Slide Show

On Sept. 11, I was marooned in Madison, Wis., on the first day of a 52-day book tour. On the 12th, I was able to phone through to the Bloomsbury offices in New York’s Flatiron Building. Because a Verizon transmitter on the North Tower had been destroyed, Bloomsbury was able only to receive incoming calls, not to call out. There wasn’t much for the staff to do, really, and my publicist, Sara Mercurio, said that knowing I was out on the road gave them some sort of reason for coming in in the mornings, and this gave me a sense of mission. I’d been ready to pack the whole thing in.

By the fifth day in Madison, I was beginning to think, Hmmm … maybe if I’m stuck here for the rest of my life I could make a go of it. It’s a pretty little town — like TV’s “Happy Days” — nice houses and Mrs. Cunninghams all over the place making endless batches of cookies and cooling them on the ledges of Dutch doors.

On day six, I was able to board one of the first flights allowed back in the air and get to Los Angeles. I had a room at the Raffles L’Ermitage, in Beverly Hills, which had been fully booked for the Emmy Awards that then had been canceled, so the place was empty save for me, Claudia Schiffer and Salman Rushdie. Most of my TV and radio interviews — like much of the press schedule for that tour — was obliterated by the events of the month, and I spent four days on the hotel roof, poolside, looking at the skies over Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades, marveling at how there wasn’t a single jet contrail to be seen (LAX had yet to open). Nor were there helicopters in the skies. Also, crime was down so there were fewer sirens, and I may as well have been sunning on the rooftop of a hotel in the middle of an Indiana cornfield.

The tour did press on, though, and over the next six weeks I kept a photo diary of the newly minted post-Sept. 11 world, focusing on airports, public situations involving media and electronics, and anything that smacked of surveillance. I look at them as a suite, and the whole tone of the tour comes back to me — the endless lineups to get through security, only to board a totally empty flight. Most of the flights those first three weeks were empty — and then suddenly every flight was chokingly full. There was never just a half-full plane.

Another thing I remember is empty hotels. I was always one of a handful of guests at any hotel, and I felt like a character in a J. G. Ballard novel — or in “Galapagos,” by Kurt Vonnegut. I was in the Marriott in San Francisco and they simply shut down one of its towers. The only thing that’s ever come close to this experience was in Toronto during the SARS outbreak, when I was at the Four Seasons and a North American oncology convention pulled out, and there I was alone in the lobby, with elevator banks shut down and the bar closed.