Today I have a day off. A whole day off. No performing, no interviews, no travelling. A day off!
Before I can do anything else I want to wash all of my costume shirts, so that I have a full set ready for the next few days. I repeat my routine of yesterday morning (load washer, have breakfast, load drier, return to room) so that everything is finished before I go out for the day. As I am going to be a tourist I put on a T-shirt and cover myself in sun block on for the last time on this trip, I should imagine.
I have firm plans for today and I get in the car and head north on I-73. It is rather nice to be driving this road as a tourist. For the last two years I have had to leave the Ayres Hotel early in the morning to get to LAX airport, battling the Los Angeles rush hour traffic so as not to miss a flight. This time I have all the time in the world, and amble towards my destination without a care in the world.
I am heading to Long Beach, where I am going to visit a little bit of Britain. Once I turn off the freeway I am in the suburbs of the city, which seem to be made solely of faded motels, coin-operated laundrettes and the new boys on the block – vaping shops.
As I get near to the sea front there is a lot of construction going on, which renders the instructions of my SatNav fairly irrelevant. I get swept along by a tide of massive trucks carrying large freight containers, and soon I am well and truly lost in the depths of the port. Eventually I find my way out and get back to the main roads again, and soon I am pulling up beneath the purpose of my visit: the RMS Queen Mary.
The Queen Mary was the first of Cunard’s Queens and was launched from Southampton in 1936. She plied the Atlantic between Britain and New York as the greatest and most fashionable liners of the age (with a brief hiatus as a troopship during WW2). In 1967 she was retired and purchased by the City of Long Beach to be a floating hotel and visitor attraction, and here she has remained ever since.
I pay for a ticket that includes all the bells and whistles – guided tour, extra audio tour and entry to the special exhibit on the life of Princess Diana, and make my way into the ship herself. From the outside she looks a little down at heel, with paint peeling and her red funnels fading to a matt pink, but inside she is absolutely beautiful. The wooden panels and rails are glowing with varnish, and the brass fittings bespeak of her status as a home to the stars.
I sign up for my tour, which is due to begin in about twenty minutes, and then spend a bit of time strolling around the decks, admiring the beautiful functionality of an ocean-going liner. I feel very at home because for a number of years Liz and I worked on cruise ships (indeed, that is where we met) and it is extraordinary how little has changed over the years – although the modern cruise ship has no aesthetic beauty in her lines: the need for multiple cabins with balconies means that the todays ships look like floating apartment blocks
I return to the tour office at the appointed hour and am encouraged to pose for ‘jolly’ pictures in front of digital back-drops: Just smile first; then hold a life belt; now pretend to be frightened, because you’ve seen a ghost!! Heck, I’m on holiday, why not?
Having done the tourist thing, I gather with the rest of my group, where we are greeted by our guide, Dustin. He is a good guide, and tells the various stories with obvious relish. We learn about the financial loan that the British government made to Cunard, so that they could merge with The White Star Line (which never really recovered from losing The Titanic). The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth were built as mail ships (RMS standing for Royal Mail Ship), hence the government’s interest in the deal
We learn about the 56 different wood veneers throughout the ship, representing every colony of the British Empire at that time. We are told how the on-board service was superb: the stewards would even repaint your cabin with 24 hours if you didn’t like the décor.
When Dustin finishes the tour, I set off with my audio guide, which takes me to many other areas of the ship, from the bridge to the engine room.
When I have seen about as much as I want I returned to the tour office, where I am shown my pictures. Now, I wouldn’t normally purchase such things, but just for you, dear reader, I have:
Before I leave the grand old lady I have some lunch in the observation bar, and just for a moment I can see the beautiful dresses, the formal suits; I can hear the jazz band entertaining over the loud buzz of conversation; the thick fog of sweet-smelling cigar smoke obscures the view as friendships are forged and deals done.
I make my way back to the gangway, and say goodbye to my little bit of Britain.
Before I leave Long Beach, however, there is one more visit to be made and that is across the bay from the Queen Mary, to Shoreline Drive.
From 1976 until 1983 the Formula One circus held a race in Long Beach and I want to try and drive along some of the course. It is easy to find, for the main straight is the great arc of Shoreline Drive itself. From there I find Ocean Boulevard and the sharp right into Linden Avenue where the track plunged steeply downhill.
I don’t stop, I am just happy to have been here and seen it all. I set the SatNav to take me home and join a seemingly endless stream of slow-moving traffic. As I am stationary I notice a sign for my old friend CA-1, the Pacific Coastal Highway, and decide to take that instead of the grid-locked Interstate.
Soon I am driving through wonderful beach communities with palm trees lining the long strips of sand, the air ever so slightly misty thanks to the spray of surf. My SatNav lady is getting angry with me, desperate to get me back to the accepted, approved route. She keeps nagging until finally giving up at Huntington Beach, 9 miles from Newport Beach.
Before returning to my hotel I make sure that the car is filled up with fuel, so that I don’t have to think about it in the morning.
Back in room 238 I am faced with my ten costume shirts to be folded and two cases to be packed, for tomorrow I am back on the road, but it has been fun to play tourist for a day.