It is time to move on once more and this morning I am driving to Omaha, Nebraska. The more observant among you will realise that I don’t have a car and Kimberly has to drive back to pick me up at 7.am
My hotel is actually close to the airport so we are there in good time but trying to pick up a hire car when you haven’t actually arrived by plane is not easy! We eventually have to park and take all of my luggage through a car park, across a bus station, up in a lift and finally find the Dollar Car rental desk.
I am fitted up with a Toyota Rav4, say goodbye to Kimberly and get on the road. The Sat Nav unit that Dollar has given me is somewhat temperamental and keeps losing power, so it is a bit of an effort to get on the correct road. When I do get it to work for 5 minutes I realise that it is not going to be a very difficult journey. I turn out of the airport complex and join the freeway I29 W. The message is: ‘In 161 Miles Turn Left’. My 2 hour journey utilises just the one road!
The sunrise is stunning and the road stretches way out into the distance before me. The nature of the journey, the flat plains on all sides and the names of the cities bring to mind the pioneer travellers who trekked across this most inhospitable and unpromising land, heading West in the hope of a better life. Signs for Squaw Creek, Council Bluffs, Rock Port, Mound City (which is indeed on the smallest bump in the surrounding scenery), tell their own frontier story.
Although I am travelling representing my paternal great great grandfather, at this moment I feel a much greater kinship to my maternal one. Herbert Hoxie Hoyt was a pioneer who would have stocked up with supplies in a frontier store at Kansas City and then headed out West on the Oregon Trail. He settled in Portland, Oregon and even has an arboretum and a rose named after him there.
I love the fact that stretches of the Freeways are named after veterans and as I pass the sign announcing that I am on the ‘Sergeant Robert Kimberling Freeway’ I make a mental note to look him up and to honour his memory when I get to Omaha. (* See Epilogue)
The miles fall away and there is a minimum of traffic on the road today. I have Liz’s album playing via my iPhone and am singing away loudly to Rhapsody in Blue (Lyrics: ‘Ba Ba Ba Ba. Ba Ba Ba Ba. Ba Ba Ba Ba, Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba B Ba Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!)
As I’m approaching my exit (well 30 miles to go, but after 130, that is getting close), the Sat Nav unit has a melt down and keeps dying on me. Panic! What am I to do? What if I get lost? Then I reflect that this is all a bit pathetic when I have been thinking of the great pioneers. OK, they didn’t have complicated intersections to deal with; they just trekked away from the sun in the morning and towards it at night.
I get myself into Omaha and thanks to the American grid system of streets easily find my way to 10th street and my hotel. The organisers of the event have ensured that I can check in early and I am in my room by 10.30.
I am in Omaha for the third time to perform for the Douglas County Historical Society which is made up of the friendliest bunch of people you could possibly imagine!
I have a couple of hours in my room and somehow manage to unpack so it looks like a bomb has hit it. I’ve been rather controlled and ordered so far on this trip but today I have reverted to type. I must be very careful that this is not where I start to leave my belongings behind when I leave.
DOUGLAS COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY AND THE FIELD CLUB
My phone rings and it is Lee. For the last 2 years Lee has ferried me about to all of the events. He is a member at the Field Club, which is a where my events are based. The Field Club is a golf club and so we have plenty in common and I tell him about my plans for a new show featuring the golfing stories of PG Wodehouse. Sadly I’ve never had time in the schedule to play here, however longingly I look out of the windows of the clubhouse!
All of the main players in the Society are already at the clubhouse making preparations: Kathy, the director, Cassandra, her assistant, Susie (Lee’s wife who is my official host) and all of the rest of them, decorating, organising merchandise, laying tables. Bustling.
One of my first duties (and a very pleasant one by the way), is to be sat down and served a cup of tea in a bone china cup, poured from a real teapot. Mona prides herself on her tea and welcomes the English guest in great style!
The event this afternoon is a tea (hosted by Mona of course) followed by a performance of Mr Dickens is Coming. The crowd pour in and are individually escorted to their tables on the arm of one of the army of volunteers. There is a great style to proceedings here. The publicity has also been very good:
I go to get changed, in the locker room of the golf club, and am ready for the show at 3. Kathy makes a very nice introduction and off I go. After the open spaces of the stage at John Knox last night, the riser in the Field Club function room is much smaller and my movements are limited but Mr Dickens Is Coming is more of a vocal show than a physical one, so it doesn’t make too much difference. The audience are very good, many of them have seen me perform before, so are on side and the reception afterwards is very warm and appreciative.
When the applause has died away Kathy thanks me and then invites questions from the floor which is always fun. The last question is: ‘At what age did you realise you wanted to be an actor?’ Queue long ‘nativity: playing huge over sized cockerel story’ which goes down very well and is a good way to wind up proceedings.
After the guests have left Lee takes me back to the hotel, where I have an hour before the next event. It is Laundry time again and I load up a bag of my costume shirts for the washer. Back to my room and do some line revision for one of tomorrow’s shows before transferring shirts to the drier. I realise that I am going to have to leave before they are finished, so hope that someone will realise and take them out if they need the drier.
The evening show is in the General Crook House: a wonderful Victorian home which is one of the jewels of the society’s collection. It is a very intimate venue, with the performance itself in a tiny drawing room (actually the dining room with all of the furniture removed.) A packed, standing room only crowd of about 50.
The event starts at 6 with an hour of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and chat. And then at 7 we all make our way into the little theatre for ‘Sikes and Nancy: the Murder’. After the fun and jollity of Mr Dickens is Coming, this is an altogether more intense and violent reading. When Charles Dickens performed it ladies would faint from the shock. Dickens himself put so much energy into the show that he often collapsed immediately after it.
Somehow this Victorian setting makes it even more real and there is a stunned atmosphere at the end. When I deliver the last, crushing line about Bill Sikes’s Dog: ‘….and falling against a stone Dashed Out His Brains!’ there is a horrified silence, followed a few seconds later by a nervous giggle and then by applause.
The party continues for a while. We have a formal toast offered by Suzy in thanks of my being there and I can feel all of the time my heart beating hard and my breath deep. I will be pumped up and buzzing well into the night I think!
The evening ends eventually and Lee takes me back to the hotel with plate loads of food from the sumptuous buffet. I stop via the laundry and my shirts are still in the drier, so I rescue them and get back to the room.
I eat my food, and slowly peel the layers of the day’s experiences off until I’m ready to sleep
I searched for Sergeant Robert Kimberling. What a tragic story. This is the link. It speaks for itself: