In the lovely surroundings of the Fairville Inn Carriage House, I wake and prepare to start writing my blog, using the notes I’d made yesterday: No phone. I look in my coat, my bag, my costume carrier. No phone. I know that I had it at dinner last night. I must have left it on the table when I left. At last, my demon has struck.
I doubt that Buckleys Tavern will be open before I get on the road, so I will need to phone them and have it shipped on to one of the future venues. Damn, I was so proud of myself and thought I may get to the end with all of my belongings intact.
I set about writing and trying to recall of the details of yesterday. I write until 8am, which is when I have told Laura that I will be having breakfast. As I walk past I have a look around the car on the ice to see if my phone had dropped out of my coat pocket as I got out of the car. No phone. One more look in the car. Phone. AhHaaaaaaa! On the floor, beneath the passenger seat: YAYYYYY! Sorry, little things please me on the road.
I enter the dining room with sense of euphoria and am greeted by Laura, Rick and Ozzie. They were at my show yesterday afternoon (not Ozzie), and we chat about it. Laura said she’d noticed some changes to the show and was particularly impressed by Jacob Marley’s lifeless expression. It is very gratifying to hear that the change I’d made has worked from an audience’s perspective.
Breakfast is lovely and refined and the chat about the shows continues with two of the guests who also saw it yesterday. ‘How do you remember all of those lines?’
I go back to my room and finish the blog adding in some details that I see on the phone notes, before packing up and driving away at about 10.00. I have christened the Jeep ‘Manx’ because it has no tail.
On the Road
This morning I am driving to the gambling mecca of Atlantic City and the route takes me past Philadelphia which boasts one of the most beautiful skylines in America, I think.
At one intersection the road goes beneath a bridge which had been constructed with prefabricated concrete slabs. In the small gaps between the concrete, water obviously drips and, as with the roadside cliffs yesterday, the sudden temperature drop has frozen the water, meaning I am driving through a tunnel of icicles, hanging like swords of Damocles just above the car roof.
I am running low on fuel so I set my Sat Nav to find the nearest gas station. I am directed off the main road and through a residential area in the middle of which my guide confidently announces ‘You have arrived at your destination’. Not a fuel station in sight. I give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe there used to be one, although I doubt it. I ask her to find the next nearest one and off we drive again. ‘Turn Left’ she tells me at huge dual carriageway with a concrete central reservation barring me from the opposite carriageway.
I give up on her, turn the opposite way and immediately arrive at a Gulf filling station that she had forgotten to mention.
With the tank full I head off towards Atlantic City, on the Atlantic City Expressway. The road is soulless. Compared to the roads I have been on recently, from the seedy to the pastoral, this one is just straight, wide and dull.
The inevitable Christmas station is on the radio, there is a commercial that I’ve heard a few times in the Philadelphia area, for a store called Ollies and they have naturally used the Burl Ives classic Holly Jolly Christmas for their jingle.
The rewrite makes no attempt to rhyme or scan but panders to the company’s greed for custom. The jingle runs:
Have a jolly Ollie’s Christmas
It’s the best time of the year
Say hello to friends you know
And don’t forget your wallet
Soon I am arriving in Atlantic City and as this is my second year here I know where I am headed. I can see my destination, the towering glittering gold towers of the Borgata Hotel and Casino far to my left.
I follow the signs and soon am in the parking garage and unloading my bags. I take the lift to the Casino level and my senses are immediately assaulted. Noise, light, rush.
I have to put on record that I am not a casino person, I don’t understand them. I have visited a few over the years, some for work, some as a tourist. I have been to Monte Carlo, Macau, Melbourne and Las Vegas but have never been tempted to play, I just don’t understand how to and have no desire to learn.
Of course slots are easy but the gaming tables themselves seem alien to me and I’m sure if I sat down at one my naivety would shine through and the vultures would instantly descend.
So, I’m not a gambler but I do appreciate the extraordinary surroundings that I find myself in. The Borgata is a truly amazing building, very elegant and well designed.
At check in, which is more akin to an airport concourse, than a hotel, I am called forward and the girl at the desk immediately says: ‘Oh, you are our performer, I was reading about your show in our staff newsletter, it sounds amazing: how does the show work, what do you do?’ What a lovely welcome. For all of its huge size the Borgata is a very friendly place.
Check in complete I take the lift to the top floor, 31 and walk to my room. It is huge, so big that it takes a long time to find a wardrobe to hang my costumes in. The bathroom is larger than many of my hotel rooms on the tour. The view is towards the ocean, across flatlands that were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last year.
On the desk I find myself looking at me from a flier advertising forthcoming shows in the hotel’s theatre The Music Box.
I just have time to take in my surroundings before going to the great Ballroom in the hotel’s Events Center, where I am due to appear tonight. I meet with the event coordinator Sally Nickel who, as her job title suggests, is coordinating the event.
This isn’t a show, it is a dinner. It is a dinner for the casino’s most favoured loyal customers, the highest of the high rollers. The Titanium Club members.
The Ballroom is a major venue and some of the top names in rock and roll and comedy have played here. Tonight it is in dining room mode with tables laid for probably 2000 guests. Every table has an extravagant floral arrangement and is laid with military precision. In the centre of the room is a high stage onto which a grand piano is being hoisted. Above the stage are four huge video screens ready to broadcast to the four compass points of the room. There is a large team at work each and every one of who know exactly what their role is and getting on with it quietly and with great efficiency.
Sally takes me to my dressing room and we run through the plan for the evening. The dinner lasts from 7 until 8.30 and during it there will be various performances and events as the managers of the casino thank and seduce their guests.
My part of the proceedings is to briefly appear as ‘Scrooge’ marching through the room all curmudgeonly, berating all and sundry until I reach the stage. There it is suggested that maybe we should embrace the spirit of the season and give out some gifts; More ‘Bah, Humbug’ ing until the new executive in charge of the slots announces that everyone in the room will have a free $250 credit. And that will be me done.
‘Oh, one more thing, we thought it may be nice if you could pose with guests for some photographs as they arrive?’ It all sounds easy enough.
Meeting finished I pick up a salad to take to my room and call by the business centre where there is a parcel waiting for me. This, at last, is the delivery of business cards that I ordered earlier in the trip, with the blog address on it. The idea is to have them at my signing sessions, so that people can follow along and see what I say about them. It is rather late in the tour, but it will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up from now on.
I go back to my room, have lunch and re pack my suitcase. It has become an awful mess over the last few days and I’m much happier after I’ve folded and re-laid everything in a more orderly manner.
At 5.00 I take my costume and go back to the ballroom. I go to my dressing room that I am due to share with Santa. And there he is already in costume, with a magnificent beard and deep rich velvet red tunic. Scrooge and Santa in the same room, I’m sure that Pinter could have written a brilliant duologue.
We are due to run through the entire dinner with all involved. The evening is to be hosted by Joe Intilli, one of the managers and it is his job to keep the whole thing running to schedule. He will welcome the performers, call other managers and executives to the stage, help to reveal the gifts for the audience.
There is a group of carol singers, Santa, myself and 4 Borgata Babes. We all discuss our respective roles and then it is time to start. The doors are opened at 6.30 and the mayhem begins.
The Carol Singers are amazing, they are all studying singing at Princeton, where I was a week or so ago. It sounds like a cathedral choir is singing, rather than 4 students.
Remember the suggestion that I should pose for photographs? Easy, right? Ha! I am working with one photographer and 2 Babes and together we have to cover half of the room. Every table, every couple.
‘Hi,’ says the photographer, already taking a picture of the table number for reference. ‘You want your picture with Charles Dickens, great. Smile!’ click. The Babes and I have to make sure that we are behind the couple smiling, before we shuffle through 90 degrees for the next couple. It is manic!
Among it all though lots of people say ‘How wonderful, we’re coming to see your show tomorrow’, or, ‘we saw you last year. Amazing!’ And so it goes on. Smile. Click. Shuffle. Smile. Click. These pictures will be printed and delivered to the relevant table later in the evening.
The entertainment continues, the house band and singer belt out Christmas songs, but nobody is listening to them.
Santa and I are back in our dressing room and chat about life on the road at this time of year and theatre in general. The beard is off and the tunic undone. It is mighty hot in the ballroom with 2000 people and probably as many lights.
7.40 and it is my turn. I get the cue and we do our little skit on stage leading up to 2 of the Babes unwrapping a huge $250 Slots Credit board. Whoops and cheers and delight from all of the guests. Joe thanks me, introduces the ‘real’ me and plugs my show in the theatre tomorrow and then I am done for now.
The guest entertainer for the evening is Andrea McCardle who was the first actress to play Little Orphan Annie in the Broadway musical. Joe welcomes her to the stage. Well. Annie has all growed up. She is in a red dress, as the character wears and she has red hair. But Annie was never curved like that! More Jessica Rabbit than little orphan. The crowd love it and when she sings ‘Tomorrow’ there is great applause.
The final part of the show is for Joe and the President of the Casino to announce the Christmas gift to all of their Titanium members. Babes on stage again and the reveal: a prepaid $500 American Express card to spend as you want. 2000 people cheering and clapping.
Our final job of the day is to stand at the exit door and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and line the way to collect their gift cards. There is a rush as soon as the doors are open, to get to the desks and get the present.
I’m standing with the choir and lots of people say how wonderful they were and how beautifully they sung. As we are all in Victorian Costume I am included in all of their praise, which is very nice.
Santa and the Babes are on the other side and are favourites for photographs but everything is fun and good natured.
At last the last guests leave and we all go back to our dressing rooms. Santa Mike and I change. No, children, I am not telling you what Santa wears under his Red clothes…..
Mike has to drive home so we say our goodbyes and go our separate ways. The ballroom is being broken down again.
I go back to my room and on the way see that many of the dinner guests are already at the slot machines or at gaming tables ensuring that the Borgata’s largesse is paying off already.
There is a bar which is quiet, so I sit there and have a pizza and a glass of wine before going back to my suite and bed.
As I say, this is not my world, but it is extraordinary to get a peek into it.