Friday morning, show day. With a 10 a.m. call, I get to march to my own drummer starting off this work day. Rather than stumbling bleary-eyed from the warm bed at 5 a.m., I arise at a civilized hour, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and take my own sweet time heading for the car. By the time I hit the road, cube farms all over LA are already humming with over-caffeinated suit-and-tie lemmings running hard and fast in their little rolling cages under the harsh glow of fluorescent lights. The morning rush hour is over, leaving Laurel Canyon wide open going my way, allowing for a relaxing drive under dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. The frenetic morning jabber from the radio is quieter now –- less talk, more music -- and the tunes are great this morning. Halfway up to Mulholland Drive, a wonderful old Santana song pours from the speakers like warm honey, stirring dusty memories from my young and hungry adolescence.
"Oye como va, mi ritmo
Bueno pa' gozar, mulata..."
Windows down to inhale the crisp morning air, I nod to the familiar pulsating beat as Carlos Santana works his magic on the guitar. I look around at the trees passing by, the tawny dry grass on the hillsides above, and from the houses in between, an occasional splash of bougainvillea spilling a brilliant crimson, pink, or purple across a red tile roof, down white stucco walls. With a hint of Fall in the air, this is a gorgeous morning here in LA, and one of those special moments when everything just feels right. It's a good day to be alive.
Hear how my rhythm goes,
It’s good to enjoy, mulata...*
On a morning like this, I'm glad I came to Hollywood so long ago to work in this crazy, wonderful, and occasionally infuriating business. I hit green lights all the way up the canyon – including the traffic light at Mulholland, which is always red -- then glide down into the San Fernando Valley under a big blue sky. Inside the studio gates, I unlock my bicycle and pedal across the lot. Red lights flash outside many of the stages, a universal signal throughout the Industry that filming is underway. The elephant door is open on my show's stage, where some of the early-arriving crew are already dishing up breakfast from the waiting steam tables. The atmosphere is relaxed all around. We pre-shot enough scenes the day before that with any luck at all, we’ll finish the live audience show early tonight. Due to a unique set of circumstances this week – nothing to wrap for a change – we’ll be able to walk away shortly after the audience files out. Ten minutes of cleaning up and making everything safe will be a welcome respite from the usual two hours of hard, sweaty post-show labor.
As an added bonus, we have a great director this week, a man who knows what he’s doing and how to have a good time along the way. There's no yelling or tension on set with this man at the helm. A director like that makes all the difference in the world, and we’re lucky to have him.
With that Santana song still echoing in my head, I move to its smooth, undulating rhythm all day long. The rehearsals go well as we fine-tune each scene on into the afternoon. We break for lunch early, almost two hours before the show. No muss, no fuss, no stress. Once we start filming, the show goes well, the audience laughing hard, the actors having fun.
There’s a reason for the good vibes all around. Closing in on our last of the ten scheduled episodes, the network picked us up for an additional four. Our numbers started out good for a cable show, and have held up thus far. Given that we all faced imminent unemployment at a very awkward time (with all the new season shows fully crewed up and well underway), this is a welcome reprieve. Rather than being left high and dry in the metaphorical desert by a “next gas 200 miles” sign – watching all the other caravans leaving dust trails in the far distance – we’ll get at least another solid month of work on this one. It won’t take us all the way to Christmas, but everybody on the crew is happy at the promise of another month’s worth of paychecks before we all sign up for unemployment checks.
And if we keep getting good numbers, who knows what might happen? Anything's possible in this crazy business. As difficult as the freelance life in Hollywood can be, sometimes you fall into a nice easy groove and get on a roll. It's important to open your eyes and appreciate the moment when that happens, because there's only one thing anybody can really be sure of -- it's not gonna last.
Oye como va...
* For several less literal (and earthier) variations on this translation, click here