Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part III)

I just love it when a plan comes together.
Okay, I have to say going in, I’m probably gonna embarrass a couple folks, but that’s something else I do — call it a gift — I love to tell people how great they are. I just don’t think most folks get enough of that; but that’s not why I do it. I do it because I feel like it. And it’s my blog, so sue me, aiiight?

Anyway, sometime around February 17, 2008, I read the comments in another post on Kay Reindl’s blog, Seriocity. It was yet another offering from a fellow TeeVee industry person, which understandably, is pretty much the norm.

Now I would say that most of the folks who comment on Kay’s blog are either working or aspiring writers themselves; her stuff has a way of attracting those types of folks. Some are more compelling than others. Some have an axe to grind, joining in with Kay on one of her famous industry rants; others may offer support or mild disagreement with her subject du jour. Then again, some just sorta come off as folks who just like to hear themselves talk, but…judge not… I guess, said the pot.

But in this particular comment however, I did not derive any sense of the latter intent. The setting was soon after the WGA strike had ended in February as most everyone was stopping by to offer well-wishes to Kay in addition to expressing the relief they themselves felt in returning to work after being out on the picket line since November.

The fellow commentor in question wasn’t a writer, but he sure seemed to know how to spin a nice paragraph or two. He mentioned that he was a lighting technician, a juicer; a ‘below-the-line’ member of the industry.

Being the industry-jargon virgin that I am, this was a totally new wrinkle on my melon. “How funny,” I thought. “What a cool nickname.” As I read on, he mentioned that during the strike he’d kept quiet, but now that the strike was over he felt it was time to comment.

He went on to talk about the importance of solidarity from this time forward between the so-called ‘Above-the-Line’ segment of the industry, among which the WGA is a part (along with directors and producers), and the ‘Below-the-Line’ segment: the craft and technical services personnel (including lighting and camera operators, film editors, sound technicians and make-up professionals).

This so-called ‘line of demarcation between power and no power’ was apparently somewhat of a sore spot early on in the strike, as the below-the-liners were out of work, and truly powerless as they were forced to sit on the sidelines and wait out another union’s strike.

Perhaps it was the diplomatic way he put it, even quoting Kay’s arch nemesis, Craig Mazin, in the process. Maybe it was that cool nickname. Or maybe it was that shameless plug he slipped in for his own blog there at the end of his schpiel (not unlike what I had done in my initial comment on Kay’s blog a year earlier, BTW). But whatever it was, my interest was piqued. I copied his web address and visited his blog, and as I mentioned earlier, became immediately hooked on Blood, Sweat, and Tedium: Confessions of a Hollywood Juicer.

To be honest, I had already thought about possibly trying to meet Kay at some point in the future, though it really seemed like a longshot, given the obvious obstacle of geography — and the even more obvious potentially creepy Internet blog fan factor. I mean, why in gawd’s name would she want to meet me? I knew that my intentions were honorable, but would that certainty go both ways?

I’ve gotta give my wife Michelle credit; she didn’t even bat an eyelash when I told her I was going to meet Michael and Kay for brunch on the Sunday after I arrived in town. Now had I not mentioned Michael, well maybe we would have discussed the matter a little more. But the good news is, we didn’t have to.

Once I knew for sure I was going to be able to make the trip I contacted Kay and floated the idea. To my utter shock, she said she thought it would be fun. I then contacted Michael and over the course of a few days, synchronized our three respective schedules.

Hey Big Boy…Why don’cha come over and spend some time with me…
In order to make things as convenient as possible for her, I had asked Kay to choose the place to meet. To my delight she chose the landmark Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant on Riverside Drive in Burbank, just a few blocks from NBC and Walt Disney Studios, and about two miles from the record company where I used to work in the early 90s. Finding the place wouldn’t be an issue, even for my senior moment sense of direction.

In thinking about traveling to the meet I had actually relished the idea (yeah, that’s what a nutcase I am) of retracing the commute route that I used to take to get to work from Long Beach to Burbank. I was sure I wouldn’t have any trouble remembering it.

But sure as shootin’ I missed one of the three freeway exchanges required to get to my destination. In the stretch where the I-5, the 101, and I-10, all converge, I took the 101 instead of the 5, which took me toward downtown Los Angeles instead of northwest toward Burbank and the San Fernando Valley.

I immediately realized my error, but my first opportunity to get off and turn back around was about four miles in. That, along with the fact that the same exit wasn’t available going the other way, meaning I would have to overshoot AGAIN and turn around a second time, meant that I was now 15 minutes behind schedule.

We had agreed to meet at Bob’s at 10AM, and I left Cypress (in North Orange County where I was once again staying at my pal, Cindy’s place) at 9:00am, assuming that traffic would be light on a Sunday morning. Fortunately I was right. When I got myself tuned around, just past the Downtown Civic Center area, I glanced at my watch. It was only 9:25 AM. I had gotten all the way from North Orange County to Downtown L.A. in less than 30 minutes! That as much as anything is a pretty good indication of just how drastically L.A.’s suffocating traffic can affect commute times. And it wasn’t like I was the only car on the road either. The difference was, there were no bottlenecks due to the lighter traffic, unlike the circumstance as it would be 24 hours later and more than likely was 24 hours earlier.

At any rate, I knew I would at that point probably be right on-time, which I was.

I know I had driven past that Bob’s dozens of times in years gone by, but I really couldn’t see it in my mind’s eye when trying to remember just where it was. However I knew I wouldn’t miss it when I saw it. Sure enough, it stuck out like a beacon as I came around the bend on Riverside Drive in the light of a sunny SoCal Sunday mid-morning, and at once the entire scene came flooding back into memory.

Kay had said the landmark restaurant had become one of her favorite places over the past year, as with its close proximity to the TeeVee studios it had become a sort of hangout for the writers during the strike.

Bob’s restaurants carry some history with me as well. The stores in Long Beach, including the one near my parent’s house where my sister Janice worked in high school, were the quintessential ‘cheap date’ destination throughout my teen years. That and their great coffee made it one of the prime late-night-java and/or-early-morning-breakfast haunts where my friends and I liked to meet.

Unfortunately the franchise began to die in the 80s and four of the Long Beach area restaurants had disappeared by the time we moved to Tennessee. It had been a very long time since I’d even seen a Bob’s Big Boy, let alone dined at one.

Michael had thrown me a shout on my cell while I was en route, telling me how to recognize him; I returned the favor. We all must have arrived within seconds of one another as there was no one standing in front of the restaurant doors as I was pulled into the parking lot. However, by the time I got out of my car and walked the 15 yards or so to the front entrance, there was a man and a woman standing there facing each other talking. The guy was wearing a ball cap matching the description Michael had given of the one he’d be wearing, so I made the split-second decision that I was either going to make a complete ass of myself, or a grand entrance — one of the two.

Like I said…caution to the wind.

Sixpence None The Richer Reunited - April 2008
“Nice Shirt.”
This image of my coolest shirt EVAR courtesy of someone else out on the InterTubes who thinks he’s as cool as me...
I approached the couple rather quickly and neither really seemed to notice me until my head was practically between theirs and I quipped, “So, I guess this must be where it’s all hap’nin, right?”

They both reared back a little at first, no doubt wondering who this weirdo crashing their conversation was. Then I saw Michael’s eyes light up as he smiled and pointed at the t-shirt I was wearing, which I had described to him on the phone earlier. It features the heads of sixteen retro Marvel Comics Super-Heroes, including The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Thor (God of Thunder), and The Inhumans; A very cool shirt indeed if you’re a comics nut like me, not to mention instantly recognizable, which is why I wore it and why Michael was pointing and smiling.

“Nice shirt,” they said, nearly in unison.

So immediately following the formal introductions and handshakes, we proceeded on into the restaurant, where we inquired about a table outside on the patio, of which there were several available. It was just the setting I was hoping for. The receptionist walked us out; we sat down and started talking.

I doubt that that goofy smile left my face for the entire two-and-a-half hours we were there.

Above the Line meets Below The Line meets What’s My? Line
It was perfect. Two new bloggers whom I’d only known via their words floating through cyberspace, who live in L.A., whose blogs I have grown very fond of and who seemed to be extremely interesting people, had actually agreed to meet with me pretty much out of the blue.

Only in Blogland, folks, only in Blogland. No matter how many times I do this, it still blows me away.


The aforementioned two-and-a-half hours seemed like about 25 minutes. The conversation never lagged. We talked quite a bit about The X-Files, a subject that I was particularly keen to get Kay’s opinions on, and which will also be the sole subject of a future post. Yes, I’m an X-Phile, and I unlike Kay, still think the series still has legs as a feature film franchise. But I’ll get into all that at a later date.

Needless to say it was all highly interesting. We talked about the strike briefly, but it seemed to me that it was a subject Kay and Michael just would have assumed be left in the past; and that was fine with me; far better to look forward than backward, I suppose.

Kay and Michael offered details of their daily lives in the business. Kay is of course right now in perhaps her busiest time of the year, working ten hours a day on scripts with her writing partner. They call it, “being in the room.” And when you’re in the room, you don’t run out to pick up the dry cleaning at lunch time. You’re there to write. Lunch comes to you; you don’t go to it.

As I mentioned earlier, Michael is also well-acquainted with 10-14 hour workdays. He related a few anecdotes on the matter, giving insights to some of the stories I had already read on his blog.

So despite the fact that Kay, as a writer, is regarded as ‘above the line’ and Michael, as a lighting technician, is ‘below the line,’ they both work their respective bums off.

When it all comes down to it, the only ‘line’ that matters is the bottom line of getting a project created and sold to the networks, and hopefully, on to TeeVee. It’s a rough business; brutally competitive, and one for which those who involve themselves in it are absolutely required to suffer for their craft. There is no easy path to the staying power that everyone seeks, but when achieved, the rewards obviously are tremendous.

I’ve experienced a small sampling of that type of frenetic activity in the record biz, but nothing like this. In my experience most of the unrealistically short turnaround times of my former profession were artificially if not arbitrarily so. However with TeeVee, there are so many more people involved in the process, it’s pretty tough to imagine how they could get it done any other way. It’s a high price to pay, and I say god bless those who can submit to the taskmaster’s whip and succeed where others have failed.

Horsin’ Around
The conversation inevitably gravitated to one of if not the chief passion (outwardly anyway) in Ms. Kay’s list o’ favorite diversions: Horse Racing. Seems it’s not just a passing fancy with her but something she’s been into her entire life. I was astounded at her intimate knowledge of the breeding process and physical indicators that horses give off to lend credence to whether or not they’re in top form on any given occasion. I wish I could have been more conversational on the subject; I just sort of sat there and listened, not being able to do much else than nod my head.

I did manage to relate my memories of the great Triple Crown horses of the 70s, Secretariat, Seattle slew, and Affirmed; three horses who won that great triumvirate of races, all over a mere five year span from the mid-to-late 70s.

Kay mentioned something that I wasn’t aware of; that prior to Secretariat in 1973, there had been a twenty-five year gap since the previous TC winner. That’s why it was such a phenomenon to see it happen again, twice more in the next five years, including consecutive years in 1977 and ‘78.

I admitted to figuring in my enormous naiveté that such a string wasn’t that big a deal; that it almost seemed commonplace to someone like me whose only knowledge of the Sport of Kings was pretty much limited to what I read in the sports pages following the big races.

However Kay went on to give a brief synopsis of why the Triple Crown is such a rare feat, and why now, 30 years removed from Affirmed as the last horse to accomplish it, we may well never see another one, due to changes in the way horses are trained and their value as commodities for breeding purposes. Fascinating stuff.

Eventually the conversation turned to baseball, and Michael talked about his affinity for his childhood local team, the San Francisco Giants. Kay of course bleeds Dodger Blue.

I was stayin’ out of this one, yo.

The Juicer floated his opinion that the Dodgers, who had recently re-acquired pitcher Greg Maddux, had done so primarily to keep the Giants at bay during the NL West Pennant stretch run, as the Dodgers played their arch rivals six times down the stretch in the final weeks. You see, Maddux has more wins again the Giants than any other team in his imminent Hall of Fame career. It was a very interesting proposition, just like 99.9999% of all the other things that came out of the mouths of these two very entertaining, talented, and intriguing bloggers.

Shortly after 12:30 PM, Kay received a phone call on her cell and realized how much the time and coffee refills had gotten away from her. I think we could easily have talked for another hour, but it was a good point at which to call it a wrap.

She obviously had things she needed to do with this, as her weekly routine in the midst of script season obviously leaves only the weekends for errands and other personal business. I knew going in that Kay would probably be mindful of how much time she could spend, but was very happy to notice that up to that phone call, she never once looked at her watch.

However now she needed to go, and actually, I did too; I had also received a call earlier during this marathon confab from my friend Az. He and I were loosely scheduled to get together later that afternoon once I got back to Cindy’s and he was calling to touch base.

So we all threw down some cash for our breakfast and coffee, then made our way towards the door.

After a few ill-fated photos captured in front of the huge trademark Big Boy statue near the restaurant entrance, we took leave of one another, thanking each other for a wonderful time. I was particularly gratified that Michael made the point to thank me more than once for putting it all together. I was just relieved that they didn’t say...“I’ll call you,” if you know what I mean…

So I called them instead.

As I was preparing to get back on the freeway, I dialed up Kay to again thank her for taking the time out of what I knew was an extremely busy time for her. I really appreciated it.

The ride home was a no-brainer, as my mind went on auto-pilot, tracing my old work commute. It was a great day, and a tremendous opening weekend for my nine-day L.A. vacay.

Next: Road Rage
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