FLIGHT TO MISSOURI
3 days in a single city is quite a luxury and it seems strange to be moving on from Tennessee but the tour rolls inexorably on and, on the whole, it would be a good thing to keep up with it.
The wisdom of staying close to the airport is evident as the alarm goes off at 5.45. The thought of it happening an hour earlier, as would have been the case if I’d stayed in Pigeon Forge itself, is too horrible.
I am too early for the, no doubt delightful, Candlewood Suites Continental Breakfast and I will just need to pick something up at the airport. I finish my packing, making sure that I have got all of my chargers, adapters, leads, watches, wallets, pens and anything else that I usually leave in a Hansel and Gretel like trail behind me and haul the bags to the car.
It has been a cold night and the windscreen is iced up so I start the engine and let it run while I load up. The journey to the airport is a 2 minute one, but I have to top the car up with fuel so need to find a local gas station. That takes me down the freeway for .4 of a mile. Top up and pay. The route back to the airport takes me right past the hotel again: it is all most complicated at 6.30 in the morning.
I drop the car off and, as the desk isn’t open yet, drop the keys into a metal box before checking in for my flight and clearing security. As I mentioned 3 days ago, Knoxville airport is so small that the whole process of arriving to being at the gate is achieved in no time at all. Unfortunately none of the restaurants are open but I do manage to get a coffee and a muffin from Starbucks. I sit at the gate at try to eat the muffin which disintegrates all over the place. The ring of crumbs will remain at Knoxville airport, a brief reminder of my presence there until they are swept away.
The first flight, departing at 7.47 is just a tiny hop over to the main hub airport of Atlanta, where I have an hour or so before my connecting flight to Kansas City. As we taxi out, the captain comes over the tannoy to announce that air traffic control is holding us on the ground because of high volume of traffic in the Atlanta area. I am fortunate in that I have a decent amount of time but instantly the atmosphere in the plane becomes more tense as those with tight connections start to worry. Watches are checked, and mobile phones pressed into action. And still we sit.
Eventually we start to roll again and are on our way, once more soaring above the Smokys. The flight and approach to Atlanta are smooth and trouble free but as we taxi up to our gate there is another plane occupying it. More delay. Then the captain announces that rather than waiting, we will taxi to another gate. More delay. The tension from Knoxville has ramped up a few notches now.
Over the years this has happened to me any number of times and I have come to realise that if 1 plane is delayed into a major airport then the chances are that ALL planes are delayed and the connections will work out in the end.
I can’t speak for anyone else but that was certainly the situation in my case and I arrived at gate E25 in plenty of time. The difference between a major airport such as Atlanta and the cosy regional’s such as Knoxville is amazing. It is so busy here, everyone moving everywhere. Passengers. Flight crews. Cleaners. Empty Wheelcahirs being pushed. Buggies with Beepers weaving through the forest of people. Urgency. Panic. At every gate people are either waiting patiently to be called or starting to dance the Zone Dance vying for the overhead space in the plane itself. Crying children. Laughing children. It’s all here.
My flight is called and this time I’m in Zone 2 . Its not a good effort today and I am about 6th on although there is plenty of space for my bag and my top hat. This is a longer flight, about an hour and a half and I settle down to Bill Bryson, an orange juice and some peanuts.
MID CONTINENT LIBRARY SERVICE
As we arrive into Kansas City there is a wonderful feeling of familiarity about it, another small and friendly airport. And there waiting for me is Kimberly Howard an old friend who has been looking after me here for more years than either of us would wish to name. I have no hire car and Kimberly will be ferrying me about all over the place for the next 2 days. It is so nice to walk out of an airport and see a smiling face!
I have been coming to the Kansas City area for as long as I have been travelling to the USA. In 1995 I appeared at the Dickens on the Strand festival in Galveston, Texas, taking over from my Dad who had attended on three occasions. Out of the Galveston festival had grown a similar fair in downtown Kansas City which was held the following week and I was invited to attend that also.
The Dickens on the Strand festival finished on a Sunday and the Kansas City Holiday Fair started on the following Friday so there were a few odd days during which I was doing nothing. Rather than just leave me mouldering in a hotel room, the organisers ‘leant’ me out to a major library service based in Independence, Missouri and so begun a relationship that lasts to this day. Even after the Holiday Fair ceased to be, I still travelled each year and performed in various branches of the Mid Continent Library Service.
The Mid West is flat. The spaces are vast. Scattered around Kansas City are many many smaller communities (each one 40 minutes away from anywhere else it always seems to me!), and one of the major social hubs of each of these communities is the library. Some branches are tiny, some more impressive but all serve a vital function. Aside from the lending and IT sides to the business, Mid Continent offer a massive variety of events, with speakers, authors and story tellers and it is as part of the events programme that I come here.
From the airport we have no time to get to my hotel so drive straight to the first venue in Antioch where I am due to perform for a group of students brought in. I am going to do the same programme that I performed at the Vocational High School in Westfield a few days ago but as the audience starts to arrive there seems to be a great lack of students and a large amount of adults.
Apparently plans were scuppered by the big yellow school busses! It is those busses that wield real power in the USA and the show would have ended too late for them to transport all of the students home, so their attendance had to be cancelled at the last minute.
With 2 minutes to go, I survey the crowd and ask Kimberly if it would be better to change the show to ‘Mr Dickens is Coming’ instead? It is still a life and times show, as had been billed and much more suited to the actual audience there rather than the non existent schools group. We make a decision: Mr Dickens is Coming it is. I hide my white fluffy cat on the stage ready for the Bond passage (you have to see the show) and off I go.
It was the correct decision. Mr Dickens is Coming is a great success. There are many people there who have seen me multiple times in multiple branches performing A Christmas Carol and they loved seeing something a little different.
When all of the handshaking and signing is finished Kimberly can finally drop me off at the hotel, where I have a couple of hours to relax a bit. I’m rather surprised to find a printed Post-It Note on my bed saying : ‘Duvet Covers & Sheets are Clean for your Arrival’. This seems an odd thing to point out, I would hope they are clean! Where will this end?: ‘We have left the soiled, stained and sweaty sheets from the previous guests on your bed to help save on laundry thereby helping the environment.’ Harrumph.
At 6.45 I head to the lobby and Kimberly is waiting to drive me the 5 minutes to our evening venue. This is at a new branch and one which the Library Service is justifiably proud of. In 2008 the service purchased the Woodenheath Homestead that had been built in 1855 and is listed on the National Historic Register. Through extensive renovation and imaginative architecture the Original home has been surrounded by a modern, state of the art library and is now a wonderful historical resource as well as the lightest, brightest most welcoming library you could wish to see,
I am greeted by the two smiling librarians Chris and Sandi who cannot do enough to make me welcome. I test their microphone system, which works superbly and go to change. Sadly Libraries on the whole are not blessed with theatrical dressing rooms, but the large store cupboard is definitely an improvement on rest rooms and closets where I sometimes find myself.
The crowd, which is restricted in number to 200 by Fire regulations, arrives in good time and soon there is a buzz of expectation in the air. 7 o’clock arrives and the show starts. I’ve been very pleased with the performances so far this year and this one is no exception. I can feel I’m working hard and my voice is holding up well after the early scares at the beginning of the trip. The audience response is overwhelmingly positive both during the show and at its conclusion .
For the first time this year I utilize the second costume as my ‘signing costume’, meaning that I don’t have to sit in a damp shirt and suspenders (now, UK readers. Behave!), for an hour or so. It takes me 10 minutes or so to change and the queue is waiting patiently with their books, magazines, tickets etc.
At about 9.30 the audience has left and I change back into civvies. Kimberly takes me to a nearby restaurant for dinner and then it is back to the hotel to sleep another satisfied sleep.