the next day, unshaven and tired. The turnout was surprisingly good, considering Florida’s biggest event of the year going on the same day. I still wonder if the clerk at the Circle K ever tells the story of the guy who spent the night out front because he was too dumb to know about the Daytona 500. And, I wonder if she ever read my “best selling” book. Probably not.