MONDAY 16 MARCH
- Taxi to airport at 12:20 pm
- Terminal 5 – first time.
- Check-in immediate at Fast Bag Drop – maybe 2 minutes to process.
- Security quite thorough – about 7 minutes, including queue.
- Sit in shopping mall on air-side, join WiFi hotspot network which (it says) operates in McDonalds and Starbucks. Should be good for US
- Board BA 299 painlessly. Plenty of luggage storage space. I have attaché case and very small laptop bag.
- Service, seat, food – all lovely.
- Staff all wonderful – friendly and dignified.
- Make notes for my speaking events.
- Arrive Chicago
- Immigration queue well-managed and very short.
- Luggage comes quickly. Waved through by Customs.
- Hertz shuttle to their compound. She confirms that they are giving me a hybrid car, Toyota Prius, as requested. Please God, let it be a nice colour.
- It’s metallic black – perfect.
- This is a Star Fleet shuttle craft. Spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how it starts. It’s incredible.
- Drive to Chicago O’Hare Garden Hotel, using the MapQuest directions I had printed.
- They have my boxes from Amazon.com – all the equipment for this adventure:
US cell phone
Digital voice recorder (to make book notes in car)
Car charger for phone
New high tech rechargeable batteries for camera (I brought own US
Ab roller – for hotel room exercise. (Will return with six-pack abs)
Audio book – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
Five copies of my book to give away
- Shirts are really creased – ugh, will I have to iron them?
- Spend time working out how all this new stuff works.
- Go to bed at 1 am
TUESDAY 17 MARCH
- Did I sleep? Not sure.
- Arise at 5:30 am
- Complimentary hotel continental breakfast will be served in lobby. I’m looking forward to croissants and fresh rolls.
- I can see why it’s free. It’s little refined sugar doughnuts and white bread.
- Walk two blocks to archetypal American diner.
- Have omelette, toast and giant hash brown, decaff coffee, orange juice.
- I will be eating a lot of eggs in diners on my road trip. It’s okay, the British Egg Council just announced that they’ve discovered that eggs don’t really raise your cholesterol much – and they should know.
- Install satnav in car.
- Mill around hotel room.
- Go for drive to my first venue, to check it out.
- Return to hotel.
- Relax in armchair.
- Feel a wave of exhaustion.
- Hurriedly shower and dress in smart clothes.
- Drive to venue.
- Meet Rev Alan Taylor and his delightful family. They take me to dinner.
- There’s a problem – due to an illness, there was no publicity. Due to a death, everyone’s gone to a wake.
- The Rev promises me that if I return to
- Freelance local cameraman arrives and films session (see below re documentary).
- Run through a practice session with the Rev and a limited audience, and discuss content afterwards. This is very helpful – as this tour is the first time that I’m addressing an American audience. How different will it be from British and Australian audiences?
WEDNESDAY 18 MARCH
- Awake early, skip hotel breakfast, go straight to Mac’s Diner.
- In hotel room, rationalise my luggage, so that I need carry only one bag into a hotel, when stay just one night.
- In hotel, internet can only be reached through two cables in lobby.
- Try to add credit to my T-mobile US cell phone, on-line. It accepts that I live in country UK
- Phone T-mobile on my grey Motorola Razr US cell phone to discuss, reach call centre (possibly in Mexico
- My black Motorola Razr UK
- I cancel both transactions, and hang up both phones. I need to think about this. T-Mobile want to charge me $1-60 per minute for INCOMING calls from the UK
- Slightly cross, pack, shower and depart for Kalamazoo
- I don’t like to make sweeping generalizations, but Chicago
- Glad to leave the city and hit the highway. My road trip has begun.
- Stop at a Starbucks and, using that hotspot membership I bought in Heathrow, successfully have Skype video call with film maker who wants to make documentary about my road trip. He commissioned the Chicago
- Arrive in Kalamazoo
- Nice to relax – no hurry.
- Amy says: “Shouldn’t you be getting ready?”
- “S--t!” I forgot the time change.
- Hurriedly shower and dress in smart clothes.
- Rev Jill McAllister is wonderful and so welcoming.
- Turnout is excellent and American audience all laugh at appropriate points. (Thank God!)
- Dinner in restaurant – nachos.
- Fall asleep instantly.
THURSDAY 19 MARCH
- Drive to Bloomington, Indiana
- Check-in to Travelodge. Nice view of someone’s front porch a few yards from my window. Keep curtains closed.
- Shower and change.
- Rev Bill Breedon is so welcoming.
- Nice turnout, wonderful discussion afterwards, including about Afghanistan
- Three of them take me to a bar to eat.
- Return to Travelodge – fall asleep instantly.
FRIDAY 20 MARCH
- ‘Deluxe’ free breakfast at Travelodge is somewhat disappointing.
- Only a short drive today – 66 miles to
- Spend two hours in Starbucks en-route, doing e-mail and using the Internet.
- Not using hotel in Indianapolis
- Go to Chinese restaurant. Forget about American portion sizes and over-order. Place in takeaway box.
- Go to Walgreens (for bad throat) and Target for a few toiletries.
- Arrive at All Souls Unitarian Church
- My talk is in the main hall. I am too intimidated to stand at the pulpit, so stand at floor level.
- Excellent turnout. Discussion over coffee and cookies in dining hall. Very nice people.
- Leave at 9 pm
- Three hour drive to Columbus, Ohio
- Travelodge car park is full of huge, intimidating pick-up trucks. Park hybrid car in-between two of them.
- Check-in to Travelodge and go to room.
- My throat hurts and I feel run down.
- Lift toilet seat. Ugh – someone has left a deposit.
- Inspect room – looks like the room’s been cleaned, but cleaner forgot to clean toilet. It is 1 am
- Eat remains of pad thai and fried fish and crawl into bed.
SATURDAY 21 MARCH
- Throat hurts.
- Breakfast is marginally better, but no decaff coffee.
- Try to make decaff in room. Ugh – the coffee has not been emptied from last use.
- It doesn’t work properly anyway.
- Update blog.
- I need to get out of here.
- Drive to Cleveland – Red Roof Inn.
- Eat a brief meal in Red Lobster.
- Sleep, with terrible throat.
SUNDAY 22 MARCH
- Awake with bad throat and aching body.
- Go to Walgreens pharmacy and buy all sorts of stuff.
- Vente latte from Starbucks.
- Go to UU Church of Rocky River.
- My event is at 9:15 am, before the Sunday service at 10:30.
- The venue is packed – they are overflowing out the doors.
- I recover enough to deliver my talk – the audience is wonderful.
- Return to hotel, pack, and set-off for Bethlehem, PA.
- My next event is on Monday evening, so it feels like I have two days off.
- Get as far as Milesburg PA (more than half way), see a sign for Ramada Inn and decide to call it a day.
- The Ramada Inn is a huge two storey hotel, but the car park has about three cars in it.
- After Travelodge, this place has an air of dignity and class, but eerily quiet – it’s deserted. The corridor is the longest I’ve ever seen in a hotel.
- The room is comfortable and elegant.
- I want a proper meal – GPS takes me to Twin Kisses restaurant. It’s a modest structure, with many pick-up trucks outside. Inside, many heads in baseball caps turn to look at Middle Eastern man in hybrid car with Illinois plates, sitting in car park.
- I don’t see any credit card signs. I know that many of these independent places don’t take credit cards. I have only $13 in my wallet. I don’t want to go in there and, in full earshot of everyone, ask:’Do you take Visa?’
- They are all watching me, wondering what I am doing.
- I re-progamme the GPS and drive 20 miles to a Red Lobster.
- Eat a proper meal of salad and grilled fish, with vegetables.
- Return to Ramada Inn, write article for BBC News website.
- Sleep contentedly.