After what seems to be a horribly short night I wake up in the Queen’s Bed, (if you are reading this blog for the first time, I suggest you refer to yesterday’s post before running to the tabloids).
I pack my bags but have to be more thorough this morning, as I am going to be flying for the first time since I arrived in Boston on the 26th November. No more throwing the cane and top hat into the back of the car, everything has to be in my case today.
With all of the gifts that I have been given along the way as well as the large box containing the microphone system, my case feels worryingly heavy and I hope that I am not going to incur penalty charges. The bag does look very neat and ordered though, which pleases me no end.
Not British Enough
I take all of my luggage to the reception area so that I can load the car before I have my breakfast. Leslie at the front desk calls me over and says she has to tell me what happened when I checked in yesterday. While I was at the desk, a group of people were waiting close by. After I had left Leslie engaged them in conversation and it came out that they were here for the Dickens Tea. ‘Oh,’ says Leslie, ‘That was Mr Dickens right there’. The two ladies in the group fluttered and twittered and cooed. The gentleman with them looked unimpressed and said: ‘Him? He didn’t look very British’. Leslie pointed out that I am, indeed, British and still live there. ‘Hmmmm, maybe, but he doesn’t seem very….British.’. Oh, dear, I have become assimilated into the American way of life obviously. I’d better put some extra work in. I hope, after all that, that he enjoyed the show.
Now, for breakfast. Here at the Williamsburg Inn they serve an amazing breakfast buffet, laid out on my ‘stage’ in the Regency Room. Sadly this morning I only have a very brief time to enjoy it and am the first guest to be seated. Almost before I am in my chair the wonderful Delphine is by my side. Delphine helps run the restaurant, working with Leroy. She has an indomitable spirit and is not to be messed with. It was Delphine who threw the hell raising actor Colin Farrell out of the restaurant because he wasn’t wearing socks. ‘I don’t let ANYONE in my restaurant that is not properly dressed! I don’t care who they are.’
We chat for a while, and she says that a member of last year’s audience had been talking to her and told her all about Smoking Bishop, a hot punch mentioned in the book. Delphine demanded that he send her the recipe and then she had it made to be sent to my tale during the show last night. That explains the mystery of the Smoking Bishop.
I sit for 30 minutes or so looking out onto the golf course here and wishing I had a free day to go and play, but reality comes back and it is time to leave The Williamsburg Inn for another year.
I say goodbye to all of the waiters, to Delphine and to Leslie and go out to Manx, my Jeep, who is sitting rather forlornly outside the hotel.
The drive to Richmond airport takes a little under an hour and the roads, although busy, are running well. Even my SatNav behaves and takes me right to the airport with no hiccoughs.
As I get my first sight of the control tower, the fuel warning light blinks on and the gauge falls to E. Job well done.
I pull into the parking garage and it is time to wish a fond farewell to dear Manx. Despite his foibles, despite the fact that I could never open the tailgate to load my bags, despite the fact that when the lights were on, the dash display was in darkness, despite the fact that the first time his 4 wheel drive system saw any ice he slithered around like a greased up eel. Despite all of these things he has been a companion to me for over 2,000 miles of driving and I will miss him greatly.
One last look round to check that I haven’t left anything important. There is a scrap of paper with the Vaillancourts address written on it, telling me where to go on my first evening here. There is a leaflet for The Hershey Sweet Lights drive, there are some parking lot stubs from Worcester, there is the remains of the hamper that Missy put together at the Country Cupboard store.
Very, very sad.
I say my private goodbye and then walk into the airport terminal. The airport is full of military all of whom look impossibly young. I would guess that they have just finished training and are now being deployed for the first time. Good luck, my friends.
I check in at the United Airlines counter, where a laid back guy is behind the desk. He sees my top hat: ‘Cool hat, man!’ The suitcase is checked in with no overweight charges, which is a relief and he says that I’m all set. ‘Don’t you need to see my ID?’ I ask, giving him my passport. ‘Oh, yeah, man, yeah.’ He looks at it. ‘You’re cool man, SO cool.’ I have no idea why I elicited such a response but it raises my melancholy spirits as I walk to and through security.
When I arrive at the gate there is a panic going on as a flight has had to be cancelled due to mechanical failure. Fortunately it is not mine but passengers are everywhere trying to make alternative arrangements and the United Airlines clerks are tapping furiously away at their computers.
It reminds me of last year’s trip when Liz and I were flying from Bethlehem PA to Williamsburg and were faced with the same scenario. I ended up being late for the tea performance and almost had to run from the car into the Regency Room. There was no room for Liz on the flight and she was abandoned in PA before coming in later in the day. It was a very stressful time and makes me doubly glad that I was driving myself everywhere this year, rather than relying on the airlines.
The flight itself is only an hour but as we make our way North the terrain below changes from brown to white. We begin our descent to Newark as we pass over Philly and if my geography and memory serves me well, I can clearly see Clark Park where the statue of Charles Dickens sits with Little Nell gazing up at him.
Newark, as with any International airport is packed and busy. The Christmas rush is already starting and everyone is dashing hither and thither. Again I am grateful to have been driving, rather than going through this madness every morning. I grab a McDonalds for lunch and when I’ve finished, I call Bob Byers for a brief chat about this year’s tour.
We talk for about 30 minutes about what has worked and what needs looking at. We chat about some possible future projects and ideas for some merchandise, until my flight is called and I have to get on my way again.
The plane is very full but amazingly I have an empty seat next to me, which is a minor luxury. I read for a little bit but drop off to sleep very quickly and stay that way for most of the flight back to Boston.
And here I am, back at Logan. Back on the courtesy bus to take me to the car rental centre, back at the Dollar car rental desk. Back on the exact spot where I was standing 3 weeks ago. It all feels rather difficult, as if I should be going home now but there are still 5 shows to be done and each of those are just as important as the first one was.
I go through all of the formalities and go into the garage to pick my new car up. Presumably due to the heavy snow here Dollar have run out of mid sized SUVs so I am upgraded to a Chevy Tahoe: a monster of a thing. It has lots of switches and things to play with and, guess what, the tailgate opens. I still miss my little doe-eyed Jeep though.
The Drive to Nashua
I set the SatNav unit (which is a new type, a tablet which also has its own wifi hotspot capability), and drive out into the Boston streets. Which are gridlocked.
Everybody is trying to go everywhere tonight and nobody is going anywhere. At least I have plenty of time to play with all of the switches and soon my rear is heated by the seat and even my hands are warmed by the heated steering wheel. Satellite radio fills the car (except when I’m in one of the many tunnels beneath Boston). Little lights flash up in the door mirrors when another car is in close proximity, which is, of course, all of the time tonight. On the few occasions that I do pick up speed I discover that the Tahoe is like super tanker to stop: the sheer bulk of the thing pushing it onward towards the rear of the car in front. I adapt my driving accordingly.
I am heading towards Nashua, New Hampshire, a drive of about an hour. After Two and a half hours I have edged forward just fourteen miles and so the path of red tail lights stretches way out ahead of me.
Eventually I get to the intersection and leave i93 to join i95 and the traffic lessens slightly and then to route 3 and I’m at last on my way.
The snow in NH has been heavy over the past few days and the banks on either side of the road are piled high. I finally arrive in the car park at The Crowne Plaza Hotel which is beautifully lit up.
I drag my bags into the lobby to check in and then take the lift to the 8th floor. The 8th floor is the executive floor and I have to put my key into a special slot in the lift. No riff raff allowed on the 8th, you know. Having dumped the bags in my room I go straight back down to the restaurant for dinner.
Originally I had been supposed to meet my friends, and event sponsors, Jill and Jody Gage, for dinner but I decided I just wanted a quiet evening on my own with no talking. My voice has taken a bit of a battering over the last few days and a day of complete rest will do it good.
I have a Pork Chop and a Crème Brule to finish and then go back to my room where I think I may watch a film. I lay on the bed. At 11.30 I wake. The TV remote is in my hand, I hadn’t even got as far as turning it on. I undress, brush my teeth and get under the covers rather than on them, and instantly am back to sleep.