Preparing to move on

Today I move on. I have become rather well set and comfortable at Pigeon Forge but the tour continues.  The first job this morning is take all of the belongings which have somehow become scattered around the room and squeeze them into two suitcases.

Unfortunately I have plenty of time to achieve this feat as I wake up at 4am.

I start to function slowly, including writing yesterday’s blog. I also realise that I have yet to check-in for my flight today, so log on to the US Airways site.

Because I travel with all of my costumes I have to check two cases which means an extra charge.  It is now, at 4.30am, that I discover my USA credit card is not in my wallet.  Panic!

I have to leave at 10am, I will need the card to rent a car in Ohio, this could be a disaster. With the help of a strong coffee I work back through my day yesterday and realise that the only place I went was Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurant for my lunch/dinner.

Somehow I doubt that they will be open at such an hour. It is rather doubtful that they will be open before I actually leave but with any luck there might be a cleaner or a chef preparing for lunch who arrives early.

I look at the Johnny Carino’s website and find a feedback email page. In hope rather than expectation I send a message explaining the situation and ask them to contact me.

Miserably I continue my preparations.

I have a very early breakfast this morning and sadly the stage has been cleared and there is no evidence of what happened here last night. The room is just an overflow breakfast room again.

My work in Pigeon Forge is not quite done as I’d promised Kristy that I’d sign a few books for her. She has left two boxes in a boardroom and I get my Waterman fountain pen ready to scrawl ‘Gerald Charles Dickens’ twenty four times.

As it happens, I only need to do it twelve times as one of the boxes contains pre-signed books that I must have done last year.

Signing for Kristy

Signing for Kristy

As I’m going back to my room the phone rings and unbelievably it is Johnny Carino’s head office to say that they got my email, there is someone in the building in Pigeon Forge and yes they have my card.

Oh Joyous day, kaloo kalay.

I have to say that the service in the restaurant itself wasn’t great but the corporate service has been spectacular. I walk across the car park to the restaurant, ring the doorbell and moments later am reunited with the life-saving strip of plastic.  I do have to undergo a rigorous security check before I am allowed to have the card:

‘What’s your name?’

‘Gerald Dickens’

‘There’s your card.’

Back at the hotel I finish the packing and leave room 505 for the last time.

The lobby is full with people checking out, mostly audience members, so there is much handshaking chatting and congratulating, which puts me on the road in a very positive state of mind.

It is also amazing how many people in the hotel have been reading the blog, so may I say to you: ‘thank you for all of you support and kindness. I look forward to seeing you again next year.”

The journey from Pigeon Forge to Knoxville is mainly spent running through Top Hole, which happily is beginning to stick.

Refuelling

In no time I am approaching Knoxville airport and have to top the car up with fuel. As I pull into the service station I realise that I have no idea which side the filler cap is on.  I make an instant decision and pull up to the left of the pump.  I get out of the car and discover that my hunch was correct.

Now there is the issue of finding out how to actually open the filler cap. There is a switch hidden somewhere in the cab but it takes me plenty of time to find it.

Now I can fill the tank.

No I can’t.

I have to pre-authorize the pump by inserting the credit card into the slot and then quickly withdraw it, . That’s OK.  Now I have to enter the zip code.  The card is registered to Byers Choice, who create and oversee this entire adventure.  You would think that the least I could do is learn the zip code.

Before each tour I am sent a comprehensive book, which has every event, contact name, address, flight number, car rental detail: everything. Printed on the front page is the address of Byers Choice, with the zip code.  A sensible person (for example the sort of person who doesn’t leave credit cards in Italian restaurants), would have that document to hand.  Me?  It’s packed deep in one of my suitcases.

I do also have the document loaded on my mobile phone though, so I dive into the car and dig that out and by the time I’ve opened the correct file, the fuel pump has got bored and shut down. I go through the whole process of inserting and withdrawing the card again.  ‘Enter Zip Code.’  This time it is my phone that has gone to sleep.  Fortunately I wake it before the pump gives up on me all together.

Having finally filled the tank I drop the lovely Volvo back to SixT car rentals and go into the airport.

As I mentioned a few days ago Knoxville is a petite airport and I am quickly sat at the gate waiting to board.

Knoxville – Charlotte

As is the way of things these days, the plane is a very small one. When I started touring every flight was on board a Boeing 737, which was the industry workhorse.  Nowadays the fleets are little more than executive jets, without the luxury and comfort.

The flight from Knoxville to Charlotte is only 40 minutes or so and comfort isn’t really an issue.

Unfortunately the plane sits at the gate for quite a while. Apparently we have missed our slot, but will get going soon, the captain assures us.

Once we are airborne the flight attendant starts to make announcements about connecting flights, where the timing may be an issue. She asks the passengers to let those with the tightest connections get off first.  She reads a list of the most needy and top of that list is my onward flight to Columbus, Ohio.

As soon as the plane stops everyone ushers me to the front but there is nobody to drive the jet bridge to the plane, so we are sat there, doors open, jet bridge tantalisingly waving in the breeze and somewhere in Charlotte airport my flight is boarding.

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Eventually the Captain gets impatient and goes down the steps, which are built into our plane’s door, and tries to find someone. At last a jet bridge adjusting operative arrives and I can finally make my way through the crowded concourse to the next gate.

Footsie

Most of the passengers have boarded already but it is not an emergency yet and in fact I sit on the new plane for quite a while which is a relief because it gives my cases more chance to catch up with me.

I have a window seat and for a while think I’m going to have an empty space next to me, but eventually it is filled by a very tall and very broad gentleman.

A few days ago I had downloaded ‘Little Shop of Horrors onto my phone. I plug my headphones in and start watching.  We taxi and take off and I am greatly enjoying the movie when suddenly the phone slips from my hand and falls.  For a moment it swings, pendulum-like on the end of the headphone wire.  It swings forward, it swings back, at which point the momentum it has gained is enough to pull it lose from the wire and it clatters onto the floor somewhere.

I lean down to pick the phone up, but I can’t feel it anywhere. The gentlemen next to me is dozing, so I can’t ask him to help and there is so little room in the seat that I can hardly move to look.

I slip my shoe off and feel all around my floor space to see if I can locate the phone. No.

I widen the search area and then suddenly I feel something. Oh, thank heavens!  It is about where my neighbour’s feet would be and he will certainly crush it when he stands.  I need to rescue it.

I curl my toes round it. It moves again, in the opposite direction.  I stretch my foot further and wiggle my toes round it again.

At this moment the man wakes up, gives me a very strange look and moves his feet well out of my reach…..The object that was on the floor just about where his foot would have been, was not my phone, it was his foot. Yes, I had been playing footsie with him under the chair and when he tried to move I’d followed him!

For the rest of the flight I keep very much to myself and hope that my phone will appear at sometime. Presumably Little Shop of Horrors is still playing somewhere on the floor.

‘Feed me Seymour!’  No chance of that: not even peanuts on this flight.

We land at Columbus and as the pilot puts the jet engines onto reverse thrust, my phone dutifully slides from its hiding place directly under my seat and into my feet.

At the baggage carrousel my bags duly appear, and I go to pick up my next rental car. It is a Chevrolet saloon model but the best thing about it is the first three letters of the license plate: GDS.  Gerald Dickens’s.  it’s my car!

Columbus – Cambridge

I am driving to Cambridge, Ohio in the county of Guernsey, which is a very strange mix of British geography. It is not an area I know at all as this is my first visit to the venue.

On the road it is exciting to see new names along the way. There is a company called Mudgett’s Monuments.  What a wonderful name.  Mr Mudgett had to go into a business beginning with M, didn’t he?  Mudgett’s Ducting, or Mudgett’s Logistics, or Mudgett’s Interior Design wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

I pass the town of Zanesville. So much better than Snodland, Staines or Goole.

The sky is enormous and the cloud formations are dramatic, looking like ancient layers of rock. Behind me there is the most incredible sunset which makes the entire sky golden, filling my driving mirrors.  The tops of the clouds are tinged with the fiery colour and the whole effect is like a lava flow from a violently erupting volcano.

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The drive is longer than I expected it to be and I’m already thinking that I will have to leave very early on Sunday morning in order to get my next flight safely.

Soon I begin to see the signs for Cambridge and I get to leave the freeway. My hotel, a Sleep Inn and Suites, is not a chain I know but the décor is modern and smart.

I am warmly welcomed at the front desk and given a gift basket containing lots of chocolate goodies, which I will devour, because I never managed to have lunch today.

Royal Appointment

In my room I have a call from the event organiser, Jonette Haberfield suggesting that I might like to have dinner with Queen Victoria who is staying in the hotel next to mine. This isn’t just any old Queen Victoria, though, this is Anne Boyd, who portrays the Queen at The Dickens on the Strand Festival in Galveston, Texas.

Anne and I worked together in Galveston on my very first trip to America back in 1995.  It will be wonderful to meet up with her again.

We arrange to meet at 7.30, as she has been on duty all day and is rather keen to shed the regal costume.

Not knowing the town I take the car to Anne’s hotel and wait in the lobby until she appears. We have a great big hug, it is lovely to see each other again after all these years.

Ruby Tuesday is the restaurant of choice and we are soon sat at a booth, chatting all the time about what has happened to each of us in the intervening years.

Soon Jonette joins us too, and the conversation moves on to the festival here in Cambridge, which sounds very exciting.

The evening moves on and it is time to retire for the night. Having made arrangements to pick each of us up tomorrow, Jonette leaves and I drop Anne back to the Comfort Inn, before driving the 100 yards to my own hotel.

Back in the room I put the TV on but very quickly am nodding off.

Quite an interesting day one way and another.

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