Rudy Maxa has four homes now -- or none -- depending on how you look at it. After living in Washington, D.C., most of his adult life, Maxa, 54, one of America's most prolific and engaging travel writers, has moved from the city he loves to be with the woman he loves.
"He says it's nothing to move here to be with me," said his fiancée, Ana Scofield, 38, of White Bear Lake, "but I view it as a huge sacrifice."
The week before moving, Maxa had been drinking cobra bile with a snake salesman in Hong Kong and basking in Thailand's 96 degrees. Now he was up to his keister in snow, a neatness freak surrounded by boxes begging to be unpacked.
Officially, Maxa -- known to 5 million public radio listeners as "The Savvy Traveler" and to tens of millions of public TV viewers as host of "Smart Travels -- Europe With Rudy Maxa" -- is renting an apartment on Ford Parkway in St. Paul. But mostly he's storing his 600 bottles of wine there.
He owns a home in Bangkok, but has never lived there. He and Scofield have purchased a $619,000 loft in downtown St. Paul but it's under construction.
So Maxa temporarily hunkers down in Scofield's White Bear Lake bungalow with her and her two teenagers, sleeping on the pull-out couch and rising at 3:45 a.m. to run his multi-pronged travel business from a laptop computer.
Scofield's kids take delight in Maxa's tourist-like wonder: "Like they delayed the opening of the [St. Paul] ice palace for two hours because it was too cold?" Maxa chortles. "How could it be too cold for an ice palace?"
The day before, he saw his first snow rake -- "for snow?". Last winter, he saw a light plane fitted with skis land on White Bear Lake. A fisherman got out and the plane took off.
"I couldn't wait," Maxa laughed. "I called everybody on that one."
Sex scandals and headlines
Maxa never could have planned this life. It was fate braiding together loose threads beginning in childhood. He was an Army brat who figured that people just moved every couple of years. Even then, he loved breaking news and turning heads.
When Maxa was 9, living on the Fort Knox military reservation in Kentucky, somebody hit a car on his street. He hand-printed a dozen newspapers: "Car Accident This Afternoon on 5th Street."
By the time Maxa was a reporter at the Washington Post, he had lived in Cleveland, Germany, Georgia, Kentucky and Washington, D.C., and had developed an instinct for others' vices, virtues and quirks of character.
At age 26, Maxa and a Post colleague broke the story of Rep. Wayne Hays, D-Ohio, putting his mistress, Elizabeth Ray, on the U.S. House payroll.
When Hustler magazine editor Larry Flynt accepted Christ into his life, he called Maxa. Flynt made the call from his private jet, also carrying evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, sister of then-President Jimmy Carter.
"They were both sobbing on the phone as their Learjet passed over Iowa. Larry had seen a vision of St. John the Baptist," Maxa said. "Larry's sobbing. Ruth is sobbing. And I'm typing as fast as I can."
Promises of a huge raise, autonomy and travel lured Maxa to the staff of the Washingtonian magazine, where he mixed celebrity profiles with gossipy columns, trenchant observations of politics and an occasional real-life cloak-and-dagger thriller.
He became notorious with editors for turning Washington assignments into junkets to Paris or the South Pacific.