A Day of Many Miles

The day broke clear and didn’t waste any time warming up. After a not-terribly-satisfying breakfast and a fuel stop, I climbed onto Interstate 40 and headed west, west, west.

I wonder, on that stretch of Interstate between Albuquerque and Winslow, how many people are enticed these days by “The World’s Tallest Teepee” (a rigid, multi-story structure), or “The World’s Longest Map of US Rte 66”, which is painted on a wall of a curio shop. How many people spontaneously decide to buy a hunting knife, or a bit of petrified wood? Not as many these days, I suspect, as cars get ever more comfortable and the excuses to climb out and stretch one’s legs get less enticing.

I certainly wasn’t a candidate to stop this time. I wanted to put some miles behind me, the more the better. As I rolled along somewhere east of Flagstaff I saw a sign that did catch my eye. “Fresh jerky 227 miles ahead.” Bison was listed, and I think elk as well. By my calculations that put the jerky store somewhere around Kingman.

Although I have to say that I’ve never visited the much-hyped ice caves or gone underground on any of the mine tours. One of these days… On I drove, stopping only for fuel and beverages.

I never found the jerky store. By the time I got to Kingman I was occupied with the Big Decision. North, past Hoover Dam, through Las Vegas, and on up to Beatty to cross into California high in the Sierras, or west, through Needles to Barstow, to drive up the central valley.

In favor of north: 1) There’s a new bridge to keep the damn terrorists off the damn dam. I bet it’s pretty cool. 2) two-lane highways. 3) Far, far more scenic. 4) A chance to relive another trip with a buddy and two chihuahuas, getting kicked out of a casino in Vegas, followed by a night in Beatty, and my one and only pass through Trona, CA (a hellish place when it’s windy, which I gather is most of the time).

In favor of west: 1) two less hours driving, even if I didn’t stop for pictures on the north route.

When decision time came, I went west. Note to Gus (I think it was Gus), while your “227 miles to jerky” sign was certainly effective for me, you might consider a second sign, a little closer to the promised land. I’m just sayin’ is all. Or maybe I just missed it.

The last 100 miles of the day as I stretched my drive from Needles to Barstow seemed as long as the entire rest of the trip. There was still plenty of daylight left, but I was ready to stop. Perhaps if my air conditioning worked things would have been different. As I pulled in to the Von’s parking lot to buy large amounts of chilled liquids I reflected that had I chosen north, I’d still have an hour to go, assuming Las Vegas rush hour didn’t add to that.

I noticed as I drove across the street to the California Inn (an excellent choice), that there was a little strip-mall bar nearby called Molly’s Pub. I showered and packed a laptop and book (in case this wasn’t a laptop sort of place), and tromped over to Molly’s. It wasn’t a laptop sort of place at all; in fact it wasn’t a book sort of place either. So I bellied up to the bar, had a large beer in a mason jar, and watched the Dodger game with glazed eyes, which kept me entertained. (For a while I sat next to a guy who used to be the mascot for the Dodgers; I was rooting for the other team on general principles. It was all good-natured, though.)

I ordered a second beer, which arrived just as the cougars showed up. My long hair kept them away for a while, but by the end of my beer I’m not sure how many sentences I had started with “My girlfriend…” It was time to quit that congenial place and catch some sleep, to dream of jerky missed and the road not taken.

2

Almost Ready to Shoot

Weeks have passed since our first tentative shoot dates slid past, but at last the big day approaches. The big day underwent one last unexpected lurch when the DOP was confused about the days, and the Friday shoot was abruptly shifted to Sunday. This caused some scrambling and we lost our makeup person in the shuffle, and we still don’t have a script supervisor and the free jukebox is not available, but other than that things worked out well, especially with the camera.

Wednesday night we met with Rene Trossman, who will play Old Ray Black, a blues musician. Rene has only one line, but some heavy musical responsibilities. He’d been reluctant to commit to the production, but when we met him before his gig things were congenial and he caught some of the excitement of the project. His keyboard player, Jan (rhymes with John), seemed especially excited. It was with a great feeling of relief that I woke up yesterday morning and wrote the first ten words of this episode. That was all I had time for.

Thursday was a productive day as well, starting with a meeting at Slavia Café (reputed to have been a hangout for Havel and his buddies before the revolution). The presence of a baby increased the time the meeting took by a factor of five, but we figured out most of the things we needed to figure out. The exception was our focus puller: it turns out George Lucas made us lose the guy who was going to do it for us (for cheap), and we’re still searching for a replacement. The first day we may be able to get by without one (which is good considering the rates these guys are asking); the biggest shots are using steadycam, freeing up our DOP to work focus. (We have a different guy as steadycam operator). Maybe an all-steadycam production?

The other glitch we face is that we will have limited time in the Sunday location. The key to getting in and out in time is preparation, and fortunately fuego makes a living doing that. After we’re booted from U Sudu we will get some shots of our two guys passing through the cobbled streets of the city center, dodging tourists and eventually finding themselves in a deserted lane.

After the meeting I parted ways with the rest and found a comfortable place to sit and mark up the most recent version of the script. Happily, there was nothing I felt the need to tweak that will have much effect on the shooting of the scenes. I need to read over my markups this morning and see how they sound after a few hours.

After that fuego and I met with Steve and we scouted the passages and alleys of the city choosing the locations for the aforementioned exterior shots. We found enough places to make the travel sequence work, and happily enough of them were close together so we can get the shots efficiently.

Once all that was done it was time for my first outdoor beer of the year. The weather has been ourdoor-beeriffic for days now, but there was always something in the way, either health (I’ve had a cough for days now) or just too much to do. The three of us repaired to a park in Žižkov with a large garden.

It was packed. Just next door was a slightly more upscale spot with a much smaller garden but without the long lines of people waiting for beers. A much better choice; who wants an outdoor beer to be a hassle? It goes contrary to the who ethos of it.

Only one bar and then home for some food, a bit of writing, then an early bedtime. And now here it is, bright and early on Friday, one day before the shoot. fuego here, and Lenka will stop by in an hour

All For Me Grog

As I type this, I am drinking grog. The couple at the next table were buying rum for the other two people here, and I initially misunderstood the offer. I thought he asked “are you having rum?” as part of a medical recommendation. I am not sounding too healthy right now. I laughed and said that no, my tea had no rum in it, and he took that to mean that I was not interested in his offer because I was not feeling well. His solution: good ol’ grog. I don’t expect it was served hot on the old sailing ships, nor with a slice of lemon, and for that matter not with the stuff the Czechs call “rum” either.

Even so, this isn’t bad for the pipes.

Update: Now he’s bought me the Czech cure for all respiratory ailments, Slivovice (rhymes with “Heave-ho, Mitsy!”). I’m hoping to last here long enough to chat with That Girl, but it’s getting dangerous (rhymes with “Pozor!”).

Bar 300

I set out today to scout a place called Jazz Dock, a venue recommended by one of our musicians as a spot we could film the concert at a respectable hour. Let’s face it, one of the themes of the movie is the difference between the day world and the night world, and we are planning to simulate the night world during the day. The reason: the best places to film have actual concerts at night.

Jazz Dock is a new place, and is therefore not totally booked up. It is also completely, 100% wrong for our film. Oh, well. So there I was in Smichov, hanging with the guy doing the original music for the final scene. “Want to have a beer somewhere?” he asked.

He’s opening a sound studio around the corner from here soon, so he’s a bit familiar with the local drinkeries. His recommendation: Jungle Bar. As we walked it occurred to me that this would be bar 300 on my list.

Only, Jungle Bar was closed, and missed its chance at immortality. Bar 300 is instead Ragtime Bar, which is connected to Jungle Bar but had the advantage of being open. And here I sit. It’s a nice place.

Nice, but I can’t come up with much more to say about it. There’s lots of wood, which is good, a moderate amount of kitsch but not enough to bother me, decent music (not ragtime) playing, but somehow all of that leaves something missing. This despite the fact that we’re by the river and I had a great view across to the other side as the sun set and lit up the buildings. Meanwhile, a bunch of older guys who made me think ‘mafia’ were meeting here. What’s not to like?

Honestly, I have no idea. When you look at any individual facet of the place it comes across well, but in this case the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I think it comes down to a feeling that the place is calculated. It’s like a really well-executed chain restaurant. I’m not entirely sure what a place can to about that, except to allow the customers to leave an imprint on the place, to provide a little funkiness and family vibe. But pragmatically speaking, how do you bring that about?

Of course there’s always rock-stacking. There’s a way to set your bar apart: a stack pit, a web cam, exotic stones from around the world — some rounded, some angular. When the bar opens the stacks from the night before (if still standing) are knocked down with a toast to gravity. That would be the best bar ever.

Sailor Jerry Rum

Recently I was at a bar and I noticed a bottle on the shelf labeled “Sailor Jerry Rum.” I was intrigued, but it was not a rum-drinking time. It wasn’t a rum-drinking time yesterday at Press Café either, but fuego was there and I mentioned that I should have some before I left. Turns out Sailor Jerry is also found in the United States, but fuego decided that I may as well check off that to-do item anyway. We ordered a pair of small shots.

I’m not a rum drinker, but this stuff didn’t seem very good at all. Sweet. fuego dubbed it “girl rum,” though it was certainly not as bad as Captain Morgan. A pity, with such a noble and tasteful name, that the product didn’t live up to expectations.

1

My Walk Home Tonight

I left St. Nicholas (the bar, not the jolly elf) feeling a little bad because while I left more than enough money to cover myself, Brad was there at my invitation and I couldn’t cover for him (despite the money I sponged off fuego earlier). So I left feeling a little shabby (although I did teach one of the Drunken English Girls at the next table about shooting without a flash). I also left with an assurance from the owner that if I ever wanted to shoot a film there it was OK by him.

So, emotions mixed, I exited the friendly space into a chilly Prague evening, complete with light snowfall. Prague is a lady who wears snow well; it softens the stone and gives her the blush of a virgin bride on her wedding night.

It also makes the sidewalks really damn slick. Soon after I left St. Nick’s I reminded myself that when I leave this town, my shoes are not coming with me. Weighing disease and frostbite against injury from falling, I probably would have been safer taking my shoes off and walking barefoot over the icy cobbled sidewalks. Yet shod I stayed, mostly because I was worried about being taken in by the cops as an obvious nutjob. Also, my foot was really starting to hurt.

I crossed the bridge and surprised myself with my ability to navigate to a stop where tram 51 went by. For a while I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I passed near Tesco, which for me is the disorientation point of the city. I swear that damn place is rotated ninety degrees out of synch with the rest of the space-time continuum.

Anyway, I got to the tram stop and checked the schedule. Tram 51 runs every half-hour, and passes there at :03 and :33. I hadn’t the slightest idea what time it might be, so I pulled out my phone to check. My phone was dead. “Bummer,” I thought. “I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait.” Then I realized an even bigger bummer: My phone was the only way I had to pay for my ride.

I decided to walk up to the next stop, which was a metro station, more to reduce the chance I’d get caught on the tram than to find a way to pay. I was about halfway there when tram 51 rumbled past. It’s a sound that on a quiet night you can hear from a long way off, the kind of sound that ordinarily gives you enough warning that you need to pick up your pace to reach the next stop in time — except that some stops are farther apart than others, and when you get caught in between and your shoes are skis and your foot hurts and it would be just plain stupid to run, that’s when the night tram is sure to go by.

I am home now, safe and sound (although, did I menion my foot hurts?), and once more I can look out at this city in her light veil of snow, and I forget the pain in the ass of getting home. After all, it’s not Prague’s fault my phone died, or that my shoes have super non-grip soles, or even that my foot hurts. I should be thankful they have a tram, even if it didn’t work out for me tonight.

Though, you know, I can’t think of any other city to blame for my foot.

The Last Bluesman

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Rene Trossman and band in an empty room.

I have in the past complained that for all Prague’s charms, the live music scene isn’t that great. I still think this is the case, so much of the music here is from DJ’s, and not very good DJ’s at that. However, over the last few weeks I’ve seen more live music than I would have thought possible, and discovered some pretty cool venues in the process. (My ‘discovery’ of these places is much like Columbus discovering America. There were quite a few folks who already knew about those places before.)

The evening started with hockey (Sparta won in overtime), and after the game we paused at the French Creperie while the crowds dispersed, then headed over to Mala Strana for the show.

Apparently, it’s February. Apparently, February is an unpredictable month when it comes to putting on shows in Prague. Rene Trossman, whose sweet home is Chicago, normally pulls a good crowd but tonight the joint was d-e-a-d dead. There was one person in the place besides fuego and me, meaning the band outnumbered the audience. They put on a good show, but there just wasn’t the energy in the room that leads to a memorable performance.

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It’s the blues!

I really liked the band, though. Piano (required for our story), upright bass, and a drummer with a minimalist kit who played tight and clean, with occasional flashes of humor — on one song he provided the punctuation at the end by letting go of his sticks. The bass player has the closest look I have seen for one of the roles in Moonlight, but he’s Ukranian, and his voice won’t be convincing audiences he’s from Detroit.

After the first break a few more people showed up (including some of fuego’s long-lost in-laws), but even though the venue was very small, it felt deserted. A pity, but that’s February for you.

Tomorrow we must decide which musician to recruit, and rope that guy in.