To Live and Drive in LA
After a recent crew dinner (production feeds us before the audience show), I retired to the “smoking lounge” behind the stage for a while -- three chairs and an ashtray up against a wall just outside the back door. It’s more than thirty years since I quit smoking, but the lounge is a nice place to relax and talk. Besides, I don’t mind an occasional whiff of cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke.
Maybe it reminds me of my youth, long departed and never to be seen again as I plummet into the dark abyss of extremely late middle-age...
Eventually a familiar subject arose -- the daily commute -- and the carping began as we compared the relative difficulty of our respective drives to and from work.
Being that she lives way the fuck out in Palmdale -- a parched, scorpion-infested desert community north of Los Angeles -- our Best Boy won the prize for the longest commute with a daily round-trip in excess of a hundred miles. It's far enough that when we work late with an early call the next morning, she'll often spend the night in town rather than settle for a scant four of five hours of sleep at home. The Gaffer resides in the Santa Clarita area -- half as far as Palmdale, but still a ways from the studio. My fellow juicer lives well south and east of downtown Los Angeles, which means he never has a good day going to and from work.
Compared to them, I have no complaints at all. My apartment in Hollywood -- crappy little Hell-hole that it is -- is a mere six mile jaunt over Laurel Canyon to the studio. Rush hour slows things down a bit, but in all but the worst traffic, I'm rarely on the road more than twenty minutes either way.
And that's in my car -- the ride is even quicker on the motorcycle.
The dimmer operator lives in his own special commuter hell on the West Side of Los Angeles. Venice is lovely by the sea, and not particularly far from the studio -- maybe twelve miles as the crow flies -- but a crow has the gift of wings, and thus doesn’t have to climb in a car to traverse the infamous 405 (AKA: the “San Diego Freeway”), one of the most crowded stretches of asphalt in the nation. As so many thousands of miserable commuters can attest, rush hour on the 405 is a clusterfuck of terminal gridlock -- a slow-motion automotive nightmare from which there is no escape. When we have an 8:00 a.m. call, then wrap at 5:30, our dimmer op has to grip the steering wheel for at least an hour and a half during that twenty mile drive... each way.
That’s three hours+ in a car just to get to work and back -- an ugly drive indeed.
As insane as this sounds, such commutes are fairly routine in Southern California. Public transportation here is a cruel joke, and rarely works for those of us in the film industry who toil such irregular and unpredictable hours. Besides, there are no train or subway routes between the Valley and the West Side, and if our dimmer op were to use LA's bus service, his commute time would double -- at least.
At one point during this group bleat, he admitted that he'd seriously considered moving to the Valley just to cut that commute time.
“But if I did that, this show will end and the next one would probably be at Sony,” he mused -- Sony Studios being a mere hop, skip, and jump from his apartment.
That’s the way it usually works -- if there’s a studio down the block, you’ll rarely get a call there. When your phone rings with a job call, you can bet it'll take you to the far side of town.
Does our Gaffer ever get a job at the studios out near Santa Clarita? No. Does my fellow juicer get calls to work at Raliegh Studios in Manhattan Beach, which would be a nice easy drive for him? Of course not. I live less than three miles from Paramount, but it’s been more than ten years since I got a call to work there.* The dimmer op did have a gig at Sony on a pilot we did five years ago -- but that was only a three week job, and he hasn't been back since. Instead, he’s been making the brutal commute to and from the Valley, day after day, week after week, season after season.
The Gods of Hollywood are cruel deities indeed, taking great pleasure in testing us, pushing us, and making our lives ever more difficult.
It's not just below-the-liners who suffer, either. As Rob Long noted in a recent Martini Shot commentary, there’s no winning this battle for anybody in the business, from grips to actors. The Gods of Hollywood can always find a way to make you pay -- and should you try to escape, they'll come after you.
Resistance is futile…
In other news, the votes are in. No, I’m not talking about yesterday’s dog-and-pony-show exercise in electoral
futility politics, but the question posed in last weeks JFTHOI post: should the white-print-on-black-background color scheme be changed to something easier on the eyes?
The electoral consensus: “We like it this way, so leave it as is.” Not that any pundit would call this a “wave election,” mind you -- the turnout being represented by five readers and one fellow industry blogger who took the time to respond (and I thank every one of you who made your voice heard) -- but with only one dissenting vote, the winner is clear.
For the time being, the blog will remain as it’s been.
Which, truth be told, is a relief -- now I won’t have to spin my wheels trying to decide exactly how far to go in modifying the visual format. I work hard on set and at this keyboard, but deep down I’m one lazy bastard when left to my own devices. Besides, one of those six voters had a useful suggestion for anyone suffering eye-strain with the current layout. As something of a digiliterate, I’d never heard of “Evernote,” but apparently it will convert whatever web page you’re viewing to a more user-friendly format.
As the reader put it: “You can right-click the page, (then) click “clearly” and it gives you a nice clean sidebar and other distraction-free reader, with black and off-white text by default.”
Those who read this blog on their computers can cut-and-paste any of these posts into a word processing file (MS Word or Pages work equally well), which will convert the page back to the familiar black-text-on-white background. I don't suppose that would help readers who visit here via smart phones, but maybe that's where something like Evernote would prove useful.
It's your choice -- and hey, aren't elections and Freedom of Choice what America is all about?