And so my time at The Inn comes to a close for another year. I have settled in so well that it was a bit of a shock to realise that I have to pack my cases once more.
I stuff my top hat with socks and underwear then wrap the thick woollen scarf that I use in the show around it, both of which help to protect its shape during travel. Then I pack the freshly laundered white shirts, which I have folded, around the hat before adding my other clothes. The two costumes are separated – one in the main case and one in the little carry-on roller, so that in the event of a suitcase being lost I can still perform.
And now I scour the room – cufflinks, chargers, wallet, phone, gloves, my pen, ink cartridges, watch, the two little toy animals, cards and pictures given to me by audience members, all are carefully located and packed, for I am determined not to leave anything anywhere this year (I know, fat chance of that happening but it is a laudable ambition nonetheless). My search is actually profitable because I find a little USB mains plug, left by a precious incumbent of room 533. I don’t know, some people are just SO careless!
I have an early breakfast but there are still plenty of folk to chat to and say good bye to. It is always strange to see ‘my’ room without the stage and returned to its natural state – a touch of the Fezziwigs ballroom being returned to a warehouse. At least the video promoting my shows (and on which some regular guests have recorded very nice comments), is still playing.
With breakfast finished I pack the final few things and check out of the hotel, having given Dwight a great big hug and handshake at his concierge’s desk. I locate my silver Nissan Ultima in the car park, (a slightly different automotive prospect to yesterday’s offering, but one which is perfectly adequate for my needs.), get my cases in, set the sat nav and head off towards Knoxville airport.
I mentioned on Saturday that I missed the views of the mountains as I drove in at night, well today the views are fantastic with a low winter light highlighting the last remaining fall colours.
I love the roadside advertisements on this route and one that catches my eye particularly is for, I imagine, filtered water. The company in question is not a big corporation with teams of marketing men giving presentations to board members before signing off an ad campaign. No, I think that this slogan was plucked out of the air around a kitchen table somewhere: ‘What’s in your water? King’s Water for Better Wetter Water’! I know that in Britain if you make a claim in an advert you have to be able to justify that it is true, so how do you prove that your water is wetter? and wetter than what? Of course the thing is that among all of the other ads that is the one I noticed, meaning that it worked rather well.
The journey to Knoxville passes uneventfully and any worries that I may have had about heavy rush hour traffic prove unfounded. I refuel the car (although the gauge is almost on full anyway), and return it to the Hertz desk where I am sent on my way by a very cheery employee of that company.
Knoxville airport is beautifully compact so that check in, bag-drop and security is the work of but a few moments. I walk to gate 11 which is at the very furthest extremity of the terminal building meaning a trek of maybe a minute, and find a seat to wait until the flight is called. I am still reading Rocket Men and still marvelling at the bravery and ingenuity of the men who not only flew but built those beautiful rocket ships. In the book there is a photograph of the three astronauts being interviewed on the 40th anniversary of their flight, so I get online and search YouTube to see if the footage is still available. Sure enough I find a wonderful recording of a Smithsonian lecture at which Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders recalled their mission. All of the men were into their 70s or 80s at the time of the interview, but the clarity of recall is amazing, as is the fact that the dynamic between them is still exactly as it was in 1868.
Whilst I am online I also go to the Netflix site and download a couple of episodes of the last series of House of Cards, which will be fun to catch up with.
My first flight is to Chicago and we leave the ground on schedule at 10.50 and sore above the golden foliage beneath, which bids me farewell to the Smokey’s for another year.
The flight is very routine and smooth. I enjoy episode one of House of Cards and it looks as if it is going in a good direction with Claire Underwood at the helm.
As we start our descent into Chicago I notice that we are running absolutely parallel to a large 747 on his own final approach and together we break through the clouds and together we glide over the massive sprawl of Chicago before touching down together on our respective runways.
As is always the case in the huge city hub airports I have to change terminal to find my onward flight, but there is plenty of time to ride the moving walkway with the neon light art installation, which takes me under the runway to concourse C. In fact the timing works well as I just have time for a sandwich for lunch before my flight to Omaha is called.
The flight is only an hour or so and is again unremarkable. Soon we are flying low over huge Midwest farms and touching down. It is 2.30 pm, which is a nice time to arrive.
Having collected my bags (after a worryingly long wait during which everybody else seemed to retrieve their luggage), I board a shuttle bus to the car rental facility and go to the Hertz office. This year Bob Byers has booked all of the rental cars through Hertz, meaning I can just turn up, collect the keys and go, without the need for all of the extra palaver that can take up so much time.
This time I find my steed to be a solid and impressive white Ford Fusion. It is very comfortable and as I drive away I notice that it is a hybrid model, matching the internal combustion engine with harvested electrical power, meaning that under urban driving conditions the emissions are lower and efficiency better. I think that this is my first time to drive a Hybrid car – goodness, yesterday first time in a V8 6.2 litre Corvette Stingray, and today first time in Hybrid car. How adventurous I am.
The drive from the airport to my hotel in the city only takes up about 20 minutes of my day and soon I am pulling into my home in Omaha, the Element hotel at Midtown Crossing. The rooms are mini suites with full kitchen facilities, should I need them, and I feel very comfortable very quickly.
Waiting for me is a bag of goodies from my dear friends at The Douglas County Historical Society, with whom I shall be working over the next three days. Also in the bag is my itinerary for my time here. Over the first two days I will be performing at High Schools (Thursday) and retirement communities (Friday), before my regular performances at The Field Club and the Crook House on Saturday. It promises to be a fun few days.
I unpack my costumes and hang them up so that any creases can drop out, before relaxing and reading for a while.
I have lost an hour travelling from East Tennessee to Nebraska and I feel quite hungry quite early, so at around 6.30 I wrap up in scarf, coat and gloves to make the short walk to the Black Oak Grill which is part of the Midtown Crossing complex. It is sad to see that many of the retail and dining units are empty, for this has always had the feeling of a very vibrant and thriving part of town. The great curve of buildings overlooking the swoop of a green park is an impressive site and it would be terrible if it proved to be a white elephant of a development.
Once in the restaurant I sit at the bar with my book and order what turns out to be a delicious ‘Iron Skillet Trout: Toasted almond crust, served with a blend of green onion basmati rice, pinot-infused cranberries and toasted almonds. Topped with saffron lemon butter’.
It is a good dinner and long may the Black Oak Grill remain!
It is still early when I return to the hotel, but I am ready for sleep, although I know that I will pay for it in the early hours. I unpack a few more things and then get to bed at around 9.45.