Friday, December 09, 2005

Trip from Denver to Cincinnati. HORRIBLE snowy highway experience here!

This is the first time that I have been able to catch my breath here in the "new show city" of Cincinnati, after a very hectic two days of travel and then two intense days of rehearsals and first several shows. I don't have to be at work until tonight's show at 8, hooray!

The 1,200-mile trip from Denver to Cincinnati was uneventful. We left Denver immediately after the final show on Sunday night, and drove for three hours before stopping at a Super 8 motel in Goodland, Kansas, a few miles over the border, at 1:30 Monday morning. We usually try to get to the next state the first night; it's psychologically gratifying.

There was a dusting of snow on the plains in eastern Colorado and western Kansas, which gradually faded out as we headed further east. It took most of Monday to get across Kansas; the state is about 450 miles long from end to end. We passed through Kansas City during rush-hour -- not too bad actually -- and then across the northern part of Missouri to St. Louis.

That stretch of I-70 has always been dismal; it's a rutted, winding highway with lots of traffic, but it seemed slightly less horrible this time. Perhaps they've done some work on the road since our last trip across, a couple years ago.

We drove through St. Louis at about 10:45 p.m. and continued on into Illinois. J. had made motel reservations at a Motel 6 in Effingham, Illinois where we arrived at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

It snowed a little overnight, so we were greeted with a couple inches of the white stuff when we got up around 9:30. J. made tea for our two "bullet" thermoses, and we stopped at Starbuck's for scones and pumpkin cake for our breakfast on the road. We had about a five- hour drive remaining to Cincinnati.

It is interesting to see that Starbuck's has expanded their locations to include some highway exits on interstate highways lately. I have always noticed the glaring lack of decent coffee on our travels throughout the country; it's nearly impossible to get anything other than truck-stop rocket fuel. Perhaps this is changing now with more Starbuck's appearing at highway exits.

We continued to see snow flurries on our drive through Illinois and Indiana. We arrived in Cincinnati around 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, and checked into our hotel, the Hannaford Suites on exit 12 of I-71.

It's a surprisingly nice hotel; much better than the Residence Inn in Denver. Our place is actually a SUITE, with a separate bedroom. We're on the ground floor so the windows in both bedroom and living areas are nearly floor-to-ceiling. The lack of light in our room in Denver had nearly killed us. It was SO depressing!

Our "digs" at the Hannaford Suites are a cut above the usual bland corporate apartment setting, with sage-colored walls rather than white, and passable upholstery on the couch and chairs. J. won't have to cover them up with canvas drop-cloths, as he did in our rooms at the two Candlewood Suites in July/August, Residence Inn during November/December and the little garage apartment we had stayed at in Atlanta in September.

Like Candlewood, Hannaford Suites does not have an oven, so we're forced to use the microwave. Unlike Candlewood, however, this kitchen does not have a dishwasher!

I jumped right back to work bright and early on Wednesday morning. Here's my typical first-day-in-the-new city schedule:

9:30 - 11:30 a.m. Seating & Sound Check
1:00 - 2:00 p.m. Sound Check / Tapes
2:00 - 4:30 p.m. Tech Rehearsal
8:00 p.m. Preview #1 (first show)

But yesterday, Thursday, was the DAY FROM HELL because of the snow here in Cincinnati.

I need to rant and rave for a few moments!

It started snowing just as J. drove the twelve miles to downtown to pick me up after the matinee ended at 3:40. He said that the inbound traffic was starting to thicken up, but not too badly as the snowflakes started whirling down. And he said that there was no outbound traffic at all.

By the time we got to the outbound lanes a few minutes later, though, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. The snow was falling rather heavily but the roadway itself was not very clogged with the white stuff, since there were so many cars driving over it.

I admire and encourage driver caution, but these people were OVERKILL. Haven't they ever driven in snow? When I attended CCM in Cincinnati thirty years ago, it snowed like this two or three times each winter. So it seems to me that people here should know how to drive in it.

But NO! Everyone freaked out. The highways were totally clogged for hours, for no apparent reason. Even at its worst, the road conditions were not so bad that drivers couldn't have gone about 35 mph, and would have been perfectly safe.

Since the average speed was 5 mph (when we weren't stopped), the highways were a virtual parking-lot. There may have been some folks with nearly-empty gas tanks who hadn't expected to be stuck on the highways for several hours, so there were quite a few cars abandoned at the side of the roads. There were even some abandoned cars right in the MIDDLE of them!

It was as though there had been a nuclear holocaust and that major panic set in -- all bets were off! Almost total panic which was unnecessary.

It took J. and me nearly an hour to drive the twelve miles up the clogged highway to our rooms at Hannaford Suites. J. had prepared a delicious dinner of posole and sauteed veggies before picking me up. As we ate, we watched the Weather Channel and local Cincinnati news stations which predicted as much as six to eight inches of snow by midnight.

We took a nap for an hour and then got up at 6:30. J. suggested that we leave even earlier than we had planned, which was already early -- just in case traffic was still horrible on the way back downtown.

Well, it was WORSE.

This time, it took an hour and a half to drive 12 miles! Incredible.

The snow had accumulated to about three inches by that time, but the road conditions were not really so bad. J., who's from south Georgia and hadn't driven in snow until he joined me on the road seven years ago, did a far better job of driving in it than these people in Cincinnati! He was cautious, but not freaked out, and could easily control the car at speeds up to 35 mph. -- while these folks couldn't seem to drive faster than 5 mph.

There were more abandoned cars along the roadway (did they run out of gas?) and some huge semi-trucks were even parked in the left or right lanes, causing traffic to snarl up even worse. At times, J. created his own lane on the right (which was just the furthermost lane, but covered with snow so no-one was using it!) and made better progress. We passed everybody else, who continued to crawl along in the left-hand lanes.

Meanwhile the snowfall had tapered off, so the roadways weren't getting more clogged. But traffic continued to CRAWL at a snail's pace.

Although we had left our hotel room at 6:40, thinking it was plenty of time to catch the show at 8:00, I was obviously going to be late. I called the Stage Manager's office to let them know. The contractor came on the line and didn't seem perturbed; said "We'll see you when you get here". I asked him to ask the Principal horn to assemble my instrument and put it on my chair, to minimize further delays when I finally did arrive at the theatre.

This was a first in my more than eight years with Phantom. I certainly hope it's the LAST time I'm late to a show -- even for only the overture and initial measures of Act I's first number. I got to the pit at about 8:16 (we usually start at 8:06).

More than half the audience was absent. It felt so weird to play for so few people. I could hear the sound of the orchestra echoing throughout the theatre, more live without warm bodies to absorb the sound. The applause was also noticeably thinner.

I'm surprised the show wasn't cancelled. But our company already had its money, so why should it care? (Wow, that sounded COLD! But there's an element of truth to this.)

Luckily, the assistant conductor was on the podium so I escaped potentially glaring looks from our regular conductor. The latter probably wouldn't have given me a hard time, though, since the snow/highway situation was indeed so bad. He would have understood.

If this situation ever comes up again on a double-show day, I'll call J. to tell him to stay home until after the evening show, and I'll remain downtown and eat dinner between performances. I never want to repeat this very unpleasant experience again!

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