Today is my final day off, which seems a bit strange on the penultimate day of the tour, but I have nothing that I need to do and nowhere that I need to be. The day is mine!
I had thought about driving out to the Mall of America to look for some Christmas presents but that seems like a ridiculous idea for a couple of reasons: firstly the second last Saturday before Christmas in the largest shopping mall in America sounds like an extra circle of Hell that Dante would have incorporated if he had lived to see it. Secondly my flight on Monday is not until 3 pm and the mall is close to the airport, so it makes sense to kill those two birds with one stone.
Instead I decide that after breakfast I will drive up to the magnificent Minneapolis Institute of Art and spend a morning admiring the beautiful paintings and artefacts there. Over the past three years I have had 2 extended stays in Minneapolis to perform To Begin With and MIA has always been one of my favourite diversions.
Having enjoyed the Hilton’s buffet breakfast and got myself ready, I fetch the car from the ludicrously expensive parking garage beneath the hotel and drive out into the streets of Minneapolis. At the first red light I discover that the Ford Escape is one of those cars that automatically shuts itself down when you stop, which is very disconcerting and I have to keep reminding myself that this is an effort to reduce emissions and that I have not rented a frighteningly unreliable vehicle. The drive to MIA is very short, and if the weather had been better I would have walked, but the pavements (sidewalks) are covered with icy snow and it is a grey cloudy day which would make perambulatory activities uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.
At the museum I spend a very happy couple of hours wandering through the galleries, and admiring many pictures that have made an impression before, and others which I am seeing for the first time. When I have seen about as many paintings as I think I want to see today I go and have a coffee before mooching around the coffee and gift shops and I am delighted to find my cousin Lucinda’s book about beards and moustaches on the shelf (of the gift shop, of course, not the coffee shop!)
Firmly in tourist mode I now decide to drive towards the Mill City museum by the river, which celebrates the city’s milling trade. The museum is right next to the Guthrie Theatre and it is a struggle to find anywhere to park because the audience are arriving for a matinee performance of, you guessed it, A Christmas Carol! I notice that the other show playing this month is Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, so it is obviously the British ghost story season at the Guthrie.
Eventually I find an on-street parking spot and having worked out how to pay I go to Mill City. The museum is, as the name suggests, built in an old mill that was partially destroyed by fire, but they have mounted an interesting exhibition using a mixture of the ruins and more modern additions.
The central part of the visit is a ride in a huge industrial elevator which hops from floor to floor, showing us various rooms and machines as they would have been in the mill’s heyday, whist a recorded narration from people who actually worked here tells the story. The museum does the best it can with a rather limited story to tell, but the highlight of the trip is standing on the observation platform at the very top of the building looking over the St Anthony’s Falls, around which the entire City grew. And as I admire the view I can see the Aster Café on the other side of the river, where I will be performing tomorrow evening.
Having learnt as much about grain and flour as I want to, I return to my car and drive back to the hotel once more. Although I said that I didn’t have any work to do I realised when I was out that I have two three shows to perform in England next week, and they have to be the longer 2-act version, so I spend a little bit of time going over the extra lines that I will have to shoehorn in to what has become such a familiar script.
I don’t spend too long working, and soon I have the television on am watching Star Wars, The Phantom Menace, which is the first of the prequel trilogy featuring that woeful creation Jar Jar Binks.
At 5 o’clock I am due to meet my old friend, and producer of To Begin With, Dennis Babcock, and I make my way back to Brits Pub which is our rendezvous point. The place is heaving just like a British pub would be on a Saturday night. I am first to arrive so put my name down for a table and at the very instant that my name is called, so Dennis walks through the door, which is a perfect piece of timing.
We sit at our little table before a roaring fire, and begin to talk about what has been going on in our lives since I left Minneapolis in March. Dennis also produces the incredibly popular show Triple Espresso, which is set to play in cities across America once more after a couple of quieter years. The future looks bright.
We both eat Brit’s signature dish of fish and chips and talk and talk, until Dennis has to leave to watch a student of his in a play based on The Great Gatsby. I walk the short distance back to the Hilton and go back to my room where I discover that the Star Wars marathon is still playing, so I watch some more of that.
I get ready for bed quite early, as I have to be up and out of the hotel at 6.45 in the morning for a live TV interview to promote the show in the evening.
The last day of the USA tour is about to begin.