Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lower Ninth, The Garden District, Preservation Hall

We felt like we should visit the Lower Ninth Ward at some point on the trip. Especially since Angie had never been to New Orleans at all, and I had been a couple years ago, so I was curious to see what was the area’s current state of affairs.

With some direction from Jess, we headed right for the heart of the worst damage. And of course, on our way there, we were passing through some of the lower income areas and it would have been easy to mistake some of the rattiness as just examples of disrepair that had existed long before Hurricane Katrina ever hit the shores of Lake Ponchartrain. But by the time we rolled into the Northwest corner of the Lower Ninth Ward, there was no mistaking the carnage that storm must have wrought. It wasn’t the boats upended or the skeletal houses or the trash littered in the streets that brought home the message so much as it was the vast fields of no man’s land that exist where whole communities used to be.



I mean – nothing. Fields, identified only as former neighborhood blocks by the fire hydrants, the street signs, the bare electrical poles, the slab after slab after slab that were the foundations of where houses used to be. Hiroshima comparisons would be unfair, but not far from the mark. Since it wasn’t the storm so much as the flooding of the levees that caused all the destruction, it was all the standing water that wore down all the houses. And the particular are we had gone to was one where a barge had broken through a levee and simply wiped out house after house, knocking them down like so much tinderwood, houses which were probably not all that well constructed in the first place.

Every now and then we would see a new or newly renovated house, someone who had either finally gotten through the bureaucratic red tape of their insurance company or who had had their own money or families who could help. And they looked like homesteaders, colonists in an otherwise barren outback. It sounds extreme, but I urge you to take what I’m saying literally. It’s a huge series of neighborhoods, where the devastation spread through, and they are largely wiped off the map. I didn’t even see many FEMA trailers, at least not in the areas we went to. A few, next to construction sites. But it looks like many people have just decided not to return, at least not here, at least not now.

Rebar poles, bent and rusted, stuck up through concrete foundations like so many pipe cleaners. Grasses that may have once been lawns are now shoulder-high fields that resembled the wheat fields of the Midwest. The few remaining streetlights that have electricity don’t bother with red-yellow-green. They just flash red, over and over and over. A beat-up truck might chug by with pipes and materials in such disarray that it’s hard to tell if they’re for construction or demolition. A lone dog will bark off in the distance. And we saw one US mail truck parked on the side of the road. What must his job be like, these days, and who does he even deliver mail to anymore?

To say it was sobering wouldn’t be right. Maybe because I’d already seen images of this before, or maybe because we weren’t expecting a jolly time, or maybe because I’m just that callous. But it drew a picture, in thick, indelible marker ink, of an entire city at a loss of even where, of how, to pick up the pieces. And it made clear how distancing the media reports, with all the excitement and adrenaline of ‘news flash’ advertising, can make the whole event seem like yet another reality show, made it seem like a crisis that had some kind of end, or ought to have. But driving through street after street, for a couple hours, amidst the unremitting desolation, was just a very good way to remind me that while severe tragedy makes for good television, long-lasting banality and numbing sensory deprivation takes a different toll on a person, on a community, on a city. Like having the floor drop out from underneath you. And I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to have to rebuild your entire life the way that may of those people have. And the way that many of those people have decided to forgo.

Action movies are good at showing the rush of a gunfight or a battle scene. They’re less successful at showing how the dead are buried, how the lifelong injuries are endured, how the broken marriages and families are recovered from, how the window. Likewise, the media coverage showed us every angle of people on top of flooded houses waving to the news helicopters overhead. Showing us the mud-clogged cleanup, the daily brick-and-mortar rebuilding, the making of funeral arrangements, the choking grip of institutional red tape, the becoming used to things being so bad, life being so hard, that it seems useless to try to make them better – these are all things at which it’s much less successful. All that to say – it helps me to make things real for myself.

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That afternoon, we took the bikes for a ride along Magazine Street, exploring the other, more opulent side of New Orleans. The Garden District. And opulent it was, though steeped in such history it didn’t feel showy, just very blessed. Lots of great little shops, cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs. And some majestic examples of the finest Historic New Orleans architecture I’d seen. I love the second floor porches that every other house seemed to have. They brought to mind the day when gentlewomen would take in the air and yet still remain on the household grounds, when you entertained guests not in the backyard, enjoying your own privacy, but in the front, where your guests could see and be seen by passersby, where families used to the space of rural life made accommodations to the more cramped living in city life by giving all floors a feeling of the ‘out of doors’ and, in an age before air conditioning, floor-to-ceiling French doors offered the best escape from the stuffy, summer air.

That evening, after a dinner of hotdogs from a cart, we went to Preservation Hall to hear the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – possibly THE New Orleans musical institution. What a throwback. A room no bigger than a neighborhood bar. Wood floors so worn that any coins which might slip out of your pocket are lost forever in between the slats. The only lighting is the original incandescent wall sconces and overheads. There are some benches which hold as many as can fit, and the overflow standing behind them and sitting in front of them triple the occupancy. In fact, packed in as we were, I’m sure they must pay off the fire marshall.

We managed to get a front row seat, literally inches away from the trombone & trumpet player. In fact, Angie and I could look between the tubing of the trombonist’s slide on his lowest notes. And they have fun, fun, fun when they play. The music was great, and the large group of foreign nationals in the audience reminded me how big a commodity jazz is internationally, probably as much or more so now as in the US. There was much stomping, much clapping, and when I turned around, I saw nothing but smiles, all packed together like sardines and enjoying every minute.



Also, you had to love the journeyman sense of all the musicians in the band, the way they simply showed up, plied their trade, and packed up – another day at the office. Afterwards, we saw the clarinet player unlocking his bike, his instrument case slung over his shoulder, and riding away like he had just come into town to buy a loaf of bread. All in a day’s work. We spent the rest of the evening, our last in New Orleans, walking around a packed French Quarter, sampling a few drinks – including some authentic absinthe (it’s legal again, now, supposedly with the wormwood), prepared with all the customary protocol: the slotted spoon, the sugar cube, the lit match to melt it. No hallucinations, though - and an acquired taste, I think - sort of like anisette.

Catching a cab back home, we asked the cabbie if it was always this busy, thinking the holiday must have the streets particularly packed. “No,” he said, “it’s usually a lot busier. The universities are out, people are out of town. It’s real slow tonight.” Which floored us. Us – the New Yorkers – the inhabitants of supposedly the busiest city in America. “It’ll pick up, though. Have no doubt.”

And yet, as we fell asleep in our comfortable bedroom, the ceiling fan swirling around & around, we were content in the thought that our New Orleans experience was all the better for whatever holiday doldrums might have held sway. A perfect break in our drive, and what better way to face the ensuing ten hours of driving ahead, to Tampa the following day.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Algiers, Mardi Gras World, Rock 'N Bowl

You might think we’d sleep in super late that day, but with all of New Orleans to see and only two days to do it in, we got up at the nearly respectable hour of 9:30 and managed to assemble something presentable for breakfast.

Which was amazing – a fruit cup to begin, followed by Christmas sweet bread, and then Russian eggs (which was essentially scrambled eggs with salmon & spices). Fresh juices and coffee/tea, naturally. And our host struck the perfect balance of chatting enough with us to make us feel welcomed and attended to, but otherwise letting us enjoy the stately yet comfortable dining room by ourselves. At the end of the meal, we planned out the day with his help and the use of a map he offered us.

We started with a drive down to the area just east of the French Quarter, where we took Butley for a walk and looked around to see who was playing at the various clubs. Then we headed west and looked around there, doubling back to walk along the levee. The crowds that were absent on Christmas Night were back out & we wove in and out, the three of us, until it all got a bit much and we headed back to the B&B.

Dropping Butley off, we unlocked the bikes and went for a ride down the ferry which took us across to Algiers, an area that’s more for longtime residents, retirees, and locals.



Getting off, we rode around, still impressed at how even the smallest, simplest houses there have at least a nod to the genteel style of New Orleans’ plantation-style porches and colonnades. We rode along the levee, looking to see how far we could get, and then doubled back and cut across the area, stumbling onto one of the more unique New Orleans attractions – Mardi Gras World.

Apparently, there’s one studio that builds most of the floats for the Mardi Gras celebration each year. Kerr Studios, housed in a series of warehouse buildings along the water, makes you feel like you’re twelve inches high and have just wandered into a child’s toy box, staring up at all these enormous, cartoonish sculptures and figureheads. They have a tour available, but we saved ourselves the $17 dollars and just asked to use the restroom, the route to which afforded us a perfect view of much of the studios minus the tour guides’ narration, of course. Jesters’ heads sat next to oversize models of Laurel & Hardy, down the way from enormous Bessie the Cow and papier mache & Styrofoam renderings of the Venus De Milo. And in the midst of a grey afternoon, threatening to rain at any moment, the brilliantly colored paint and flashy baubles was testament to the resilient spirit of New Orleanians in the face of their recent weather disasters.

We stopped off at a British pub, on our way back to the ferry, for our teatime pints. And riding home, once back on the other side, we debated the merits of Dr. John at the House of Blues or Kermit Ruffin and the BBQs at Midland City Rock ‘N Bowl. The latter won out, and, showered & rested, we went first to dinner at Ye Olde College Inn.

Just down the road from the Rock ‘N Bowl, Ye Old College Inn is owned by the same family and has been an institution for university students for decades, apparently. It’s a great, old-fashioned décor, where the walls are littered with photos, artifacts, and news clippings, and bayou seafood is the house specialty. (I had the ‘redfish,’ which the waiter couldn’t compare to anything outside of the gulf, and it was amazing. And I’m not a gourmand, so I’m not one to sling compliments around like Frisbees.) It was busy, but nothing, I’m told, like what it would normally be when the universities are in session. So, if you go, make sure you get a resderation. And save the receipt, because each entrée gets you free admission to the Rock ‘N Bowl.

So, here’s the deal: music and bowling – two great things, it turns out, do go great together. I wish I could claim an insider’s knowledge about Kermit Ruffin, New Orleans favorite that he is, but I have to admit to having gotten the rec from my bro, Michael. And a good one it was. The Rock ‘N Bowl is a real family joint. And not the kind of family joint that ‘dumbs down’ the entertainment for the lowest age denominator. The joint was jumpin’, and teens were dancing with grandparents, hipsters were dancing beside suburbanites, and Kermit & the boys were playing all the favorites, from “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” to my fave, “Christmastime is Here,” from the Charlie Brown Christmas Album.



We sat and listened for the first set, and right after we were able to get a lane. You pay by the hour, not by the game, and you have to pay for shoes, but judging from the locals, it doesn’t seem like you have to use them. And the good thing about bowling is the same good thing about old-time jazz. Everybody likes it and nobody has to be a connoisseur. So we bowled miserably and had a great time.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

Various artists of all persuasions with their inimitable style and panache sang holiday favorites all the way along our drive to New Orleans. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé…Alvin and the Chipmunks. We had ‘em all. And somewhere around mid-afternoon, as I sucked on a red Tootsie pop and Angie crunched a candy cane, we remembered what day it was and ironically wished each other a Merry Christmas in much the same manner as one asks for lettuce on your tuna sandwich.

It was a banality that we’d expected, but underneath it – loaded up in our red Subaru sleigh with handy supplies for each girl and boy, and with our blue-nosed Rudolph in the back seat – there was a genuine holiday cheer. Our family was together – which is the most anyone can wish for Christmas. But it was also only the beginning of a pretty magical holiday.

Pulling into the gate of the Five Continents Bed & Breakfast, in the Tremé section, just North of the French Quarter, any fears that we might have chosen unwisely fell away. An old, two-story stately manor, with a driveway in the back to the garage and another guest cottage, Five Continents is exactly the kind of oakwood-banistered, pine needle-garlanded, red-ribbon-wreathed, Plantation-style home you’d hope for in a New Orleans Christmas. Apparently once the Southern home of Sam Giancana, the mafia boss, it was built in the nineteenth century by an English gentleman and his French wife, who apparently sought to reconcile the cultural divide with accommodations for both. The English drawing room is separated from the ladies’ parlor with sliding doors that open up for a full viewing of the entire downstairs space when entertaining.

Jess, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, took his honorable discharge and went to Switzerland where he enrolled in a program for five-star hoteliers. Bringing his savoir-faire home with him, he opened up this B&B six years ago, and managed it first with a partner, but mostly on his own – through Hurricane Katrina, through the ensuing flooding, and through Hurricane Rita. And he has great stories to tell of bailing the home out of all three. But while not unscathed, the house recovered, and he’s been doing good business since, including a fair amount of repeat business.

AND TO THAT END, I WILL SHAMELESSLY PROMOTE HIS BUSINESS FOR THE FOLLOWING REASON: as a referral from us, you – the reader – will get a 10% discount by just mentioning our name. And if we get three guests or groups to visit, Angie and I get a free weekend’s stay... :)

But first, let me tout the Five Continents’ virtues a bit longer, just to encourage you to make use of his hospitality, should you have cause to find yourself in New Orleans.

And when I say hospitality, I mean it. We arrived in the early evening of Christmas Day, a day on which, party city or not, it’s not easy to find an open restaurant. But after unloading our car, Jess not only gave us a map with all the best-recommended restaurants within walking distance, he told us he’d make arrangements for us at Tujague’s, New Orleans’ second-oldest restaurant and a Decatur-street institution, right in the heart of the French Quarter. All we had to do was ask for “Steve” and tell him “Jess from Five Continents sent us.”

So, taking advantage of our bikes in a city which is perfect for cycling, we rode through a couple remarkably quiet French Quarter streets (like Wall Street on a Sunday morning) and found Tujague’s easily enough. Locked up the bikes, went inside, stepped around the waiting line, found “Steve,” and sure enough, “Jess sent us” was all we needed to say to get us seated immediately in the upstairs, colonial-style dining room where we were subsequently treated to a five-course, traditional Christmas dinner. Our dining companions at the table around us were a mix of fellow travelers and family regulars who seemed to enjoy the continuity of a traditional Tujague’s Christmas dinner as much as we enjoyed the novelty of it.


Afterwards, a night-mist dampened the asphalt and haloed the streetlights as we went for an easy ride past shuttered homes and festooned facades. And then we had our perfect moment in Jackson Square, where we happened upon a group of about twenty adults & kids, all huddled around what we learned was a “glass harmonica” – a collection of glasses filled to different levels and lit from below by tiny white lights, glowing in the misty Southern night and played by a jolly white-bearded fellow who, had he a belly and red suit, would have fit the “Papa Noel” image to a T.



And silently, reverently, stood all the revelers around him as he played a celestial “Silent Night” in the moonlight shadow of St. Louis Cathedral. It was the perfect cap to our journey, and we knew we had arrived.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Big Drive

Packing up the car in the midst of a slight rain, our trips in & out of the house to load the gear in the car were punctuated with Mom’s reprisal as the WOWK-TV weather girl job back in Huntington, WV. “The rain should clear up in a few hours, they say…” Take the big black suitcase out & haul it onto the roof rack. “Clear driving through Texas…” Take the big blue suitcase & haul it onto the roof. “Should be misting in Louisiana…” Get the smaller bags for inside the car. “Looks like it’s gonna be warm in Tampa, when you get there….” Go get Butley & bring him out.

So – fully-loaded with luggage and meteorological data, we said our goodbyes and set the GPS for “Tampa, Fl.”

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The first day of driving, December 23rd, took us as far as Fort Stockton, Texas. To the Motel 6 just off the I-10 Fort Stockton exit, to be precise. 580 miles of Arizona & West Texas sagebrush left us a bit weary and hungry, and the big blue & white sign loomed in the horizon like a Last Chance Saloon.



It was everything a motel needs to be, and absolutely nothing else. A parking space. Four walls. A bed. A sink. A shower. A chair. No artwork. $3 for internet access. A big industrial field next door for Butley to stretch his legs. We unloaded the car, fed & walked Butley, and headed out to THE TRUCK STOP RESTAURANT WE RECOMMEND THAT YOU, IF YOU ARE EVER TRAVELLING THROUGH FORT STOCKTON, TEXAS, AVOID AT ALL COSTS!

The Comanche Springs Restaurant. (Insert spooky Halloween organ music here.)


Where to begin?

• The salad bar with the enormously fat, smoking man sitting right beside (in between the nilla wafers & pudding and the organic remains of Peter Rabbit’s culinary orgy)?
• The menu whose items came with the waitress’ specific warnings about, “Oh, I wouldn’t get that….Yeah, and I’d stay away from that too…”?
• The “Texas Toast” which was simply two pieces of slightly over-large, under-toasted, Wonder Bread?


• The profoundly silent, and also profoundly smoking, couple who sat side by side in the middle table, with a stare that looked like they were trying to figure out where to bury the body in their trunk?
• The sadly-wrapped Christmas presents dangling on strings from the ceilings, begging the inevitable conjecturing as to their contents – a new carton of Pall-Malls? A set of shocks for the Chevy?
• The incessant refrain of the “Hook a Prize” game behind Angie’s side of the booth, relentlessly announcing to no one in particular, “There’s no LIMIT to what you can WIN!!!”


Let’s just say – to be polite – we suffered that evening. I think even Butley would have preferred to sleep in the car.

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December 24th – Christmas Eve Day

The next day we slept quite late. Now, for a Motel 6 off the I-10 in Fort Stockton, whose sole purpose is the necessary nightly repose for weary travelers who would just as soon be speeding towards their destination, an on-time departure means 7am. Maybe 8, if you shower, shave, and drink a cup of coffee. A late departure is probably 9am. We probably rose at 10 and certainly didn’t get rolling until 11am, so suffice it to say that as we stepped outside the room, what had been a packed parking lot the night before was now a splendid practice course for beginning drivers.

Hitting the road and typing “Tampa” into the GPS was a sobering event. Ten hours of driving the day before had yielded little more than a quarter of the drive we’d signed onto. We resolved to make it a solid day of driving, and though we never discussed it as a strategy, I noticed that we only stopped for sandwiches, gas, and restroom breaks. Meals were a mobile affair. Angie wasn’t quite finished sleeping, so I took the first shift of driving.

Two CD’s, three episodes of “This American Life,” and one Quaker-length session of quiet contemplation later, Angie took the wheel. I napped a bit and looked at the maps. One blessing about driving across Texas (and there are precious few blessings about driving across Texas) is the fact the Texans enjoy an 80 mph speed limit. So, while nonetheless being careful, we picked up the pace and by late afternoon I began to realize that we were making very good time.

On my next shift, Angie napped a little more as I did some quick mental calculation – we stood a fair chance of making it to New Orleans by midnight or 1am. As we’d considered the option of a just post-Christmas stop there, the fact that we might be in time for a Christmas Morning in the Crescent City was encouraging. But at that hour, we’d probably bunk down in another Motel 6 before finding a place we’d actually like to stay for more than a night. And mobile as we were, we had no real chance to find one. Angie called her dad, who did some online checking for us back at home in Denver, and we found a cheap place to stay, but not one in which we’d probably want to have a Christmas vacation, so we decided – after much weighing of options, to just finish getting through Texas and to finally come to rest in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

We stopped at another Motel 6 kind of place which would have been fine, as fine goes. But it turns out, the guy at the desk, having his Christmas Eve dinner of Burger King in front of an old episode of “MacGuyver,” was completely sympathetic to our suspicions of the rooms in his charge, and freely offered another option – the hotel across the road. “It’s a little more, but they just opened two weeks ago, and I’m tellin’ you man, the rooms there are AWE-some.”

Well, with a recommendation like that, we were practically obliged to look into it. And he was right – La Quinta though it might have been, it was surely the nicest La Quinta I’ve ever seen. Faux mahogany dressers, faux marble countertops, faux uptown O’Keefe-inspired photos of orchids on the walls…. And after our last stop, it seemed like luxury.

After feeding Butley and unpacking the car, we went looking for a late dinner. The only option was L’Auberge Du Lac Casino, where – after a light dinner by a fireside with a faux wood fire – we proceeded to peruse the gaming room. And we were hardly the only ones – all of Lake Charles, it seems, had decided to take part in the apparently long-held and well-respected Lake Charles Christmas custom of gambling. Because of course, when one thinks of Father Christmas, one thinks of craps tables and Plinko.



After a drink at the bar, we sallied forth. Angie had fair success at a slot machine and I managed to make a meager amount at video poker, and so – having made back the money we spent on our drinks – we spent the rest of Silent Nacht watching the rest of the gamers, playing complex casino games we couldn't hope to understand, amidst the holiday cheer of “Come on, baby, Daddy needs a new pair o’ shoes!”.

God rest ye, merry gentlemen…



In the morning, we rose late again (by Motel 6 standards) and packed up the car, after which we proceeded to the business center where we did some internet browsing and landed on a promising B&B with an advertised “Papa Noel” rate that fell within our modest “Christmas Indulgence” budget. And armed with a reservation for the next three nights, we headed out for New Orleans. Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tucson & Denver

Immediately following our week in Tempe, we drove to Tucson to stay with my mom & her husband for a night. Then we flew to Denver for a few nights to see Angie’s family for Christmas (or what counted as Christmas in the Reed family manse), while Butley stayed behind with my mom for some desert R&R. The Reeds and Ogborns showed their customary hospitality and we ate, drank, were merry – in spite of the looming threat of Papa Reed’s karaoke machine. And we did a very good job of negotiating an early exchange of gifts and Christmas cheer. Santa was, no doubt, caught by surprise by our early celebration, but he would have been proud, nonetheless.

Back in Tucson, where a very enthusiastic Butley greeted us, having enjoyed some quality time with two newly-taken ill housemates and all the movies and couch potato time that comes along with winter colds. Mom & Jim unfortunately had to cancel their trip back East to Bethlehem with Marisa, John, Julian & Michele, but it was regrettably the right call to make. And again, we celebrated Christmas with Mom & Jim, if in a much more subdued way, with Chinese takeout & a copy of “Wall-E”. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m wearing m new jersey & loving it.



And then began – THE BIG DRIVE.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tempe

Driving down from Los Angeles, the thing that struck me most about the terrain, as it got increasingly desert-ed, was the flood of memories that came back to me of my time spent living in Phoenix for three years. Nights driving through the red rocks in my pickup (yes, dear readers, I had a Nissan quarter-ton with mag wheels & a boomin’ stereo) listening to music and smelling the desert air. The mountains on the horizon that all look like fallen elephants, their rough, pockmarked skin cracking in the ungodly heat. The first comic impressions I had of the vaguely Warner Brothers saguaro cacti (missing only Wile E. Coyote to make the picture complete – “you mean they really look like that?”) which later gave way to the equally comic impression that I might, at some point, ever really feel at home there – and not merely familiar – which is an entirely important distinction to make.

When I lived in Phoenix, I worked as a clinic assistant at Planned Parenthood of Central & Northern Arizona, and I also served as assistant director for the Positive Force Players, PPCNA’s critical-issue teen theater company. We did skits about drinking and driving, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, STD’s, etc. And now here I am, on the national tour of SPRING AWAKENING, And as we pulled into Tempe, staying at the very same hotel (The Twin Palms – directly across from Gammage Auditorium) where I stayed the prior year with the tour of TWELVE ANGRY MEN, thought I to myself, “The more things change…”

Tempe was a good time. I got a chance to see my friends Darlene Long & James Hoenscheidt, both former actors with the PFP, that I worked with in Phoenix. They’re all growed-up now and living adult lives with kids, mortgages, and the like. (I still remember when Darlene was getting in trouble for writing “SLUT” in weed killer on her nemesis’ lawn. You gotta respect that kind of ingenuity…) Darlene’s now a dispatcher for the Scottsdale Police Department. James is a stand-up comic and a dad – two professions which surely enjoy a certain symbiosis.

Of particular note was our Saturday trip to my ol’ standby - the F1 Racetrack, where even the most manly of drivers can look like dweebs in their go-karts & jumpsuits. Darlene, James, Angie, Alon (our cellist), and Marques (our drummer) came along & we burned some serious rubber for a couple races.


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Los Angeles (the last 3 weeks)

Gentle readers,

After our last entry, one might think we had, by this point, reverted to gelatinous blobs of goo, spineless and mindless, uninspired and near-retired, punctuating our nightly catechism of teenage angst with a scroll through available network programming, concerned primarily with whether this week's episode of "The Biggest Loser" was sequentially in step, so that the contestants for whom we were rooting were not suddenly the victims of a midnight Big Mac Attack and have resumed their rotund proportions.

Proudly I can assure you - this is not the case.

Not that we didn't indulge in the frequent nightly movie - nights often became early mornings as we finally got see such-and-such which we had never gotten around to seeing when it was in the theaters nor which never made it onto our Netflix queue. But the vast number of friends whom we hadn't seen in months or years, or even decades, kept us out of our Echo Park cocoon and a home-theater-home rut.

Allan Heinberg, whom I hadn't seen since Yale and who's now a successful writer & producer in LA, was among the list. And although we had to reschedule three times because of his work, we did finally manage to meet at Ammo, a cool Hollywood cafe with one of the finer musical atmospheres I've enjoyed in awhile.

Also there were David Wiater, Alison Tatlock, Karl Gajdusek and Larissa Kokernot, sporting the vintages of UCSD, Yale, and marital attachment thereto, are married (Dave & Alison, Karl & Larissa) and living in a duplex just south of Hancock Park which they bought, live in, and manage cooperatively in an arrangement which sounds like it would just never work and yet apparently works quite well, paying bills and handling child-care for their three kids (Dave & Ali's daughter, Iris, and Karl & Larissa's boys, Kade and Nick) all with no particular prescription or corporate entity but just old-fashioned neighborly cooperation.

And I had lunch with Debra Pasquerette, formerly of Positive Force Players and now of the Geffen Theater Educational Department, who has managed to curb an addiction to something like forty animals (cats, dogs, birds, turtles, lizard) to a far more manageable fifteen or so, re-homing the others to various other caring folks.

Angie and I had coffee and dessert at the home-cum-museum of one of Los Angeles' most art-friendly actors, Alan Mandell, where he regaled us with stories of his latest theatrical triumphs and whom I briefed on the goings-on of our other Twelve Angry Colleagues.

Steve, Vicki, and Caden Cerveris were the generous hosts of a fine Thanksgiving repast which we attended, by which we were stuffed, and from which we were sent rolling home like two over-ripe peaches. We had seen Steve and my cousin Lani the week before, when they came to see the show. And then at Steve & Vicki's place, we also saw my cousins Pam & Frank Arianna, who were in town for the holiday, and their daughter Lisa and her boyfriend. Lisa and Pam later came to see the show and, according to Lisa's account, her poor, Pittsburghian mother managed to survive the au courant onslaught of sex, nudity, and suicide that is our humble little play. Somehow I think Pam probably had heard of sex before, however.

Leslie Tamaribuchi, of Phillips Exeter Academy lineage, whom I have seen not infrequently from time to time since but whose wry sense of humor is always a treat, had coffee with me at Delilah's, Echo Park's premiere resource for coffee and rhubarb pie. And I also coincidentally met & onlyslightlybriefly caught up, in between water bowl refills for her dogs, with Jennifer Martinez, a residential college-mate of mine from Yale and whom I had seen only once or twice since in similar "HeyitsgreattoseeyoubutyouknowIgottarun" circumstances. One of these days, we're actually going to sit down and have coffee & catch up for real, I'm sure.

David Marko (Yale, again), and his wife Jill, came to see the show & took us out afterwards to Yang Chow, a restaurant with a memorable dish of "slippery shrimp" in LA's Chinatown. Dave also kindly lent me his ex-CBS-exec-and-current writer's wisdom

I ran into Alicia Roper in the Ahmanson parking garage, of all places. (I saw her in her car, looking for a parking place, and did the old "I'm just walking back to make sure I locked the car," walk until I could verify it was her. I'd be a good P.I., I know it.) We made plans for lunch later the following week and she took me to Philippe's, an old-skool, french-dip sandwich shop with a sawdust floor and a complete, yet inscrutable, wall-mounted menu which I HIGHLY recommend to any and all visitors to LA's revitalized downtown area. As for suggestions, all I can say is - get the mustard. Seriously. Get the mustard.

I saw my friend Virginia Louise Smith, transplanted New York City actress, wife of author Charlie Huston, and mother to the just-slightly-older-than-one-year-old-Clementine - one of the more glamorous faces in a city full of glam. And I must say, the future's looking pretty bright for both of 'em.

We saw Angie's friend Christina Chang, another of the glamorous faces that the city has to offer. And over drinks at Kendall's, the standard post-Ahmanson hangout, we discussed the all too easy, all too reflexive, and all too overdone, knee-jerk criticism of Los Angeles by New Yorkers. And it was at Kendall's that we also saw Barry Papick, who is rounding a year's tour of duty in The Boychick Affair, a semi-improv show which is clearly doing something right, to last so long.

David Costabile was in town, shooting yet ... another ... commercial. We had drinks with him and Henry Stram (whose role I understudy in the show) at Kendall's, and the king pitchman let us in on the Great Costabile Secret for finding seemingly unlimited work in commercials. And the secret is .... well, you'll just have to get David to tell you...

Also guests at our show, Sabra Malkinson and her husband Chris Goodwin would have stayed longer, but for the need to relieve their babysitter, as their one-year-old daughter Allie was demanding their imminent return.

Also, we cannot let slide a memorable field trip with the voting majority of the cast to the home of Kate Fuglei (Angie's understudy) and her husband, Ken LaZebnick, after the show our last Saturday night there. At which home we found waiting for us a vast and meticulously-filled order from In-N-Out Burger, with special insight as to their 'secret menu' from sons Jack and Ben, and a DVD of "Superbad" for a cinematic capper to the aforementioned gastronomic orgy.

And the last night we were there, after all the family and friends, all that remained was for the two as yet unmet canine cousins, Butley and Steve's dog Marley, to finally get a chance to run around Steve's pad and for Butley to chase Marley as Marley chased his ball. The two made good friends, and though the visit was a bit impromptu and last minute, it served to close the book on our social agenda as I thus became my own dog's chauffeur for his own family visit.

Whew. Guess we were as busy as I thought.

Beyond that, I have only to recount daily walks with Butley in Elysian Park, a tardy attempt to catch the live gig of Kyle Riabko and Jared Stein at a local venue in town, and various brief errands run in & around the hood, to complete the full picture of our remaining time in LA. You stick around long enough, you'll pick up a few friends; and we're fortunate enough to have more than our share to enjoy, and their visits all made for a very homey, if busy, time catching up with them as much as we'd been catching up with our 'down time' at home the previous three weeks.

And can you believe - no pictures of any of us.

And so, with the calendar pages turning, we set our sights on Tempe and the last gig before our two week layoff. check back with us next week, and we'll hopefully have some photos for you next time. But until then, many thanks to everyone who made our time there so pleasant.

Cue sunset. Roll credits. Slow fade to black.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Los Angeles (the first 3 weeks)

One would assume, what with the lack of entries for the last three weeks, that we had been busily gadding about the City of Angels, taking meetings with agents, reading for casting directors, discussing upcoming film projects and pilot episodes with hot new directors whose cutting edge vision is about to burst open the format of television as we know it. Understandable - wildly talented as we both are, it would make perfect sense that such endeavors might be draining all our time.

Or we might be spending day after day sunning ourselves on the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, bronzing ourselves for the long winter months ahead, flagrantly flaunting our director's direct mandate to stay out of the sun, as we're playing (or standing by to play) Germans in the winter of 1891.

Or we might be taking the opportunity to elevate our cultural standards with daily trips to the many museums, galleries, and art schools which populate this New York of the West, this San Francisco of the South, this Mexico City of the North, this American Shanghai.

Or we might be exploring hitherto undiscovered parts of the many surrounding State and National Parks in the area, camping like a couple from the cover of the Orvis catalog, backpacked dog in tow, bicycles on the back of our very, very Vermonter Subaru Forester, and whose only major decisions consist of whether to scale one more peak before turning around and heading back to the city in time for the show.

You might think all of these things.

And as I sit here on our sofa, finishing a beer and looking over at my wife who sits, in much the same position as do I, laptop astride her lap, Heinecken Light to the right, kitchen clocking ticking softly in the background, and looking next at our dog who is demonstrating his newly adopted pastime of staring at himself in the mirror, a habit which causes this humble, superstitious journalist to assume with much certainty that there are, indeed, ghosts right here in the material world, I can safely and without doubt, assure you of the following:

All of those assumptions would be deeply, mightily, charmingly, but woefully, wrong.

You see, my wife and I, having been married for just shy of four and a half years (check the mirror for a few more grey hairs, all our wedding attendees), and having spent nigh on two of those years apart, either with me being on my previous tour, or either one of us being out of town at any one of the finer, lesser-known regional theatres of this great nation [ed. note: one might, at this juncture, justifiably question my use of the term 'out of town', when said idiom suggests a certain geographic regularity to which I can only sheepishly lay claim], and being blessed in our current housing arrangement with one flat screen television, one leather couch, one satellite dish hookup, and one foot-warming dog, have stumbled upon, re-discovered, and are now making thorough re-evaluation of that most American, most Western, most married of nightly endeavors, that which involves three basic choices- HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime - and three basic beverages - soda, wine, or beer. It is in the exploitation of these six options, and the many permutations which might result, that we have, in this pinnacle of Southern California culture, this Cannes of the Southwest, reinvigorated our sagging commitment to the apathy of the urban inhabitant.

We watch tv and we can admit it.


OK - sure, we've visited my Uncle Donny and my Aunt Paulette a couple times, we've spent the day in Venice walking along the beach and dining at a refined, organic restaurant, we've had snap peas and goulash at a vegan restaurant on Sunset, we've attended a basketball game, gone for bike rides in the neighborhood (well one, anyway), taken the dog for hour-plus walks in Elysian Park every morning, attended a Halloween costume party and met a couple friends from college (while making, canceling, and rescheduling appointments with three times as many others), gone shooting at an LA pistol range(!), and even attended a taping of "The Price Is Right," but all of that seems so faint in my memory of the last three weeks compared to the nightly ritual in which we've gleefully engaged, one for which I felt guilty until my wise wife reminded me that this was exactly what we had been missing for so long - sitting down, catching a movie fifteen minutes in, having a drink or two, and soaking in the thrilling monotony of geographic irrelevance. We could be (and will be, soon enough) in Boston, Chicago, or East Lansing, and there would be nothing in this singular experience which would be significantly any different, no mater where we were. And we sit, talking through the movie, or reading about the actors', the director's, the writer's credits on IMDB, or giving Butley's apparent thoughts voice (apparently, he sounds like an over-educated Lenny from "Of Mice and Men"), or surfing the internet for ... well, I'm not even sure what, at this point, nor were we, after ten or twelve trackpad clicks away from the original goal...

And yet - here we are, in Los Angeles. And here you are, faithful gentle reader, paying heed to our misadventures with what I now know to be something between boredom and true anticipation, and I feel it my duty, my solemn trust, to maintain a thorough account of our time here spent in the wilds of America, even if it be wildly domestic, and so I begin...

WE DRIVE

So the drive down from Portland to LA was pleasantly uneventful. We took our time, and as the sun set and we meandered ever southward, we began to consult the GPS, the AAA book, the Motel 6 guide, all in hopes of finding a good waypoint at which to rest our weary travelers' bones until resuming the drive the following day. It was around this time that my cousin Lisa just happened to have sent an e-mail about our blog, and the thought dawned on us that we could possibly visit her and her lovely family and stay overnight there, renewing both vigor and family connections in one evening. Thanks to her and Leonard's generosity, we did just that, with Lisa even being so kind as to fire up the steam room for us on our arrival, and as we settled in for the most refreshing steambath after a day of driving I've ever had, I had a newfound appreciation for the hospitality code of the great American West. It couldn't have been a lovelier place to stop. That morning Lisa cooked a king's breakfast for us and, rested & fed, we returned to the drive. Even Butley seemed better for the morning's walk on the trails outside Lisa's house.

WE ARRIVE

We got to Los Angeles with no problems, around 5:30 that evening and found our corporate rental, at the Baxter 5 Apartments in Echo Park, and Michelle, the owner/manager let us in. It's a great place to stay and we can recommend them highly to anyone coming to LA, and especially anyone working at the LA Music Center (the Taper, the Ahmanson, Dorothy Chandler, the Disney Music Hall), as it's literally 10 minutes away, all surface streets, and all very manageable. The apartment complex itself is nestled in a section of LA that was known a few years ago as having gone through an amazing transformation, and although now its change may be old news, we are its newest beneficiaries. Funky coffee shops, like Chango, Fix, or Delilah's dot the stretch of Echo Park Avenue that runs North from Sunset to our little place, there are community services like the fabled "Magic Gas" station, the Echo Park Cyclery, run by downtown bike messengers (hence its evening- & weekend-only hours, perhaps), and funkified little clothing shops that seem the respite of keepers whose style grows organically from the environment, rather than invading and supplanting it with their own preconceptions. And so, you have cool clothing stores with the same ragged exterior metal gate across the front door, coffee shops with the same cracked concrete out front and shiny new espresso machines inside, and fresh paint on preserved facades. The ethos seems to be "restore" not "rebuild" and it feels all the less intrusive a gentrification, because of it.

The Baxter 5 is directly across from the Elysian Heights Elementary School, a public school which, apparently, gets pretty good marks from our friends who've got kids of that age and have, of course, been plugged into the grapevine. Angie and I just assumed it was only fitting, as - for one reason or another - we always seem to be staying directly across from a school, no matter where we are, be it 78th Street, Inwood, or Echo Park. You'd think it was a message of some kind, but Butley knows better. He's about all the dependence either of us seem to be willing or able to manage.

The apartment is really comfortable, and notably so for the price we paid. For what works out to little more than the corporate rate the SA cast is paying at the Kyoto Hotel downtown, near the Ahmanson, we've got a full kitchen with new appliances, a living room with nice hardwood floors and too-comfortable leather couch (too comfortable, as in too inviting), a little office are off to the side, and a bedroom with a semi-private gated patio through French doors that we share with one other apartment and which serves as an occasional outdoor dining option or reading room, in good weather.

WE TRY NOT TO CONNIVE

We are particularly thankful for the apartment as it was a last-minute replacement for another Craigslist rental that fell through at the last minute. In retrospect, we dodged a bullet with great fortune, but at the time it was an incredibly frustrating process to have to deal with. (Even writing about it, my shoulders tighten at the thought of recounting the long story, but I'll be brief.) In a nutshell, the timeline runs like this:

• Mid-October: we secure a two-bedroom house, with a small yard, to rent in Hollywood. Looks nice, the woman who owns it is very dog-friendly. A video editor with her own business. We'll call her Lucy (because she's frickin' bonkers and I fear a slander lawsuit if I give out too much information online). We send the full rental amount, plus a deposit. We sign & return a contract. She cashes our checks. We assume everything's good to go.

• A week later, she e-mails to say that she's sold her other property in New York sooner than she thought she would and and asks whether we have any other options for staying in LA. She hasn't sent us our keys yet. We say no, and can we get the keys? She says sure, no problem, just asking, she'll stay with the ex if we need to.

• A few days later, she says that the other options aren't going to work and can we talk about it. This is three days before we're supposed to get to LA. We say we'll talk about it after we get the keys - send us the keys - NOW.

• We get the keys, and the same day we have a tense conversation with her in which, after my attempt doesn't go well, Angie gets on the phone and they agree it would be better for us to consider another option Lucy has found for us. We call the other place (the Baxter 5) and agree to cancel the agreement with Lucy.

• We get to LA and Lucy says she'll send the check for the refund. It's incomplete, as it's lacking the $500 deposit we had initially made. Also, Angie's attempt to have a conversation with her about the $108 we paid for a gym membership (for a gym which was within easy walking distance to her house and which is now 9 miles and a 30-minute drive away from the Baxter 5), has resulted in a snarky, snide, and dismissive e-mail about how ridiculous it is we would even ask such a thing, and don't we know it's LA and everyone drives for hours in this city and blah, blah, blah, has left us fed up. When she returns Angie's call, Angie doesn't mention it and just asks her to send the $500.

• We wait another week for the $500, which we eventually get. In the meanwhile, Lucy's sending us threatening e-mails about returning her keys, about how we've had them long beyond what is fair and reasonable, how her brother is a policeman and he says it's illegal and constitutes a breach of contract (a contract which she broke in the first place) and threatening legal action if the keys aren't returned. We're very straightforward with her - we'll return the keys when we get full reimbursement, and the day we deposit the check, we return the keys by certified mail.

• Lucy sends another e-mail. Where are my keys? We tell her we sent them, that you can trace them with the tracking number, that the post office has already attempted one delivery and left a notice. Why did you send them certified, she asks, I'm not in town. We tell her, in light of her threat of legal action, we needed proof of her receipt, and that we consider the issue resolved.

We haven't heard back from her since, and hopefully she'll be back in time to retrieve them at the post office. In the meanwhile, we've finally been repaid and, except for the gym fee, we've lost nothing but time, patience, and a little faith in our fellow human beings. But this story may not be over and we'll see if she's able to get them in time or if they end up getting returned back to New York, in which case we'll have to send them again and probably suffer through more paranoid e-mail from her before we send them again. There are many more twists and turns to the story - my favorite being what we've learned about her supposed resume - which consists of two credits on IMDB, neither of which are particularly flattering - but you don't need to hear anymore than you've suffered through already. The bottom line is: she's nuts and we're really lucky we never ended up there in the first place.

WE THRIVE

Like I said, until getting to LA, our time was somewhat occupied with adventures, seeing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of cities we had either never been to before or hadn't been to together or which simple held areas we hadn't really explored all that much. In getting to LA, neither of us felt particularly strongly the need for expedition, excursion, or examination - instead we sort of let the city come to us.

I accepted an offer to go shooting with a friend from college, Dave Marko, at the LA Pistol Range and was treated to up close & personal time with a .38 Special, a 9mm Glock, and a .357 Magnum. Because what red-blooded American male doesn't want to blown holes in a poor defensive target downfield at least once in his life (or in my case twice)? And frankly, whether it was a natural ability or good practice with first-person shooter games as a kid, I gotta say - I had pretty good luck. The target, not so much. But it felt like such an LA thing to do...

We visited my Uncle Donny and Aunt Paulette, just south of Century City, who also had come to our opening night party here in Los Angeles - a big event for Paulette who, hobbled by a foot injury months ago and not recovered yet, has rarely left the house in months. But if naked singing suicidal adolescents can't get you out of the house, then really - what will?

We went for a walk on a Monday in Venice Beach, where we found all the mixed nuts that place is known for. Dinner at the Three Square Cafe & Bakery was a highlight of the day. As was a stop at The Stronghold, one of many new upscale shops just a few blocks in from the shore, where we cased the joint for Angie's early Christmas present to me, a pair of blue jeans that may well herald a new dawn of pant-wear for me. Normally, I'm not a big believer in high-priced fashion jeans, but these are neither plastered with a name or insignia, nor the result of some cutting edge couture - in fact, they are uber-retro, being milled on the same machines, with the same stitching and brads, and same cut, styling, dyeing techniques, etc. as the first pairs worn by gold panners of oldendays. I gathered, from the prices at the shop, that while the gold panners might not have found much in the hills, they were clearly wearing small fortunes on their bottom halves, but the reality is that a single pair of really good jeans is probably the most-worn item in many people's wardrobe (certainly mine) and it makes sense - if they really feel good and you know you'll wear them day in and day out - to lay out some bread. And this place will repair and tailor the jeans for life, if you want. And it wasn't like we were mortgaging the house - just deciding between jeans or a new iPod. In any event, I like 'em, that's for sure. And Angie doesn't have to listen to me gripe about not having a decent-fitting pair of jeans, anymore, which is probably a wise investment in marital harmony as well...

We also met a fellow with another blue-nose pit bull that was, at 95 pounds, half-again as big as our little 65 pound monster. Rocco was his name, and he was a dead-ringer for Butley's big brother. Very sweet as well, and utterly knackered by the warm-weather walk his owner had him on, but I still wouldn't want to stand between him & his dinner.


Those blue things you see on his collar are weights his owner uses to build up his neck. He says he shows him, not for pulling or other less savory competition, but just as a fun way to meet other dog-lovers. I guess it works, 'cause this beast had a musculature that rivaled California's Governator. At any rate, Butley thought about it, but decided he likes his slimmer physique. Better for long car rides.

We also had a chance to join other members of the cast for a unique venture - another item for the "I never thought I'd be doing THAT" column. We sang the national anthem for an LA Clippers basketball game! It was a fun endeavor, and a great game that was up in the air for four quarters until the Clippers lost by a single three-point shot in the last 30 seconds of the game. But the really novel part of the evening came afterwards, when we stayed after most of the crowd had left and the LA Dodgeball Society held their Final Championships on the same court.

Yes, Virginia, there is an LA Dodgeball Society. It's a (and I stress this word) casual association of alternative-types in every sense of the word who nonetheless have marshalled their forces into formidable legions of strangely-clad, stone-faced, fierce competitors of this favorite schoolyard game.



And when the whistle blew to begin the games, there was much mayhem to be had - remarkably gratifying after the carefully regimented basketball land of travelling restrictions, shot clocks, holding penalties, and other hide-bound rules...

video

It was a great 'stumble-upon' kind of adventure, because it certainly wasn't on the bill. We would never have know about it, but that one of our cast members is friends with one of the players and had the inside scoop on where to sit, which team to root for, and the like. We only stayed for about half of the evening, though, because we were spent from the day and we had to conserve our energy for the marathon that was to come.

Or should I say 'Come on Dooooowwwwn!"

Yes, after spending three years in San Diego, and many months in Los Angeles proper, we finally went to the taping of a television show. And not just any show, but a game show. And not just any game show, but The Price Is Right. About 25 of us from the show were there. It was a ridiculously long day - we had to be there by 9am for a 1pm taping. We sat outside in a large holding area until they finally tagged & interviewed, photographed, warned not to be relatives of CBS employees or CBS employees ourselves, waited in another area, and then another, and then finally loaded in like weary sheep to the studio.

Where all of a sudden, music was blaring, lights were flashing, as we were all laughing at how high-school-prom all the decorations and set pieces looked, how small the studio really is, and how the whole thing felt like a junior varsity version of what we imagined it to be like. But we were cheering and yelling "Higher!" "Lower!" "No, no, $1,450, not $1,675!!" along with everyone else until I was glad I was an understudy who (likely) didn't have a show that night because my voice sounded like ten miles of rough road.

Jared Stein, our musical director & conductor, was actually called up and the first winner, bidding closest on an assortment of camping gear which he won't actually receive until up to three months after the January 29th air date (check your local listings) and for which he has little precious little use, not being a camperly sort of guy, but dammit he WON it, and we cheered like we were comrades storming the Winter Palace. THEN, he was eligible to win ... yes, you guessed it ... "A NEW CAR!" Well, a truck, actually. And came damn near winning that, but unfortunately guessed a couple numbers wrong and ... well, you know the sound ... wah-wah-wah. Ah well - what the hell was he going to do with a new truck on tour anyway, it's not like he's ready to drive the rest of the tour, and the taxes would have been about $6,000, and while he could have turned it around and sold it, it's probably more hassle than it's worth anyway. But just watching our own vegan, baggy-pantsed, hip-hop capped, and totally disoriented Jared up there, trying to think clearly while a studio full of people were screaming like huns, bidding on a bright, shiny red Ford F-10 pickup is a memory I'm glad I'll keep from our stay here, that's for sure.

So - three weeks down and, as I write this, two & a half to go. I think I've covered most of the highlights. I guess there was a little more than tv and couch-napping. My regrets for the overdue, overlong nature of this last entry, but I didn't know anyone was actually reading this thing until I started getting e-mails asking for the next installment. Whaddya know - we've got a following. So listen, my children, and ye shall hear, of the yearlong ride of we three here...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Portland

Little to say about Portland, not because it wasn't a memorable time, but my computer's suffering some maladies and soon after I arrived I had to take it to the local Apple Store whose very tattooed, dyed, and Gus Van Sant-esque "Mac Genius" sent it off for repairs to Houston and I didn't get it back until I was in LA, the following Wednesday. Oh...and by the way, it's still sick and waiting for another part to arrive at the Los Angeles Apple Store, at which point, there will be yet more time without it while they make the (hopefully successful) repairs. (I gotta say, I never had these kind of problems when Mac had Motorola chips, but ever since they moved to Intel chips, I seem to run into problems kinda often.)

At any rate, yours truly is writing this from his wife's machine - also a Mac, but an apparently well-constructed one - and is trying to catch up a bit, so - all that to say, pardon my paucity of memory.

The first memory molecule of Portland in October, though, is that Portland does Fall like few cities I've seen before. To wit, I offer Exhibit A:


Let it be noted that although I have all sorts of software that can heighten contrast, intensify color, change the sharpness of most photos, I made not a single change to this photo. It's from a walk in Washington Park, which sits on a hill on the Eastern edge of the city. It's more than just redwoods one finds in Portland, but actually there is all manner of floral fantasia. Known as Rose City, Portland sports a garden of roses in Washington Park the size of an arena football playing field with varieties of whose names I thought were a joke, or perhaps little nicknames given by the gardeners until Angie told me that they were, in all likelihood, the particular names of those particular strains of roses given by botanical wizards whose entire life is about cultivating that one unique strain whose name they can personally lay claim to for all perpetuity. And here I am, content with buying daisies at the bodega on the corner.

But they were stunning and fragrant beyond the barriers of even my apathy, and as the three of us strolled around, we stumbled onto a photo shoot with two pleasant young fellows, twins, who had the placid confidence of people who were famous but yet enjoyed enough anonymity that members of the cultural middle class like Angie and me would only recognize that they must be famous but not be able to identify them.

They were dressed in matching grey suits, dark shoes, and open-collared white shirts. Naturally, as we passed by, their palette matched Butley's perfectly, a detail that wasn't lost on the photographer, who asked if we could pass by with Butley in the frame, for some color-scheme underlining. We did so a few times, and then stood by while they stood holding Butley's leash, smiling for the camera (charming lads, but I think Butley stole the shot, frankly). And as they stood there, camera snapping away, we asked what the shoot was for, what kind of work they did, they answered (plainly, to Angie's mind, smugly coyly to mine), "Oh, practically nothing, actually. We write."

Little did we know, though we were soon to find out as we walked away and having made a furtive call to the Spring Awakening culturati, Henry Stram, that they were Matthew & Mark Polish, two biblically named brothers whose work as independent film writers & directors is being touted as that of next generation Coen boys. What they were doing in Portland, I don't know, but apparently the photo shoot was for an upcoming issue of New York magazine in which the two lads will be profiled.

So, those of you who have subscriptions to New York, keep an eye out for the profile, and perhaps you might catch a glimpse of our dog in passing, if not in full grin. Leave it to us to work for ten years as actors and have our dog's photos in New York before our own. But it's fine, it's only my dog. It's not like it was my brother or something...

Housing in Portland was at La Quinta Inn, just over the river in the Irvington section of Portland. We stayed there on our own, Butley-banned from the company housing option, and it worked out just fine. La Quinta (or La Keen-ta, for the culturally specific readers of this humble blog) was clean, spacious, simple, and chee-ee-eep. After the Quality Inn in Seattle (aka, the Squalidly Inn), it felt like an upgrade, and with parking and daily walks down by the river or around the funky eastern neighborhood where the Burger Kings and Wendy's were at least adjacent to funky cafés and restaurants that, by Portland standards, were probably mundane but, to our tastes, had all the hip of NYC's west village without the cramped tables and grouchy waitresses, we were well-lodged. Of note were Milo's City Cafe and Rimsky Korsikoffee (no link available), where the Edgar Allen Poe-themed house-turned-cafe has tables that may - or may not, depending on your selection of them - be the one that slowly, slowly, slowly turns or slowly, slowly, slowly rises & sinks or slowly, slowly, slowly slides into the wall and back out again and which has a bathroom with the most elaborate rendition of what life underwater at the edge of a pier must be like, complete with a sunken Poe mannequin laying on the floor in a canoe, staring at you as you go about your business.

We also sampled the wares of Voodoo Donuts, a hole-in-the-wall donut shop in Portland proper, just down the street from the Paris porn theater, whose marketing slogan is, shamelessly, "The magic is in the hole." That's one of them. The other t-shirt logo you can get, the one I didn't buy for Angie or me, describes its pink-box-packaging with the phrase, "Good things come in pink boxes." And yes, you can buy undies that read the same.

Audiences in Portland, like audiences in Seattle, like audiences in San Francisco, like audiences in San Diego, loved the show. And every night we strode past long lines of autograph-hunting teens, centenarians, and everyone in between as they ignored me, smiled in mild recognition at Angie, and then beamed in glee at the arrival of any of the kids from the show. Yes, it's true. We're not only the veterans of the cast, we're the doddering relics of an earlier age, and it suits us truly quite fine as we get home to walk the dog, open the wine, and turn on HBO all that much sooner.

One fun field trip we took was to visit the monastery where two, yes, two uncles of our assistant company manager, Chris Recker (a child in a family of fourteen kids, and whose parents also shared such distinction), both serve as brothers at Mt. Angel Monastery, a Benedictine retreat where Chris's uncles (he calls them 'muncles') help run one the country's foremost seminaries and keep, along with all their bretheren, to a beautiful life free from just about everything our show talks about - sex, kids, angst, suicide, pregnancy, nudity, etc., etc. And yet they were as fun and charming as any monk might be, answering every question we had about when they actually decide to use their hoods and whether they wear underwear under their robes.

They also took us to lunch at the Glockenspiel Restaurant & Pub, where we were treated to a rousing 5-minute performance of North America's largest glockenspiel, followed by wienerschnitzel and the local brew. The muncles also gave us all candles from their monastery, and every time we light them we feel just that little bit holier. (Of course, I might also note that they gave them to us after feeding us all full of wienerschnitzel and beer - seems like the monks have learned at least a little about the multi-tasking use of devotional implements. So, with all that wind-making German cuisine, we had sins for which we needed great redemption.)

There's a lot about Portland that's redolent still of a bygone time preserved in both functional and decorative ways.


You get the sense of Portland being a cooler, if meeker, sibling to its Northern neighbor, Seattle. Like where all the remaining grunge kids (who didn't land recording contracts) or loggers (that didn't sell their acreage to a paper processing plant) ended up. Still keeping it real, even if only because they never quite got the opportunity to sell it for fake. It's a place I wouldn't mind spending a couple weeks - or a couple months - more. In another life, or another career, or another job, perhaps. But I think we were both glad for the chance to get some sense of the layout of the place. And we were doubly glad to have the chance to soak up as much Fall as we could before heading South for the next six weeks, to a megalopolis where Fall is something that sells greeting cards and serves as a backdrop for horror movies but is otherwise unknown: Los Angeles.

And so, with that in mind, I hope you enjoy a little taste of the Fall of which we drank so deeply, just one short week ago... (Guess I didn't have so little to say about Portland after all...)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Seattle

First day in Seattle was a bit sleepy. Or a lot sleepy.


Having arrived in town the night before, we were a bit worn out. And as the rainymistygrey stalked the streets, leaking light through the cell block number 5 window of our hotel room, it was all the more encouragement to just take the dog out to pee and head right back in and under the covers.

Also, Eva Maciek, our wardrobe supervisor, is the other dog owner on the tour, and her dog Crackers, freshly angst-riddled from ungodly loud jets in San Francisco's naval airshow for fleet week, and from the flight from San Fran to Seattle, needed a watcher for the day, which we were only too happy to oblige. And so, Crackers, Angie, Butley, and I all chillaxed in bed (or around it) watching Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," feeling like the rainy Salem weather matched that of Seattle's quite nicely. Crackers in particular enjoyed the comfort of a stinky pair of shoes...


Being back in Seattle, I found the "Twelve Angry Men" poster we left here two years ago. And, of course, it's the same dressers, who all remembered spraying us down with spray bottles every night before the show, trying to make it look like the hottest day of summer in the middle of a Washington winter evening. The next day we went for a walk around Pike Street Market -


- home of monkfish-throwing seafood merchants, cheap but beautiful flowers, specialty shoppes (that can only be spelled with the extra "-pe" at the end), and the original Starbucks store which, to walk into, closely approximates the sense of walking directly into page seven of the Orvis catalog.

We visited Scobie Puchtler, oh he the mechanical magician of Yale University/Prism Kiteworks/youwantitibuildit fame, and saw the very cool alternative school he teaches at full time now, Puget Sound Community School. And somewhere between teaching classes in building an actual radio-controlled airplane model, designed & fabricated by the students themselves with his supervision, and renovating a brand new building they're relocated themselves to, he finds time for a proper homelife with his wife Sarah and son Brayden.

We took Butley to a park near where Scobie lives, the Gas Works, which is an old industrial site where coal used to be converted to natural gas. It was highly, highly toxic until the city set about reclaiming it, de-toxifying what they could, sealing up what was best left alone, and re-sodding everything until now it stands as an amazing testament to the possibilities of urban renewal. it's about the size of three football fields, and the old mechanical architecture still lying around is both haunting & beautiful, adding a uniquely historical identity to the park.



We returned to the Gas Works couple days later, to give Butley a chance to tear up some grass and burn off some energy. We met this great couple whose frisbee-fetching dog was a good playmate for Butley, and spent about an hour chatting about a Vaudeville festival they run annually here in Seattle - apparently the largest of its kind in the world. It's called the Moisture Festival because of the fact that it's a Springtime event in Seattle, but being a vaudeville festival, there's probably more to it than that. At any rate, we were all good & tired by the end of the day and stopped to pose for photo before heading home to rest up for the show.


Also, as we were immediately adjacent to Fremont, Seattle's answer to Berkeley, CA, we drove by the "Fremont Troll," a sculpture underneath a major bridge in Fremont where a local artist was commissioned to craft a substructural inhabitant for the community. Apparently there was some disagreement between the artist and the mayor and, after a failed attempt to have his work finished by another person, the mayor dragged the original artist back to finish the job. The original artist, somehow incensed at the imposition, decided to add his Volkswagen bug, filled with concrete, to the troll's left hand. So, in the photo, you get a sense of the fellow's size by knowing that the VW in his hand is real - and that's an actual hubcap for his left eye...


We visited the Experience Music Project, the brainchild and beneficiary of Microsoft's Paul Allen, on a company visit. After joining the kids for the requisite high-school-musical-esque recording of a SPRING AWAKENING in the museum's "record a CD exhibit", Angie and I went exploring. I, of course, ended up downstairs in the Science Fiction Museum. Way cool, particularly to see the original props & costumes from Blade Runner, the manuscripts of various original sci-fi classics, and the exhibit on changing images of utopia & dystopia in sci-fi over time.

Sunday morning, joined Angie's friend Dan Tierney for breakfast back in Fremont at Norm's Eatery & Ale House, a dog-friendly restaurant that has everything for the perfect Sunday afternoon: great food, beer on tap, big comfy sofas, flat screen television, and lighting that just makes you want to stay and stay. But we had a matinee, so..



We've been enjoying our daily walks around the Seattle Center, right next to the hotel.


It's a big tourist park and centralized location for Seattle Repertory Theater, the Intiman, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, etc. And there are more shoppes (yes, the -pe again), carnival games & rides, a boarding platform for the Monorail, and a big fountain that does synchronized water shows to orchestral greatest hits. (NB: I have no idea who the guy in the jester's hat is...)



After our last show, Angie and I went up to the top of the Space needle and had a last look around the city, lit up as it was night.



Meanwhile, with all this travel, Butley's decided - he's going into sales.