Paula Poundstone is still pounding the pavement all across America with her unique brand of comedy. The mother, author and animal lover known for her political observations, wry wit and suit and tie will celebrate her 30th year of standup next year. In other words, 30 years of hotel rooms, long flights and time away from home. We caught up with her recently to talk about some of that travel.
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Q: Has constantly being on the road led to a love-hate relationship between you and travel?
A: I think that’s probably accurate. I wish I don’t mind being different places, but I wish I was Mrs. Weasley (from the “Harry Potter” series) and could “disapparate” so you don’t have all that wasted time. And the older I get, the less observant I am. I was in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, recently. I was reading a book and looked up. I realized I had been there a couple years before and had absolutely no recollection of the place whatsoever. I looked up and it was really lovely, and I thought, “How could I have missed this twice?” So I’ve become a less and less attentive traveler. But there are places I like to go back to. I love working in Maine, for example, because it’s beautiful and people are very, very nice. They’re way the hell up there, and they’re kind of hostile to people from anywhere else. They say they are, but only say it after you’ve left the room. They don’t like Massachusetts people and I, of course, am a Massachusetts person. And those accents ... you won’t find those anywhere else.
Q: You’re a notorious pet owner. Do you travel your many furry friends?
A: I have, but not so much the generation of cats that I have now. I’ve been at this quite a while. My early cats were all from out of town. I would go someplace and get lonely and get a kitten. I have a cat from Dayton, Ohio, one from Virginia Beach and one from Florida. I don’t have friends that are as stupid as I am. But it’s fun. I took my cat Smike with me to Austin, and she loved staying in a hotel. It was the funniest thing. She stretched out on the bed as if she was a human being — under the blankets. When I would come home from working, she’d be at the door to greet me. And it was nothing she would have done at our house. She would just hide at home. But she loved the hotel. She loved the small shampoo and loved room service.
Q: You ordered her room service?
A: Definitely. I got her a little egg. She came to life in the hotel. I don’t so much come to life in hotels.
Q: What can’t you travel without?
A: Generally a book, and, if I’m wise, a book that I happen to be reading to my son. He calls me at any time — 1 or 2 or 3 in the morning, it doesn’t matter — and says in this tone as if it’s the middle of the day, “Hi Mom. Can you read?” I read pretty much the entire Harry Potter series over the phone. I also happen to have kind of an odd quirk, which is that I carry with me “Perry Mason” videotapes. There were only so many episodes of the show, so I carry one or two tapes with me, each having two episodes on it. I watch these same episodes of “Perry Mason” over and over and over again. I use it to help me go to sleep. I’ve seen them each hundreds of times. I’m so far beyond knowing who did it.
Q: Have you thought about trying DVDs? It is 2008, you know.
A: I haven’t transitioned. Because, you know, if I had them all on DVD, what would I do with my videotapes? But you’ll be happy to know I also bring a small DVD player, which I have some episodes of “Columbo” on. For the most part, DVD is too modern of a format for “Perry Mason” anyway. I like to think of Della (Mason's devoted secretary) on tape. Plus I like the picture on the box.
Q: Any superstitions on planes or in hotels or at airports?
A: Of course, you always take your luggage off if they say, “We have a little delay, just get off for a minute.” There’s no such thing as a minute. It’s my general theory, and I can’t say this happens all the time or 90 percent of the time, that when there’s something wrong with plane and they say they’ll get it up and running, you should just go look for another flight. That’s really my only wisdom on the topic. I’ve waited everywhere and in every form. Airline employees lie. They’re trained to lie. They’re taught to do it from a very young age, and they’re very smart. One or two were caught being honest and they were thrown out long ago. They’re expected to lie and embellish on their applications. They couldn’t have all gone to Harvard, after all.
Q: What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
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A:We went on a house boat one time and that was pretty grand. It was on Lake Mead, and it was hot, but somehow we were able to deal with that. Even at night it was in the triple digits. We were lying up at the deck, looking up at the stars one night, just some friends of mine and my kids and me, and my friend said it was like someone’s got a blow dryer on you all the time. And it was. But it’s not possible for everything to be perfect. That’s why I always have my kids around — to make sure not everything’s perfect.
Q: Any horror stories from travel?
A: There’s one that’s not really a horror story — just more of a lucky story. When I was young I used to travel on Greyhound buses. Overall it was fairly successful. I had no money, but there was a deal back then where for like 100 bucks or 50 bucks you could buy a bus pass that you could travel on anywhere for a month. It was really a great system for me because I wanted to see what nightclubs were like in different cities, like Denver, for example. When I got off the bus, I would find out what time there was another bus set to depart and go to any location four hours away. I didn’t care as long as it was at night. I would come back, check my stuff into a locker, take that trip four hours away late at night, and then take the bus back again. This way I got eight hours of sleep. It was an absolutely brilliant system. But it never occurred to me that bus stations wouldn’t be open. And one time in Canada or somewhere truly in the middle of nowhere, I take this bus four hours away and now it’s 2 or 3 in the morning. I get off the bus and the station’s not open. There’s nowhere to go and it’s the middle of the night and I had to sit in the freezing cold and wait. I’m sitting on a bench in the middle of the night and I see someone coming toward me. I’m certain that I’m going to be killed. I had a little Swiss Army knife, I took it out, and I’m sitting there with essentially tweezers and scissors, prepared to defend myself.
Q: Tell us a place you absolutely have to go someday.
A: Maybe I’m not a really driven kind of traveler. I’ve often thought that I’d very much like to go to the Amazon. And I used to think I wanted to go to Austria because of “The Sound of Music,” really. But then I found out Julie Andrews wasn’t really Maria von Trapp. That took the gild off the lily. When I was younger, I had much more desire to travel than I do now. When I had kids, I gave up on those ideas. I went to Africa and enjoyed it and was glad I went, but now I think of long trips and it hurts my back just to think about it.
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