It was a 3-hour flight into Ft. Lauderdale and everyone on the plane were in really good spirits. Actually, I found that the mood was great all the way through especially considering the stress of the tour and lack of sleep. I sat there with surprisingly more energy than I've had in a while. I started on my diary entry for Puerto Rico and occasionally stared out the window trying to digest everything that has happened since we first left Stansted, now seeming so long ago.
After we got to the hotel, we immediately headed over to Nicko's Rock N Roll Ribs. During the tour I heard a lot about Rock N Roll Ribs, where the meat falls right off the bone. So when we landed I was well primed for some good 'ol American BBQ. As you know from previous diaries, I've had a lot of amazing foods from a lot of amazing, exotic countries. Now I was back in the states and craving foods Ihaven't had in the 3 months I was gone. Just before we left I ran into Gaddsy and asked if he was coming. "No. You're not going to get anything to eat anyway. It's gonna to be crazy down there mate" was his reply. I shrugged and off we went. When we got to there I was ready to eat.There was an IMFC event going on so the parking lot was jam-packed with fanclub members all having a good time drinking, eating and listening to the live band playing under a tent. We walked into the restaurant and the place was PACKED! It was almost as crowded inside as it was outside! We couldn't get a seat anywhere. We went back out to the parking lot for a bit to try and figure out what to do for food. I walked around and got to talk with some of the fans and took a few shots for the diary. Just then Nicko got on the PA to talk to the crowd and mentioned both Rod and Andy were standing in the back and to stop over and say hello. That's all it took. Almost the entire crowd surrounded them for photos and autographs. After hanging out for a while, we ended up back to the hotel rib-less and famished. All that echoed in my mind was Gaddsy's voice "It's gonna be crazy down there mate."
We found out that Justin, Nick and Kerry were at a place called Lulu's Bait Shack so John and I got a taxi over to get something to eat and drink. It was your typical cheesy spring break bar butthey had food, we were starved and it was late. As we sat there and watched drunken girls dancing on tables, Justin leaned in "How does it feel to be back home?" I was truly back.
The next night was show night and we were at the Bank Atlantic Center. To be honest I wasn't sure what the crowd reaction would be. After coming from South America I was thinking theaudience would be a lot tamer than what I previously experienced. I was wrong. Had it not been for the American flags, this could have been anywhere in South America, minus the flares. There were banners, flags, screaming fans all really going for it. I went out and was standing just behind the mix watching the crowd bounce around when the band began to go into "Coming Home." I've seen them do this dozens of times but now it really struck a chord. When Bruce spoke about being away on tour and sometimes a little homesick, I really connected with the song. For the last few nights of the tour and all the way home this song repeated in my head. I always knew what it was about but now I felt it.
Acoustically the venue sounded great and the band's performance was right in the pocket. How could you not be with such a loud and enthusiastic audience cheering you on!?! Ft. Lauderdale really stepped up to the plate (American for bringing it on) and let it be known to the band and anyone else within earshot, that IMFC were there in full force.
Back at the hotel after the show, good 'ol Tom surprised us with Rock N Roll Ribs! Rod, Andy, Tom and a few others made it over to Nicko's place and finally got their bbq! Nicko was nice enough to send back two huge containers of ribs. Nothing goes down better after a great show than Rock N Roll Ribs and beer. I luckily grabbed a few before setting the container down because when I turned, it was gone. At least I finally got my ribs!
The next day we were off to Tampa. The Krew once again went ahead on an overnight bus ride to Tampa in order to set up for the next and final night of the tour. The band and some of the rest of us flew over later on Ed Force One. This was my final flight on EF1 and I was a little bummed but enjoyed what little time I had left on her. On thisflight I just happened to be assigned the seat next to Janick. It was a stroke of luck because we had been trying to work out a time for me to interview him for the fan club newsletter. Janick must have thought I was stalking him to get this interview done before the last show. It was a very short flight so we got right to it.
We landed after 4 PM, went to the hotel and basically jumped right into a van and went straight to the venue.Bruce was the first to leave so I jumped in with him, Monkey, Patton and Monkey's dad and brother.
Tonight we were at St, Pete Times Forum. When I got there, word had it Lady Gaga was coming to the show and is actually a HUGE fan. Sure enough, she was there but more onthat later.
Yet another great crowd. I actually heard the ole chant! As I walked through the pit before the band came on, I noticed a group of kids up front that were at the Ft. Lauderdale show so I snapped a photo. As I continued to walk the barricade I noticed another group of fans from Ft. Lauderdale and yet another. All up front, almost in the same position! If you compare photos from the two nights you'll see most of the IMFC fans were back in position and dedicated as ever.
I stood there to soaked up a little of the final show of this leg with the rest of the fans (I had to hear "The Talisman" one last time). After a few songs I walked into the production office and Lady GaGa's day-to-day manager was arranging a meeting point with Patrick and Zeb. As the band were on their last number, Lady Gaga came down from the out front box she had arranged accompanied by her bodyguard and manager and were walked over to behind the stage to say hello to the band as they came off. It was great to see how big of a fan she really is. She says she plays "Run To The Hilsl" at every one of her shows before she goes on. Rumor also has it that, in her pre-Gaga days, she was a dancer who would only dance to Maiden tracks.
After the show I hung out for a bit since I missed my ride back to the hotel. It figures on my last show that I would miss my ride! I once again I heard Ian's voice echo, "Iron Maiden and no man."
When I finally got back, we all met in the hotel lobby bar for a few drinks. After all, it was the end of the first leg. It was very mellow and actually quite nice. We just sat around the lobby bar talking. Bruce, Janick and Adrian were all there as was Rod, Tom,John and his brother, Monkey, Patton, Laz (fan club), Pete, Jade and Francesca. Steve, Nicko and Dave all headed back to their homes directly after the show and wouldn't be flying back to England on Ed Force One the next day. Sadly, neither would I. From here I would go straight to Los Angeles.
The next day I left for the airport around 4 PM. The lobby seemed really quiet and lonely. No Gaddsy running around, pointing me to my van. No luggage van to take my bags. Not even a day sheet to tell me when we take off. It almost felt like I missed my lobby call and was left behind! Yes, it truly was the end of the first leg for me.
When I got to the airport there were a couple Iron Maiden shirts waiting for the same flight. I also overheard another group of fans that also flew in from Los Angeles for the show, talking to the flight attendant about concert. She was telling them she had just seen "The Iron Maiden plane taxiing by and taking off" about an hourprior. Sigh. It was strange being on a plane other than EF1, full of people I didn't know. Just then I realized I was in seat 15D, the exact same seat assignment as in Ed Force One! It felt like it was meant to be.
I sat there for most of the flight thinking about everything that happened to me over the last three months, a lot of times laughing to myself. There was so much that happened in just a few months that I need to re-read my diaries just to remember exactly what did happened! One thing I did take away from all of this is that you IMFC members are truly the most dedicated bunch I have ever seen. Through rain, shine and ridiculously humid conditions (remember, I'm a California dude), you lot are always there in support. I can also tell you that, being on the inside, both the band and management do notice and you have ALWAYS been top priority to them.
Suddenly the captain (not Bruce) announced, "We will be landing at LAX in 15 minutes." I was home.
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