A Christmas Carol, Bill Bryson, Brit's Pub, Charles Dickens, Dodge Charger, Downton Abbey, Ebenezer Scrooge, Hertz Car Rental, Highclere Castle, Notes from a Big Country, Philadelphia, Steve McQueen, The Minneapolis Club
Friday would be another day of travel, as I made my way back from the East coast to the Midwest once more, and to my final destination of this part of the tour: Minneapolis.
Having had a coffee and completed Wordle, I opened the curtains to find that the skies were grey and depositing copious amounts of rain onto the ground, as the storm that had been promised for days made its way up from the south.
I had my breakfast in the lobby of the hotel, and then returned to my room to re-pack my case, which thanks to my diligence the day before was an easy job, just stuffing pairs of socks into my top hot and wrapping the thick scarf around the outside, so that it didn’t get crushed, and slipping it back into the space from which it had been lifted 24 hours before. I once again packed both of my costumes into the little roller bag and was ready to get on the road once more.
Before I set out on my journey, I spent some time connecting my phone to the car’s audio system, and was delighted to discover that on this model of Malibu my phone’s display would be shown on the large screen, meaning that navigation into Philadelphia would be much easier than it had been two days before when I had been trying to prop my phone up near to the gear shift, and hoping it wouldn’t fall onto the floor every time I took a curve. I was accompanied on my journey by the first practice session from the Brazilian Grand Prix, and also the audio book that I am currently listing to, Bill Bryson’s ‘Notes From a Big Country’. The journey took me onto I295, and along the route were ‘witty’ signs displayed on overhead gantries, designed presumably to attract the notice of drivers who had become blind to more traditional warnings: ‘SLOW DOWN. THIS AINT THUNDER ROAD’, ‘DONT BOOZE AND CRUISE’ and ‘BE A DEER, LOOK AFTER WILDLIFE’. All very laudable, but what if I had been looking up at the sign and chuckling to myself just as a deer ran out in front of me, meaning I didn’t have time to react?
After thirty minutes or so I was arriving on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and through the murk I could just about see the shadowy outline of the city skyline, bringing to mind Charles Dickens’ description in A Christmas Carol, ‘…and the houses opposite were mere phantoms.’ I skirted the spectral city and was soon pulling up at the Hertz Car Rental drop off. The wait for a shuttle bus was a long one, and by the time it arrived there was a quite a crowd wanting to board. A large crowd at the car rental office inevitably means a large crowd in the terminal, and I was glad that I had left plenty of time, for I was resigned to standing in line for a long time at security. Actually, my flight was departing from Terminal F, a much smaller satellite terminal, where the tiny planes that don’t require jetways depart from, so the queues were not too long. It was 12.15 when I cleared security and as the flight would be over three hours, I thought it would be good to get some lunch, so sat down to a burger and fries, before finding gate F14 (at least I hoped that was the gate number and not the plane we would be flying in) and sitting down with my fellow passengers until we were called to board. It was a very full flight, and we were all packed into to our little sardine can. As we taxied to the runway the rain lashed down ever harder outside and the captain warned us that it would be bumpy ride until we reached our cruising altitude above the clouds – and he was right. Once the wheels left the ground we bumped and tipped and dropped and soared in a way to remind a nervous passenger, and even a less nervous one, how very fragile an aircraft is when faced with the might of nature.
Being back on an American Airlines flight I was hoping that I may be able to find Ford v Ferrari again on the entertainment system so that I could finish it, but the choices had changed, or perhaps are just different on the smaller planes, so instead I watched the sheer tosh that is the second Downton Abbey film. It really is very silly, but it was lovely to see Highclere Castle, and to know that I will be performing there again in little over a month’s time.
Eventually we began our descent into Minneapolis/St Paul airport and touched down in a region I know very well and feel very at home in. Over two years I performed in the play ‘To Begin With’ in Minneapolis and lived in two apartment blocks throughout the rehearsal periods and the runs, meaning that I walked to grocery stores, strolled in the parks, went to the Art Museum, had Sunday breakfast in a little diner, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. One year Liz stayed with me, and on another occasion my brother Ian came and took some amazing production photographs of me playing Charles Dickens, complete with a specially made wig, (the wig was for me, by the way, not for Ian!) They were happy days, and it was great to be back.
I found my way to the Hertz garage and discovered that on this occasion I was allowed to choose my car from ‘The President’s Circle’ aisle, rather that the Gold member’s one, and this gave me a fantastic choice – I could have selected another convertible Mustang, like the one I had driven in September, but a convertible in a Minnesota November didn’t seem suitable, and in the end I decided to channel my inner Steve McQueen and slipped into the driver’s seat of a black Dodge Charger, which trembled and shook as I started the large engine.
The drive into the centre if the city took about 30 minutes, and the traffic was heavy, but there were occasions when I could accelerate hard, and the beast just leaped forward with a magnificent surge of acceleration which brought a big smile to my face.
My destination was the very exclusive Minneapolis Club in the heart of the city, where I will be performing on Saturday and Sunday. A few years ago, I performed in The Aster Cafe in the city, which was owned by a fine Pickwickian named Jeff Arundel, and Jeff is now the Managing Director of the club and was keen to have me preform in the sumptuous wood panelled elegance of the old building (the club was formed in 1907). Not only would I be performing at the club, but I was fortunate enough to be staying there as well. I gently guided the Charger into the club’s parking garage, and in no time was checked in and taking the elevator to the 4th floor. The Elevator itself, and I use the American term because it seemed such an American style, was tiny, with just room for my cases and me, and had a large rotary handle that, in former days, an attendant would have operated on behalf of the members and their guests.
When I had settled into my room, which was spacious and very well appointed, I drew a bath and luxuriated using some of the hand-made soap that had been given me back in Kansas City, and just felt a little bit spoiled and pampered. At seven o’clock I went out to dinner. Rather than availing myself of the club’s restaurant, I wanted to return to a regular haunt during my ‘To Begin With’ years, and that was to Brit’s Pub. I found walked the few blocks through the city and was delighted to discover that my navigational skills had not deserted me. Brit’s was bustling and busy, but I was shown to a seat in the upstairs room, and admired the portraits of the Queen, Churchill, various football teams and numerous Union Jacks, flags of St George, the Welsh and Scottish flags and plenty of other memorabilia. As a nod to home, I chose a Shepherd’s Pie, which was delicious.
It wasn’t late when I walked back to the club, perhaps 8.30, and the city’s buildings looked magnificent lit up against the night sky. It was cold, but not truly Minneapolis-cold. When I was here before it was February, and the temperatures were so far below zero as to make my beard freeze!
In the dark of the night, the old building nestled beneath the surrounding skyscrapers, bringing to mind another passage from A Christmas Carol, when Dickens describes Scrooge’s home: ‘He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again.’
I returned to my room and spent the rest of the evening watching television, before falling asleep. On Saturday I have the larger part of the day to myself, so will have the opportunity to indulge in some more nostalgia in Minneapolis.