Just like real New York City tourists, we gawked and snapped photos and pointed out the most mundane things:
signature yellow taxicabs, “clean up after your dog” signs, and subway
Being in downtown Cleveland was really
what made it fun.
Unable to resist, I walked over to Euclid Avenue
on Thursday with a buddy to catch a peek of the Spider Man 3 crew at work,
since they’re wrapping up their Northeast Ohio shooting
schedule this weekend.
When I reached the eastern edge of the set, I could see
wrecked cars lining a section of street a ways off, and a car dangling about
four or five stories off the ground, held against the sky by a crane. There was
a pretty good crowd here, and the police weren’t letting pedestrians onto the
sidewalks, so we took a back route through one of the nearby buildings and
checked things out from further west along Euclid.
By the time we got
there, the car wasn’t hanging from the crane anymore, but the crew was still
prepping for another shot, keeping onlookers out of the street. To our left was
the armored truck that’s apparently being held up/broken into/crashed for the
scene. (Which, we hear, is going to take up less than 3 minutes of screen
People with walkie-talkies scurried around, the streets were
cleared, and somebody must’ve hollered “action,” because a few minutes later,
the armored truck was cruising east, flanked by some background traffic. It
went a couple hundred yards down the street past us, and we heard kind of a
muffled crash/crunch, and then a black-clad, goateed guy in the street in front
of us hollered “Cut!”
They let all the gawkers walk through the sidewalks of the
set then, and what really struck me was the sheer scale of an operation like
this, even for just a few relatively simple shots. We just kept seeing all the
little pieces of the puzzle, like people whose job seemed to consist solely of
backing vehicles back into place so they could drive them down the same few
hundred yards of pavement again. Guys checking the camera rig. It was even
someone’s job, we marveled, to bust up the wrecked cars on the sidewalk.
And, of course, someone’s job to make this little bit of
Cleveland look like a corner of Manhattan: The fake subway entrance; the “sale”
tables on the sidewalk loaded with stuffed animals and purses; the newsstand
with its Daily Bugle ad posters; a street-level paint-splattered construction scaffolding
and playbill-plastered backdrop blocking nothing but a parking lot.
A little bit later, we walked around another corner and
back into Cleveland.
This has been the time to reminisce about Star Wars Celebration III, one year ago this weekend. Links to the four days’ worth of coverage Jim C. & I did for the Orlando Sentinel’s CityBeat website are here, here, here and here. (All but the first one, I think, still include active archives of Jim’s photo galleries.)
While we were providing coverage for CityBeat, the online work actually wound up on a lot of Tribune Co. websites, and it was pretty nifty seeing my byline and Jim’s photo credits on the web pages of outlets like New York Newsday, the Chicago Tribune, KWGN-TV in Denver and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.
Tuesday, April 19, I was sitting in an auditorium at the Akron Public Library with tears streaming down my face, watching my all-time favorite clip of The Simpsons: Homer’s attempted leap of Springfield Gorge. It’s the final minute or two of the show, beginning with his jump, and his sadly mistaken revelation – “I’m gonna make it!” – building through not one but two crashes to the ravine floor (by this time, every time I watch it, I am already convulsing) – but sweet maker in Heaven, when they put Homer in that ambulance and it crashes into the tree in the span of an eyeblink, I just howl every damn time.
Part of it is that the scene is perfect, but another factor is that I remember watching it back in 1990, when me and three of my best friends were all home from college on winter break, and we had the episode on videotape, and we kept rewinding that ambulance crash over and over and over and over and oh-my-God it’s STILL funny.
Simpsons writer Joel Cohen was at the library showing the clip, which I was watching in the company of one of those friends who sat in my living room and watched it with me the first time around.
And I’ll say this: If you didn’t know Cohen was a Simpsons writer when you saw him, after a few minutes listening to him tell his jokes and stories, you’d almost be able to tell just from the way he delivers them.
Sometimes, he sounds like a Simpsons script.
Consider his recollection of life after graduating from the University of Alberta in his native Canada: Cohen first worked for a direct-to-video film company (The one behind "Leprechaun," which Cohen clearly relishes in a twisted, eye-rolling way.), then sold advertising for Turner Broadcasting. Souring on that, he headed to California and began writing comedy material, crossing paths with comedian Kathy Griffin, who helped him snare a writing gig on NBC’s "Suddenly Susan."
OK, that’s the setup that leads to this windup: "It was a thrill just knowing I was doing the thing thousands of people dream of doing – " and Cohen recalls this with a sincerity that almost seems real before finishing:
"- moving to L.A., stealing Brooke Shields’ clothes, and selling them on eBay."
He’s hilarious. A little too reliant on his joke notes at times, maybe, but man, he rattles off an avalanche of punchlines just the way the Springfieldians do on TV.
On Elizabeth Taylor’s compensation for voicing Maggie Simpson’s sole spoken word: "She just wanted to marry two writers and a handyman who lived in his car on the lot." (slight pause) "We miss them terribly."
On peculiar parallels: "To my knowledge, Bart and George W. Bush are the only two people to have been spanked by George Bush senior and to moon the Prime Minister of Australia."
On one censorship battle that the network has won with the show: "Fox censors have told us we aren’t allowed to show Homer naked from the back any more." (audience laughs/mock groans) "My heart broke as well … not for me, but for the legions of fans who tune in every week to see a fat cartoon man’s fat ass crack."
Outside of his crafted jokes, Cohen was at his best at the times when he allowed himself to get really wound up and excited about what he was describing, like being washed over by the rapid-fire waves of jokes that happen when the show’s 15 or so writers are in their room going over a script and just pinging ideas off each other nonstop.
He also explained the writers’ habit of poking fun at those die-hard Simpson followers obsessed with discerning the “real-world” location of Springfield. Deliberately obscuring onscreen maps of the town’s surroundings, for example, or constantly changing directional references to geographical landmarks.
As he put it: “Our natural reaction is to mock our viewers for it. It’s that kind of disdainful customer service that has kept us on the air for 17 years.”
That, and the ambulance crash.
Part of the reason I started this blog and Fieldsedge.com was to not only share some of my own work, but that of my friend and photographer Jim Carchidi, who I’ve known for more than a decade now, and is also a grizzled veteran of the Orlando Sentinel composing room. Somehow, we both managed to find our way from the composing room into the actual journalism fields we had been aiming for in the first place, and even though I’ve been here in Ohio for seven years, and he’s still in Florida, we have teamed up on a few projects. Before the Star Wars Celebration III trip (you can see some of our coverage here, down at the bottom of the page, and I swear, I’m working on getting our web coverage archived, too), there was a series we did for the Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, where I got my first full-time reporting job. We covered the national F.I.R.S.T. robotics tournament one spring at Disney World in Orlando, which was a blast, too. And (fingers crossed) we should have some exciting publication news later this year. I’ve set up a photo album for Jim’s work – so far, it’s just some of his extra SW:C3 photos, but there’s more coming. (Ahem – that’s your cue, Jim…)
Wow. See, now this friggin’ rocks. Not just the tale of a visit to the Trinity test site , but the whole idea of this guy, Joshua Ellis, pursuing something he’d like to write about, and getting out there and doing it. I admire this to no end, and hope I can be doing projects like it in the not-too-distant future. As the guy in the Malt-O-Meal commercials used to say, "Good stuff, Maynard."
Over at Fieldsedge I put up a link with my resume on it, and it got me remembering all these stories I did that I hadn’t thought about in a long time: the time I flew in a C-130 plane from Ohio to Virginia to do a story about the 910th Airlift Wing spraying for mosquitos; or covering Korey Stringer‘s funeral in Warren; or finding myself in a hallway at the Cleveland I-X Center with only Mike Schmidt, Jim Kelly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Elway around. (Very surreal. And Elway had on the most bright lime-green dress shirt I’ve ever seen.)
You know, writing stories is a good gig. I like it.
So I’m working on getting more of my work ready to put on the website (not today, though), and it makes for an interesting trip backwards: poems and short stories I submitted to a then-brand-new magazine – something called Lacunae – more than a dozen years ago; remembering the first piece of fiction I ever sold ("Heading Home," August 6, 1995 issue of Florida magazine).
Aside from the writing, I find myself thinking of the composing room at The Orlando Sentinel, where I finally got my foot in the newspaper door after putzing around central Florida for a year after college. My job was to cut and paste stories and pictures and ads onto broadsheets, which would then be photographed and turned into the plates for the printing press. We used razor blades and hot wax and rollers, and sent the proofs of the pages up to the Editorial department through honest-to-God pneumatic tubes from our low-ceilinged, fluorescent lit room in the bowels of the Sentinel. It wasn’t hard work, but it did take a certain skill set, and come deadline time, as in just about every facet of newspapering, the pressure was on. We worked 4 to midnight in composing, and I worked with a fantastically twisted and goofy bunch of people, (Halloween night, we’d answer the phone "Decomposing!") some of whom I’m still in touch with, even though the composing room is a long, long gone memory, since page layout’s all done in the computers now.
That makes us the last generation of compositors who physically pasted the pages together, and I get a strange kick out of that notion.
Caught this blurb today: Nine Inch Nails is playing at Blossom Music Center this summer, doing a show with Bauhaus. It’s a hodgepodge multilayered flashback here, between what was going on in my life in general when I was introduced to those bands (freshman year of college) and very specific memories of a show at the Phantasy in Cleveland that year – April, 1990 - when my friend Erin and I borrowed a car, drove from Bowling Green to Lakewood, and saw NIN open for Peter Murphy. At that point, NIN was much more a regional draw, and I kept pointing out every natty-haired, leather-jacket-clad guy I saw and saying, "Look. There’s Trent Reznor."
So, after the show, we’re leaving, and Erin says, "Look. There’s Trent Reznor."
Good one, Erin, good one. Almost gotmebutholyCRAP it IS Trent Reznor, leaning up against a wall hanging out. So we say ‘hi,’ and he signs our ticket stubs (don’t ask, I lost it years ago), and then asks if we want to come to the after-party.
And I can’t believe this, but we say no, and it’s my fault, because I’m a total wuss and it’s already midnight and Erin and I both have 8 a.m. classes and I’ve got an exam the next morning and it’s a two and a half hour drive back to BG. On the bright side, we get to the car and find that I’ve left the headlights on, and we needed a jump, so if we HAD gone to the party, the battery would not only have been dead, but it probably would’ve been 3 or 4 a.m. and there certainly wouldn’t have been anyone around to give us a hand.
Yeah, that’s what I tell myself, even though it’s lame. Still, my wife Jenn and I will be at the grocery store sometimes, and see a checkout girl in her axle-grease-think eyeliner and purple-dyed hair and her Slipknot wristband and think, "She’s got no idea what we once were."
I actually saw Trent Reznor later that year, in line for the Blue Streak at Cedar Point – the people I’m with don’t recognize him, but I go up and say ‘hi’ anyway, and again, he’s pretty cheerful and ordinary, enjoying a summer day at the amusement park, which definitely doesn’t fit his musical persona, but there it is.
About a year ago, I had just started my new job and was getting ridiculously psyched about the Star Wars Celebration III convention in Indianapolis. (One has nothing to do with the other, though.) Anyway, it’s a good time to be looking back at those four days of sheer geekitude, which were supremely fantastic. Seriously: Over one 24 hour period, I talked to Lorne Peterson and Rick McCallum,bought lunch for General Grievous, and saw George Lucas. (Do I really need a link on that last one? Thought not.)
My friend & fellow journalist Jim Carchidi and I covered the whole thing for the Orlando Sentinel and its affiliated website, and to start a commemoration of the blast we had, I’ve posted the two-page spread the paper gave us in its print edition. It’s here and here. (Adobe Acrobat reader required.)