Today I am due to head west. An early flight necessitates an early alarm and I am up packing my cases by 5 o’clock. Two complete costumes are compressed into my carry-on bag and everything else into my big case. I have only been in the room for one night, but still I scour every surface to make sure that I don’t leave anything behind (I’m doing quite well on this trip so far!)
Before packing my little tin that contains my watch and cufflinks I also take out a tiny pin badge that represents the poppies and cornflowers that grow in The Somme Valley, and represent this years’ commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of that terrible battle.
For those of you who may have missed it, I wrote a blog in September about our family’s trip to the Somme to honour the memory of Major Cedric Dickens. On Remembrance Day I honour him, and all of his fallen comrades on both sides of the conflict.
I get my cases into the car, check out of the hotel and head to the airport. It is a long time since I have flown from Nashville, and I can’t quite remember the layout of the airport. For early starts you have to take the individual airport into account. For example Knoxville is easy, as you simply drop the car in the parking garage and stroll straight into the terminal, whereas Boston you have to wait for a courtesy bus to drive you from the remote rental plaza back to the main airport buildings, which all takes time.
As it turns out Nashville is more towards the Knoxville end of the spectrum, and I am in the terminal with plenty of time to spare, which is just as well because the security lines are very long and very slow.
I hardly have time to buy a muffin, coffee and orange juice before the boarding process begins. It is a very busy flight, and the ground crew put out a request for any larger carry-on bags to be checked all the way to a final destination. I don’t really need my bag on board, so I volunteer it for the process, reasoning that even if it gets misplaced along the way, I don’t actually need my costumes until tomorrow, so there is plenty of time for them to catch up with me.
I settle into seat 26A and watch as the skyline of Nashville decrease in size until it turns into a map instead. The pilot heads to the west and everyone settles down for a 90-minute flight.
I had downloaded a film to my kindle yesterday, but I am saving that for the longer flight to California, however I discover that I have an audiobook ready to listen to on the device, and it is by one of my favourite authors: Thunderball by Ian Fleming, read by Jason Isaacs (who would have made a very good movie Bond). The reading is superb and I am soon lost in the world of Fleming’s sixties. The plot involves James Bond checking into a health clinic to have a complete detox, and when he first sees his room he uses a phrase that so perfectly sums up a lot of my tour, he says: ‘It was a room-shaped room, with furniture-shaped furniture.’
It is a four-chapter flight, and we are soon making our descent into the huge, sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth airport, with multiple runways running parallel to one another. It is a long taxi to our gate, and being at the back of the plane a long wait until I finally get off. I check the nearby monitors and see that I need to change terminals to reach my connecting flight. This means using the Skylink train which loops around the three egg-shaped terminals in a sort of sine wave pattern. The trains were crowded, and I had to wait for three until I could actually get on board. By the time I get to my new gate I hardly have time to sit before the boarding starts, and I am on my way once again.
Coincidentally, I am sitting in the same place on the plane, so everything is very familiar. I listen to a little more Bond as we taxi and take off, before settling into watch my film. I had not been sure what to chose yesterday, but settled on a recent film that I felt would be good aeroplane material. I had chosen the remake of the 60’s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Actually, I kept dozing off but it was well made and acted – rather too slick compared to the original which had delighted my childhood, but fun nonetheless.
As ever when I fly West I am just astounded by the thousands of miles of wilderness beneath me. Occasionally I get a glimpse of a single track which appears to originate from nothing, leading to a single property, and I wonder what is life like for the person or people that live there?
Eventually the flat becomes mountainous, and we bank ready to make our final approach into the John Wayne Airport in Santa Anna, Orange County, which is so much better than Dante’s LAX.
We touch down (actually, no, we thump down, bounce high, and bounce again), and taxi among the private jets and little propellered Cessnas before reaching the terminal. As I am in the same seat, I have the same wait before disembarking but, hey, this is Californian, just go with the flow…..
My bags (both of them) appear, and then it is time to pick up my rental car, which sadly is not a Jeep this time (an open-topped Wrangler would have been fun here!), but a Nissan Altima, which is large and has an excellent air con system, which is a relief.
My hotel, the rather swish Ayres resort, is little more than a five minute drive and even though it is only just 1pm, they have a room ready for me – rather more impressive than a room-shaped room, with furniture-shaped furniture.
I need to get my blog posted (it had been ready at Nashville airport, but I never had time to get online, add pictures and send it), and so fire up the laptop, only to hear the news from Liz’s email that the actor Robert Vaughn has died to day. Robert Vaughn who played the original Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Coincidence can be disquieting sometimes.
I get everything done online and change into less Tennessee, more California attire and return to my car. I have decided to drive down the Pacific Coastal Highway and seeing what I find.
The first thing that strikes me is the sheer aggression of Californian drivers, with everybody changing lanes without the slightest indication. The cars too, are different: gone are the pick-ups and SUVs of Tennessee and in come Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsche 911s of all eras, ancient wartime Jeeps and plenty of VW campers and Beetles.
I drive to the beach resort of Laguna Beach and walk across the sand and over the rocks. Everything is Californian: sun-bleached teenagers showing off to each other, watched over by even more sun-bleached lifeguards. Bright blue sea with the lacey white surf breaking over the rocks, supporting or consuming the many guys on boards who try to tame it.
I spend quite a while on the beach before getting into my car and driving further. There is a steady flow down the Pacific Highway and I don’t know if anyone is actually going anywhere, or we are just all ambling on in one great stream together.
The sun is getting lower in the sky and reluctantly I turn around and head North again.
Back at the hotel I lay on the bed for a while falling in and out of a nap, before getting up, showering and going to the restaurant for dinner. I have a salad and slow cooked Pot roast, that is so tender the knife is superfluous.
I sign the check, finish my coffee and return to my room.
It is still early, but the long day and the two-hour change mean that I am tired. I get ready for bed, although I know I shall pay for it early tomorrow morning, when I shall be getting ready to get back to work.