We don’t go to the movies very often but when I stumbled on a story in the New York Times about “La La Land,” I became obsessed with it. I sought out and read everything I could find related to the film and watched the trailer and any other videos that offered interviews with the director, choreographer and stars. I really can’t remember the last, or first time, this happened to me.
You see, I was brought up in New York City where Broadway musicals were as much a part of our family’s life as joining my friends on the corner, or at a bench on the street, quoting “Bye Bye Birdie” or making believe we were Jets or Sharks from “West Side Story.” We didn’t actually attend that many shows, but we certainly owned every cast album and played the grooves off them. To this day I believe I could sing, or at least recite, the words to every song from “Fiddler on the Roof,” to “Cabaret” to “Camelot” to “Funny Girl” and of course, “West Side Story.”
Now there would be a modern musical that takes place in my second favorite town, Los Angeles and tells the story of an aspiring actress getting nowhere fast and a frustrated jazz musician who clings to tradition, but realizes there’s no money in pining for the past. Of course, they sing a little, dance a little and fall in love, all in beautifully shot scenes. They hit a bump in the road, as happens in all romantic comedies, sing about it, of course, But that’s where things diverge from the usual formula. I’ll stop there since I wouldn’t dare spoil it for anyone yet to see the film. What I will say is you will be left instantly thinking about your life’s choices, opportunities missed, chances taken, honesty and unselfishness and relationships.
I’ve certainly had a crazy career in broadcasting, journalism and corporate communications, but I know I survived all these years by taking chances, saying “yes” first and figuring it out later, never losing confidence in myself and above all, having the constant support of my family. I always taught my kids the word “can’t” doesn’t exist and I live by it. When you say “can’t” you’re really saying “I won’t” which means you never will.
The characters played convincingly by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were at crossroads in their lives and careers and had difficult choices to be made, all while singing and dancing. Sometimes our goals need to be altered to reflect reality and our changing priorities. Sometimes our dreams just lead us to other places.
I’m semi-retired now but I still have dreams and goals because every moment represents the future. Why waste it? I just promise not to muck it up by singing and dancing.
I’m afraid I didn’t get to see any of the films nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, but was able to view incredibly cheap, but wildly entertaining alternate versions of those big budget movies that deserve some recognition.
1-A young student who is incredibly clumsy is given a chance to play the drums in the school jazz band. Indeed, the band is so bad the students call it the Spazz Band. Our young drummer fits right in and repeatedly misses the cymbals with his drumsticks and ends up with deep cuts on his hands. The film’s title: “Whipgash.”
2-A actual seal, adopted by the crew of an aircraft carrier, ends up to be an incredibly effective assailant, showing uncommon speed and accuracy in biting the butts of Naval officers targeted by put upon Navy seamen. When the carrier reaches its home port, the seal finds it cannot put the fight against uptight officers behind it and attempts to enlist on a destroyer bound for Sausalito to fight Marin County vegans. The film’s title: “American Flipper.”
3-A washed up actor attempts to revive his career with a risky plan to stage non-stop reenactments of the duel that killed Alexander Hamilton. The film’s title: “Burr Man.”
4-The concierge of the most expensive hotel in Akron not only provides sexual services for the clientele, he kills them, then, in an act of extreme chivalry, embalms and buries his victims. The film’s title: “The Grand Put To Rest Hotel.”
5-The British intelligence agency hires a code breaker who speaks only in Morse Code. The man’s constant “dihs” and “dahs” get on everyone’s nerves even though he’s a genius at deciphering messages from the enemy. Sadly, he’s bounced from the service when it’s revealed he also knows all the words to “It’s a Small World After All” in Navajo. The film’s title: “The Irritation Game.”
You may not have heard of them…until this very moment. But I assure they’ll be on the film festival circuit in enlightened cities and towns around the world…that still have Blockbuster stores.
It was somewhere over Iowa that I started paying attention to the screen in front of me showing my flight’s location. At what point, I wondered, did we enter “flyover” territory–the fairly arrogant term East/West coasters use for the area of the country between the coasts you wouldn’t think of actually landing, and, golly, find something worthy of their sophistication to do.
So having several hours to kill before landing in San Francisco I started thinking about the nation’s midsection and what I might have missed had I always flown over, and never landed in it.
Permit me a fond recollection that dates back to 1974. I had never seen the Mississippi River, or any place actually, west of Buffalo. My wife had seen it all. I had a week off from my $1.85/hour radio DJ job in Fulton, NY. This would be our first vacation since our wedding in September, 1973 and I asked my wife if we could drive to the Mighty Mississippi and back in a week. She assured me we could.
We hit the road and in short order I got my first glimpse of Ohio and the great city of Cleveland. I had hair that reflected the times and my age and the clerk at the first motel we attempted to stay in promptly refused me on the grounds that I looked like a creep.
After finding a more open-minded hotelier we hit Columbus, Cincinnati, and Louisville in short order. No money or time to do much so we quickly drove around Churchill Downs wondering what it would be like to attend the Kentucky Derby. From there we crossed into Indiana and became hopelessly lost. Somehow we ended up in Tell City, IN, then Hawesville, KY. A strong wind across the flat farmlands promptly blew my side view mirror off our awesome white Rambler. Eventually we found our way and the great Gateway Arch poked its apex over the horizon, providing a prominent trailmarker to our destination, and feeling almost weepy at seeing the Mississippi at last as we crossed into St. Louis.
We again faced the challenge of finding lodging, only this time it was due to a long parade of “no vacancy” signs. A room was finally secured at a high rise in suburban Clayton where we dumped our things and headed back to town to catch a Cardinals game in what was then, the modern, total ’70’s circle, Busch Stadium. They were playing the hated Reds and we saw Pete Rose, whom 16 years later, would slam me into a wall when I asked him a tough question just before he was bounced from baseball.
As I mentioned, we had little money, so we took the first tour of the Budweiser brewery the next morning and slurped as much free swill as we could before moving on to Illinois where we made surgical strikes in Springfield to see Abe Lincoln’s grave and Chicago where we drove around the Loop and headed back east.
We noticed the Kelloggs factory in Battle Creek, MI was an easy detour off the Indiana Toll road and guessed, correctly, they’d give us free cereal. Sure enough, “Request Packs” was given to us after a fascinating tour watching Corn Flakes made by mashing corn grits to smithereens between two gigantic rollers.
Then it was the home stretch back to Oswego, NY where we lived, via Detroit, Canada and Niagara Falls, where we pulled up to parking space, looked over at the falling water and got back in the car because we had no coins for the parking meters.
After a lifetime, to that point, of being a fairly sheltered New Yorker who thought the western border of the U.S. was the Hudson River and nothing north of the Catskill Mountains matter, it was a geographic and cultural coming of age for me. From that day on, I appreciated what lay between the coasts, the marvel of the Rocky’s, the kindness of the people, the variety of the vittles, and the cornucopia of customs and routines. As a reporter I covered everything from natural disasters, plane crashes, trials, politics, crimes, sports, most times meeting people who opened my eyes to points of view, to courage, to mystery, to incredible sadness and misery, music, humor, triumph and joy.
Flyover country? Not at all. That IS the country.