Today is the last day of the first part of my 2018 tour and it will be spent in the Kansas City Metro area, which means a drive of nearly three hours along the dullest, straightest and most featureless road in America (OK, maybe not, but certainly the most dull, straight and featureless that I have the misfortune to drive on).
Before breakfast I take my two costumes as well as my hat and cane to the car which has been sitting in the parking garage since I arrived three days ago. There is still a chill in the air but the sun is bright and the sky clear.
Breakfast is my customary bowl granola and fruit, as well as a couple of little pancakes drizzled in a blueberry sauce. Orange juice and coffee give me the hit I need for the day ahead. Last night’s events are still weighing on my mind and I check the Douglas County Historical Society’s website which sure enough announces that I will ‘be unlikely to return next year’. Maybe this is a clever marketing ploy by Kathy and her team, but there does seem to be a sense of finality about it and I have to accept that maybe my days of performing in Omaha came to an end last night.
In my room I make sure that I have got everything in my bags and then check out. In the garage I load my large suitcase into the Fusion’s boot, and then get ready to drive. Press the start button: nothing. The car is dead. Push the button again. Nothing. Get out, lock the car, unlock it, get in, press the button. Nothing. This is a disaster! I have two shows later today and I have to get to Kansas City. Press. Nothing. Can I call Hertz? Can I book a flight? Its not an electrical problem as the screen lights up like a Christmas Tree, but the engine refuses to fire
I am just beginning to panic when the truth dawns on me: this is a Hybrid car and when you start it up it is in pure electric mode, with no internal combustion engine influence: all I needed to do was select drive and the giggery-pokery under the bonnet would do the rest: I drive out of the garage feeling very foolish.
Omaha is deserted on this Sunday morning, in stark contrast to Thursday when Lee and I sat in the gridlocked roads on our way to Lincoln. In no time I am joining I29 S and the SaNav cheerfully announces that I should take the exit in 150 miles.
Flat fields. Firework stores. Occasional mounds. Ponds. Huge irrigation mantises. Brief excitement of a murmuration (probably not the right term, as I don’t think the birds are starlings, but whatever they are, they are doing that amazing aerial display). Road. Corner.
There is a moment of minor celebration when the Sat Nav tells me that I have less than 100 miles together, and another when I have less than an hour remaining.
I pass the time by listening to the radio, I have lots of choice thanks to Hertz’s largesse, for the Fusion comes with the Sirius XM (the satellite system which gives me access to almost any station I can imagine.) Towards the end of the journey I am able to listen to the opening laps of the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix from Sao Paulo
After two hours and fifty minutes of largely straight driving I arrive in the vicinity of Liberty, MO, and pull into the parking lot of the Woodneath Library where I am due to meet Kimberly who has been responsible for bringing me to the Kansas City area for more years than either of us care to remember.
I park my car and a few moments later Kimberly pulls up too. We greet each other and I transfer all of my costumes into her car ready for her to take me to the Gambler Community Centre in Lee’s Summit. We spend the journey chatting and catching up – both of us have had major events this year, and the journey passes quickly.
Kimberly works for the Mid Continent Public Library and usually my events are held in one of the branches, but this year she has decided to stage the show in the community centre which has a theatre style space. When we arrive the stage is being decorated and the sound system is being installed. Having had problems in previous years with Mid Continent’s own portable PA system Kimberly has engaged a specialist AV company to look after the tech side of things so that nothing should go wrong.
Anthony, the sound man, suggests a head mic (which I hate because they always fall off), assuring me that the sound quality will be much better than a lapel mic.
I have no fight in me so succumb meekly, and he carefully fits the loops over my ears and adjusts the mouthpiece until he is happy. Next Anthony addresses the issue of my music effect and quickly ascertains that his hi-tech equipment wont read my lo-tech, self-burned CD. I do have the sound file on my phone however and he plugs that in and all is well. Having tested the levels he gives me my phone back and thanks me.
The audience are arriving by this time so after hiding the two little soft toys in a Christmas tree I retreat to the tiny, and very cluttered, office that is serving as a dressing room today.
The show is due to begin at 2, and with ten minutes to go I return to the hall and stand at the back with various members of the library staff, watching as the seats fill up for there is a good crowd gathering.
At exactly 2 o’clock the chief librarian from the local branch gets up to make an introduction, and I am rather concerned that the lighting leaves his face in deep shadow, as it presumably will do for mine in a few moments time. Well it is too late to do anything about it now.
The introduction is about half way through, and I am beginning to think myself into Scrooge, when Anthony saunters up and whispers ‘do you have your phone? I assumed that he had copied the file earlier, but apparently not! Scrooge is cast aside and I dash back to the dressing room (intro still continuing), find my phone, unlock it and find the audio file and I run back to the hall (is the intro finished yet?) give it to Anthony who plugs it in just as the audience applaud to welcome me onto the stage. Bang on cue the music rings out, and I begin a somewhat breathless walk to the stage.
All goes well with the performance, although the little cough is still present, and of course the earpieces of the head mic keep falling off. The sound is good though, rather too good in fact, as every snuffle from my nose is broadcast loudly, meaning I have to pick moments for a sniff carefully: during snores, during sobs (Scrooge becomes extra emotional as he views the loss of Belle today), and of course at the entrance of Old Joe.
The audience enjoy it and join in enthusiastically. I have been coming to the Kansas City area since my first trip to the USA in 1995 and the crowds here are always fiercely loyal and supportive. Earlier Kimberly said that I had to keep coming back to perform because she would be strung up if I didn’t appear.
At the end of the show I take my bows and perform a quick change in my little office before returning to the stage to sign. Mid Continent have a large stock of the souvenir programmes left over and are selling them at $5 a piece. Nobody seems to mind that they are dated 2016 and 2017 and they sell well, some people even asking there isn’t a 2018 edition. It is lovely to see the colourful brochures again and to be reminded what a great job Ian and I did in creating them.
There are many familiar faces in the signing line and I chat for a long time, but soon it is time to pack up and move on.
The next show is back at Woodneath, where I left my car earlier, and Kimberly drives me back to the impressive library there. Having set the stage and made sure everything is in order I sit alone in a large meeting room, playing Angry Birds on my phone and even managing a little nap until I need to get into costume again at 6.
I usually spend two days with Mid Continent but because of the constraints of time in this years tour I only have two performances, which means that the audiences are large. At Woodneath they are expecting around 350 people and have cleverly utilised the space in the centre of the library to fit a stage as a hub to three banks of seating. With 30 minutes still to go the main seats are already filled and people are being directed to the two wings.
This time I make sure that Anthony has my phone in good time, and I wait at the back of the room with Kimberly and her colleague Sarah until it is time to begin. During the introduction the audience is asked to silence their electronic devices and the this year the list includes watches. What a long way technology has come since I started to perform when I would have to plug my computer in to a socket and endure that screeching modem dial-up sound before I could get on line at all.
Simply this is the best performance of the week. My cold seems to have gone, or retreated at any rate and the audience are amazing (they always are at Woodneath). I get energy from their response which makes the performance stronger, although I am slightly distracted by two boys in the front row who play on their tablets throughout the show.
I am pleased with the pace of the performance (I am trying to keep the passages moving along, without the rather over-dramatic pauses that I have allowed to creep in over the years), and the characterisations too. Yes, this is a good way to sign off.
Once more the signing line is filled with familiar faces and old friends, and suddenly I am lavished with gifts: A book for the girls, some cookies, a box of Fisherman’s Friends, some hand-made soap and a loaf of freshly baked pumpkin bread. You all know who you are, and I thank you most humbly for your kindnesses and friendship.
It is late now and time to go. After a few pictures on stage with the library team I get changed and make sure that I have all of my belongings. Kimberly and I drive to a nearby Longhorn steak restaurant where I chose a salmon dish which is delicious. It is sad that we only have such a brief time to chat this year but soon it is time to hug goodbye in the cold parking lot.
My hotel for the night is at the airport (my flight is at 6am meaning I want to be as close as possible) and I have a twenty minute drive before I am at the Holiday Inn. I check in and bring all of my bags and costumes up to my room ready to be packed in the morning, but for now I am tired and after setting an alarm for 3.45 I drift off into my last sleep on this side of the Atlantic for a couple of weeks.