I spent a couple of years working for a jazz production company in Los Angeles. Travelling was a big part of the job, and for the most part, I was doing it solo. I explored Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, much of Alaska and a bit of Mexico between festivals and tours. Travelling on my own was not a possibility that had entered my mind before, but I loved the freedom. I could see exactly what I wanted to see and eat what I wanted to eat without compromise – other than that of time and impending work commitments. I also learned that once the initial awkwardness and social fear has been overcome, eating alone AND feeling comfortable in your own company (but always with a good book) is one of the most satisfying things you can do. Propping up the bar and chatting to the staff is a good halfway-house to ease you in before the intense table-for-one ordeal. If you’ve never tried, it, you should.
One winter, I had a few hours to spare before boarding the American Queen steamboat. Our company was sailing from Memphis to New Orleans and hosting a river jazz festival onboard. It wasn’t enough time to visit Graceland, but the perfect window to see the ducks escorted down from the roof of the Peabody Hotel to splash in the lobby fountain. This has happened at the same time every day since 1933 and has become a bit of a touristy institution. The lift door slid open, and a team of ducks excitedly flocked out and along a special red carpet to the fountain. It’s one of the most fantastic, bizarre things I’ve ever seen. The ducks came and went, and I took the next elevator up to the famous ballroom.
Two little girls were clutching tiny hands, leaning back with every trust in the other and spinning around and around in wide, fast circles on the polished floor. I smiled over at them, remembering doing the same with my best friend in the garden. Their accompanying grandparents apologised to me, and asked them to be quiet and behave. I quickly babbled that I didn’t mind at all and of course they should play, and this is how I got chatting to the Memphian family. They were big jazz lovers, and we talked at length about their home city, their family and the swing bands that had played in that very ballroom. They had to leave to meet the girls’ father at his law firm to attend a family lunch but invited me along, promising his meeting room gives a better view of Memphis than you can get anywhere. I accepted, and was not disappointed by the heightened drama of the smoky city when viewed from the 32nd floor. Memphis sprawled beneath us, dirty looking and far reaching. I joined the girls in pressing noses against the glass and gazed down at the tight curls of the Mississippi, which snaked into the distance just as far as the eye could see. Drawing my eyes back to the harbour, I spotted the American Queen. I declined a very kind lunch invitation explaining it was 20 minutes before I was due to board, descended the glass elevator and made my way to the beautiful steamboat for the start of a floating, working week.
Don’t the loveliest things come out of the ‘why nots’ when flying solo?