Saturday October 3

 

I knew it was too good to be true. After my long night’s sleep yesterday I am PING awake at 4.15 this morning. Oh well, coffee and blog fill my time until the alarm goes off at 6.

This morning I am driving to The Reagan National Airport in the heart of Washington DC and I want to leave myself plenty of time to deal with any delays (even though it is a Saturday, the Nation’s Capital is renowned for it for its heavy traffic).

The rain is still falling hard and more than once I hit deep puddles on the side of the road which send the car skittering away from the straight and narrow – there’s a lot of water on the ground

Actually the traffic isn’t at all heavy and in no time I am driving straight towards the Capitol Building, which is looking spectacular in its scaffolding shroud – rather like a Lego model of itself.

My GPS guides me through various tunnels and over various bridges and I’m soon pulling into the Alamo Car rental parking garage, which is where I will say goodbye to my black Ford Fusion, which has been a very good car. It has lots of gadgets, which I am always a sucker for – the best of which is the automatic seat that electrically slides into position as you turn the engine on and slides backwards again when you switch it off, giving you more room to get out. Very clever.

Even though it is still rainy and squally, I decide to walk to the terminal building, rather than waiting for the shuttle bus. As I leave one parking garage there is a covered walkway which leads to the next and it passes a – dare I say it – grassy knoll. I notice that there is an information board and as I have plenty of time in hand I go and read it.

Suddenly I am at home: the board reads

‘The land that Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport occupies today was once part of a plantation. This hill and the ruins on it are all that remains of the house that stood here for nearly 190 years.

Abingdon, as this tract of land on the Potomac River was called, witnessed sweeping historical changes.’

Abingdon! That’s my home town – Abingdon. How odd to find this little connection in the middle of a wet concrete jungle. It is one of those happy little moments on tour which just make me smile.

I leave Oxfordshire and return to Virginia, making my way into the terminal, where I check my bags, clear security and get myself some breakfast.

Everything is running smoothly.

My schedule for the day sees me flying from DC to Philadelphia, which is only a thirty five minute flight, a short layover and then down to Wilmington in North Carolina, where I will be met by a limousine, which will whisk me to Swansboro to perform Doctor Marigold for the Swansboro Development Foundation. It promises to be a lovely day, culminating in one of my favourite shows.

I spend a little time completing yesterday’s blog post and uploading the photographs accompanying it, before closing down all of my electronics ready to board flight US4483 bound for Philadelphia.

The plane is completely full and because it is such a short trip most people are travelling with just carry-on bags, the result being that all of the overhead bins are quickly filled. There is a delay as people have to check their bags at the front of the plane, but finally everyone sits down and buckles up.

We are ready to leave. But we don’t.

Nothing happens.

Nothing.

At all.

Eventually our cheery Captain comes over the intercom to tell us that Philadelphia airport has gone into ‘Ground Lock’. Apparently this means that no traffic can move in or out of the airport. The captain reassures us that because nothing is moving, it means that all of our connections will be delayed by an equal amount of time and everything will be tickety-boo (the American readers are now thinking ‘WHAT?’)

We sit on the runway for the best part of an hour until the intercom crackles into life again, telling us that the lock has been lifted and we can go. OK, I’ll be later getting into Wilmington than planned, and I hope that delay doesn’t cost my hosts more for the limo, but I have plenty of time in hand.

The short flight is bumpy and uncomfortable. Bumpy because we never rise above the clouds; uncomfortable because the man in the seat behind talks the whole time about his wife – who is an alcoholic, suffers from depression, wants to divorce him, lives on an allowance from him – a large allowance because he ‘doesn’t want her to feel that she is a kept woman’. He has two sons – 44 and 48, and a daughter. He has visited China, Singapore, Istanbul. He lives in Baltimore, is flying to San Francisco to attend his aunt’s funeral. She was well off and lived in a beautiful suburb. He is tax inspector, chasing the cheaters. He has written a book. He loves his daughter more than his wife…..and on and on and on. I am mightily relieved when the ground appears through the clouds and we land.

As we taxi to our gate I look at my watch. It is 11.30 am, the precise time that my connecting flight was due to leave and for the first time I realise that our Captain’s logic is flawed: the planes that were delayed at Philly would have taken off as soon as the ground lock was lifted – we were only allowed to leave DC at that time. The chances are that I have missed my plane.

In the terminal building my fears are realised: ‘Flight number US 3739, Dest. Wilmington DEPARTED 11.30′.

Deep breath, and find the US Airways customer service desk. ‘Everything is fine, Sir, we’ll get you sorted’. After much computer tapping I am booked on the next flight to Wilmington at 3.55, arriving at 5.30. The slight worry is that the flight is showing ‘full’ and I am on standby, but the agent is confident I’ll get a seat. If not, he also books me onto the next flight, leaving at 6.10, arriving at 7.40. OK, that is too late for showtime, but maybe the organisers can tweak their evening and I can perform later.

Anyway, I now have 4 ½ hours to kill in Philadelphia airport. I spend an hour or so pacing the corridors going through the lines of Doctor Marigold ready for my show tonight and then I have lunch.

It is now 2pm: 2 hours to wait – and more, because the flight has been delayed a little. I have been in touch with Bob and Pam Byers, and they have been in contact with the event organisers. Everyone is in the loop now.

4pm approaches and I go to gate F24, where there is a plane waiting. The screen says: Wilmington Dep. 4.14. But the announcements are saying that this plane is actually bound for Albany. The clerk doesn’t know what’s happening to the Wilmington flight, but her screen still shows a 4.14 departure.

Albany boards and departs. Bob calls and asks what is happening? Am I able to take this flight? Don’t know yet, am waiting to find out.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you waiting for the flight to Wilmington, I am sorry to say it has been cancelled due to bad weather. Please see the US Airways service desk to rebook your flight’

There is a rush to the desk, but I hold back. I’ve spoken to Bob and he is talking to Swansboro – is it even worth getting the later flight – which is now also showing as delayed?

As I get to the desk Bob comes back on the phone and says that it has been decided to cancel the show, so I need to try and cancel my Wilmington flight and rebook a direct flight to Kansas City, my next venue, tomorrow morning

This is a very sad moment, not only because I love performing Doctor Marigold, but mainly because this is the very first time in all of my years of touring, dating back to 1995, that I have had to miss a show. There have been a few narrow squeaks over the years, where I have been driven directly from the airport to the venue and onto stage, but never actually a show lost. I feel very empty.

The agent, Nida, tells me that if I want to change my flight from Wilmington to Kansas City, she will have to charge me $200, and also the extra cost of flying from Philly to Missouri. There is no point getting angry with her, it’s hardly her fault after all, but I patiently explain that it was because the US Air flight was delayed way back at 9.45 this morning, that I missed the connection, that put me on a flight that was cancelled, that made me have no reason to go to North Carolina.

At the same time this is going on, I am talking to Bob and Pam trying to arrange things for tomorrow.

Nida, bless her, manages to talk to her superior and after explaining what it is that I do, they decide it will be fine to alter my flights. I am booked on the 9.15 flight to Kansas City tomorrow morning.

I let Bob know and he offers to look for a hotel for me near to the airport, as I begin the next part of the difficult process: finding my bags, which are deep within the bowels of the airport, on some pre-ordained bar-coded journey.

Nida tells me that they will be sent to the carousel in terminal E, so I make my way from F, via a shuttle bus, to E where there are no bags.  The agent in Baggage Services looks them up and says they are booked to go to Kansas City. I patiently explain my situation again and he makes a few phone calls to get them retrieved and returned to me.

This takes an hour. The system is fantastic when everything is working smoothly, but the second something untoward occurs it creaks and groans and stutters. While I am in the office another man comes in asking for his bags, as his flight to Hartford had been cancelled. Tap, tap tap on the keyboard: ‘Sir, your bags have gone to Hartford. The poor man shouts (more in exasperation, rather than in real anger), ‘How come my BAGS are in Hartford, and I am NOT!’ Good question, seeing as his flight was cancelled.

More and more people arrive – bags mislaid, bags left on planes, flights changed. I feel sorry for the agents in this office as the only people they get to see in their working lives are angry, disappointed, upset, frightened people. They do a good, unsung job.

Still, it takes an hour!

At last the carousel trembles into life and my two bags appear – as do those of Hartford man: apparently they had not gone to Hartford after all. It is 6.30 and I have been in Philadelphia Airport for seven hours.

One of the nicest calls I have ever had came as I was waiting, from Bob, telling me that he has booked at a room at the Marriott Hotel, which is a short walk from the terminal – no shuttle bus, no taxi ride, but right there.

Within ten minutes I am in a large comfortable room, having a bath, washing the day away. I email the organisers in Swansboro to tell them all how sorry I am not to be with them and then go to the restaurant for some lovely Fish and Chips.

It has been an emotional and very very tiring day (amazing how tiring it is doing nothing!), and Im glad it is over.

To use the English vernacular (and apologies for any offence caused), it has been a bugger of a day.

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