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Speed Trap

09/02/2007

Dateline — Cherokee, NC, September 2

Bad weather in Atlanta (or so they say) kept me and my fellow Delta passengers sitting for three hours in a plane on the tarmac waiting to take off. Arrived in Atlanta late, crashed, and was awakened by the phone ringing. A live radio interview: a major show in Louisville, Kentucky. They put me on hold for a few seconds, just enough time for me to race to the honor bar in my hotel room, grab a Diet Coke, and chug it. Enough caffeine to kick-start my brain, but the carbonation wasn’t good for my delivery. . .

Saturday: The Decatur Book Festival, in the town of Decatur, Georgia, which is no more than 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, a sweet small town whose streets have been blocked off for the 75,000 attendees. I shared a stage with David Robbins, author of The Assassins Gallery — always nice to meet a fellow thriller writer, even when they’re too tall (6’ 6”).

A three-hour drive to the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, the home of another Harrah’s casino. Decided to stop for dinner in a particularly rural part of Georgia — a charming looking restaurant in a tumbledown wooden shack that advertised “all you can eat fried catfish” and “hot fudge cake” and had a handwritten sign on the door saying, “We do not except credit cards.”

Maybe I’d discover one of those great road-food finds that Jane and Michael Stern are always writing about.

Yeah, right.

Turns out that fried catfish night is Friday night, and this is Saturday. So I order the spaghetti special: soapy overcooked spaghetti and lousy bottled ragu sauce, a cold iceberg lettuce salad with Day-Glo orange dressing, and a slice of Wonder Bread. It tasted exactly like the cafeteria food in junior high.

I’m so taken with the spectacular beauty of the Smoky Mountains that I don’t notice the sheriff’s car waiting beside the road, in the town of Sylva, North Carolina, which is apparently one big speed trap.

“Where’re you headed?” the sheriff asks.

“Cherokee,” I say.

“Casino, huh?”

“Right.”

He asks for my license and comes back 20 minutes later, hands me a speeding ticket. No mercy for the out-of-towner. “Slow down,” he says. “You got plenty of time to lose your money.”