Massachusetts

Frustratingly my sleep patterns seem to be regressing. There was a time in Salem when I thought things were improving, but here in Newton at 3.30 am it seems as if I was wrong

I try to get back to sleep but never really succeed. I don’t even have a blog to write as I efficiently did it last night.  I read for a bit, then get up and do some more work on my A Christmas Carol poster, before finishing my packing.

It seems as if I have been up for hours when my alarm rings at 5.45. I have a moment of panic when I can’t find my spectacles but there they are on the bed, under the quilt.

My suitcase seems horribly heavy and I am rather worried that I may incur excess baggage charges for my flights today. Oh, well, there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I check out and load up the car. My flight is not until 9.20 but the traffic around Boston is notoriously awful and the rush hour starts early, so I decide to leave plenty of time and have breakfast at the airport.

In fact the journey is completely non-problematic, apart from negotiating the construction work at the airport itself and missing the exit for the car rental drop-off.

I haven’t spent that much time in this car, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a sense of parting as I drag my cases through the garage and towards the shuttle bus that will take me to terminal A.

At the Delta desk I lift my case onto the scales with as much flair as I can muster after a few hours of sleep, as if to give the impression that it is feather-light. Of course that is pointless but the agent doesn’t say anything about it and my case  disappears on the conveyor belt into the mysterious world beyond.  How on earth the system will spit it out onto another conveyor belt in Kansas City later today, I don’t know, but I am sure it will.  Maybe.  I hope.

I get through security easily and find a restaurant to satisfy my breakfast needs, which are satiated by ‘An All American’. The waitress asks me if I’d like orange juice and coffee?  ‘Yes, both.  Thank you.’  She returns with the juice and I assume that the coffee will follow but it does not.

I ask another server for a coffee: ‘Sure, honey. Cream and sugar?’ ‘Both, thanks.’  And still coffee is not forthcoming.

I ask the first lady again for coffee: ‘Sure, honey. Cream and sugar?’ ‘Yes’ tersely.

This time the coffee arrives but no cream and sugar. Then the cream comes. I ask for sugar – it’s just as well I’m not in a rush, but I have lots of time this morning.  I pass the time by reading Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall on the Kindle App of my phone.

After I finish breakfast I make my way to gate A15 and wait to be called. This is my first experience of American domestic flying this year and I am a little ring-rusty in the manoeuvring to be at the front of the queue when my zone is called.

I manage to get near to the front and am fourth on board out of our group: not bad.

When I get to my seat I notice that I have a family with 2 young children in the row behind me. I’m in for a pummelling, I fear.

Whilst I still had a wifi signal at the hotel I rented and downloaded  ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ to watch on my phone. I plug my head phones in and start the film.

Sure enough the back of my seat is kicked, and the tray table behind is banged for the entire flight but I get lost in Robin Williams’ performance and the brilliant cinematography. There is a moment, when Adrian Cronauer has been entertaining truck loads of troops on the road, and they drive off, that Robin Williams has an expression of such wistfulness and caring.  As I watch a huge wave of grief comes over me for such a talent lost.

After an hour or so, and remarkably just as the film comes to its end, we land in Detroit, where I have a forty minute layover before heading off to Kansas City. Detroit is one of those airports with multiple concourses connected by a monorail.  Fortunately for me my next plane is to leave from a nearby gate so there is no rush.

Motown

For this flight I am more careful to get myself to the front of the zone two boarding group. The last zone one people vanish down the jetway: now is the moment to make a move.  The passengers on Delta flight 1997 are a competitive lot and we all surge forward.  However we, as a group, have misread the signals: the gate agent has clearly decided not to play.  He stands and watches us without making an announcement.  One sacrificial lamb tries to go through the gate but is repelled with the words ‘priority boarding and zone one only’.  There is nobody else boarding.

Eventually he picks up the microphone and again we surge towards the door. ‘Zone two passengers may now board through the general boarding lane.  Priority and zone one passengers may continue to board through the fast-track lane.’

These two lanes are separated by one strip of fabric tape. They both lead to the same door.  In our surging we have all congregated on the ‘wrong’ side of the tape and the whole group has to shuffle backwards until we can re-surge on the correct side.  The agent is loving every moment of his power and control.

Once on the plane I settle into my seat and am delighted to see that there is nobody behind me for this leg.

Once airborne I get my script for The Signalman from my bag and read it through a few times. It is not exactly line learning but I’m sure it will help when I come to rehearse this afternoon.

The sky is clear as we make our way over the Midwest and the huge patchwork of scrubby brown fields, all recently harvested, spreads as far as the eye can see. Occasionally there is a town or city with its golf courses, athletics stadia, churches and strictly regimented housing, sitting like an island in the sea of farmland.

The flight is a little over an hour and we are soon descending into Kansas City airport.

Missouri

I have travelled and performed in the Kansas City area for many years, indeed it is the only venue that I have visited every year since I first began travelling to America in 1995. I work with the Mid Continent Library Service, which operates out of Independence Missouri, servicing branches all around the Kansas City area.

I am usually met at the airport by my long time friend Kimberly Howard, who is in charge of the adult event programmes at the library.   During the tour last year as we stood in a library lobby, waiting to start A Christmas Carol, we got talking about ghost stories.  I mentioned that The Signalman was a superb, spine-tingling, hair-raising little tale and it would be fun to perform it.  ‘How about October?  For Halloween’, asked Kimberly.

And here I am, not quite at Halloween, but at least nudging into October.

Sadly Kimberly couldn’t be at the airport to meet me today, as she has another meeting, but that does mean that I have a driver standing with a ‘Gerald Dickens’ card in his hand. I LOVE it when that happens!

Kansas City airport is a very small one and the baggage carousel is right next to the gate, on the same level. The driver goes to collect his car and I pick up my large, heavy silver case which has made it all the way from Boston, via Detroit.

We drive the thirty or so minutes to my hotel, where I check in. There is a Burger King next door so I treat myself to a delicious, healthy lunch, before returning to my room and starting work again.

The Signalman was part of my Dickens Double Bill performed in Abingdon on the week before I left. I had spent a frantic week learning it and perfecting it.  Since then I have crammed The Complete Works of Dickens in, squeezing The Signalman out.  I know I have plenty of work to bring it back.

I run through the script, stopping when a line is sticky, or the phrasing doesn’t sound correct. I get to the end and start another run, which is much smoother.  After an hour or so I give it a rest and watch the tv.

At around 4, Kimberly calls and we arrange to meet for dinner later, which will be nice.

Eventually I start another run of the Signalman and am about three-quarters of the way through, when I get a call from the front desk to say that Kimberly has arrived.

We get into her car and she asks what I would I like to eat?  We then sit in parking lot as she  waves her smart phone in all directions and watching as the details of each local restaurant appear on the screen.  We select Olive Garden, a chain of Italian restaurants, and drive the short distance.

It is nice to catch up on each other’s news. We talk about Liz’s concerts back home, our cat, the shows I’ve been doing, as well as her son, the library service, a forthcoming trip she is due to make to Tennessee and so on.  It is a nice relaxing dinner.

At around 8 ‘clock Kimberly drops me back to the Hampton Inn, where I lie on the bed and start to drift off straight away. I know I will pay for it with another early morning, but right now the body is crying ‘enough!’

Dates and details of my forthcoming tour can be found at: http://www.byerschoice.com/our-company/events/gerald-dickens

For details for Doctor Marigold DVD or other recordings email via: http://www.geralddickens.com

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