A Christmas Carol, Blue Mountains, Charles Dickens, Charlottesville, Ebenezer Scrooge, Football World Cup, Hertz Car Rental, Laurel and Hardy, Lenox, The Berkshires, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, TSA, Waynesboro
On Tuesday morning I woke on the outskirts of Waynseboro with the sense that I had nowhere to be for quite a while, for this was to be a day off, with only travel to occupy me, and that wasn’t until the afternoon. I had a lazy morning ahead of me and intended to make the most of it by doing as little as possible. I probably should have taken a scenic drive into the National Park and visited some of the ‘cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows’ that the website promised, but the fact was I felt completely empty and used up – this needed to be a ‘floppy day’ in which I re-charged my batteries a little for the next leg. I even found it difficult to write my blog, which isn’t in itself an energetic task, but my brain seemed in need of rest too, and was coming out on strike along with the rest of me!
I did what you would expect me to do, I had breakfast and loaded some laundry into a machine, and when the latter was complete, I set to packing my cases one more. Actually, this was quite an important moment in this year’s tour, for it would be the last time that I needed to squeeze my costumes into the little roller bag, or stuff my top hat with socks and wind my scarf around it. When next I unpacked, I would have no more flights until I go home, meaning that everything I need for my shows will be able to stay in my car.
I had asked the hotel if I could have a late check out, and as midday approached, I made final checks of the room to ensure that I left nothing and loaded my belongings into the black Highlander. I was heading back north.
The drive back to Charlottesville took me on a freeway with stunning views of the mountains to my right, and I began to regret not following The Skyline Drive earlier that morning. At one point I noticed tourist signs directing me to The Blue Ridge Trail, and suddenly I was a child again, putting my favourite 45rpm vinyl disk onto our old record player; I could almost hear the various clicks and whirrs as the mechanism allowed the disk to drop onto the turntable, and then the arm with the little stylus needle at the end swung across and lowered itself with a static ‘click’ perfectly onto the edge of the record. A moment of crackles and then a guitar started to play, followed by a voice: ‘On a mountain in Viriginia stands a lonesome pine…’ Yes, those where certainly the Blue Mountains to my right, and I was definitely in Virginia, so somewhere, it stood to reason, was a trail to a lonesome pine. I used to sing along to that record over and over when I was a child, and just for a few moments as I drove, I could hear Laurel and Hardy’s brilliant performance once more.
The drive to the airport took less than an hour, and I passed the time by listening to BBC news on the radio. At one time there was a traffic report, which described an incident causing delays between Hyde and Ashton-Under-Lyme, which is where I had been performing just a week before! I found a petrol station, filled the tank and then continued to the car rental returns area and walked the short distance into the terminal, where the paperwork would be completed. From the Enterprise desk I walked to the check-in desk, dropped my case, and then made my way to security. No bustle, no crowding, no fuss, just a very small, friendly airport.
Ahead of me at the bag drop was an elderly lady who didn’t seem quite sure what to do, and as I stood behind her, she turned and said ‘Oh, you go ahead, this is my very first time flying, and I am not sure how to do it all’. She had chosen the right airport to make her flying debut at, for everyone, me included, took her under our wings and looked after her. I helped her get the bins to put her bags and things in, and she asked if she could keep her coat on, her purse with her, her shoes on, and I told her that everything needed to go through the x-ray machine. The staff at security were brilliant, also very gently telling her what she needed to put on the conveyor belt. ‘Where do I go after that?’ she asked, ‘Oh, ‘said the kindly TSA officer, ‘we will talk about that on another side of this part, don’t you worry, we will look after you.’ He picked up a metal water bottle from her tray, ‘is this empty?’ he asked, and she replied with a huge sense of pride ‘Yes!’, as if she had passed that part of the test with flying colours. ‘Am I allowed to fill it up again?’ ‘Oh, yes ma’am, there are water stations just through those doors, that’s fine. Which airline are you flying with, ma’am?’ ‘American’. ‘Oh, I think there is a fountain by the American gates, let me check’, and with that he called another officer over, ‘Mack, is there are a water fountain over at the American Airlines gate? This lady is flying for the very first time, and she wanted to know if she can fill her bottle.’ ‘Oh, yes I think that there is. Hey, Bill,’ he called to another staff member, ‘is there a water station up at American?’ The answer came back in the affirmative and was relayed back to the smiling lady. When our bags had been cleared, and we both were putting our coats and shoes on, she said, ‘Thank you all so much for looking after me’ and went off to fill her water bottle at the American Airlines gate. I hoped for her sake that there would some equally kindly and friendly people at the next airport, which would probably be a huge, heaving, hub of humanity all rushing to be somewhere else as quickly as possible, maybe not seeing, certainly not caring about the scared elderly lady for whom all of this was an alien experience.
I had an hour or so before my flight, so I bought some lunch and listened to the BBC’s radio coverage of the build-up to the important football match in Qatar, England vs Wales, the very first time that two home nations (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) had played each other in a World Cup tournament. Unfortunately for me, the USA were also playing their final qualifying match against Iran, so any TVs that were showing the tournament were tuned to that encounter, But still, I had my radio commentary, or at least I did right up to the moment that the whistle blew to start the game, at which a pre-recorded voice informed me that ‘due to copyright issues you are unable to listen to this content in your present location’. And that was that! I had to follow the match by a rolling text report.
The flight back to Washington DC lasted for only 20 minutes, and by the time I was in the toytown terminal A and making my way towards the grown-up terminal D, England had scored three goals and ensured that they would finish at the top of their group and progress to the next stage. Meanwhile, the USA had a one goal lead over Iran, and needed to hold onto it if they were also to progress. Fortunately, they did win, meaning that they also progressed to the next stage.
My next flight was to Hartford, Connecticut and once more it was very busy. The clerk at the gate asked if anyone would like to check their roller bags, as the bin space would be very limited, and I offered mine. As a thank you, I was allowed to board with Group 2, rather than having to wait for my original allocation of Group 3 to be called, the irony being that there was so much space in the bins when I boarded that I could easily have taken my bag!
It was another short flight, under an hour, and soon I was reunited with both of my bags and was making my way to the Hertz counter where I was introduced to my companion for the rest of the trip – a Grey Hyundai Sante Fe, loaded it up and set off towards Lenox in The Berkshires.
This will be my 5th trip to Lenox. but I have never approached it from the Hartford region before, nor in the dark. I put the address of the hotel into my phone, 70 Lenox Road, and dutifully followed the instructions. The route didn’t take me on freeways, but through small towns and along winding country roads, which meant a lot more concentration, especially in the rural areas where my eyes were scanning the woodlands for any movement that may presage a deer leaping into the road in front of me. The towns, on the other hand, were beautiful, with colourful Christmas lights lining the way.
The drive took about 1 hour and 20 minutes, but at last I was approaching my destination, the Courtyard by Marriott hotel just outside Lenox, and yet still I did not recognise anything. I began to panic slightly when driving along a dark road my satnav app announced that I had arrived at my destination, or rather just said ‘Done!’ and abandoned me. I had a horrible thought that somehow I had entered an incorrect address – I could be anywhere! I wasn’t even aware of crossing the state line, and for all I knew I could be in some far-flung corner of Connecticut, miles, and hours, from where I should be – I had simply followed the screen rather than having any knowledge of where I actually was. I pulled over, and checked the address, and sure enough I had clicked on an address in New Lenox Road, rather than Lenox Road. I nervously re-entered the address and waited to see how long it would take me to get my hotel, and I can’t tell you the relief when it came up ‘6 minutes’
Soon I was on a road I knew, and there, on a hill to my left, was the Courtyard. I checked in, purchased a microwavable meal of pasta and meatballs to have in my room, and brought a day of travel from VA to MA to an end.