Today I move on again, but not far as my next venue is only an hour away in Riverside, California. I do not have an early start, as my only show today is at 7 o’clock this evening, so I can have a very leisurely morning, stretching my stay to the appointed check-out time of 12.
I have breakfast (cereal, fruit and croissant), and pack my cases. I take the opportunity to do some more rehearsal for Marigold, A Child’s Journey and A Tale of Two Cities, before deciding to finally leave at 11.
I put my cases into the car and then go to the front desk where another box of my blog-promoting-business cards has been delivered. Having received the package and checked out I head onto the road. I had been told that the route to Riverside (which is almost a suburb of the sprawling Los Angeles) can be very busy, and what should be a 45 minute journey can take 2 or 3 hours if there are accidents along the way.
I decide to see how things are and then if I am in good time, dive off the main road for an adventure. I make good progress, and in fact the traffic coming the other way looks much worse – information that I tuck away into my memory as I will be driving the route in two days time to in order to return to The John Wayne Airport to fly back East.
As I get near the little town of Yorba Linda I notice a sign to the Richard Nixon Library and Museum, and as I am in such good time I make an instant decision to dive off the Freeway and have a visit. I have visited a couple of Presidential Libraries before (Harry S Truman’s in Independence MO, and JFK’s in Boston) and they are always quite fascinating places. The Nixon Library is based on the grounds of his childhood home, which still stands as part of the complex, and there is a very personal feel to the site.
Of course the museum tells the life story of the 37th President in a very pro-Nixon way, one wouldn’t expect anything else, but I am impressed that the welcome video begins with his resignation speech, thereby bringing all of the controversy right up front, and not shying away from it. Whatever your political leanings, there is no doubt that he presided during an extraordinary time of change and upheaval, and the tour is as much about social history as it is political.
The tour takes in all of the momentous moments (Vietnam, Cambodia, civil unrest, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, Nixon’s unprecedented visit to China, and of course Watergate).
There is so much about this man in the popular media, but to stand quietly by his and Pat’s graves, reminds you that he was just a mortal man and now lays at rest as the world moves on.
As I leave I decide that I want to re-watch Ron Howard’s brilliant Frost/Nixon film: maybe I will download it for my flight on Wednesday.
Back onto the i91 and the traffic is getting heavier as I weave between the beautiful Californian scenery. On the horizon majestic mountains glimmer in the heat, and closer to the road small scrubby parched hills and mounds topped with palm trees and bougainvillea line the route. At one point I find myself driving behind a van belonging to: ‘The Puritan Bakery – Best Buns in Town!’
My SatNav takes me to the Hyatt Place hotel in the heart of Riverside’s downtown area, and where I stayed three years ago on my last visit to the city. The parking lot has a completely matt black (like a stealth bomber) Ferrari, and a white Bentley with gold wheels (I would imagine that the colour comes from a genuine gold alloy, not just a spray can purchased from a motor spares store). It is good to know that I am in such good company.
I check in and go to my room, which is large and welcoming and there is a fabulous basket of goodies from the folk at the Riverside Dickens Festival. I gratefully tuck into a fruit tray.
I have a little time to rest, before showering and getting ready for the evening’s events. My sound check is earmarked for 5.30 and the venue is only a ten minute drive away. I am performing A Christmas Carol at the First Christian Church, a new venue for me, so it will be good to check out the space and acoustics.
I arrive at 5.30 but the church is locked, so I sit in the car until I notice a shadowy figure in a top hat opening the door. The Festival Committee are here!
The Riverside Dickens Festival crowd are a passionate and knowledgeable group of Dickensians, who hold their festival in February to mark the great man’s birthday. I have quite a history with the festival, including an abortive first visit back in 95, or 96. In those days my knowledge of the American immigration system was not what it is now, and I didn’t realise that I required a specific Visa to perform here. I was due to make a speech about Charles Dickens and to perform some shows, but the friendly immigration officials at Minneapolis/St Paul airport turned me round and put me on the next flight home. I ended up giving my speech by phone, as my top hat took centre stage on top of a lectern.
Since that faltering start I have returned many times and count the good folk here among my dearest friends in America.
The sanctuary of the Church is beautiful, although not well lit, and the audience will be in wooden pews some distance from the stage which takes away from the intimacy that some venues provide. The stage itself has been well set up with a black and gold brocade backdrop which will help focus the attention on the action. A Union Flag hangs over the stage giving a great sense of Britishness to the whole thing.
I chat with the current chairman of the festival, Doug Grant and many other old friends, until the general audience begin to arrive when I take myself off to the room that has been set aside as a dressing room, and get changed.
Performance time comes around and I make my way to the back of the hall where I meet the Royal party of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and her ladies in waiting. The fact that Prince Albert is present means that the Queen is colourfully dressed and much more jolly than the more traditional rendering of her.
At 7 o’clock the audience is asked to stand and Queen Victoria and her party slowly process to their seats at the front of the auditorium as the National Anthem plays, which makes me feel very proud and patriotic.
When the Royal party is seated Doug makes a short introduction, thanking all of the committee members and sponsors. Almost as an after thought he mentions my visit to local High School tomorrow morning, and I am very glad he does, because I didn’t know anything about it!
When I come on tour I am sent an amazing document that has every show, every hotel every rental car, every appearance detailed day by day. Tomorrow’s page originally only showed my evening performance of Doctor Marigold, although a meet and greet lunch event has been added since – the morning event I knew nothing about. It is just as well that Doug thought to mention it, or I would have been sat up in bed whilst panic stricken committee members rushed around trying to contact me. I get my cue and as I walk toward the stage tell myself to ask someone for details later.
I am happy with my performance, although as I feared the connection with the audience is not brilliant, and the reactions are not as lively as some other venues. However it is clear that they are hanging on every word, and enjoying the play immensely. As I go on I become aware that I never really had a proper lunch today, other than my fruit plate, and begin to feel a bit weak and woozy. I must look after myself a bit better.
The show finishes and everyone stands and whoops and hollers which is always a nice reaction, before we all make our way to a large hall where a desert buffet has been laid on. I get changed and join the party to sign and pose, which all lasts quite a long time before I can finally get my hands on a plate of treats to bring my blood sugar levels up again. When all of the books have been signed I can finally greet some of my very good friends from years’ past, most particularly Carolyn Grant who was responsible for bringing me here in the first place, and who is one of the stalwarts behind the festival.
My final picture of the evening is with the Royal party, and then I get changed from Gerald Charles to Gerald, not forgetting to get the details for tomorrow morning’s school event, before I drive off into the night. Back at the hotel the little bar is open and I order a burger to wrap up my rather erratic food day.
Tomorrow will be fun, I am sure: I performed for a (the same? I am not sure) High School when I was last here and it was a really good session; and the lunch with Carolyn will be a joy I am sure. In the evening I get to perform my favourite Dickens short story, Doctor Marigold, which I have no doubt will delight a new audience.
But for now, to sleep.