Week 2: 50-City U.S. Speaking Tour

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I'm from London, but I'm currently working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I wrote a book that was published in the U.S. earlier this month: The Perfect Gentleman - a Muslim boy meets the West. I have taken two months off to conduct a 50-city speaking tour of the United States during April - June 2012.

Sunday, April 22nd

I'm heading south to Richmond, Va., in the Colonial Raptor -- completely by-passing Washington, D.C. The reason? Even though I'm funny, insightful and engaging, apparently -- that's what my publicity material says -- I couldn't get a speaking venue in DC. Many people who have heard me speak said, "You should speak at Politics and Prose in DC!" -- but the store wouldn't have me. I'm sure it's because I'm not intellectual enough.

Actually, I don't mind skipping Washington. What has become of American politics? It was founded on such high ideals, the envy of the world. But it's no longer about consensus-building and working together for the greatest good of all the People: it's about power and special interests and winning and destroying the other person -- even if you have to lie. It's okay to lie, apparently, because of that mantra -- the end justifies the means.

Yeah, I don't mind skipping Washington. But it means three nights in Richmond, Va., before my next speaking gig.

I'm also really upset about something. This morning in a Duane Reade store in New York, I saw a whole rack of different kinds of knee supports, even one "especially designed for women." I should have remembered this -- that in America there is a product for every need. I should have bought Anna Maria a knee support, when her pain first started. Instead, I had to watch her hobble in agony ("It feels like fire in my knee, Imran") through Security at JFK on Friday night.

Check into the Courtyard by Marriott. It's late and I'm hungry. There's nowhere open, so I buy a microwave pizza from the hotel convenience store. The list of ingredients is actually all chemicals, no hint of any real food in it. My descent into darkness continues.

There's an e-mail from Anna Maria. She's made it to Tel Aviv, her next destination on business. It's her first visit to Israel, and she was thoroughly vetted on arrival. But they let her in, even though she had just spent time in New York with a man named AHMAD (Israeli intelligence knows everything). But they probably Googled me and discovered that Maclean's magazine just described me as "a feminist and a peacemaker," so I can't be an Islamist. (Oh, but that's Canadian -- does it count?)

Monday, April 23rd

I wake up depressed, for a number of reasons.

There's one big issue.

I really dropped the ball on this "50-city" speaking tour. I left Kuala Lumpur with only about 35 confirmed venues. How did this happen? Well, when I should have been working flat out finding and e-mailing potential hosts, rigorously following-up, identifying alternatives, closing deals -- I did something else instead. I spent February falling in love, and March mourning that love. I neglected my mission. What kind of Vulcan am I? Oh wait, I don't believe in Star Trek any more -- I've been converted to Battlestar Galactica. I fell in love with a human and neglected my mission. What kind of Cylon am I?

Wait a moment... as a Cylon, I have an internal diagnostic routine. I can run that and it will make me feel better. Commence Routine ...

What is your mission?

"My mission is to spread peace and re-humanization, using ultimate force if necessary."

What are your operating procedures?

"My operating procedures are: daily prayer and meditation; rigorous exercise; spending lots of money at Whole Foods Market; faith and integrity; absolute focus on Mission."

What is your status?

"Well, since I arrived in the U.S., I've eaten loads of junk food full of carbs and fat, I haven't exercised, I've gained four pounds in weight, I didn't take care of Anna Maria, I haven't focused on my Mission, I started this 50-city speaking tour with only 35 confirmed venues, and I'm upset about my love life."

Clarification... you are in love with Anna Maria?

"No, no, I'm in love with a woman in Kuala Lumpur. I love her so much, it hurts. Anna Maria is from Venice, but being in her beautiful presence helps take away the pain caused by my love for the woman in Kuala Lumpur. Nothing happened... she's like... way out of my league. Is that clear?"

Please wait while Windows finds a solution to your proble ... Proceed immediately to the nearest airlock.

"Why? Oh, never mind... end Routine ..."

I'm relatively at ease in Richmond, Va. I spent a lot of time here when I worked for GE. I find comfort in Starbucks, Best Buy, and Target. God bless America!

Louise Jacobsen, a Unitarian friend in Boise, Idaho, sends me an email observing that there are many gaps in my schedule, and offering to help fill them with Unitarian churches. I'm not a signed-up, card-carrying Unitarian, but I totally agree with their doctrine that compassion and social justice are more important than believing in a specific theology. And Unitarian churches make excellent public venues. Sure, Louise, it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, April 24th

I sleep late, having been up half-the-night on various writing assignments.

I have an early dinner at Tara Thai in Short Pump Mall: the crispy whole flounder with sauce on the side -- the dish I always had when GE paid the bill.

I need to buy gas. I pull into the first gas station I find. I try to put my Malaysia-issued American Express card into the pump, but it asks for a U.S. zip code, so I go inside to pre-pay. (In the UK, we never have to pre-pay for gas.)

The Indian woman behind the counter swipes my card, returns it to me, and then asks for it back: "I have to enter the last four digits of the card."

This doesn't make sense. The system already got the entire card number when I swiped it. t knows the last four digits -- what it needs is the four-digit security code on the front of the card. I tell the woman this, but she ignores me and enters the last four digits, then declares, "It's declined."

We go through this again. I tell her to enter the security code, she ignores me, and the card is declined. She turns to the Indian man, presumably her husband, who takes over. He completely ignores my advice, tries it again, and smirks: "Declined!"

I leave in a bit of a huff (this is always so humiliating). I am never coming to this place again. (Since I live in London and Kuala Lumpur, I feel very sure about this.) I go to a big-name gas station and fill up using the card, with no problem at all.

Wednesday, April 25th

I meet the local Unitarian minister, Terre Balof, for iced tea at The Silver Diner. Terre is a good friend from my previous time in Richmond. She is that rare entity -- a Facebook and LinkedIn friend that I've actually met personally. She has always been so positive and supportive during this journey of mine. She listens intently to all my woes and failings, and then tells me to have trust, faith, optimism and patience. Yeah, right, that's what ministers always say.

I arrive early at the speaking venue, the Fountain Bookstore, in cobbled downtown Richmond. The window is filled with a display of my book. I like this place already.

There is an attractive brunette woman with wise eyes behind the counter. This must be Kelly Justice (sounds like someone from a Marvel comic), the bookstore owner.

"Do you have a book called The Perfect Gentleman?"

"Yes, I do have that one."

"I've heard it's rubbish."

"Yes, that's what I think about it, too."

Instantly, we both are at ease.

My event goes well and the audience is very appreciative, including Rebecca Joines Schinsky, the famous Book Lady. She tweets about my talk, even while it's in progress -- slightly un-nerving. I check the tweets later - she says "Imran Ahmad is a total charmer." Oh yeah? Then why is his heart broken?

Thursday, April 26th

The famous music blog Largehearted Boy publishes my article about the soundtrack I would choose to accompany my book. In an email to my publisher, he writes: "... one of my favorite in the series yet."

There's an email from Anna Maria. She had a lot of hassle flying out of Tel Aviv airport -- they dismantled her laptop and it's broken. All her work is lost. Why did they have to do that?

Feeling lonely, and troubled by the missing venues, I go to The Silver Diner and eat a burger and fries, with apple pie and ice cream. Continuing my self-destruction.

Friday, April 27th

Louise Jacobsen secures venues in Houston, Oklahoma City, Seattle, Boise, Milwaukee -- and others are in progress. Oh my God! The itinerary is filling out. Like I've always said: You need to have trust, faith, optimism and patience, and all will be well.

I feel like I'm having some kind of spiritual renewal. I resume my normal operational procedures: daily prayer and meditation; rigorous exercise; spending lots of money at Whole Foods Market; faith and integrity; absolute focus on Mission. Everything else will work out.

I drive to Raleigh on a beautiful day and deliver my performance to an appreciative audience.

Drive on as far as Benson, N.C., check into a motel, and sleep soundly.

Saturday, April 28th

Wake up late. My next speaking gig is in Charleston, S.C., and I have to drive there briskly, with not much time to spare. It's another beautiful day, the audience is good, and I spend a pleasant evening here, then decide that I will head for Savannah, Ga., and wake up there on Sunday. I will simply find a hotel when I get there -- that's the absolute freedom I'm enjoying on this speaking tour.

The Hertz NeverLost GPS takes me straight into Savannah's "historic downtown" by midnight. Despite the lateness of the hour, the place is frenetic with people enjoying an evening out. I pull in to a side street and follow my normal process for finding a hotel. I search the NeverLost for the nearest hotels and call the numbers given, to book myself a room.

An hour later, I've called every hotel within walking distance of "historic downtown" Savannah, and all are sold out. What's going on? I thought there was supposed to be a recession.

Eventually, I find a motel a couple of miles out. It really troubles me that the cost is only $45. At 1:30 a.m. I pull into the courtyard and have a very bad feeling. There's a casually dressed African American man with a bicycle, standing in a recess of the courtyard, observing me intently, cell phone in hand. It occurs to me that he is probably nighttime security, rather than a criminal -- but then do I want to stay in a place that requires such security?

In the reception area, she takes my American Express card, and also asks for a $5 cash deposit for the key. I have never been asked for cash on top of American Express. I still have a very bad feeling about this.

Fortunately, there is divine intervention. She says that the system has declared, "Card not acceptable." I get my $5 cash back and get the hell out of there.

I accept that I'm not going to be able to stay within walking distance of "historic downtown" Savannah. I head five miles out, and at 2:00 a.m. check into a clean, modern Day's Inn motel near the local airport. Sleep soundly.

Sunday, April 29th

So many venues are now materializing, that in some cities it looks like I will have two events.

Trust, faith, optimism and patience! Like I've always said.

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

Photos are on the Facebook page.