David Sedaris is known for many things: his essays about his family, his funny observations about the strangeness of everyday life and his ability to tour seemingly nonstop. While most famous authors venture out on the road begrudgingly, accepting the odd bookstore appearance and convocation speech, Sedaris says yes to everything, spending months on the road meeting his fans, doing countless appearances, and writing down all of the strange and remarkable things he sees and hears in the process.
His latest collection, Happy-Go-Lucky, finds the author wandering New York under lockdown, exploring flea markets in Bucharest, visiting his dying father, and spending countless hours in airports, hotels and unfamiliar towns. It’s all textbook Sedaris, filled with sharp observations about modern life and a wide array of bizarre situations painted with the author’s trademark self-effacing humour. And he’s doing his typical sort of tour for it, with dozens of stops across the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, including a visit to Halifax on Saturday, June 25, where he’ll give a reading at Chapters Dartmouth.
Because the book is full of helpful advice (what kind of candy is best to feed to ants, how to say “bruise” in French), it seemed both appropriate and timely for The Coast to ask Sedaris—a veteran world traveller if ever there was one—about his advice for planning the perfect summer vacation in 2022. Here’s what he had to say.
The Coast: In terms of accommodations, what immediately separates a great hotel from a not-great one in your opinion?
David Sedaris: To me, an acceptable hotel and an unacceptable hotel all hinge on the pillow. If the pillows are hard then that's it for me. Sometimes I'll travel with a down vest, and then I can just put that in the pillowcase and use it instead. I also love a bathtub. I’ll trade a lot for a bathtub, but so many hotels remodel and the first thing they do is get rid of their bathtub. And the second thing they get rid of is the desk.
Any tips on packing for a tour with 70-plus dates?
When I go on a theatre tour like I just did in the spring, those big theatres have laundry rooms, so you can do your laundry every third day. But on a book tour, you have to pack more because I'm rarely in a hotel for more than one day. So I wash out my t-shirts and my underpants in the sink, and I have some special ones that dry pretty quickly. I also pack in those little packets, so I have a thing that holds my shirts and a thing that holds my underpants and socks, so it's easy to pull them out of my suitcase.
Do you have any tips for navigating airports these days?
No one knows the airport better than me. I was at I was in the ID check line a few weeks ago and the guy in front of me didn't have his ID in his hand when it was his turn. He said to the agent, “Oh! You took me by surprise!” And after we moved on I said to the TSA person, “What did he think he was in line for?”
Did you see that movie Up in the Air? It was George Clooney and someone else, and they supposedly play these two business people who do nothing but travel. There was a scene where they were standing side by side on the moving sidewalk, and that shot all of their credibility because people who travel like that would never stand on a moving sidewalk. And they would neverneverstand side by side.
You can just walk into the airport and see who's a traveller and who's not. Like when you see people who still have the two-wheeled suitcase with a long handle, and they're just standing gawking at something and blocking the aisle with their long handle? That’s somebody who doesn't travel. Or if you see somebody with a neck pillow—that's somebody who doesn’t travel.
I always struggle with what shoes to pack. It's probably the hardest part of packing for me. What's your solution?
I have this pair of Marsèll shoes. They're Italian. And what's good about them is they're really soft leather. I have bunions, so I have to have soft shoes, and these are perfect for walking anywhere. They might look like policeman’s shoes except they're just completely flat on the bottom. I think I'm actually shorter when I’m wearing the shoes than I am barefoot, but they're a good all-purpose shoe.
What’s your favourite way to kill time in an airport?
Getting my steps in is the most important thing in the world to me, so I will walk for two hours in the airport before I get on the plane. Sometimes you're in a dinky airport, though, like the other day I was in Mobile, Alabama and my dilemma was, it's 95 degrees and completely humid outside, but then inside, you're like a hamster on a wheel. There's no place to walk. So do you destroy yourself by sweating for an hour and a half? Or do you go inside and pace back and forth like a crazy person in the air conditioning? Those are the choices I have to face every day. I went with the hamster wheel, and I was really embarrassed because I looked like a crazy person pacing back and forth like that, but I got in three miles before boarding.
Do you have a favourite airport to pass through?
I think Atlanta is the best airport for walking, because they have a train that goes to the terminals, and underground tunnels you can walk through. But the thing is, they play light jazz, and that's just torture. So you have to wear noise-cancelling headphones when you walk in the basement of the Atlanta airport.
What's your strategy for tipping? Do you keep your singles all folded up and ready to go?
One of my goals, when I was a boy, was to be a suave tipper, and I think I am. I get like $1,000 in small bills before I start my tour, and a lot of times I have to go take out more along the way. And it’s all gone up. I used to give the hotel maid $5, and now I give them $10 if it's a regular room and $20 if it's a suite. That's how you know you’re old. Like, an old person isn't necessarily being a cheap person if somebody brings their bag to the room and they give them 50 cents. It's not that they’re cheap, it’s just that that used to be what you tipped people.
It can be really confusing knowing how much to leave.
I can't tell you how many times I've said, “How much should I tip so and so?” And they'll say, “Whatever you feel comfortable with!” Why can't you answer my question?
I'm always appalled when you're travelling with somebody, and they don't tip or they don't know how to tip. I had a driver say to me a couple of years ago, “I had Garrison Keillor sitting exactly where you're sitting at five o'clock in the morning, and I gave him a ride to the airport and he tipped me $100!” And I remember thinking, well, it was five o'clock in the morning so it was dark. I bet you anything he thought it was a five.
Live & In Conversation with David SedarisWhen: June 25
Where: Chapters Dartmouth, 41 Mic Mac Blvd
Tickets: No tickets needed, the reading's free