Sunday, October 4
After my adventures yesterday I am confident that today will be just fine. I wake at around 5 and get up to make a cup of coffee, before committing my adventures to the blog.
I muse for a little as to why, in this modern digital world, hotels still slip the final bill under the door during a guest’s last night. Is it really still necessary for some poor night porter to prowl the corridors making sure the correct statement goes under the correct door, knowing full well that the majority of guests are then going to have breakfast, therefore rendering the bill entirely redundant?
Just a short muse.
I render my bill redundant with a delicious breakfast and then get ready to check out. The hotel is connected directly to the airport by a covered bridge, so in no time I am back in my favourite place.
My flight this morning departs from terminal A, which is about the only one I didn’t visit yesterday. It is like stepping back in time, as I have to check in with a real person at a real desk – no little terminals to make life quicker.
The airport is quiet on this Sunday morning, so the process is swift. Upstairs and through security. I stand in the Whoooshhhhie xray machine with my hands up, and the female security officer says: ‘you’re good to go’. However her male colleague pulls me to one side and there follows a conversation that proves I have yet to fully master the American language.
This sounds like a code between spies, but I don’t understand what on earth he is saying to me.
Ah. OK. Log that one into the memory banks. Have a nice day!
Gate A2 is very close to the security screening and I am greeted by the most glorious message on the monitor that I could possibly imagine:
On Time! Ahhhhhhhh. And sure enough, we board and the plane pushes back from the gate at precisely 9.15 and we scream down the runway, heading towards Kansas City, Mo.
The flight is quite a long one and I pass the time by finishing my current Kindle book – a biography of the great Victorian cricketer WG Grace, which has been a fascinating read.
I read the last page at the very moment that the Kindle’s battery runs down and I pass the rest of the flight looking down on the endless patchwork of fields, laid across the Midwest. It is lovely to actually see the ground through the fluffy white clouds, after the incessant rain of the east coast.
We arrive in Kansas City early, and my bags are there on the carousel. In the baggage office there is a man remonstrating with the US Airways representative about some lost luggage. I send good vibes to the poor guy: ‘you’re doing a fine job!’
There to meet me is Kimberly Howard, from the Mid Continent Library Service, who have been bringing me to the Kansas City area for as many years as I have been touring. Kimberly is a good friend of longstanding, and as we drive away from the airport we catch up on our respective news.
Because of the change in my flight times, I have arrived much earlier than was planned, so we have some time to kill before I can get into my hotel. Kimberly asks me what I’d like to do. After a bit of ummm-ing and ahhh-ing, I chose the Steamboat Arabia museum in downtown Kansas City. I have visited the exhibit before, many years ago, and it is quite remarkable.
The Arabia was a huge steamer that plied its trade on the Missouri River, carrying heavy loads of supplies to the frontier communities. Kansas City marked the start of many of the trails west and the brave folk that set out on them needed everything: clothes, hardware, foodstuffs, crockery, glassware and the rest.
In 1856 she was loaded with almost 200 tons of goods and 130 passengers. Her huge paddles churned through the muddy Missouri pushing her inexorably forward. The river was shallow and fast flowing with huge broken tree trunks, or snags, carried along beneath the surface: a permanent threat to shipping.
In the late afternoon, with the low sun making visibility all but impossible, the Arabia struck one of these submerged spears and immediately began to go down. The passengers made their way to the upper hurricane deck to buy themselves time to be rescued which, incredibly, they all were. The only casualty was a mule that had been tethered on the deck.
The Arabia went down quickly and soon was soon sinking not only into the water, but into the silt of the river’s bed too.
Days, weeks, months and years passed and the mighty Missouri gradually changed its course, leaving the wreck of the mighty steamboat beneath a farmer’s field.
And there it stayed until 1988, when an enthusiastic group of men began searching. Initially using metal detecting methods they pinpointed the massive iron boilers, and from that discovered the resting place of the hull. And then they began to dig, and dig, and dig. The Arabia lay forty five feet down, wonderfully preserved.
But it was not the ship that fascinated the team, it was her cargo. Little by little a snapshot of life on the frontier began to emerge from the mud.
The collection in the museum is quite extraordinary both in quantity and variety – as our tour guide said; it was like unearthing a Victorian Wal-Mart! There are full services of Wedgewood crockery, silver cutlery sets, nails, bolts, saws, drill bits, bottled pickles and fruit, perfume, hats, coats, cardigans, shoes, door handles, locks, keys and so much more.
The museum holds particular resonance for me because my great great grandfather (no, not that one: the other one) took the Orgean Trail and headed west. The trail started in Kansas City and Herbert Hoxie Hoyt must have been using these very supplies as he started his new life.
The museum tour finishes and we are deposited into the gift shop which sells the usual array of tourist tat, and which has disappointingly little to do with the artefacts that we have just been admiring.
In a car park outside there is a flea market going on, so we look at some of the stalls and they tell their own historical story, albeit a slightly more recent one: Sony Walkman’s, Kodak Instamatic cameras and their funny little flash cubes, 16 mm film projectors and all sorts of other things from my childhood – frighteningly now becoming ‘history’.
As time is moving on we decide to have a bite of lunch in a Chinese restaurant, before driving to Liberty, Missouri where I can check into my hotel. We arrange when Kimberly will pick me up in the morning for tomorrow’s events and I get to my room on the second floor.
For the only time on this trip I can do some laundry – ah, how I’ve missed that; and while the machines are whirring I do some more rehearsing in my room for tomorrow’s shows: a double bill featuring The Signalman and Doctor Marigold.
The lines seem to be settling in nicely, so I go and retrieve my clothes and then watch a bit of television and catch up on the news from home.
It is early, but I decide to go and get a bite to eat. There is a Longhorn Steakhouse just a short walk away (that doesn’t require me to get a cab or take my life in my hands by crossing a six lane freeway), so I head there.
After a substantial Chinese lunch, I choose a salad for my dinner, which seems almost heretical in a steak house, decorated with cowboy boots, horse whips and general symbols of Frontier masculinity! However it is delicious and suits me just fine.
I walk back to the hotel muttering the lines to Doctor Marigold to myself: ‘I am a cheapjack. My own father’s name was Willum Marigold. It was, in his lifetime supposed by some that his name was William, but no, he always said it was Willum……’
As I walk I get a terrible sneezing fit: I hope I’m not coming down with a cold. I get back to the hotel and receive a cheery ‘Welcome back!’ from the girl on the front desk.
It is still relatively early, but I get into bed anyway and read until I begin to doze off. Tomorrow is a working day, after all.