Week 4: 50-City U.S. Speaking Tour

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.


I'm from London, but I'm currently working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I wrote a book that was published in the US last 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.

Monday, May 7th

I awake in my room, in the DoubleTree hotel in downtown Little Rock. I could tell you there's a ravishing woman lying next to me, but it wouldn't be true. I have an excellent view of the river, and I observe a handful of cars going over the bridge this morning - it must be rush hour in downtown Little Rock.

The electronic scales I am carrying with me show a catastrophic increase in my weight since I arrived in the US. I am determined to drive my weight back down - a pure-protein diet is the only way to go. The restaurant of the DoubleTree obliges with a very good steak and poached eggs. (So, they do have poached eggs in Arkansas, just not in Tennessee apparently.)

I have writing assignments to do in my room, then I perform my vigorous hotel-room exercise routine (which requires an ab-wheel, push-up grips, a pillow and a towel laid on the floor, and Bonnie Tyler on my portable speakers singing very loudly that she needs a hero, and also isn't life a heartache?). Finally, I head for my evening engagement in the Unitarian church. The event is not one of the best attended, but the audience is supportive.

Afterwards I have dinner at Red Lobster with Samuel Wilkes, who attended my talk and is a political activist. Around 10:30 pm, after we've eaten, Sam says that he can pass copies of my book directly to a couple of senators. I go outside to get copies for them from my Colonial Raptor. I try to re-enter the restaurant, but at the door my path is blocked by a very tall and very muscular African-American man who tells me very politely but very firmly: "Sorry, sir, we are closed." He is as solid as a brick wall.

I attempt to explain that I am a customer who just stepped out for a moment, but his position is non-negotiable. I do manage to get a message passed to Sam that he should come outside.

The incident leaves me slightly shaken - it's my first negative interaction on this US trip. And it strikes me that Red Lobster may seem very friendly when I'm eating as a customer, but after a certain point in time it goes into a high security lockdown which seems almost sinister.

Tuesday, May 8th

Steak and eggs for breakfast in the hotel, and then I get ready for my noon event at the Clinton School of Public Service. (If my venue has the name of a president or a vice president, I always wear a tie. On this tour, I have venues named Carter, Clinton and Gore - but for some reason nothing called Bush or Cheney.) The parking lot is absolutely full, and there's a big welcome sign with my name on it outside the main door (well, if they really wanted to welcome me, they could have reserved me a parking space). The event goes every well, and afterwards Nikolai DiPippa, the Director of Public Programs, conducts a radio interview for the local NPR, and gives me a tour of the Library.

I have the rest of the day free. Nikolai tells me to visit the Big Dam Bridge, a relatively new pedestrian bridge about a mile long. He says that, although Arkansas has the second highest obesity rate in the US, I will witness many locals exercising vigorously on the bridge.

I'm fed-up of steak and eggs. I decide that I will go to the nearest Whole Foods Market to get some fish or chicken. I ask the Hertz NeverLost where this is, and she tells me that it's 270 miles away. I'm beginning to see a connection here. Fortunately, the Flying Fish restaurant in downtown is able to give me a pure-protein meal.

I do visit the Big Dam Bridge, and it is an extraordinary sight. It is indeed very busy with cyclists, runners and walkers - in varying degrees of fitness. Where am I on the spectrum? I don't count - I'm a tourist, an observer and a writer.

Wednesday, May 9th

I decide to skip my breakfast at the hotel, and make an early start on the long drive to Baton Rouge. I will cover a few miles, and then stop for breakfast at a Waffle House, and also grab a venti decaf latte with skimmed milk from a Starbucks drive-through.

The somewhat homogenous journey to Baton Rouge is highway, rather than freeway, and takes me into Louisiana, then Mississippi and then back into Louisiana. Where are the usual food places? Between Arkansas and Louisiana, I pull off the road by some fields and ravenously eat some nuts from the Whole Foods bags in the back of the Raptor, to keep me going. The hours pass, and I haven't seen a Waffle House or a Starbucks anywhere. I do see a few McDonalds, but I'm not that hungry. What I'm creatively visualizing is a restaurant where a friendly waitress will take my pure-protein order according to my precise instructions.

I pass through a very small, run-down looking town in Louisiana, with a population lower than my old grammar school. There is a small wooden structure, with the title Kate's Restaurant. I drive on, but I think about it. It sounds like Kate could certainly make me some steak and eggs. I am really hungry. I do a U-turn and drive back past the restaurant, observing it closely. I notice that all the vehicles in the parking lot are pick-up trucks, of the really rugged variety. I also observe four white men in baseball caps loitering outside the restaurant; at least two of the men are very muscular. I can see this, because they have no shirts on. I do a final U-turn and resume my course, leaving Kate's Restaurant behind. It looks like I would be walking into a hangout of rednecks.

That is inappropriate thinking, Imran - full of prejudice and judgment.

"Oh, hello, Higher Self. I wondered when you would show up."

I am always here, Imran.

"Look, Higher Self, did you see how small that place is? Everyone in there would hear my every word, as I tell Kate exactly how I want my steak done medium-well, and my eggs poached medium, and no toast or potatoes or hash browns or grits, and asking if she takes American Express (from Malaysia). They would fall about laughing at my perfect BBC accent."

You believe that your accent is superior to theirs.

"I didn't say that."

But you are thinking it. I know all your thoughts, Imran.

"Look, Higher Self, this energy-body is really hungry, and just wants to eat some damn food without any damn drama, so why don't you just **** off back to Higher Self Central, or wherever you hang out, and leave me alone."


Brooding about this, I proceed and cover some more miles. Eventually, I come to a sizeable town where there is a grocery store. Because it has "Market" in the title, I assume it must be like Whole Foods - but nothing could be further from the truth. There isn't much that I can eat, but from the Deli I eventually buy some fried chicken, which I consume in the back of the Raptor, feeling really tired. Fried chicken is mostly protein isn't it, with perhaps just a trace amount of fat?

In the end, I get all the way to Baton Rouge without having seen a Waffle House or a Starbucks en-route.

I meet my organizer, Jule and we have a delicious meal in a Lebanese restaurant, before my event at the Unitarian Church. ('Why so many Unitarians?' I hear you ask. Hey, they are too nice to say 'no' when I ask for a public venue for a peace-oriented talk. Maclean's magazine recently described me as "a feminist and a peacemaker." But that's Canadian - does it count?) The event is very well attended, all the chairs are taken, and I feel pretty good about myself.

I drive all the way to New Orleans and try to get a room in downtown, but they are all sold out, or over $270 per night. (I thought there was supposed to be a recession.) I find a room in a Sleep Inn some miles away, and struggle to find a parking space amongst the big pick-up trucks, many of which are occupying two spaces. I should complain.

Thursday, May 10th

A family restaurant provides me with a late breakfast of omelet and soft shelled crab, but they don't take American Express - how un-American!

My event is at Octavia Books, sponsored by the World Affairs Council, and goes very well. Octavia Books is a delightful, traditional bookstore in a picturesque neighborhood of New Orleans, housed in a very old building which used to be a stables. The roads around here are terrible - and it has nothing to do with the flood, apparently.

Afterwards, Flora and Chris of the World Affairs Council take me to dinner at a very New Orleans archetypal seafood restaurant. I tell them about my dilemma over Kate's Restaurant in that little town on the way here, and Chris assures me that my assumptions were probably correct - they would have laughed the moment I opened my mouth.

Friday, May 11th

A long drive to Houston. I'm brooding about something else. I haven't heard anything from the woman I love, for days. And even then, what I got was brief and dispassionate.

I listen to my love songs playlist on the road to Texas. That so doesn't make me feel better.

I get to my uncle's house with barely time to shower and change before we head to my event at the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist church. They have done some good publicity, and the place is packed with a very engaged and lively audience. Afterwards, when I'm signing books, an attractive woman gets me to sign her copy, chats with me a while, asks me how long I'm going to be in town ("I'm in Houston until Monday," I reply), then she slips her business card into my shirt pocket and promptly runs away. I think she liked me.

We have dinner at a cousin's house before returning to my uncle's. (Yes, I seem to have connections to Houston - my grandmother is buried here.)

I'm lying in bed, exhausted, about to drift off. I think the incident with the attractive woman is quite amusing, so I email it as a funny anecdote to my beloved. It gives me an excuse to reach out to her.

Saturday, May 12th

My BlackBerry beeps in the morning, and it's the e-mail I've been dreading. It's from her. It has that cutting, archetypal line about 'just being friends.' I feel strange, in deeper pain, but almost at peace. This means the pain must end at some point - it's no longer indefinite.

My event today is in Austin and I drive there in the Raptor with my uncle and aunt accompanying me. It's not quite three hours away, and I am deep in thought.

"Higher Self, are you there?"

I am always here, Imran.

"It hurts Higher Self. Why has this happened? All I did was love her."

Imran, this is balancing of your relationship Karma. Be glad that it is happening so quickly, and not being carried forward.

"What relationship Karma? I thought that was all cleared by my unhappy arranged marriage!"

It was, but recently you have incurred new Karmic debt in the area of relationships. The way she is treating you is exactly how you treated Suzan - being remote and dispassionate, too busy to see her, pushing her away. The way you feel is exactly how Suzan felt.

"I completely understand that. I asked Suzan to forgive me, and she has. So am I clear?"

If you proceed mindfully.

"Can it still work out?"

All outcomes are possible where free choice is concerned. She has free choice, as do you.

"She is the One. I feel it."

Do not have such certainty. Many intelligent and beautiful (inside and out) women will yet read your book and seek you out. Do not be so sure. All outcomes are possible. You should be focusing on your Mission.

"I don't know what to do."

Always act according to your (ahem) higher self, with integrity and kindness, and all will be well.

If my uncle and aunt knew how distracted their Raptor pilot was, they would be terrified.

My event is at Barnes & Noble at the Arboretum - a place I used to frequent when I did consulting work for Dell back in 1998. At that time, I never, ever dreamed that I would return as a writer with a speaking event.

The event goes well, more people join as I get underway, and Veronica, the event manager, says words which are music to the ears of the writer with a speaking event: "We needed more chairs. I couldn't find enough!"

Afterwards we spend the afternoon and evening at the home of a relative - she and her husband are both doctors from Pakistan and have a beautiful house on the side of a steep hill. I relax on the deck at the rear, looking over the woodlands and the city below - and fall soundly asleep, drained, exhausted.

After a Pakistani dinner which is delicious, but ultimately suicidal, we return to Houston in the early hours. There's only one matter on my mind the whole way.

Sunday, May 13th

I awake in Houston and it's a true day-off. I don't have to do a speaking performance and I don't have to drive anywhere. All I have to do is laundry and refuel the Raptor. (My next event is in Dallas tomorrow evening.)

You remember how Rachel wrote Ross an 18-page letter (front and back) about their relationship, and how effective that was? That's what I do. Instead of writing my Huffington Post blog, I spend the day writing a long e-mail to try to salvage my relationship. Let's see how effective it is. But I am a bad Cylon - I am neglecting my mission.

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

Photos are on the Facebook page.