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Imran Ahmad Headshot

Week 7: 50-City U.S. Speaking Tour

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Sunday, May 27th

Waking up in the Hyatt Seattle, I begin the day with roll call.

"Higher Self?"

I Am that I Am.

"Energy-Body?"

HERE MASTER. CAN I HAVE A SUGUR DOUGHNUT, MASTER?

"Ego?"

Ready and waiting to flare up at the slightest provocation. Bring it on! Bring it on!

My event is at Elliot Bay Book Company, which is clearly a very well-known place -- judging by the number of beautiful and intelligent women who enthusiastically give me directions as I walk there. I'm so dumb, I have to keep asking.

My mother's brother and his wife arrive from Vancouver (that's in another country) to see me perform. I'm a bit troubled to have family members in the audience, because I have a few slightly risqué jokes in my narrative performance. I hope they don't tell my mother.

Afterwards, they take me to a late lunch at a waterside restaurant, and I am transfixed by the endless stream of boats and seaplanes going by.

Wandering around Seattle by myself in the evening, I establish that clearly there are a number of districts with different nuances. I don't really fit in the places where crowds of (mainly) young and heavily tattooed people are drinking in the street, so I head off towards where the heavy presence of corporate retail brand names gives me a sense of comfort. Using branded pieces of plastic in my wallet, I can acquire goods and services from these outlets, which make me feel whole and help to fill that longing, that emptiness, that je ne sais quoi deep within.

Monday, May 28th

It's over 500 miles from Seattle to Boise, Idaho. I conduct this drive in a near-meditative state (with my eyes open), listening to The Power of Now (not for the first time). There is something wonderful about the landscape. It's not boring at all, it's magnificent. It's just a question of how you choose to view it. Thanks, Eckhart.

On my final approach to my destination, I have the Raptor's cruise control set to 55 mph (precisely at the limit) and the road is practically deserted. Ahead of me, a pickup truck trundles onto the road, causing me to brake heavily. That was so unnecessary -- there is no-one behind me, he could have waited just a few seconds. Then he proceeds at 42 mph. Getting irritated, I begin to pass him from the left -- then he drifts over to the left, forcing me onto the wrong side of the road. Then he accelerates.

What a complete a******! How dare he? Sound the horn! Give him the finger!

I NEED CARBS, MASTER, TO PROVIDE ENERGY FOR FIGHT OR FLIGHT.

Do not be drawn into an unnecessary drama, Imran.

I put my foot down and pass him, miraculously without sounding the horn or giving him the finger or eating any of my emergency chocolate.

I reach the house of John and Louise Jacobsen, two Unitarians. Louise has been instrumental in helping me fill the gaps in my "50-city" tour, as I had failed to get it all wrapped up before I left Kuala Lumpur. Their massive dog gives me an affectionate welcome, and then just curls up quietly on the living room rug. They make me a wonderful and largely carb-free dinner, using the barbecue on the patio. This really is a typical American home!

Tuesday, May 29th

I have a busy morning at my hotel, catching up with work and e-mails, and doing my laundry (I bet you were wondering about that). In the afternoon, I join John and Louise for an outdoor patio lunch at the Cottonwood Grille. I explain my dietary requirements to the waiter, and he refers to me as 'Mr Protein' when he delivers my plate -- which I think is slightly disparaging.

My event is at Boise State University in the early evening. Louise has done a wonderful job putting it together and there's a large, diverse audience.

Wednesday, May 30th

I head for Salt Lake City first thing in the morning. There are many big rocks in Utah. They look quite dramatic, especially under a blue sky and bright sunlight.

I reach Westminster College, where my event at the Gore School of Business is being hosted by the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy -- a World Affairs Council. The WAC has been very supportive of me since I hosted a delegation of them at a dinner in Kuala Lumpur -- everything and everyone is connected in our little world.

I change into proper clothes before my event -- which is nicely attended and has an appreciative audience -- and then back into shorts, tee-shirt and sandals afterwards. It's a very long drive to Denver, and my host Laura Dupuy recommends Little America in Wyoming as a good layover tonight.

I arrive at Little America after 1 am. I thought it was a town, but it appears to be mostly a hotel/resort/travel center/gas station/store. (Little America -- population in 2010 census: 68). There is a huge store open, offering food and everything else, staffed by two immaculately uniformed and implausibly polite gentlemen who check me into a room for the night.

Thursday, May 31st

In the morning, in the bright light of day, under a perfect blue sky, my suspicions are confirmed when I walk over to the restaurant for breakfast. Everyone is so polite and friendly, every blade of grass is just the right length, everything is just too perfect-- I have stumbled into a Stephen King novel. A huge American flag flutters proudly against the magnificent sky, as trucks roll by in the background on the highway, running America's complex and interconnected supply chain.

Surprisingly, I am able to take off in the Raptor without incident, and head for the more recognizably imperfect Denver.

At the Tattered Cover bookstore, there is hardly anyone there for my event, before I go to the restroom. When I return, the event space has filled out. Another miracle.

I don't have time to stay in Denver. My next event is in Omaha, and I drive as far as I can, before I check-in somewhere and get some sleep. (This last statement is entirely an assumption. I am writing this over one week after the event, and I have absolutely no recollection at all about where I stayed. Maybe I met aliens on the way - I do feel a bit sore down below.)

Friday, June 1st

My Omaha venue is unusual. The local Unitarians could not host me in their church, because of some event, so they host me in Marrakech -- a Moroccan restaurant.

There is a wonderful meal beforehand. I always prefer to eat after my performance, but in this case I have to make an exception. The food is delicious, and I temporarily relax my no-carbs regime.

Afterwards, the warm crowd of friendly-looking Unitarians turn their chairs around to face me and I give my performance.

Saturday, June 2nd

Fortunately, Kansas City is under three hours from Omaha. I arrive in good time to have a late lunch with my writer friend, Maril Crabtree. She is looking incredibly slim (like me) and then over lunch we discover that we have something in common -- Dr. Dukan!

I don't hang around in Kansas City after my event. I head off into the night, foolishly listening again to certain songs on indefinite repeat.

You know I love you, I always will
My mind's made up by the way that I feel
There's no beginning, there'll be no end
'Cause on my love you can depend

Why do I do this to myself? Because there's no way around it. I can't ignore it. I can't pretend that it isn't so.

Very tired, I nonetheless make it all the way to Saint Louis, arriving at 2 am. The Hertz NeverLost is programmed with the address of my speaking venue, the United Church of Christ at Webster Groves. I pull up outside to see a most encouraging sight -- the big illuminated sign outside the church is all about my speaking event at 4 pm on Sunday. The UCCs appear to be more efficient than the UUs -- obviously because they have Jesus helping, whereas UUs like to operate independently.

I find a room at the nearby Homewood Suites and hit the sack (oh, I'm beginning to sound like an American).

Sunday, June 3rd

Naturally, I sleep late, then have a breakfast of steak and omelet in the adjacent IHOP (I haven't seen a Waffle House for thousands of miles, it feels like).

I dress smartly (these aren't UUs, after all) and arrive early at the church. The Pastor sees me from afar and waves at me. Rev David Denoon is dressed formally in a dark suit, and I wonder if I should have worn a tie.

A few minutes before the event, there's hardly anyone there. We share a joke that UUs and UCCs are both last-minute arrivers. He says that Lutheran arrive a half-hour early. Fortunately, a very decent crowd does appear right on-time, and they very much appreciate my performance.

Afterwards I chill in Saint Louis. There's a Whole Foods here, and I buy two roast chickens to keep me off the carbs for a couple of days.

Only two weeks left ...

See the 50-city U.S. tour plan on the website.

Photos are on the Facebook page.