HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO EVERYONE IN AMERICA WHO MAKE MY TRIPS HERE SO ENJOYABLE. I GIVE THANKS TO YOU ALL
Up with the lark! Damned lark.
Although my alarm is set for 5.45, I am up and packing by 5.15, meaning that I can get on the road good and early.
Today is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and everybody in the entire country is on the move. It is known as the worst travel day of the year, so the more time I can build into my journey the better.
In the lobby it is already busy and I think about having a brief bite of breakfast but content myself with grabbing a coffee and a couple of muffins for the car journey.
I am heading to Kansas City International Airport which is a journey of around thirty minutes. The car is covered with a light dusting of snow but there is no evidence of it on the ground, so my journey shouldn’t be delayed by the weather, at least.
I set the satnav system, that I had so much trouble getting in the first place, but it takes twenty minutes to find a satellite to navigate from. Hertz use their own brand of GPS and it always seems to struggle to get going. Maybe I should have got a coffee and a muffin for it too.
Fortunately I know to head North, and signs for KCI soon appear. I am half way to the airport before the thing decides to help me.
The roads are clear and I reach the airport exit in good time. I follow the signs to the Hertz drop-off zone, where an agent waves me into the correct lane.
And now begins one of the happiest ten minutes or so I can remember on tour:
The agent comes up to the car:
‘Good morning,’ I say. ‘How are you doing?’
‘Oh, good, good. Still standing, that’s good right? Where are you headed today?’
‘Wilmington, North Carolina.’
‘Oh boy, sir, through Atlanta? Pretty bad storms in the east, pretty bad. Hey, man where you from, not here? Australia p’rhaps?’
‘Oh Man, England?’
His face cracks into a huge smile which lights the entire morning up.
‘Guess my name, sir! Guess my name. It’s Bob Watford, you know, sir, like the Watford Gap in England! Yes, sir Watford.’ He pronounces it with two distinct syllables: ‘What Ford’
And now, what has been friendly banter moves on to generosity way above anything that a Hertz corporate training course could create.
‘Sir, don’t get the shuttle bus, hop back into the car, I’ll drive you to the terminal. You don’t want to be getting that bus. I’ll drive you.’
With that we are back into ‘my’ Chevy Impala and he drives me through the airport access roads towards the main terminal building.
‘You are a good man’ I say.
‘Oh, I try to be, sir, I try to be. It isn’t always easy though, when people just like to act mean and treat you bad.’
As we drive he keeps up a constant flow of conversation: he came from New York originally, now lives in Lee’s Summit (where I was performing last night). He has two schnauzer dogs; one called Sir MacGreggor and the other Sir MacVicar. ‘I just love England, sir, so I made them Sirs, like royalty.’
All too soon we are pulling up at the curb side and he helps me unload my cases from the trunk of the car.
I give him a healthy tip and we pose for an early morning selfie before I walk into the terminal building with a smile on my face.
Thank You Bob Watford. You are a kind man and a generous man: it was my pleasure to have come into your circle of influence for a few short minutes.
The expected crush of Thanksgiving passengers does not materialise and the airport is no busier than on any previous time that I have used it.
I sit at the gate and start to write up my blog but the flight is called before I can finish it. My loyal readers are going to have to wait for a little while this morning.
There is definitely a Holiday feel in the air: everyone is happy, friendly and polite. The gate agent says ‘have a good flight Gerald’. Not Mr Dickens, not Sir, but Gerald. Another happy moment.
The flight is fairly full but we are boarded quickly and leave on time, which is a relief. I am flying to Atlanta, one of the main hubs in the southern half of America, and the traffic there is likely to be extremely heavy.
I am on a 757, which is a large aircraft for a domestic flight. To make sure that everyone is served with a drink in the time allowed, two trolleys work from opposite ends of the plane, converging somewhere over the wings.
I have an image of the huge Hadron Collider in Geneva, as I watch the two ‘particles’ moving inevitably towards their fusion.
I ask for a coffee and the attendant decides that Delta Airline’s cups are not enough for my needs, so gives me two cups, two milks, two sugars and two packets of biscuits (cookies). It really is my lucky day today.
We arrive in Atlanta on time and a quick check of the monitors tells me that I have to change terminal. This is not difficult, as an underground train system links the whole airport. Soon I am at gate B26, finishing off my blog.
The next flight is to Wilmington, North Carolina and as we board I see that it is full. It is interesting to look at the other passengers and to see how different the group is to a normal travelling day.
Many are nervous, and searching the seat pockets for the magazine and safety card. There is lots of going back to overhead bins to re-stow this bag or that gift.
When the flight attendant makes her safety briefing it is with a much greater attention to detail than usual, allowing for the inexperience of most of her flock.
The flight to Wilmington is a bit bumpy but we land on time. The airport is one of those lovely little ones and the car rental desk is right next to the baggage reclaim area, meaning that I can get all of the paperwork done before my cases arrive.
It is a short walk to the parking lot, where I seat myself into a Ford Fusion and get everything set for my short drive to today’s hotel.
I have never been to Wilmington before, so everything is new to me. It seems to be an affluent city, next to the ocean, with lots of gated communities and country clubs along the way.
I am headed for another Hampton Inn, but even that is a cut above the one I left this morning, situated in a wooded area, with a lavish lobby.
I check in and go to my room. No, not a room: a suite. it has a large living room, a kitchen area, with a full sized fridge, a microwave, sink, worktop and dining table. There is a separate bedroom and bathroom area. Very spacious and rather a waste for just one night!
I go back to the lobby and buy a microwavable chicken stir-fry, which I cook in my kitchen, and eat whilst uploading photographs for the day’s blog.
After lunch I have a quiet time before getting into costume and driving to my venue for this evening’s show: The Porters Neck Country Club.
When I arrive at the elegant clubhouse, I am greeted by a veritable welcoming committee. The manager of the club is there to shake my hand, as is Nicki Mclaughlin, the food and beverage manager, who has been working with Pam at Byers Choice to put the event together.
I am also greeted by Gerry and Kelsey (father and daughter), who are directly responsible for my being here tonight.
Gerry and his family have seen perform on six occasions at The Williamsburg Inn and decided that it would be a good show to bring to Wilmington. With much badgering, cajoling and determination Gerry managed to set the wheels in motion, which ultimately have carried me to the lobby outside the ballroom.
The club has erected a large stage for me, following the exact measurements determined in their contract with Byers Choice. Even the legs of wooden stool have been cut down so that it stands at exactly the right height for me to put my leg on as The Ghost of Christmas Present.
When I have completed all of the sound checks I stand chatting with Gerry and Kelsey until the guests start to arrive, at which point I hide myself away in the restaurant downstairs.
The guests are to spend an hour dining before the show, so I have a long time to myself. There is a TV in the deserted restaurant and I watch a few old episodes of Seinfeld before the time comes around to get ready for the performance itself.
Back in the ballroom Nicki welcomes the guests to the club and then introduces Kelsey who speaks confidently about A Christmas Carol and specifically watching my shows for so many years. I actually feel a huge sense of responsibility to her and to Gerry: I want to do a really good job for them.
I begin the show and, as is always the case when an audience is seeing it for the first time, the initial reaction is reserved. Nobody knows how the show is going to work: will it be a simple reading? Will there be costume changes? Is it going to be serious and scholarly?
The early skirmishes are actually slightly awkward. There is an elderly gentleman in the audience who is listening intently to every line – and then comments on it. I don’t think he realises quite how loudly he is speaking, but in every pause the silence is broken by his voice.
‘Scrooge and Marley were partners for, Oh, I don’t know how many years…..’ ‘FORTY!’ he says. And, for all I know, he is probably correct.
I soon get into my stride and start to get very intense. I have to be a bit careful, as the room is very wide and it is easy to fall into the trap of only performing to the centre, especially in those dramatic moments in the final third.
The audience soon begin to respond, and join in enthusiastically with the ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ for Mrs Cratchit’s pudding.
When the show is finished and the bows taken I station myself outside the ballroom to meet and greet. There is not much signing, with the exception of a lovely copy of A Christmas Carol previously signed by my ‘uncle’ Cedric.
I chat to everyone as they leave and the repeated comment tonight is how hard I worked. It certainly was a physical show tonight and I am glad of the glass of iced water that Nicky provides for me. My heart is pounding rather and it takes a while to calm back down.
I say good bye to Gerry, Kelsey and the rest of their family, before collecting my things from the restaurant and driving back to the hotel.
I have fun on the journey back, as I’ve discovered that the Ford Fusion has a ‘sports’ mode to the transmission. There are little paddles on the back of the steering wheel like a grand prix car, and I spend the fifteen journey making constant (and completely unnecessary) gear changes just because I can.
I get back to the hotel at 9.45 and having changed out of my costume return to the little bar in the lobby, where I sit with one other gentleman, and have a glass of wine to welcome in the Holidays (I am becoming so American).
We are joined by a third man and within minutes a seemingly harmless conversation about basketball has turned into a full blown political debate about President Obama’s immigration policy.
I am out of my depth and let the two bar-room philosophers slug it out between them.
When the bar closes, I suddenly realise that I am very hungry, so get another microwaveable meal from the pantry and return to my room to eat.
Supper finished, I turn off all of the lights throughout my suite and retire to the bedroom, where I slip between the sheets and fall asleep thinking of the day and reflecting on the genuine goodness within people.