A Christmas Carol, Applebees, Boeing 737, Charles Dickens, Charlotte NC, Ebenezer Scrooge, Ford V Ferrari, Hertz Car Rental, Hilton Garden Inn, Old Forge NY, Philadelphia, Stanley Tucci, The Damned United, Wilson Arizona
Wednesday marked my first day off since I arrived in America, although it would be fully taken up with travelling from the Midwest to the East coast. I woke very early, I mean VERY early for some reason, but used the morning to get back to Wordle, which I had not played for a few days, and had a very satisfying result of three, and then got to work on writing my blog post.
My flight was not actually until 1.50, so I had plenty of time throughout the morning to get packed and ready. Over the last few days of performing I had amassed a very large amount of laundry, so after breakfast I went to the hotel’s front desk to get enough quarters to pay for two loads of washing and drying. The lady at the desk looked in her cash register and when we had finished the transaction, the Element Hotel, Mid Town Crossing, had only 75c of quarters left, whilst I had a jingling, jangling bag of booty.
When I had flown from Heathrow a week before my large suitcase had been perilously close to the weight limit, so I decided to try and back both of my costumes (the frockcoats and trousers are made from quite thick material and therefore are heavy) into my carry-on roller case, and sure enough I managed to squeeze them all in. I watched TV (avoiding anything political, as it was the day of the Midterm elections and passions were running hot) until the cycles of washing and drying were complete. I carefully folded all 10 of my costume shirts and packed the main case, which was still heavy (note to self, be more careful when packing for the second leg of my trip later this month) and closed everything up.
I checked out at around 11.15, meaning I had plenty of time to fill my car with petrol, get to the car rental return and into the terminal and still allow the recommended 2-hour window before my departure. Before I left, I remembered to leave the radio microphone pack, that I had inadvertently ‘stolen’ from the Westside High School the day before, in an envelope at reception.
The drive to Eppley Field Airport is a very short one, and I relished it for I had greatly enjoyed my time in the Venza and will miss it. I stopped at a gas station on the way to fill up, and had the usual battle in working out how to open the filler cap in an unfamiliar car. After sitting at the pump for a while looking through the owner’s manual, I finally found a little button low down on the left, about the level of my shin – there would certainly be no possibility of accidentally opening it, which is why, I presume, it is so carefully hidden away.
When I put my credit card into the pump it came up with a message that they couldn’t currently process remote card payments and I would have to go into the shop and pay there before filling the tank (this is one of the biggest differences between America and Britain that I come across: in England a driver is trusted enough to be permitted to pay for their fuel after they have filled their tank, rather than having to prepay). At the counter I had to guess how much fuel I was going to need, and I had no idea. Gas prices have been fluctuating wildly across the globe in recent months, and I wasn’t really sure if they are very expensive or back to normal in America at the moment. I also knew that the Venza would need half a tank, but what did that mean? I made a very random guess of $20, and the girl assured me that if I didn’t reach that amount, then the balance would be returned to the card. When the pump clunked to a stop, I had actually put a little over $17 in, so my estimate had been a pretty good one.
At the Enterprise rental car drop-off, I bade farewell to my trusty steed, that had actually spent most of its time with me stationary in parking lots, thanks to the generosity of Kimberly in Missouri and Frank in Nebraska, and I hauled my luggage to the terminal where I grabbed a bite of lunch, before clearing security and waiting at my gate. It was obviously going to be a very busy flight, and sure enough an announcement was made asking if anyone would like to check their carry-on baggage to free up space in the cabin. I did so, and immediately regretted it, as all of my costumes where in that bag – metaphoric eggs in a metaphoric basket, indeed.
When we were called to board, I had a wave of happy nostalgia come over me, as the plane was a Boeing 737. OK, I know this sounds silly, and one aeroplane cabin looks very like another, but when I started touring back in the 1990s the 737 was the staple workhorse of every airline, and I spent so much time in them, quite often flying in costume. Over the years Airbus have supplied many of the carriers, but today I could wallow in memories. One remarkable development in air travel over recent years is the ability to access an airlines database of movies on your phone or tablet, and as I settled into my seat, I perused the choices on offer before selecting ‘The Damned United’, the story of English football manager Brian Clough’s disastrous period in charge of the Leeds United soccer team in 1974 – he only lasted in the post for 44 days, coincidentally the same time that our last Prime Minister survived in her job before being forced to retire. Brian Clough would go on to great success later in his career, winning the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest: somehow, I don’t foresee such heady heights for Liz Truss, certainly not in Europe…
My journey from Omaha to Philadelphia was made via Charlotte, North Carolina, which seemed to be a somewhat circuitous route, but when you are blasting through the air at 35,000 feet, geography does not mean much. The view out of the window was truly beautiful as we made our way over either the Nantahala or Pisgah National Forest, a setting sun casting a rich golden glow over the gentle wooded contours below and creating shadows that gave the terrain the look of the swelling waves on an ocean
My film finished as we approached Charlotte, and I spent the rest of the flight watching a travel programme featuring Stanley Tucci exploring the culinary delights of Rome. During this time the purser on the flight announced the wonderful rewards that would come my way if I signed up for a certain credit card, after which the cabin crew made their way up the aisle with leaflets complete with an application form – does anybody, has anybody, ever taken one of those forms on a flight, and applied? It seems a very archaic method of marketing, and I would be fascinated to know if it actually bears fruit for the financial institution involved, or for the airline.
We landed at Charlotte airport a little early, and there was a crazy rush to get off, as obviously some other passengers had a very tight connection time. I was able to relax and hold back as I had an hour in hand, and thanks to the America Airlines app I could see that my departure gate was in the same terminal as we were arriving at, which gave me a great sense of peace. I ambled off the plane and made my way from gate B5 to B 15 where there was a huge crowd waiting to board, Actually the large group was made up of passengers for three flights, one to Richmond, Virginia, one for Philly (mine) and one for Vegas. I made sure that I was in the correct mass of humanity, lest I should be erroneously whisked away to Nevada. I might have fun there, but my luggage would be in Philadelphia – to paraphrase the famous saying, ‘what arrives in Philadelphia stays in Philadelphia’.
The next flight, which would take me back North again was very busy, and the boarding process took a long time. As I stood in the aisle waiting to get back to seat A24, the captain came over the intercom in a somewhat agitate fashion ‘ ‘Hey guys, lets hurry this process up, we have a hurricane coming up from the South and we need to get this thing outta here and out run it! I think he fancied himself as starring in a 2nd World War adventure movie, although passengers did begin to take their seats with a renewed sense of urgency.
For my second movie choice I watched Ford Vs Ferrari, but the flight was not long enough to finish it, which was a shame. Philadelphia airport was its usual bustling self. I waited at baggage carousel 12, where a screen told me that the luggage from the Charlotte flight would be delivered, but for a long while nothing came, until I noticed a passenger that I recognised pulling his luggage from a different location. I asked him if he had indeed been on the Charlotte flight, and he replied that yes and the baggage was on carousel 10. I made my way there and looked at the screen, which told me that bags from flights arriving from Phoenix, Las Vegas, Dallas and Los Angeles would be delivered there: no mention of Charlotte, but sure enough there were my two cases making their languid way round and round. I collected them, and walked back up to carousel 12 and told the scattering of miserable folk who were forlornly still waiting for their bags that maybe they should try number 10 instead, and off they ran with a renewed sense of hope.
To get to the car rental garages at Philly you have to wait outside baggage reclaim next to a road, and wave down a courtesy bus for your particular company. Unfortunately, as I arrived at the curb, I saw a Hertz bus disappearing around the corner and so had to wait for quite a while, until another one appeared.
Over the last few years Bob Byers had set me up as Gold member with Hertz which gives me the great privilege of avoiding the lines at the counter and just going straight to a certain area of the garage and choosing my own car. Usually, I go for an SUV, but on this occasion, I spied a rather sleek looking Cheverolet Malibu, and loaded my bags into that and set off for the 40-minute drive to my hotel in the township of Mount Holly. It was almost 9 o’clock when I arrived, so I diverted to an Applebee’s restaurant which was near to the hotel, and had a supper of fish and chips. My accent attracted some attention and soon people were asking where I was from and on my reply of England, one guy said ‘Yep, I thought so! I thought either England or Australia, but you weren’t rude enough to come from Australia, so I figured it must be England!’ The conversation then turned to what I was doing here, and when it was discovered that I performed A Christmas Carol people started suggesting other towns where I should perform, most specifically one in Williams Arizona and another in Old Forge New York, both of which feature railroad journeys after the fashion of The Polar Express. The New York venue is in the heart of the Adirondack mountains, which feature as the setting of the James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me, so it would be fun to go there.
When my dinner was finished, I made the short drive to my hotel, another Hilton Garden Inn, and soon was in my room. I unpacked my squashed-up costumes, so that some of the creases would have a chance to hang out overnight, and then gratefully let sleep take me after what had been a very long day off.