I’m always a little smug living in L.A. in March, it’s so much fun to put out facebook updates with “ooh, so cold, it dropped below 80F today!” I think that’s why the comedy Gods have decided that I should spend at least some of my winters on the road in bloody freezing climates: “lest you forget Conolly”. Truth is I have suffered through many winters from my English upbringing to my 4 year excruciating chill factor filled winters in New York. As I write this, I find myself looking out at the snow falling in Idaho Falls. How did I get here? Well….
It started with my first ever journey on an American Greyhound bus. Now I’ve been on busses all over Brazil, Morocco and a lot of Europe but nothing quite as “third world” as this, where the driver sits behind a cage, rather like an off license in south London (liquor store to my American friends), or where the receptionist would sit in one of those charming hostels for the homeless in a 1970’s movie. Hopefully, this is the nearest I’ll ever get to being transported on a prison bus. I’m relieved to say we weren’t shackled. We stopped off in San Bernadino for a stretch of the legs and to use the restroom – except we were all screamed at by security for attempting to do so. Yes, the security had guns – this is America, so we were all herded rather aggressively back onto the bus. Apparently, they had timed the cleaning of the restrooms to co-incide with our scheduled arrival and obviously wanted to keep them clean, so no-one from our bus was allowed in. I of course was desperate for a pee and hoped my charming English accent could persuade the security guard that we were uncomfortable having been crammed together in pens for so long, to which he radio’d for back up and I scampered back onto the bus to find my seat had now someone sitting in it, staring straight ahead. I braved the blue lagoon at the back of the bus, which was really a metallic hole with…well blue liquid of some sort residing at the bottom of the endless well. Thankfully, I did not confuse it with a jacuzzi and jump in, otherwise I would have been ripe for an audition in the blue man group once I arrived in Vegas. Of course, the only person who wished to engage in conversation with me had a recognizable whiff of alcohol on him. He was particularly intrigued by my winter coat and where I had acquired it.
“Rome”, I told him. Which sounded odd as we were hurtling through the Mojave desert, ah, those days when one just decided to spend five quid on a plane ticket to a European destination on a quick weekend escape from London.
The bus driver decided as we had been robbed of our planned rest stop, that he would stop 80 minutes outside of Vegas. As we got off the bus, I couldn’t help thinking of Richard Attenborough in the Great Escape when the Nazi’s told them to stretch their legs before shooting them all with machine guns. It’s funny how as we walked around in the desert mainly in silence exchanging knowing glances and raising eyebrows with other human beings, realizing whether we liked it or not, we were in this together. I didn’t want to look back at the bus, as I expect they were hosing down our seats with disinfectant. Not long after, the towering hotels of the Vegas strip started to appear in the distance and a strange thing started to occur, passengers who had been sitting mostly in silence for five hours started to talk to one another, introductions made, pleasantries exchanged, we were nearly there. Even I decided it was time to attempt a conversation with the young hoodie from San Bernadino who had plonked himself in my seat. So, what do you do in San Bernadino then? “I’m English, I’m traveling the world by bus”. Of course, the baseball cap and basketball shoes should have been the give away.
So, Vegas…downtown Vegas, now how to get to the aptly named Terribles Hotel. By now, we Greyhound travelers were a community of misfits, I teamed up with a guy named Wade from Oxnard as we split a cab to our destinations, he was in town to place bets on the March Madness basketball games. He looked like a rapper, with his Detroit baseball cap and gold chains, baggy jeans and over sized t-shirt. Nothing incongruous, to be sitting with an Englishman living in Silverlake. We split the bill, wished each other luck and both sighed that the 4-5 mile taxi ride was more expensive than the Greyhound ticket from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
So, Vegas is about glamour, excitement the shows…and I had one to do…at Lucie’s Lounge, which is about bikers, hard living and hard comedy. When I arrived I cursed the friend who had booked me to this joint which resembled a more downtrodden version of Roadhouse. How the hell was I going to get through this one? Other comedians sympathized with my predicament. Two nights before, I’d just played Flappers in Burbank, a sweet gig where all my jokes were appreciated and the decor and atmosphere were the polar opposite. The comedians were tucking into the free Jack Daniels as I plotted what to do when I hit the stage. As expected, the first comedian got up and was drowned put by the sound of slot machines, pool players and silence. I was sunk. Was it worth even going up there? My head was firmly in my hands as I was introduced as “hope you can understand what this dude is sayin’ cos I can’t tell a fuckin’ word he’s saying”. So, I opened with “this is why I moved 6000 miles! Las Vegas! My dreams have all come true!!” now don’t tell me Americans don’t have irony, because everyone in that club started to laugh and cheer. “God save the Queen!” shouted someone from the audience, to which I retorted “so you’ve heard of Elton John?” The crowd, unbelievably came with me, I even confessed at one point that I had abandoned my set, in favor of making them laugh and they even liked that bit. Sad thing is it’s true. To be honest, this was a big lesson to me, because I was actually so depressed when I entered that club that I wanted to go home, but if I had, I would have missed out on a terrific stage experience. Completely different from the Flappers crowd, but equally worthy – these guys were intrigued to have an Englishman in their presence, they weren’t heckling, they were “helping”…and in a funny way they were, they were stretching me and together we had a fun time. Would I shoot my HBO comedy special at Lucie’s Lounge? Probably not, but I’d go again.
So, back in the hotel room just after midnight in time to set my alarm for 5.25am to get the shuttle to the airport. And yes, it’s true, it’s not New York that never sleeps, it’s Vegas. As I went through the casino at 5.45am, it was still buzzing with people in their evening wear, supping cocktails and nowhere near that last roll of the dice.
And then, Idaho Falls. Perhaps the smallest airport I’ve been to. I asked where the taxi rank was, to which this kind lady, just reeled off a telephone number and a few minutes later along came my ride. We had to pick up his other rides on the way, from the bank and the poor guy who had had his car towed. So, what do I do with my day in Idaho Falls? “There’s not much here to be honest. Most people just ride straight through and go to Yellowstone Park. It’s only an hour away”. Really? Do you spend a lot of time up there? “I would like to. Never been.” Oh, how long have you lived here? “All my life”.
He was right about his first point, I tried walking around the town and there isn’t much to be here to be honest. I even considered an afternoon in Yellowstone, I know a local cab driver who has never been but has ambitions to visit one day, but it’s bloody cold out there. I’ll enjoy the splendor of my opulent roadside motel room, complete with twentieth century dust bunnies.