Today, Tuesday 2 December, 2014, is very rare: I have nothing to do at all. No travelling, no performances, no nothing.
I start by packing my A Christmas Carol 2 Act script at the bottom of the case, where it joins the scripts for Top Hole, The Signalman and Doctor Marigold. From now on it is just the standard version of the show, until I return home in a couple of weeks.
OK, what should I do with my day off? The obvious thing is to make my way into New York City, but I am quite terrified at the thought of dealing with the bus and rail service: I’ll probably have the wrong change and an excitable New York bus driver will shout at me.
The more I think about it, the more likely it is that I will hide behind the ‘I need to get a good day’s rest, ready for the busy week ahead’ excuse.
I go to breakfast, which is a beautiful buffet, and as I leave the restaurant I take my courage in both hands and divert to the front desk to ask about travelling into the City.
Of course, it is the easiest thing to do: The bus leaves from outside the hotel at regular intervals and goes straight to 42nd Street. Fare: $4.25.
That settles it, NYC it is. I decide not to do any Dickens stuff, and to just play tourist for the day. I was in New York two years ago on a cruise ship, and on that occasion I went to the Statue of Liberty, visited The Freedom Tower, and generally walked around lower Manhattan. So this year I am going to stay in Midtown and go to the top of The Empire State Building, then maybe visit the Museum of Natural History.
I decide to take the ten o’clock bus which turns up absolutely on time. I pay my $8.50 for a round trip and nobody shouts at me.
I can now state an undeniable fact: riding on an American bus is just the same as riding on an English bus. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, perhaps I’ve watched ‘Speed’ too often.
As we drive towards the Hudson River I begin to get glimpses of the skyline and the Empire State Building stands proudly, almost beckoning me to it.
Most of the passengers on the bus are commuting, so there is nothing exciting about this journey for them, but I am trying to take in every view, looking this way and that.
The traffic is heavy as we get swallowed up by The Lincoln Tunnel and we crawl through it. The tunnel was opened in the 1940s and does not have the airy, spacious feel of the new tunnels in Boston. This trip is not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.
Eventually we emerge onto Manhattan and arrive at the Port Authority Bus station.
Once at street level I take in everything that makes New York such a great city. It is a living, breathing, bustling, noisy, dirty, crowded, beautiful and ugly city. Yellow cab drivers are hooting their car horns at anyone and everyone. Pedestrians are talking urgently into cell phones, getting impatient as tourists block up the sidewalks.
‘Walk/Don’t Walk’. Old water towers on top of buildings (I love those water towers). Cops with guns. Avenues running north and south; streets, east west.
The Empire State is on 33rd Street, and I decide to walk the nine blocks. Even if I do nothing else today, the walk through the streets of New York makes the trip worthwhile. I don’t have a set route, but know that I have to work south and east, so just keep cutting through streets that look interesting, until I find myself right next to Macy’s.
Less than a week ago I was in Wilmington, NC, sat in my hotel room watching high school bands, baton-twirlers, and Broadway stars shivering on lavishly decorated floats, pass over this very piece of road.
And there, towering above me is The Empire State Building. She is elegant, and still stands proud amongst the modernity that surrounds her, as does St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
I am rather expecting to find a huge line but there are surprisingly few people visiting today. In fact almost everyone I hear has a British accent, which is strange.
There is no wait and soon I am in the express elevator surging ever upwards towards the eightieth floor. A quick audio tour around the museum, and then it is into another elevator to the observation level.
King Kong, Fay Ray, Clark Gable, Deborah Kerr, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and now me.
The views in every direction are just amazing. It is a cold day and the wind is blowing from the North, but it is worth bracing it as I identify so many landmarks.
Earlier in the year I was in Dubai and went to the top of the Burj Khalifa and it is interesting to compare my feelings then with my current ones. The Burj is, of course, bigger; you could say more impressive, it is certainly more spectacular than the Empire State Building. However the huge difference between the two buildings is in what surrounds them.
In Dubai the height of the Khalifa gives you the perfect opportunity to marvel at just how temporary the city of Dubai seems to be. It is a modern, shiny, disposable city in the middle of a desert. It seems to have no reason to be there.
In New York City you are surrounded by history. In the bay you can see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which have welcomed immigrants to this melting pot for so many generations, and it is there that the roots of New York have taken hold.
Along the Hudson are the docks and wharfs that have brought trade and money to the city; beyond Manhattan lies The Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn, all feeding the economy’s insatiable appetite; to the south in the modern skyscrapers, men in suits are deciding how to distribute the wealth around the world.
Oh yes, New York City is a real city!
I’m beginning to get a tad too windswept, so take a final circuit of the observation deck, before heading back down to floor level.
I walk along Broadway, into Times Square, but it is starting to rain now, so I decide to get the subway up to 81st Street and the Museum of Natural History.
Unfortunately I haven’t quite got a hold on the subway system yet and find myself on an express train that eventually disgorges me onto 125th street. I am much more careful before boarding the next train south.
Having watched ‘Night at the Museum’ I feel as if I know the Museum of Natural History well, and the main hall with the giant dinosaur skeletons is indeed very familiar. But I am not ready for the bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt sitting on a bench, which brings a wave of sorrow over me for the death of Robin Williams.
After having a rather unsatisfying lunch in the busy cafe, I spend a wonderful two hours or so, marvelling at the many wonders of the natural world. The fossils are impressive, as is the display about the natural disasters which can destroy our lives.
However the most moving exhibit is the case containing the body of ‘Lonesome George’: the last Pinto Island Tortoise from the Galapagos.
Rarely can scientists pinpoint the exact moment when a species becomes extinct, but the Pinto Island Tortoise subspecies died at 8am, on 24 June, 2012.
My day’s tourism all finished, I take the subway back to 42nd and easily find where bus 167 is leaving from. I have no idea why I was so panic-stricken about public transport this morning.
I get back to the hotel and start to pack my cases in readiness for an early start tomorrow morning.
After having my supper in the hotel bar, I lay on the bed watching TV for a while.
Ahead of me lies a very busy period, with fifteen shows in eight days, so this day off has been very welcome. And what a wonderful day off it has been.