I have to get onto the road fairly promptly, albeit not desperately early today, as I have a sound check at 12.15 in the Kansas City area.
As I will be driving there is no need to squeeze my hat, cane, frockcoats, waistcoats and costumes trousers into my cases, and as I go to breakfast I take all of those items to my forgotten car, which has been languishing in the parking garage for the past three days.
The Element is a lovely and friendly hotel but I have to say that their breakfast choice isn’t the best. Today I make do with some rather watery porridge (oatmeal) and some rather limp waffles (limp waffles).
At 7.45 I am ready for my road trip and say a cheery goodbye to the front desk staff who have been very helpful throughout my stay. I set the SatNav and discover that my journey will be a little shy of three hours, and set off into the rising sun of a beautiful Nebraskan morning. I make a few turns, join a few roads before eventually taking the slip road to the i29: ‘in 158 miles take the exit to the right’. I settle in for the long haul.
As I mentioned a few days ago I am currently taking part in the Black and White Challenge on Facebook, and I made a decision that as I am on tour all of my images would come from my daily adventures, rather than using any old pictures that I may have. No sooner have I joined the interstate than I see one of those huge American flags being barely stirred by the wind, so I pull off the road to take a picture. And then there is a motel sign, and then there is some strange sculpture on a bridge, and before I know it I have lots of possible images to consider.
I get back on the road and actually could stop every two minutes, as the images of an early morning are stunning. Lots of farm land with large silos and water towers seem to float on the low morning mist, made more ethereal by the soft morning light coming from my left (I am driving south). Long freight trains with rusty goods cars make false horizons, and long spidery irrigation systems stretch across the fields.
At one moment there is a powerful, modern, sturdy wind turbine casually sweeping the air, and in its shadow cowers a typical vintage windmill with its little wheel made up of offset blades, and its tail all sitting on a spindly wooden tower.
Thank heavens that the scenery is so beautiful because the road is interminably dull with no hills and only a few gentle curves to relieve the boredom. I hit rush hour as I pass Mound City, and see three cars and a tractor. The miles pass relentlessly beneath me.
It is a moment of great excitement when the display on my SatNav tells me that I have only an hour to go, and as the figures change so my Christmas playlist arrives at Mele Kalikimaka – it certainly feels as if I driven to Hawaii!
Soon I am passing my old friend Kansas City Airport (which I will not be using for the first time in many years), and suddenly become aware that I have to switch my concentration on again. My driving instincts have lain dormant for the last few hours, but before I know it there are cars joining the freeway, and others changing lanes as the road becomes a more urgent and dangerous place.
The drive from the airport to my hotel in Liberty (a suburb of KC) is only about thirty minutes and it is a familiar trail, and at around 11am I pull up outside the Hampton Inn where I have stayed on many occasions (and whose waffles are NOT limp).
By the time I am checked in I have less than an hour before my friend and event organiser Kimberly Howard arrives to pick me up and take me to my first appearance of the day. She is rather worried when I appear in the hotel lobby in jeans and a sweater but with no costume, until I explain that I had left everything in the car. We collect the gear and set off towards the North Independence Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library, where I am to perform at 2. We spend the journey catching up on our news – we have known each other for so many years now and Kimberly is indeed a good friend.
The library is closed when we arrive (it being Sunday), but we enter through the staff door at the back. I am greeted by various librarians who are very excited to have me in their branch. The events at Mid-Continent are all free, but due to the policing of fire codes, people have to register for them – all are ‘sold’ out with waiting lists.
I am shown the room where I am to perform, a typical library meeting room, rather bland and brightly lit, with a small stage at one end with my props already in place. The microphone system here has caused as trouble in the past so we take plenty of time to ensure that everything is working properly. Mid-Continent invested in a very good portable sound system a few years ago, but the only actual microphone they have is attached to an ear piece. I don’t know if my ears are a particularly odd shape, or the rigours of my show are over and above those for which the ear piece was designed, but the thing always falls off. Last year we actually sewed the piece on (NO! Not onto my ear! Into my costume…), and this year we achieve the same effect by using a couple of little binder clips beneath my waistcoat.
A CD player is found for my music, and all is ready. I change in good time and pick a book from one of the many carts that are scattered around – very strangely I find myself reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
At 1.50 I emerge from my changing room ready for the show. Unfortunately a lot of people have decided not to turn up, which is rotten for those who had been on the waiting list, and the room is only two-thirds full. Many that are there have seen the show in the past however so I know that I have a friendly crowd. The stage is very small and becomes somewhat cramped with all of the furniture, but I can use the floor as well, which gives me more space to spread out into. It is a decent performance, if not stellar, but I work up a good head of steam and really get going by the end. The audience clap loudly, but do not stand, which is probably a fair reflection of my afternoon’s efforts.
Having changed costumes I return to my signing table where lots of people are buying programmes (of both 2016 and 2017 vintages), and I pose for lots of happy photographs.
It is 4 o’clock now and Kimberly drives me back to my hotel, whilst the Library staff dismantle the set in our wake. We stop briefly at a branch of Panera Bread so that I can get a salad to take back to my room, as I have yet to have had any lunch today. I have an hour and a half before it is time to go again.
I am feeling a bit flat, to be honest, so I decide to trim my beard shorter, have a shave and a shower all in an attempt to ‘re-invent’ myself; and when I emerge from the bathroom I do indeed feel refreshed.
The event this evening is not a performance as such, but a meeting to thank ‘The Libray Lovers’ members, who support Mid-Continent. We are due to be at The St James Event Center in Liberty at 6.15, and it is only a ten minute drive, which is good. The St James Center is a converted Church and is beautiful. The high vaulted ceilings and exposed brickwork give a real sense of style, whilst the light fittings are modern and artistic.
Tables are being readied with various decorations, and an amazing lavish and decadent desert buffet has been constructed.
At around 7 the guests start to arrive, and once more there are many very familiar faces among them: I have been performing for the Mid-Continent Public Library for over twenty years and it is the longest continual sponsor on my tour.
My role tonight is to regale the audience with various tales of how I came to perform A Christmas Carol, and soon I am on the little stage pouring out many well-used anecdotes about myself and the show. Of course the giant cockerel makes a guest appearance, as does the losing of my book in Tennessee which forced me to develop the memorised version of the show. The lady who thought I’d had a stroke, because I only gestured with one arm, and many other silly stories bring colour to the tale. I take a bit of time explaining some of the tricks of the trade, and how I change characters so quickly, before taking a few questions.
It is a nice, friendly evening and after I have finished I spend plenty of time chatting with the guests and being photographed by the Library’s official photographer who has been doing a sterling and inconspicuous job throughout the event.
But now it is time to leave, and Kimberly squirrels me away into the night. We stop for dinner at Olive Garden, where I have meatballs and spaghetti, and then back to The Hampton Inn. I hang my costumes up and prepare bags of laundry for the morning, before getting ready to sleep, which will not be long in coming.
In fact I alm….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz