Commentary

Book tour: Are you Scott Turow?

Updated: May 17, 2010, 5:31 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

ReillyESPN Getting choked by Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was definitely a highlight from Rick Reilly's latest book tour.

I don't know who invented the book tour, but I hope there's a special endless weather delay at the Wichita airport waiting for him and only a Hot Pockets vending machine from which to eat.

I'm on tour now for my new book, "Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition."

It's been eventful. It's been brutal. It's been bizarre. And it was all that before it started.

Saturday, May 1: New York City

A book tour means a new hotel every night for three weeks or so. But New York was something new: two new hotels in one night.

My wife, The Lovely Cynthia, and I came back from dinner at midnight to find 500 well-dressed people globbed up at the edge of some police tape running across 46th Street at Broadway.

"What the --?" we asked.

"There's been an incident," the NYPD officer told us.

More than that. One short block away, at 45th and Broadway, a street vendor had alerted police to a Nissan Pathfinder with a bomb in it. You know the story by now -- smoke, propane tanks, video of a guy changing shirts -- but we were sure then that somebody was jerking with us for laughs.

We kept waiting at that police line while men in suits and women in dresses slept against buildings. The officers kept telling us that no, the hotel hadn't been evacuated, and no, the bars hadn't been evacuated, and yes, bellhops could come and go freely from the police line to our hotel -- The Muse -- with water and medicine. But we couldn't go to our rooms.

Finally, at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, we gave up, got in a cab, drove around the city for a half hour and finally found another room for $450. Apparently, the crowd was let back into the hotels at 2:30 a.m. The way I see it, if Faisal Shahzad is convicted, he owes me $500. Plus, I want The Muse to refund the $2 occupancy tax on our room.

We never occupied it.

Sunday, May 2: NYC

It was the last half-day off before the Tour from Hell, otherwise known as three weeks of "Good morning, Ogallala!"

We woke up in the new hotel, then shuffled grumpily back to the old hotel, where I finished a column. Then we headed out the door to see the Broadway revival of "Hair." But when we came out, we ran straight into two New York police detectives. Whatever you think New York police detectives look like from TV and movies, these guys looked three times the part. They were wearing immaculate suits with police badges hanging from the front jacket pockets. They were burly with caterpillar-like eyebrows and giant, unlit stogies in their mouths. They looked as if they could put you away for life for parking too far from the curb.

Within hours, they would have their man -- Shahzad -- and would yank him off a plane bound for Dubai. I was not surprised. And those hours included tailing him, losing him, then tailing him again. Looking at those guys, I'd hate to be the guy who lost the tail.

As for "Hair," it featured former "American Idol" top-10 finisher Ace Young nearly naked for most of it and butt-naked for the last four minutes of the first act. Young, 29, has said publicly that he has no problem being starkers onstage eight times a week. "If I could walk down 42nd Street with a bar of soap and let the rain clean me, I would."

Yeah, I would, too, if I had a 12-pack.

Put it this way: TLC kept wanting to hang around 42nd Street, just in case.

Monday, May 3: NYC

I went on ABC's "Good Morning America" with Robin Roberts, who had actually read the book and laughed throughout the four-minute interview. Bless her heart.

She seemed especially fascinated with ferret legging.

I think she said, "Will you do it again?"

To which I think I responded, "How do you know I'm not doing it as we speak?"

Quick morning-TV story: Once I was in the green room of the "Today" show when Katie Couric came running in terribly excited. "Are you the Easy-Bake Oven guy? Because I have a great idea how we could do this. When I was a little girl, we used to …"

I had to interrupt her. "No, no, sorry. I'm not the Easy-Bake Oven guy. I'm the sports guy."

Her face fell like an Easy-Bake Oven soufflé.

Anyway, as Roberts and I do the segment, we hear all kinds of pots and pans and people yelling, "No, no, turn it off!" Turns out Wolfgang Puck was preparing something for the next segment and was getting a little carried away.

After the show ended, I told Puck about the World Sauna Championships, in which I was a competitor in Finland -- at 261 degrees, no less.

"Mr. Puck," I said. "The winner went 13 and a half minutes at 261 degrees. Isn't that the recipe for baked ziti?"

And Puck said blankly, "I don't know. Let me check."

I also met GMA co-host George Stephanopoulos, who has great hair, no height and much brains.

That night, during the taping of Sean Hannity's show on Fox News, we shared the green room with right-wing commentator and author Ann Coulter. The woman is scary. I'm not talking about her politics, which I'll leave to you. I'm talking about her physique. She's so skinny that if she ever comes out with a CD, her picture could be on the side.

Hannity, on the other hand, is much younger than you might think (he's 48) and very polite with cool hair that gets plastered down on set. And his kids are demon tennis players whom you might hear about someday.

I also found out that Chris "Mad Dog" Russo of Sirius Radio yells during breaks just as he yells when he's on the air -- like a man who accidentally swallowed a handful of amphetamines at lunch. He's a very entertaining character. An encyclopedia of sports. I'm just not sure you'd want to have him next to you in 13B.

Tuesday, May 4: Bristol, Conn.

The "car wash" is an exhausting, amazing invention at ESPN in which you are shuffled between radio shows, TV sets, podcasts, photo sessions, Internet interviews and off-the-record employee speeches from 8 a.m until 8 p.m. Still, you can't help but notice things:

• When you turn on your TV set at the Clarion Hotel across the street from the ESPN compound, you can't watch ESPN. It says "station unavailable in your area." Maybe all the big satellite dishes are blocking the signal?

• Whatever radio and "SportsNation" host Colin Cowherd is doing in the gym, it's working. The guy looks as if he could crush a Pepsi with his chin, and by Pepsi I mean a Pepsi truck.

• Whatever Dana Jacobson is doing, it's working, too. The "ESPN First Take" host says she's lost 40 pounds.

• It is a very odd thing to see Scott Van Pelt waiting silently in line behind Herm Edwards to pay at the cafeteria, each holding his lunch.

When the day was over, we rode back to New York and ate dinner where we always eat dinner, Campagnola on First Avenue near 74th Street -- mostly for its napoleon dessert. It's so light that it takes two waiters to bring it -- one to carry it and one to hold on to his legs so he doesn't float away. It made me so delirious; I failed to notice when Darryl Strawberry took the corner table. Campagnola, by the way, is also a frequent stop of Derek Jeter, Andre Agassi and Robin Williams. I'm telling you, their napoleon could bring Napoleon back from the dead.

Wednesday, May 5: New York City and Columbus, Ohio

As I waited to go on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" while watching Dave Barry promote his hilarious new book, "I'll Mature When I'm Dead," there was this exchange:

Joe: "What were your hopes in writing this book?"

Dave: "To sell it?"

Then it was on to "Good Day Columbus." (By the way, is there an airport in the U.S. more in need of a shave and a haircut than LaGuardia? Stairs where there should be escalators? Doors that don't open automatically? Bathrooms so small that you have to go outside to sneeze? Fio La Guardia has been dead for more than 62 years, and so has his airport.)

I did a TV show at Ohio State, and by that I mean the Ohio State house with a somber host named Doug Dangler (real name). It was uneventful until I kept hearing odd noises coming from behind him. I looked down to see what looked like a ferret cage covered in a purple cloth.

Uh-oh.

"Now, Mr. Reilly, you claim to be an expert ferret legger," Dangler said. "Are you willing to prove that now?"

For the book, I'd survived three minutes with two ferrets in Richmond, Va., but those ferrets had done ferret legging before. Those ferrets -- Spazz and Patrick -- turned out to be tender and caring ferrets, unlike the ferret that had gone into the pants of the young woman next to me that day, whose legs the ferret chowed on like a Renaissance Faire turkey leg.

Gulp. "Uh, well, sure, I guess."

"Well, OK then," Dangler said, bringing up the noisemaking cage. He whipped off the purple cloth with a flourish to reveal a stuffed ferret and a digital recorder playing ferret sounds.

And my first thought was, "How does one find digital ferret noises?"

Then it was on to the Columbus Performing Arts Center as part of the James Thurber House lecture series. Yes, Columbus does have a performing arts center, and I was shocked to not only find it full but also find Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel sitting in the front row.

Tressel even introduced me in a very flattering manner, greeted me as I rose to the podium and then promptly scooted up the aisle and left. You say, "He had zero interest in hearing you speak." I say, "Recruiting season."

Thursday, May 6: Lexington, Ky.

I met the girlfriend of the guy who writes Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari's books. She said, "Calipari's not leaving Kentucky." She seemed very certain.

Also, retired Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron showed up. McCarron won six Triple Crown races in his amazing career, and now he's reduced to coming to my book signings. Sad.

Quick book tour story: Once I was on what's called a radio media tour, during which you sit on your phone doing back-to-back interviews with radio stations all over the country. I had just finished Nashville when my moderator said, "Next is Phoenix -- Fat Man and the Fish [I seem to recall]."

So Fat Man (I'm assuming) says, "Well, what do you think of Nebraska football's chances this season?"

Odd question for Phoenix, I thought, but they're probably pimping me, knowing I went to the University of Colorado, where we consider Nebraska Satan's 11.

"Nebraska?" I said. "All I know about Nebraska is that when my kids go No. 2, they're taught to flush and say, 'See ya in Lincoln!' Do you know what you call four Nebraska cheerleaders in a hot tub? Gorillas in the mist." I went on and on about Nebraska's shortcomings until the host finally said, "You do realize you're talking to Omaha, right?"

Friday, May 7: Chicago

I bounced around like a knuckleball on the way into O'Hare. Then I did a signing at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, Ill., which seems to have some author signing every night. At dinner afterward, the waitress asked whether I was Scott Turow, the mystery writer. Have I lost that much hair? "Yes," I said, "if it means we can get a free dessert out of it."

I was more than ready to go home to Denver for two days off, then start again.

Not that I'm complaining (much). For an author, the only thing worse than going on a book tour is not going on one.

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Rick Reilly | email

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