It’s back in the road today after my lovely luxury stay at Hershey. I have the alarm set early and have my cases packed and blog written in good time.
I take the bag containing all of my beer to the car and as soon as I walk through the main hotel doors I am hit by a stimulating wall of icy morning air. Straight away I realise that what I should have done yesterday was walk, rather than staying in the hotel. A brisk hike around the trails which surround the property would have energised me and probably led to a better performance last night.
There is ice on the car but it feels as if the road surfaces are perfectly good, so I don’t think that the weather will affect my drive this morning.
With the first load safely in the car I return to the hotel, and breakfast. The Circular Dining Room is completely deserted and I am seated at a table by the windows, where coffee and grapefruit juice are served to me. I decide to have a continental breakfast this morning, and start it with a warming bowl of porridge, sprinkled with brown sugar.
I am returning to the buffet to get a plate of fruit and some pastries, when who should appear but David and Teresa. We all sit together and pick up on our conversations from last night.
At one point David suggests that there should be a conference for actors who perform one man shows, as he has so enjoyed talking to someone in the same field. It’s a fun idea, but I think there would have to be a therapist on hand, as we’d all watch each other’s shows and think: ‘Oh, he’s so much better than me, I can’t do as good a job as that!’
Sadly I have to curtail our chat as I need to be on the road by eight. I am probably leaving too early, but I have the roads around Washington DC to negotiate and they can be truly awful.
I go back to the room and collect my cases, before checking out.
I start the car engine to generate some heat and as I scrape the ice from the windows there is a mournful whistle from a passing train: if I had to chose one sound that evokes America, it would be that.
Once in the car I turn on the heated seats, set the SatNav, rig up my Heath Robinson music system, and hit the road.
Today I am listening to Simon and Garfunkle’s Greates Hits. We used to have the old vinyl album at home when I was a child and I am amazed at how familiar it still is, all these years on.
Of course there are the famous songs: Sound of Silence, The Boxer, The 59th Bridge Street Song and Bridge Over Troubled Water; but I love hearing the ones that I have forgotten about: For Emily, Wherever I may Find Her, Cecilia (which I thought very naughty and racy when I was growing up), Bookends, El Condor Pasa, and the beautiful arrangement of Scarborough Fair/Canticle.
It is a lovely wallow in nostalgia.
The traffic is very light until I get to about fifty miles from DC, at which point it turns into a steady, slow crawl. I’m glad that I had left so much time this morning.
At one point there is a complicated intersection, and a sign proclaims: ‘Keep Right for Democracy Blvd’. Well, that doesn’t seem very democratic: surely I should be given the choice to keep left also?
The traffic edges it’s way around the City and towards Arlington, before I am released onto the I 95, heading South.
My destination today is Occoquan, a small town on the outskirts of DC. I will be performing two shows today and my sound check isn’t until one o’clock, so I drive to my hotel where I am able to check in.
I potter, in a fairly lazy way, and get my costumes sorted out.
At ten minutes to one I load the car up again and drive into the centre of town. My day will be split between two venues. The show is organised by The Golden Goose Christmas store: a wonderful Aladdin’s cave of a shop. But the show itself is a block away in the tiny Ebenezer Chappell. I park outside the latter building and am horrified to see the audience piling in. LaVerne Carson, one of the owners of the Golden Goose, is standing out the door handing out programmes and greeting everyone.
Surely I have got the time wrong? I was certain that the show was at Two, but by the looks of it they are ready to get going imminently. LaVerne greets me and reassures me that there is indeed still an hour to go before show time: they are just a very keen audience.
I take my things to the store, where I am greeted by Pat, the other owner, and the rest of the staff. I am sat in the back office and a sandwich is bought for me.
Every spare space in the building is used as a stock room, and as I eat I am surrounded by curiously labelled boxes: ‘Skiers: boy/girl’; ‘Woman golfer. Blk shirt. Red shirt. Blue shirt’; ‘Young Hockey Player Tween’; and, somewhat alarmingly: ‘#29 Dickens Family’.
Lunch finished I stroll around the shop for a while, admiring the magnificent displays, before retiring to the rest room to change into costume. Even in here there are shelves stocked high.
It is one fifty as I arrive at Ebenezer and the buzz of excitement is very loud. There is a large contingent of ladies from the Red Hat Society, who are always good fun and I think that this show will be a perfect antidote to my disappointment of last night.
LaVerne makes a lovely introduction, finishing off with a quote originally made about Charles Dickens himself: ‘A whole theatre under one hat’.
I am greeted by very warm applause.
I am careful with the show and start slowly. I really want to regain my confidence and rebuild it from the bottom up. The audience is wonderful and soon I am back in full flight. All of the emotions work and I am very pleased with the whole performance.
The warmth that greeted me when I started is replicated as the audience leaves. I am stood at the door and everyone wishes me ‘Merry Christmas’ and shakes me by the hand. The amount of people who greet me with a declaration of how many times they have watched the show is quite amazing and very moving.
When the audience has left LaVerne and I walk back to the shop where the signing session is held. I am greeted at the door by Brittney and we manoeuvre our way past the long queue, into a small room at the back, where my table is set up.
There is a photographer from a local magazine set up and he takes lots of pictures as I meet, greet and sign.
The session lasts exactly an hour and I finish by signing a few pre-ordered bits and bobs for the store itself.
The photographer is packing up his equipment and asks me if I travel in France at all? ‘Not much’, I reply. ‘You never get to La Sarthe and the twenty four hours?’ and suddenly a shared passion for motor racing is discovered as we chat about the various events he has attended at Le Mans.
When we have finished talking, I go back to the rest/stock room to change back into ‘normal’ clothes.
There is just time between the shows for dinner and I am taken to the restaurant by Joe, Jean and Michael, who have entertained me in the same way for the last few years.
Jean is an avid fan of all British TV and is keen to pick my brains about the new season of Downton Abbey, about which I know very little, as I’ve been travelling during its run. I am able to tell her about the exhibition at Winterthur, however.
Our conversation moves on to Doc Martin, via Morse/Lewis and Endeavour.
The food arrives and it is truly delicious. I have a bowl of pasta, with medallions of Filet Mignon in a lime-based sauce. Yum. Truly Yum.
Soon it is five thirty and I have to get back to the store to change once again.
The audience has gathered early (in fact many of them gate-crashed the first show’s signing session and have been sat patiently ever since.)
LaVerne’s nephew Tommy is entertaining them on the keyboard, playing a selection of Christmas Carols and the mood is suitably festive.
The second show is another good one. I go up one gear and everything is still working well. There are a lot of students in the crowd and once they realise that the programme is not a stuffy reading, and that they are able to laugh and join in, they fully embrace the whole experience.
At the end, the hand shaking is repeated and one family, who have seen the show many times, and listen to my CD version over and over, stay to chat. The two daughters listen to the CD so much that their parents think that they could probably recite it from memory now.
Back at the store and there is hardly anyone in the signing line. Most of the audience had things signed this afternoon and have already met and thanked me at the door of the Church, so have gone straight to their cars and home.
It is a nice early finish, and I am able to change and get my things gathered up by eight thirty. I say my good-byes to Pat and Laverne.
I have been coming to The Golden Goose for as long as I have been touring and Pat and LaVerne always put on a great show. More than that they, and all of their staff, are generous, hospitable, and genuinely good people. I always enjoy my Golden Goose day.
Back at the hotel I get a couple of loads of washing into the machine and then relax for the evening.
Tomorrow there is another drive and two more shows, but I feel much more comfortable about the performances than I did twenty four hours ago.
What a difference a day makes.