Westward Ho!

Buffalo History Museum is housed inside a beautiful building. I am due to perform at 2pm in their intimate 150 seat auditorium.

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The Quakers are hosting the event and after the performance Rodney Pierce, a Korean War CO, and Nadine Hoover of the Conscience Studio and New York Quakers, join us for the Q and A.

Nadine is easily the most passionate Quaker I have ever met – when she speaks about the importance of conscientious objection right here and right now; how we need to stand up and make our voices heard if we believe, as she does, that war is illegal, war is immoral and don’t let anyone try and tell you any different – well, you can’t help feeling stirred and emboldened.

Today is also special because one of my oldest and dearest friends has driven all the way from Canada to see the play. That sounds a little more dramatic than it actually is: it’s only a 90 minute drive from where Marci lives, near Hamilton. But it’s wonderful to see her here while I’m touring in the States.

She and I have a good long dinner in one of the few restaurants open in downtown Buffalo on a Sunday evening, and then she drops me back at the Woolly Mammoth – next to the house where I’m staying – before driving back to Canada.

I now have three long days in the car ahead of me.

Monday, with Bill – travelling back to his house in Maryland (for 7 hours or so) and passing through Warsaw mid-morning. It seems to be almost the exception when a village, town or city here doesn’t have a name taken from Europe or somewhere else outside the States.

As we enter Pennsylvania we are greeted with billboards proclaiming its motto: ‘pursue your happiness’.

Bill asks if I’d like to take a short detour to see where in Pennsylvania he pursues HIS happiness. He’s a passionate peace activist and a great lover of the American railroad –
‘But this is where I am truly happiest,’ he explains, as he drives us into Knoebels amusement park, not yet open for the season, but where folk can walk anytime and breathe the fresh country air and admire the rides while in their ‘sleep mode’.

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Bill and his family spend holidays here each year, staying in a cottage onsite, and he tries to get along on as many other weekends as he can.

‘Shame it isn’t open yet,’ he says to me. ‘We could have gone on the Phoenix.’
‘What’s that?’
‘My favourite roller coaster in the world.’

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He walks me over to its vast and intricate wooden structure – and points out its various drops, twists and turns.

It’s a beautiful feat of engineering in wood – but I am SO glad it’s not open yet and that I will therefore not have to sample its terrifying delights.

A night at Bill’s and then in the morning Maria and her dog Cara arrive, so that we can switch the crates to her car for the long journey to the western-most points of our tour – Illinois and then Iowa.

Tuesday – the journey takes us as far as Lake Erie, another full 7 hours, where we overnight in a charming Airbnb cottage right on the lake.

No longer frozen, the light on the water at sunset is very beautiful.

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In the distance, to the west, the Lorain lighthouse stands out like a beacon on the horizon. That’s where we’re headed…westwards.

Next morning, Wednesday, we get set for another 7 hours in the car, to Illinois – but somehow I get locked out of my bedroom with all my worldly goods on the other side of the door.

I stomp around and come over all Victor Meldrew: ‘I don’t believe it!’

We discover that our host is in Milwaukee – hours away! But thank goodness, we find out that her husband is just 20 minutes down the road. I really don’t want to have to break down the door and am so relieved when he turns up in workman’s overalls with a large box of tools and is able to open it up with the minimum of damage in just 15 minutes flat.

I apologize profusely for the inconvenience but he smiles and doesn’t seem bothered in the slightest.

‘I was glad to have an excuse to get away from work.’ Not sure what we’d have done if he’d been in Milwaukee with his wife. ‘I’d appreciate you leaving a review though,’ he says as he gets back in his car.

Oh, we will. An excellent one.

And then Maria, Cara and myself get back into her car and the tour rolls on…and before very long, oh how happy am I? It’s the Ohio Turnpike again – for hour after long flat dull hour. Yippee!

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It’s around 6.30pm when we arrive at North Barrington, 30 miles or so east of Chicago, where our hosts Ellen and Rick are waiting for us.

They are huge Anglophiles it transpires, and so the evening is spent not talking about tedious turnpikes and faulty locks on bedroom doors – but the beautiful cities of Canterbury, York and Durham, which they know and love as much as I do.

‘I performed the play at Canterbury Festival last autumn, and at Quaker schools in York too’ I tell them.

‘And tomorrow you’ll perform it at Waubonsee Community College, Illinois,’ Ellen responds.

I wonder what Bert Brocklesby would have made of my sharing his story one hundred years later in an American college four thousand miles away from Yorkshire?

 

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