Thursday, November 13, 2008


Little girl for change
I took this photo about a week before the election.  Bill Clinton was touring around his former state--my home state of Arkansas--in support of Barack Obama.  And let me just say, Bill Clinton still has "it", whatever that is.  And I'm incredibly excited that our new President also has "it".  At the risk of being too self-referential, I would like to point out that I foreshadowed this great historical event in an earlier posting here.  The gist of that post was that if Barack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) were to become the next president, then we would be able to say that their was ONE good thing to come out of George Bush's presidency.
Speaking of that sad legacy, which grows sadder and bleaker each day he occupies that office, I drove past the thousands of vacant FEMA trailers lined up on the Hope airfield.  The waste is just mind-boggling.  Combine that image with the already unfathomable incompetence displayed after Hurricane Katrina and all you can do is chant a calming mantra, "January 20, 2009, January 20, 2009."  So there I was, confronted by the current President's sheer ineptitude--by the thousands--ironically stranded in the birthplace of his predecessor, Bill Clinton.  I was in Hope to shoot some footage at the birthplace and first home of the 42nd President of the United States.  Standing there in the modest home decorated in era-appropriate furniture, you really get a sense of the improbable journey that took a small boy from Hope, Arkansas to the Presidency of the United States.  Since I was a boy, I've grown up in a landscape dominated by Bill Clinton.  He was Governor for pretty much my entire childhood, then he became President my freshmen year at the University of Southern California--my first year living out of the state.  It's like he was following me.  So I guess I kind of take Bill Clinton for granted in a way, or at least his success and achievements.  But here, in this small Southern railroad town of Hope come tourists from around the world--today I met a couple who had driven from Ontario, Canada.  It's a pretty incredible story that started in this town of Hope (a town aptly named after the daughter of a railroad family, laid to rest in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock).  But let's not forget to mention the other Presidential candidate in 2008 from Hope, Arkansas--Mike Huckabee.

But as amazing and challenging as that journey must have been for Bill Clinton, the story of Barack Obama and his path to the presidency is even more incredible.  It is a story that re-ignites a faith in the American Dream, that re-affirms the ideals of our founding doctrines, and hopefully can give this country the change that it needs so desperately.  Who knows, we may end up having to change the name of this blog.

Flag on flag

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why I'm No Longer Welcome at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

I recently attended the Toronto International Film Festival. I've been before. That's not what this post is about (1). This is about the flight back. Everything seemed to be on schedule, sitting on the runway waiting for an on-time take-off. I took a brief nap. Woke up. We hadn't moved. A strong, healthy looking man is being helped off the plane by the stewardess. He has suffered an anxiety attack and will not be making the trip with us to Atlanta. So we continue to wait on the runway for his bags to be removed from the plane. By this point we've missed our window for take-off, so we wait some more. The passengers, who earlier were sympathetic to this man's plight, have now turned to their own self-interest and the fact that they will probably miss their connecting flights (2). We arrive in Atlanta an hour behind schedule. The stewardess, now coming under fire from the irate passengers suffering from their own form of anxiety, announces that it would be much appreciated if those without tight connecting flights would remain seated. Although I was sitting in the front row, I still managed to be edged out by a rather over-bearing traveller screaming he had a flight to make in the next 30 minutes (3). After finally managing to squeeze out into the aisle and down the stairs to the tarmac, I was amused to find we had to board a shuttle bus. So, we weren't going ANYWHERE until every person was off the plane. People had been so ugly, pushing, yelling, and then here they all were, uncomfortably silent as those they pushed and yelled at filed onto the bus after them. You couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity. Finally, the bus starts up and drives. . . and drives . . . and drives (and you're thinking at this point, maybe we're driving back to Little Rock) until finally it comes to a stop and everyone repeats the pushing and shoving scenario getting off the bus. At this point, there is no representative from the airline--no one in charge--and there is very clearly two options available to us:
A) A staircase going up to a door.
B) A walkway leading to a ground-floor opening around the corner.
For whatever reason, the first person off the bus started up the stairs, and we all followed (4). Once he got to the top he pulled on the door, and of course, it was locked. He kept pulling angrily, cursing. I was half-way up the stairs by this point, realized our 50-50 chance of error, and turned around to descend when I saw the mass of people rushing up towards me. It was at this point that my traveling companion "lost her shit" as it is commonly known. She screamed, "You're going the wrong way!" with such force that the words alone turned back the tide of humanity. We finally got into the airport to see the monitor say that our flight was boarding. We were in terminal B and needed to get to E. So we hopped on the train and waited patiently for it to make its appointed stops. Traveling companion is pretty convinced at this point that we will not make it. I try to keep her spirits up, but this comedy of errors is adding up to a dark outcome I feel.
At the station for Terminal B we run to the escalator. I choose the escalator with only one person on it, halfway up. However, I soon realize that the reason only one person is on it is because it is not working. So I start running up steps about as high and steep as the Pyramids of Giza. Traveling companion yells from below to go on without her. She pushes on, but her head is hung low. I get as far as the guy who is halfway up, but he won't let me by, his head too hangs low and defeated as we slowly make our way up to the terminal. Once free I start sprinting the gate which is about halfway down the corridor. As I run up I am elated to see the door is still open! The lounge is empty, but the gate attendant is still there at the scanner. I run up with my boarding pass in hand. "Little Rock?" she asks in the shittiest tone possible.
"Yes, and I have one more right behind me."
"How far behind. This plane is leaving right now."
I'm getting a bit pissed by her unhelpful attitude. "Right behind me. She couldn't run as fast."
"Give me your ticket. You're not going to make this flight. I'll see if they have you on a later flight."
I look down the hall and see traveling companion coming, albeit at a speed I would generously describe as a stroll. I motion wildly that the plane is leaving. When she walks up I petulantly drop my bag and declare to traveling companion that the gate attendant is not letting us on the flight. She still has my boarding pass and has been furiously keying things into the Commodore 64 she's stationed at. She snatches, and I mean that literally, traveling companion's ticket away from her. Traveling companion, who is winded and a bit irritated from all of this, is a bit taken aback. Traveling companion says, "So, I'm confused, are we getting on this flight or not?"
"Yes, you're getting on this flight," says gate attendant in a tone even shittier than the previously shitty tone, and throws our boarding passes back in our hands. We grab our bags hurriedly and start heading down the ramp to the plane.
"Well, she wasn't very nice," says traveling companion.
"No," I said, "She was a REAL BITCH." 

And I fully admit that I shouldn't have said that. 
It was wrong. 
I'd had a stressful few minutes. There's no excuse.
And as for the gate attendant, I'm sure she had a perfectly good reason for forgetting every rule of customer service.

SLAM went the door behind us as gate attendant started marching down the ramp toward us.
"Sir! I can throw you off this plane. I have the power to do that. Is that what you want."
I stopped and looked back at her enraged face rushing down the ramp like the supreme being in "Time Bandits".
"No," I said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it, it's just that we had a very tight connection and . . . "
But she was still going at it. "I can throw you off this plane. Do not disrespect me!"
Now traveling companion starts to weigh in (5):
"He said he was sorry. What is your deal?"
We rush into the plane by this point, hoping that if she does kick us off, she will have to forcibly remove us. Instead, she loudly informs the plane's crew that there are some "very rude passengers" on this flight. No sooner than she does this and turns back up the ramp, than the pilot announces to the plane that we will be sitting here a while because the computers are down and everything is being done by fax. So we sat on the runway again for another hour. And once we finally got to Little Rock, you can rest assured the bags didn't make it until the next morning.

This isn't my first written encounter with the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. Years ago I got stuck there overnight on my way to Boston. Coming off the plane I remember the gate attendant announcing, "Boston's gone" as if it had been struck by some devastating attack. I did make several "line friends" that night and we kept each other entertained with stories, allowed use of cell phones to reach family, and other bonding experiences that can only happen when you know you have only a few hours to spend with a few people you'll never see again in your life. I started to write it as a play, which briefly morphed into a musical until I remembered I couldn't write music. I had called it "DFW". It was in reference to the abbreviation for the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. I chose it because I liked the way it sounded better than "Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta". But it was also a small nod to my favorite living writer, David Foster Wallace. Favorite living until last week, when he committed suicide.
His writing was like the voice inside my head. Their was a recognition there that seemed uncanny.  I had struggled through Infinite Jest and loved every bit of it--especially the naming of years by corporate sponsors.  I had consumed his essays eagerly wherever they appeared.
I'd even met him a couple of times, once at a book signing in New York, and once at a reading in Los Angeles. I was incredibly nervous, but I wanted to say something to him that didn't make me look like an idiot. So instead I chose to make myself look like a raving-lunatic fan.
"I love your writing. I even tracked down your first essay, Signifying Rappers."
"Oh yeah," he said slyly, "that old chestnut." It didn't sound like he was that impressed with it (6).
I just smiled like an idiot.

Footnotes: (1) If you are interested about what I saw at the this year's Toronto International Film Festival, here is the list with a brief one or two word review. "The Brothers Bloom"-good soundtrack. "Burn After Reading"-funny. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" - soundtrack and film could have been better, still enjoyable. "Rachel Getting Married" -dysfunctional family and camerawork. "Once Upon a Time in Rio"-Rio. "Lovely, Still" - mislead. "Slumdog Millionaire" -brilliant. "Genova" - awful. "7915 KM"-needed soundtrack. "Me and Orson Welles" -excellent mimickry of Welles. "Blindness" -enough already. "Happy-Go-Lucky"-absolutely. "Good"-Not so. Viggo in an SS uniform. "The Burning Plain"-more dysfunction. "Che"-Benecio brilliant. "Afterwards"-sleepy. "The Other Man"-surprising. "Gigantic"-mildly amusing. "Easy Virtue"-Noel Coward, 'nuff said. That's 19 films over about four days.
(2) Discussions arise as to how to deal with an "anxiety attack" on a plane and what meds are required. My travel companion says that, had she known, she would have volunteered the small pharmacy in her purse if it would have gotten us to Atlanta on time.
(3) My flight was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes v. rude man's 30 minute departure.
(4) This may be the biggest "lemming" moment of my life.  Or at least recent memory.
(5) At this point I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that she will have us kicked off the flight since there is no telling what will come out of traveling companion's mouth.
(6) Like he wouldn't be impressed at this lame attempt to honor his style by using footnotes to fragment the narrative.

Friday, July 04, 2008

That's Great it Starts With an Earthquake . . .

This project, Why Your Life Sucks, originally started on August 23, 1997 at 1:20 in the morning on a train from Lyons, France. Over the years, I've kept notes and thoughts in a notebook concerning this ever-changing idea. While I was living in New York City in 1999, I wrote the following entry, "What I'd Like to Talk to Michael Stipe About When He's an Old Man and We Go Out to Dinner". I have shortened it for your benefit (including an extended rant against Puff Daddy whose "Every Breath You Take" rip-off was ubiquitous at the time).

The first R.E.M. album I bought was Fables of the Reconstruction, purchased the year it came out, 1985. Admittedly, I bought it because I liked the album cover. I had been flipping through the cassettes at "That's Entertainment"--a local audio and video (yes, Beta!) store that sadly fell, as many across the country, to the bloated and mass marketing savvy chain stores that somehow managed to offer more volume but strikingly less quality and selection. I would go to "That's Entertainment" everyday after school, since I was a latch-key kid, a term popular in the Eighties for kids who came home to empty houses due to both parents working. I could watch movies for free on one of the walls of stacked TVs, or listen to the small but diverse collection of cassettes and vinyl. To make it seem like I was actually serving a purpose, I offered my services of Alphabetizing all of the new inventory. So, that's how I came across this cool looking cover with one of the best titles of all time. And the music was exactly what I needed to hear. Instantly, this band, R.E.M., became one of my all time favorites, and possibly, as Rolling Stone soon pointed out, was America's Best Rock & Roll Band (RS Issue 514, December 3rd, 1987).
A year later the unbelievable occurred. R.E.M. came to Little Rock in support of the equally classic Life's Rich Pageant. They played Robinson Auditorium, which was a smaller venue compared to Barton Coliseum where I saw my first concert, Styx, a few years earlier. I spent weeks before tickets went on sale trying to convince my friends--none of whom had ever heard of R.E.M.--to go with me. I made tapes for them to listen to, to get them as excited as I was, but I imagine those tapes were later recorded over for Madonna.
Determined I would have one of the best seats for this momentous occasion, I enlisted my oldest brother to drive me to the box office the morning tickets went on sale. We took my other brother's brand new convertible, since he was sleeping in. I was able to purchase four tickets on the third row. My brother also bought two tickets but was unable to make the show because of final exams in Fayetteville. However, on our way back from the box office, just a block from our home, we wrecked my brother's convertible. It was a four way stop sign and I don't think either my brother or the other car really came to a full stop. The other kid's jeep tore off the front of our convertible Cavalier. I walked home and told my brother, who was still sleeping, that we had destroyed his brand new convertible. He didn't think it as funny as I did, but I was still high on the adrenaline rush from being able to walk away from the accident.
The concert was great, combining their music with another of my interests, film. It was the first time I'd seen a band project images behind them as they performed. I remember specifically a shot of a dog sitting on a staircase in what looked like a home movie. I bought T-shirts and buttons (it was the '80's, I had to put them on my jean jacket) with Michael Stipe's poetic lyrics, "A pistol hot cup of rhyme".
With the subsequent release of Document, the band had their big radio friendly hit, "The One I Love". Now they belonged to everyone. I admit, I was a bit jealous at first, but grew to accept their growing success. With the release of Green, they were conducting world tours. Needless to say, they wouldn't be returning to Little Rock. The release of Out of Time saw their catalogue of brilliant songs grow with the addition of "Losing My Religion" and the beautiful ache of "Country Feedback".
But it was with Automatic for the People that they achieved their masterpiece. For me, no other album can more perfectly conjure up a time and place so clearly. The nostalgic beauty of "Nightswimming" has brought chills to my spine on several occasions. The triumph of "Find the River" keeping an overnight road trip pushing through to the pre-dawn hours. This is simply a perfect album. With the follow up, Monster, I was finally able to see them again, this time for two shows in Denver at the legendary Red Rocks. This tour is wonderfully documented in the film Road Movie.
I loved New Adventures in Hi-Fi. I had it on one side of a cassette and Radiohead's O.K. Computer on the other and I listened to that tape over and over as I traveled around Europe for three months [where, dear reader, I started this whole venture as I've mentioned]. Sadly, New Adventures was the band's last album with drummer Bill Berry. And subsequent recordings noticeably suffered for that loss.
Postscript: But R.E.M. is back, with a new album that is really pretty good, Accelerate, and more importantly, they're touring. I saw them once again after the Denver shows a few years ago in San Francisco when Wilco, now arguably America's Best Rock & Roll Band, opened up for them. But when it was announced a few months ago that they'd be playing two shows at the Berkeley Greek Theater, I got tickets to attend along with my friend Baines who flew down from Portland, and John, Chope, and Hudson who all live in the Bay area. Both shows were great featuring different gems from the back catalogue in each set. These are pictures I took at the show.