September 8, 2020

Happiness is an east coast book signing tour in the middle of a pandemic

Some might say . . . why? Others, why not? There certainly is no right answer.
by Alan Havis

Prior to the pandemic, Alice and I (Alan) had planned a month long independent bookstore book signing tour along the east coast to promote the release of The Sea Knows (Simon and Schuster) which was to come out in May, 2020. We aptly referred to it as our “March to the Sea.” The trip was to be in July and begin in Washington, DC for the fourth of July weekend, and then continue down to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and then north, through Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and ending in Portland, Maine.

Then the pandemic hit. All our plans, events, and book signings were cancelled and the independent bookstores shut down.

However, as we got closer to July, things started to open up again, albeit with pandemic safety protocols in place. Still, there were no events of any kind, but the bookstores were open! We faced a difficult decision. Should we go forward, or should we simply cancel as most others were doing.

Ultimately we decided to go forward, and to visit as many bookstores as we could. While we couldn’t hold events, we could at least meet the indie bookstore owners, introduce ourselves, autograph books and book plates, and leave them with bookmarks. We told ourselves that if we ever felt uncomfortable or if things were not going well, we could simply stop and drive directly back home to Michigan.

So, off we went.

Our March to the Sea ended up encompassing 51 bookstores in 23 days. And every day left us inspired and uplifted by the resilience of these indie bookstores and the communities they serve. What we found was not despair, rather the complete opposite.

Here is my reflections on the happiness we found along the way:

Happiness is deciding to go on our east coast trip even though our country is still in the grips of the covid pandemic, and so many of us are fearful. Happiness is pushing through fear.

Happiness is deciding to take Petey (my 2005 PT Cruiser convertible) even though he can be temperamental and decide every now and then to simply not start, and driving him with the top down at all times (other than in pouring rain).

Alice and Alan with Petey

Happiness is stopping in Washington, DC and seeing the Fourth of July fireworks along with others from all walks of life and feeling that our country is still united in some ways.

Happiness is getting to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, driving over the bridge, getting our first breath of fresh, sea air, and sitting next to the water eating fresh seafood (steamed shrimp).

Happiness is going to Sundial Books on the Island and meeting John and Jane, the owners, and seeing our book for the first time prominently displayed in a bookstore.

Alice with owners of Sundial Books

Sundial Books with owners

Happiness is riding our bikes all around Chincoteague’s nature preserve looking for the famed wild ponies, and walking the ocean beach for the first time on our trip. We didn’t see the horses, but happiness is in the journey, not the destination.

Happiness is walking on the many beaches on our trip.

Happiness is meeting so many wonderful people along the way, from strangers sharing a ferry ride, to waitresses fascinated by two children’s book authors who wrote a book about the sea, to all the hard working, passionate, bookstore owners and staff committed to getting through this difficult time and working for a brighter tomorrow.

Happiness is being asked to autograph books, hundreds of them, and then to see some sold immediately after we signed them.

Happiness is seeing all the Bed & Breakfast owners and feeling their spirits rise, hoping that our stay is evidence that more will come in the near future.

Happiness is the vast beaches and beach towns of Delaware and New Jersey; Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, Stone Harbor, Sea Isle City, Surf City, and Point Pleasant Beach.

The Sea by Cape May

The Sea by Cape May

Happiness is getting past some difficult times and pushing forward; a tough time in Wildwood, NJ with rain, a run-down motel, and un-masked people not social distancing. Stopping in Deep River, CT only to have Petey decide not to start (we rented a car and continued).

Happiness is waking up each morning smelling the sea nearby and knowing that each day will bring us back to it.

Happiness is all the wonderful food, mostly seafood and ice cream (not at the same time), that we ate each day in wonderful outdoor locations, often on the water.

Happiness is Ocean Grove, NJ, with its big, old, Victorian style houses lining wide streets inviting you to the ocean and to its boardwalk, where we had a wonderful outdoor dinner at a Cuban restaurant.

Happiness is a tiny bookstore in Bayonne, NJ, The Little Boho Bookshop, and its owner Sandra Dear, who both shine with energy and positivity and hope.

At the Little Boho Bookshop

The Little Boho Bookshop

Happiness is beautiful towns along the shore of Long Island, NY, like Sag Harbor, Shelter Island, and Greenport. And towns in Connecticut like Mystic with its drawbridge and boats and famed “Mystic Pizza” . . . “a slice of heaven”.

Happiness is Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with places like Provincetown on its furthermost tip, bustling with excitement from of all kinds of people flooding its main street, and its beautiful sand dunes as you head out of town.

Window at Provincetown Bookshop

Front window of Provincetown Books

And East Dennis, Cape Cod, with its quiet, sleepy, beach that we had all to ourselves.

Alice on East Dennis beach

East Dennis beach

Happiness is spending time in Newport, Rhode Island, with all its boats, harbor, and history.

Harbor, Newport, Rhode Island

Harbor, Newport, Rhode Island

Happiness is Cape Ann, Massachusetts, with its small pocket communities on the water like Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport.

Rockport, MA

Rockport, Massachusetts

Happiness is the rocky shores of Maine, like around Kennebunkport, where time seems to slow to a crawl, and the evening’s lobster was caught earlier that day.

Kennebunkport, Maine shoreline

Kennebunkport, Maine shoreline

Happiness is having to return to Newport, Rhode Island for another night so that we can return our rental car and pick up a repaired Petey.

Happiness is a view of the ocean from our hotel room and the cool, fresh, breeze blowing in through open windows as we slept.

The biggest happiness of all is having done all this with my co-author, partner, and better half.

Alice and Alan

Kennebunkport, Maine shoreline

And happiness is returning home and going to my nearby lake to write this blog and realizing that I’m so lucky to be living exactly where I am.

May we all actively seek out our own happiness each day of our lives.

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