Tuesday, December 1
Today is the first real test of my new suitcase, as I am flying for the first time since I bought it. That means packing the hat and the cane and the costumes: It passes with flying colours and just seems to swallow everything up. As far as I can work out it is bigger than my old one, and I think lighter, but I will need to wait until it is weighed at the airport to find out for sure.
A nice shower, but as I dry myself a glance in the mirror reminds me that I haven’t done my exercises this morning. I lay a towel on the floor and do a quick session of sit-ups.
For breakfast this morning I am being taken out by Sandy Belknap, who used to work on the marketing for my Nashua events, but sadly couldn’t come to either of yesterday’s shows. As this morning is the only chink of time in my Nashua stay, breakfast it is.
Sandy picks me up at 7.45 and we drive back into downtown Nashua to a small café, where we order a hearty breakfast and catch up. Sandy is a good friend, and we spend lots of time talking about the wedding and honeymoon trip to Zanzibar. I don’t have a huge amount of time, as I am keen to get on the road in good time, as the Boston traffic can be horrendous. But it is very nice to be able to meet up and talk even just for a short while.
Before going back to the hotel, Sandy drives me past the Nashua City Hall where JFK began his successful Presidential campaign, which is commemorated by a bronze bust. Also outside the City Hall are the remnants of some ice sculptures which have a Star Wars theme. Many of the pieces have disintegrated, but there is a recognisable X-fighter and an Imperial Walker still just about on its feet.
Back at the hotel I write as much of the blog as I can and finish packing before leaving just before 10am.
The traffic isn’t as bad as I had feared and I reach Logan airport in good time. The shuttle bus from the car rental plaza is very busy, and I fear that doesn’t bode well for the airport itself. Once again my pessimism is misplaced, and I am through security and at the gate with a minimum of delay.
I have a chance to finish the blog as I wait for the flight, but not to upload all of the pictures, so that will have to wait until Detroit. Annoyingly I haven’t downloaded any more House of Cards episodes, so I’m actually going to have to read something on this flight.
The book that I have on the go at the moment is called ‘1599, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare’, which is a fascination part-biography, part-historical account of the year in which Shakespeare wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar , As You Like It and Hamlet. It is much more than a dusty academic study and gives a real sense of the social and political situations of the day.
I read about Shakespeare for a while and then remember that I have another book in my bag that I was given at last night’s show. It is a small paperback called ‘I Am Scrooge, A Zombie Story for Christmas’: intriguing, indeed.
I open the page to Chapter 1:
‘Marley was dead, to begin with. Dead for about three minutes that is: then he got up again’.
I skip forward to the first description of Scrooge:
‘People said that he was a tight-fisted hand at the gravestone, Scrooge – a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old miser. That’s what they said. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, self contained, solitary as an oyster. Hurtful stuff really. But that is how people are; they rarely think the effect their words will have on the insides of the people whose outsides may – I say may – be a touch on the squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old miserly side. And nobody ever spoke up for Scrooge’s good qualities: his excellent punctuality for instance. His book-keeping skills – not enough people ever share those. Nor did people give Scrooge credit for his sang-froid. It rarely came up in conversation, although the truth of the matter is that nobody’s sang was froider.’
The flight is a very full one, but the time passes quickly. There is a thick layer of cloud today, so there is no view until we descend towards Detroit airport, where we make a passably good landing. We pull up at gate A23 and a quick look at the monitors tells me that my onward flight departs from A 63 – the same terminal, hoorah!
I begin to walk but the terminals in Detroit airport are massively long: I would have been much better off taking the monorail that runs above the stores and restaurants inside the building.
It is getting on towards 3 o’clock and I am feeling a bit hungry, so I stop at a Popeye Chicken outlet, where I buy some tenders and coleslaw to eat while I wait for the next flight.
I am heading to Omaha and I have noticed over the years that certain cities illicit certain responses from people. For example when I say I am going to Williamsburg people sigh with pleasure and say ‘oh, how beautiful’; when I mention Minneapolis people will mock-shiver and say ‘brrrrr. Hope you’ve packed your long-johns’. When I tell people I am going to Omaha people look at me, almost horror struck, and then say – placing the rising, questioning emphasis on the final syllable OmaHA? Why?’
It is very unfair: Omaha is a wonderful city with great people in it and I am happy to stand up and fight its corner! I suppose that part of Omaha’s problem is that it isn’t near anywhere – it is geographically in the centre of the country, so east coast and west coast alike can mock with impunity.
It is another full flight, and I read some more, as well as playing backgammon on my Kindle (feeling rather smug, because the lady in the next seat is ‘only’ playing solitaire). This time as we descend I can see that there is a light dusting of snow on the ground, so Omaha can boast that it has given me my first glimpse of the white stuff this year.
I head towards the baggage claim area and am amazed to be greeted by my old friend Lee Phillips, who always chauffeurs me around during my Omaha stays. I am surprised because I am supposed to be picking up a rental car and driving to my hotel myself! Lee very kindly has come to the airport and offers to lead me into town. I pick up my car (receiving a free upgrade, to a large car), and walk to the booth in the parking garage, where I receive another free upgrade to a Buick SUV, which is chunky and very American.
There is light, wet snow falling but not enough to make the journey difficult – just enough to make the scene festive. Lee leads me to the Element at Midtown Crossing Hotel, were we make arrangements for him to pick me up in the morning and I go to check in.
What a wonderful hotel. It is similar in style to the health-fest that was the Even in Connecticut, but without being quite so in your face. The room is more of a stylishly appointed apartment, with a full kitchen, including a dishwasher. There is a huge refrigerator, a hob, a sink.
It is all very homely and made more so by a bag of nibbles and goodies carefully placed by Lee’s wife Susie. On the desk there is a little Christmas tree with a Union Jack in it: the correct way up!
What could make this hotel better, I wonder? My answer to that question lays on the third floor and the guest laundry with three –THREE washing machines and three driers! Soon I am using all of them.
Midtown Crossing is a modern part of town, with apartments and restaurants built around a sloping green area, which is now lit and decorated for Christmas. For the first time on this trip I put on a hat, scarf and gloves, and walk to The Black Oak Grill, which is on the other side of the common.
Snow flurries are falling and from somewhere Christmas music is playing. The restaurant has a blazing fire pit outside and a young couple are huddled together, warming their hands. Once inside, I study the menu and order a bowl of soup (and it is a flavour the strikes fear into an Englishman in America trying to order – the pronunciation just isn’t RIGHT):
I follow the soup with a delicious medium-rare sirloin steak and a glass of wine, before returning to my room.
It has been one of those odd days when I have not actually done anything, but I am still immensely tired, so I write a bit of the blog in bed, and then turn the light off, ready for my sleep.