Making Movies

My first exposure to movie making was in May of 1982, when Baby, It’s You spent a couple of days shooting at my high school. They spent long hours setting up a scene, filming for a few minutes, and then returning back to setting the scene up again. I saw them spend most of a day shooting a character named The Sheik drive up and stop his car; I also saw them spend a couple of days in the Abbott Dining Hall filming a scene with two characters talking over a meal. I remember part of their dialog was commenting about some guy who wore socks to bed. In the end, those two scenes lasted no more than a handful of seconds in the movie.

Rosanna ArquetteRosanna Arquette But, in between takes, some of us who hung around the set did get to meet Rosanna Arquette, who had the lead in the movie.

I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of a very young Rosanna, who was 23 at the time, and in these pictures.

A school mate of mine managed to discomfort everyone present by telling her that he had seen her naked in the movie S. O. B. She was embarrassed, and the rest of us were very horrifiedly silent.

Many years later, probably around 1998 or 1999, Joan and I decided to head down to PPG Place to see what we could see for the filming of Inspector Gadget. Unlike the shoot at my high school, there was a cordon around the Inspector Gadget set. After standing around for several hours, and not seeing a lot of action going on, we left. Once again, for the many hours of work on that one scene, it lasted just a handful of seconds in the movie.

So I am very aware that being on a movie set is largely long and boring, with lots of sitting around waiting for those few minutes of actual shooting, and even after hours and days of filming, the final product of all that work and effort may very well be left on the cutting room floor, or may last just an eye blink on the screen.

Now, Magnus Rex

Somewhat behind the curve, Sue and I decided on a whim to show up on June 19, the very last day of extras casting for the movie filming under the production name of Magnus Rex. We stood in line for about an hour until it was our turn to be ushered in. We listened to the casting agent explain the process, filled out paperwork, and had head shots taken.

A couple of weeks after the open casting call, I was notified by the casting company that I had been selected to be an extra in the movie. In the following week, I had been fitted for a wardrobe, and they gave me a free haircut. I was also pleasantly surprised to receive a small paycheck for my time at the fitting. So now I find myself being a part of the largest movie ever to be shot in Pittsburgh.



Halocline swimming


The speed of light is the absolute fastest limit that anything can travel in our universe. Its speed is assigned the constant c, as in Einstein’s E=mc^2 fame. Its declared speed of 186,282 miles per second is achievable only in the empty vacuum of space. Any medium through which light passes will slow down its velocity; some enterprising and possibly bored scientists have in fact managed to slow light down to 38 miles per hour by beaming it through a cloud of super cold sodium vapor. The ratio of c to the velocity at which light travels in a transparent medium known as its refractive index. This index of refraction is also an indication of how much the propogation direction of light changes as it enters or exits a transmission medium. This can be seen in the everyday phenomena of dipping a broom stick into a swimming pool and having the broom stick appear to bend at an angle as it enters into the water. This refractive property of transparent materials gives us lenses that bend light allowing the construction of microscopes and telescopes. All this theory is most easily summed up as light changes speed and direction as it enters and exits different materials.


Things that are less dense float above things that are more dense. Fresh water can float on top of sea water because the salt in the sea water has brine denser. That is why you float easier in sea water than in fresh water. The cenotes along the Riviera Maya peninsula discharge enough freshwater into the Caribbean Sea to visibly affect the salinity of  the seawater. On calm days, when the outflow from the karst formations is not induced by wave action to mix with the sea water, the freshwater stratifies itself above the denser seawater. The boundary layer between the salty seawater and the less salty freshwater is called a halocline. Ironically, and contrary to scuba divers’ experience, the thermocline at this salinity boundary is reversed with the solar warmed seawater lying below the cool waters just discharged from the sunless cenotes.


Some two and a half feet below the surface of the Caribbean Sea at Tankah Bay, Mexico lies the undulating boundary between saltwater and freshwater. This boundary is visible as shimmering layer of water, similar to what cooking oil floating on top of water in a container might look like. This halocline is visible due to the different refractive indices of saltwater and freshwater.

Swimming on the surface, the submerged halocline can be seen as a glassy underwater layer, wavy like antique window panes before the perfection of modern flat glass manufacturing technique of floating molten glass on top of a sheet of melted, liquid tin. The visibility of the halocline is due to its refractive properties and how light bends as it crosses the freshwater to saltwater boundary.  Since the halocline was relatively shallow, it was easy to dip a hand or arm through the boundary layer while finning along on the surface, resulting in a visible plume of disturbed saltwater, like a cloud of fine dust kicked up by a car driving on a rural dirt road. Both the temperature and salinity differences stayed distinct within the region of disturbed water and did not homogenize, leading to an effect of veins of saltwater wrapped around veins of freshwater, forming a visual cloud of waters having two different refractive indices. Diving through the halocline resulted in being surrounded by an indistinct cloud of the disturbed halocline waters. Within the cloud, being made up of a weave of tendrils of different refractive indices, it was impossible for eyes to focus. It was very much like a dive mask fogging up completely. Actually, the first couple of times this happened to me, and before I realized what was going on, I did think that my mask had fogged up or somehow suffered a failure of some sort.

Drifting within the cloud, and concentrating on focusing and making sense of the visual field, the impression was that the cloud was made up of a grid of whorls of haloclines. It was actually somewhat indescribable. Only the limits of my breath holding capacity forced me to come up from this submerged playground.

This was a most unexpected, and most unique swimming experience, and I spent much time playing with the halocline boundary layer, just to watch the almost magical show that would emerge.

The Lesson

We were driving back north to the airport to pick up the last member of our vacation group, who having a prior and unbreakable commitment had to arrive a day later than the rest of us. The drive was easy, the highways in this part of Latin America being constructed mostly in completely straight lines cut through the jungle. The transitos were out in force, and we saw numerous vehicles pulled over by these traffic police, so Mike, who was doing the driving, kept to the ever changing posted speed limit and  drove conservatively. Adding somewhat to our jumpiness were the numerous roadside assistance utility trucks, which provided free assistance for broken down vehicles. These roadside assistance trucks were painted in the same color scheme as the transito pickup trucks and included the same red and blue light bar used by the police. The only way to distinguish the utility trucks from the transito trucks were words painted on the side of the truck, whether it said assistance vehicle or police vehicle.

With three-quarters of our driving distance covered, and still obeying the speed limit, we noticed a southbound transito truck effect a drastic stop past his U-turn access, back up on the highway into his oncoming traffic, take the U-turn, sped up to catch up to us, pulled alongside our vehicle, and motioned that Mike’s seat belt wasn’t on, then he pulled us over. At this point, we were pretty certain that this was a phoney traffic stop whose purpose was to solicit a bribe because there was no way the transito could have seen the state of our seat belts from across highway divided by a generous green space while driving at speed.

The transito approached and greeted us, “hola.”

We responded in kind, “hola.”

“You speak Spanish?”


His face showed some slight disappointment that we barely spoke Spanish. “My English not so good.”

We volunteered, “our Spanish is not so good.”

He then asked us where we were from. We told him Pennsylvania. He responded with “Pennsylvania? Mmm, chica…” while pantomiming the hour-glass female shape with his hands. We thought it wise to agree with him, so we smiled broadly with injections of much appreciative “si, si.”

He then questioned us where we were going. We told him that we were going to the airport; that we were going there to pick up a friend who was arriving, indirectly letting him know that that we weren’t necessarily on a tight schedule and that he wouldn’t have us over a barrel since we didn’t have a flight boarding deadline.

Neil, whom we were going to pick up at the airport, took this inopportune time to call up on the mobile phone. I motioned to the transito that the phone was ringing, hoping that he understood my hand signals that I was telling him that I wasn’t armed, and that I was reaching into my pocket to answer a mobile phone.

“Hi Neil. Can’t talk now. We’re pulled over on the side of the highway making the acquaintance of a very nice policeman. I’ll call you back. Bye.”

Hearing this exchange, the transito complimented me, “your English, very good.” He might never have heard an Asian speak English before, so this could very well have been an eye-opener for him. For all I know, he may have never heard an Asian speak at all before. I thanked him and added that “my Spanish, not so good.”

By now, this meet-and-greet had gone on for several minutes in a hodge-podge of broken Spanish and English. Our initial apprehension had now given away to mild amusement, and I was beginning to wonder when the bribing part was going to commence and how it would be broached.

The transito requested, “your license.” Mike took out his license, and handed it to the transito. He took a cursory glance at it, and then made hand signals of a person walking, and gave commentary, “you tomorrow, must walk, must go to station to pay ticket.”

“We have to walk where?”

“Tomorrow, you pay ticket.”

“We have to pay ticket? Tomorrow, we go?”

“Yes, ticket. Or if you no want, you can pay now.”

“Oh, we can pay now? How much is the ticket now?”

He pondered a moment, and thoughtfully asked us if we wanted the cost in the local currency or US dollars.


He though a moment more, then took out a pen and wrote a number on his palm and showed us: 150.

“Wow, that’s a really expensive ticket,”  and we hesitated as Mike and I gave each other mock concerned looks.

He then opened an avenue for us by asking, “in your home, how much seat belt ticket?”

Well, that’s a mighty fine question. I didn’t know the answer and neither did Mike, but that’s not important. In the previous year, Mike had been pulled over at 3 o’clock in the morning driving up to the airport to catch a plane. Being a debutant at his first bribery outing and somewhat in a pickle to get to the airport for his flight, Mike failed to negotiate and acquiesced to the opening demand of one hundred US cash dollars. After getting to the airport following his encounter, he called us to inform us that he got fleeced on the highway. We in turn consulted Antonio, a local we knew, and he emphatically declared, “you never pay more than forty dollars.” So, the answer to the transito’s question was not how much such a ticket would cost back home, but rather what we considered was equitable, what we were willing to pay as the bribe, and thus the starting point of haggling.

Mike and I looked at each other assuredly, and with much nodding of our heads we both simultaneously blurted out, “not that much, maybe twenty or thirty dollars,” agreeing with each other, then we both looked with innocent eyes back at the transito.

He nodded almost sympathetically, not so much in agreement with us but more of an acknowledgement, as if he himself was sorry for the inequities of the differing penalty amounts between our two countries. He returned his pen and attention to his palm and wrote down a counter-offer, and showed us the revised number: 50.

Mike and I started jabbering amongst ourselves, the gist of it basically came out to that it was still kind of expensive, and the we didn’t have that much money on us, so we raised our offer to forty dollars, which it seemed was acceptable to him, because he iterated the expectations and parameters of this roadside transaction by itemizing, “no ticket, no receipt, forty dollars.” And so it was agreed.

Still trying to work the price down a bit more, albeit belatedly at this juncture, Mike pulled out thirty dollars making a big show of how meager his wallet was and passed the money to me to hand to the transito who had at the onset had approached on my passenger side of the vehicle. I handed the money to him through the open window, which inexplicably took him aback a little bit. He pushed the money back into my hands, and taught me to keep the money low and below the bottom edge of the window whenever possible, and the actual handover was to be done discretely. Having been instructed of bribery etiquette, I handed the money to him again, this time making sure to follow protocol by keeping the money low and out of casual sight.

He looked at the thirty dollars  in his hands and made signs that this was not the agreed upon amount. So Mike went back into his wallet looking through all the dividers and managed to pull out another five, which he handed to me, for me to pass on in the prescribed manner. The transito stood with an expectant look, waiting for the final missing five dollars. With much showmanship, Mike made it seem like a miracle that he was able to find the last five single dollar bills in his wallet, which he pulled out individually with flourish. Having received the full sum of the negotiated amount, the transito was much happy again.

One more piece of learning he wanted to import to us: “cajer.” His hand actions indicated a card being inserted into a slot. “Cajer dollar.”

We were beginning to get the idea that he was telling us that we should use our bank cards to get more money for our wallets. We thanked him for his advice, “yes, we will; at the airport.” The mention of the airport seemed to remind him that our friend had just landed at the airport, so waved us on to hurry to the airport so that we wouldn’t be too late picking up our friend.

I must say that as traffic stops go, both legal and not so legal, this one was the most informative: we received both teachings and advice, and I was personally complimented for my command of the English language, and all this was made possible by a most friendly and affable policeman.

Diving in Bonaire

There’s a backcountry skiing culture that can be seen on the traverse over the Continental Divide in Colorado. At intervals along Loveland Pass, parked in clusters along the lonely mountain road are cars, vans, and trucks, seemingly abandoned with no signs of the occupants, and no establishments for their patronage to explain the absence of the vehicle occupants.

The practice of skiing in the backcountry at Loveland Pass is to pull over at a spot having access to a skiable slope of the Divide, and hop on the slope from the side of the road. At the bottom of the ski run, the skiers will either hitchhike or have a friend with a vehicle to ferry the skiers back to the top of the mountain.

There’s an outlaw, renegade air about parking at where your heart desires, and just hopping off the side of the road and making a ski run down the side of an unmaintained, public mountain slope.

Such was the diving in Bonaire. Most of the named dive spots lining the divable western side of Bonaire island are accessible as shore dives. Along the roads that run along the undeveloped coastline can be seen pockets of pickup trucks seemingly abandoned on the many crushed coral beaches. The trucks being well worn, with spots of rust lent the scene that lawless feel.

Trucks on the beach, ready to dive
Parked on the beach and ready to dive

Being divers ourselves, we followed the local custom of dumping our rental pickup truck wherever there was a dive spot, then donning our scuba gear and wading into the surf to dive, leaving our trucks on the beach unmanned, unlocked, and with the windows open. We had been warned, and there were stickers in the cars requesting “Divers/snorkelers! Help prevent break-ins. Leave your windows down and doors unlocked! Do not leave valuables in car.”

My first real dive in Bonaire, not including the check-out, shake-down dive at the dive resort’s house reef, was Oil Slick Leap. As an introduction to diving in Bonaire, it was unparalleled. Access to the water was both easy and dramatic. After parking in the parking area, it was a short walk to the edge of the island, followed by an eight foot jump into the water; a ladder was permanently affixed conveniently nearby for coming back to land.

Bonaire diving was uniformly good. Great visibility in warm waters with no perceptible thermocline. It is widely known for its abundance and variety of sea-life. Southern dives are characterized by a double reef, whereas dives on the northern end of the island had just a single reef wall. Almost all the dives there followed the same prototype: a shallow rocky, sandy shelf extending anywhere from ten to over a hundred meters from shore, followed by a reef wall that bottomed out at at depth of about thirty feet. On the double reefs, the sandy bottom between the two parallel lines of reefs have a depth of a little over a hundred feet; at the drop-off of the outside reef, the wall could go down to over five hundred and fifty feet.

While most of the diving was similar in nature to each other, two stand out: the two hundred and forty feet length Hilma Hooker wreck, and the Salt Pier night dive.

Mast of Hilma Hooker
Mast of the Hilma Hooker wreck

Hilma Hooker‘s demise in Bonairean waters occurred in the summer of 1984 when she docked at the Town Pier with rudder troubles. Suspicions were raised when her captain was unable to produce her registration papers. She was boarded and discovered to be carrying 25,000 pounds of marijuana hidden behind false bulkheads. The crew was detained and the ship was held as evidence while the authorities attempted to locate the ship’s owners, who understandably never stepped forward to reclaim her. The ship, due to her poor upkeep, soon began to take on water. Fearful that the ship would sink at the main dock disrupting maritime traffic, she was towed and anchored at the Southern part of the island. On 7 September, 1984, the ingress of water overwhelmed the pumps, and she sank in about one hundred feet of water, coming to rest on her starboard side. Unlike intentionally sunk ships that are more correctly called artificial reefs, and which have been stripped and meticulously cleaned to prevent its polluting the environment, the Hilma Hooker is considered a true ship wreck, because with the exception of its illicit cargo, all of her contents had been left in place since the vessel was considered evidence in a developing criminal case. The Hilma Hooker is regarded as a leading wreck dive site in the Carribbean.

Possibly the most spectacular dive experience on Bonaire is the Salt Pier night dive.

Salt Pier
The Salt Pier in the day

The pier is constructed off-shore, forming the end of a conveyor belt that loads salt from the on-shore evaporation ponds to ships moored at the pier. Both the salt works and the pier are owned by Cargill; permission is needed from Cargill to dive the pier, and only when there are no ships moored at the pier; a local divemaster is required to guide all dives at the Salt Pier, which we arranged through our resort. On the night of our dive, we gathered at sunset the resort to meet our dive guide, only to be told that for whatever reasons, and despite repeated assurances from Cargill, the ship docked at the pier still hadn’t left, and wouldn’t leave, so our dive had to be canceled. Our pent up anticipation having been dampened by our disappointment, we nevertheless decided to head out and do a couple of night dives on our own since our dive gear was already loaded on the trucks. We went to a dive site called The Lake, doing the usual ditch the truck on the beach routine, and additionally setting up shore strobes so that we could find our way back to our ingress site at the end of the dive. After the dive at The Lake, half the group wanted to do a second dive; I belonged in the other half of the group who didn’t want to do another night dive. We moved our vehicles up to another dive site that was opposite the airport, and we non-divers promised the diving group that we’d baby-sit the beer, and we assured them that there’d still be beer when they returned. They looked at us suspiciously.

Unlike all the other dive sites we had previously visited, there was no beach parking at this site. We were just pulled over by the side of the road. It was a wonderful night to be sitting out with a beer in hand: the skies were clear, the weather was warm, and there wasn’t much traffic on the road. Being opposite the airport, every once in a while, an incoming plane with its landing lights cutting through the dark would fly its final approach right above our heads to land on the runway that was on the other side of the road alongside which we were parked. The planes weren’t quite as low as the ones at the Princess Juliana airport on St. Maarten, but it felt plenty close enough for us to get a thrill out of being directly under a plane that was to touch down just a few seconds after passing overhead.

A ray on the Salt Pier night dive
A ray seen on the Salt Pier night dive

The moored ship left the next day, and we did manage to get to do our Salt Pier night dive, which turned out to be one of the most unique dives that I’ve done. The lights on the pier had been kept on, and they blazed in the warm Bonairan night, giving us bands of shimmering illumination and shadows as we swam under the pier. Because the pier pilings were canted with a wider base and meeting at a narrower apex, the experience was like diving within the arches of a shadowy, underwater cathedral. While the other dives were characterized by swimming and covering distance and seeing as much of the reef as possible, the Salt Pier dive was marked by a desire to just staying within the confines of the pier, seeing the sea-life wend their way through the pilings, and watching the play of lights as they shone from the surface through the gentle waves and through the legs of the pier. The Salt Pier night dive would certainly go down as one of the more unforgettable dives for its uniqueness.

A most horrible weekend

The night of Friday, 5 February 2010 was the start of the biggest snow storm of the season. In the first night and day of snowing, over twenty-one inches fell.

That was also the weekend I had a ski patrol duty shift, with my patrol shift to start early Saturday morning. Rather than rush the drive up through the snow on Saturday morning, I decided to head off to the ski resort at my own pace on Friday night and spend the night at the shared cabin I rent close to the resort.

I spent the early part of Friday evening with friends at the Wine Loft. By 10pm, I was in my car with the heat turned up, driving in shirt sleeves having taken off my winter coat for comfort, and with satellite radio tuned onto a New Wave channel.  The snow by this point was already thick and heavy on the roads, coming down faster than the road crews could plow and clear the roads. The drive was a white knuckle affair: the thickness of the falling snow made seeing the road lanes and edges impossible. The usually one hour journey took twice as long, and it was near midnight as I neared the resort.

The cabin was uphill on an unpaved dirt track that turned off from the main road to the ski resort. Halfway up the dirt access road was a sharp right hand turn. At the apex of the turn was a truck stuck in the snow on the outside curve, which meant that I had to cut the right hand bend close and tight to the inside curve, resulting in my car sliding sideways into the snow bank and ending up well stuck. No amount of rocking the car with quick first gear and reverse gear changes budged it free.

My immediate plans was to hop out of the car, kick away some snow from around the wheels to clear my way, and my four wheel drive will just power itself out of its predicament. Being on an inclined road with the car facing uphill, gravity swung my car door shut as I exited. I did my 360 around the car tramping down and kicking snow away. On my return to the driver side door, I discovered that in my scramble to climb out of my uphill and sideways leaning car, I must have inadvertently engaged the door lock button, and now my car was completely locked, with the engine still running. My winter coat which I taken off for the drive was nice and toasty warm on the passenger seat along with my cell phone that I had left plugged into the charger; both so close by yet completely out of my reach. Meanwhile, the happy, chirpy tunes of 80’s New Wave continued to play on the satellite radio, oblivious that I was at this point neither happy, nor chirpy, nor there to appreciate the music.

My sense of disbelief at seeing my keychain with all my keys hanging from the ignition switch could have been considered comical if not for the midnight cold of winter and unceasing snow. A few minutes of dismay later, and after having done a walk-around to confirm that all doors and hatchback to my car were truly, irrevocably locked, I made up my mind that it was better to leave my car and to trudge up the rest of the hill to my cabin where at least I wouldn’t freeze to death. The parking lot in front of my cabin hadn’t been plowed, and was packed with knee deep snow; I know because I that’s how high the snow came to on me as I struggled through to reach my cabin. Without my keys, I hopefully gave the door handle a turn, and bless my cabin mates for leaving the front door unlocked when they went to bed.

I rummaged around the cabin until I found a coat hanger, which I thought I could fashion into some sort of  a tool that I could slide into the passenger compartment to push on the unlock lever. I also found a ski parka with a pair of gloves in the living room, and a pair of ski pants hanging on a wall peg in the upstairs hallway. I helped myself to all three. I suppose I must have made a bit of racket ransacking the cabin the way I did, because Barb woke up and came downstairs to investigate, finding me trying to get into her ski pants. I apologized and said I didn’t know to whom the jacket and pants belonged, but I had locked myself out of my still running car with everything in it and I needed to get back to try unlocking it. She understood, but told me that I had to get her clothes back to her by 6am, which was when she had to go to work.

Fearing less the cold, I struggled back through the snow to my car, which on approaching was a beacon of headlights piercing through the snow and steam, and sounding like a cheap dance club with tinny music emanating through the door panels. In the 1am hour of the morning, it was just too dark by the dashboard light to make out any landmarks inside the car, and it was impossible to visually guide the coat hook to any target in the vehicle interior.  Utterly cold, defeated, and miserable, I returned back to the cabin, went to my room, and crawled into my bed.

Sleep came fitfully, with bad dreams waking me up, and disturbing thoughts keeping me awake: would my car overheat and set itself on fire because its was bound in snow and no longer had any meaningful air movement through the engine compartment? Would it run out of gas, then with the heater, radio, and headlights running, proceed to draining the battery? Some lay-in-the-dark mental math had me figuring out that I know I could make it from Pittsburgh to DC on a full tank of gas with a comfortable enough margin to spare that I could drive out of the district before I had to refuel, so I knew that a full tank of gas would last at least four hours of driving at highway speeds with the engine revving around six thousand RPMs. I had filled up the tank just before driving out from Pittsburgh, and I remembered that when I was locked out of my car at midnight, there was over three-quarters tank of gas in the car, which gave me some cold comfort that at idle speed, the three-quarter tank of gas should last at least eight to twelve hours: long enough for the sun to rise, and for me to get back on the task of unlocking my car.

Unable to sleep, I decided at 4am that perhaps if I had a larger gauge of coat hanger, I might have better luck with trying to spring the door lock. So once again I went about borrowing coat, ski pants, and gloves, and battling the snow to my car. This second iteration of trying to unlock my car was just as unsuccessful as the earlier attempt. Back in the cabin, I wrote up two notes, placing one on the front door and the other on Barb’s glove making sure that she would not miss seeing my notes, which asked her that if she was headed up to the ski resort, could she wake me up and give me a ride.

Shortly before 6am, she knocked on my room door to tell me that she was indeed heading to the resort, and could give me a ride. Over quick morning shots of coffee in the kitchen, she said that she had an extra jacket in the car that I could wear in the car so I wouldn’t get cold in the short drive up to the resort. Since our cabin’s parking lot was inaccessible to vehicles due to the snow packed into it, she had parked her car at a pull-off about fifty yards up the access road. She came up with suggestion that I would give her a five minute head start so that by the time I followed and got to her car, she would have it unlocked, ready, and warmed up, which sounded like a capital plan to me.

After the appointed five minute head start, I dashed out of the cabin and followed her footprints, deeply indented into the untouched overnight snowfall which had all but filled in and covered any signs of my tramping about in the dark earlier that morning. When I made it to Barb’s car, she had indeed started the engine, but all doors were open, and she was shoveling out of her car.

“I don’t know how it happened,” she said as I approached. “I must have left the passenger side window open all night. There’s snow all over the inside of the car.” I tried hard not to laugh, which turned out rather easily accomplished since I was more preoccupied with shivering. She ducked into her car, and came out with her spare jacket: it was pink leather, and the sleeves were slightly too short for me. And I had trouble figuring out how to zipper it up until I realized that it was double-breasted. I must have looked very dubious in it. Her car had been plowed in, and she was busy emptying out the snow from inside her car, so I offered to walk up to some of the other cabins to see if there was a snow shovel left outside I could borrow to shovel out her car. It didn’t take me long: the second row of cabins I came to had left a shovel standing next to a front door. I climbed over the snowbank, retrieved the shovel and went back to Barb’s car and began to shovel it out.

After twenty minutes of hard shoveling an exit for her car, she asked if I was tired and if I wanted to switch with her and I could work on unsnowing the inside of her car while she took over shoveling duties. I agreed, handed her the shovel, and climbed into her car to brush out the overnight snow accumulation. Not thirty seconds after I started cleaning out the inside of her car, Barb called me out saying that the guy whose shovel we took was there. We introduced ourselves all round; I apologized for taking his shovel without permission, but I swore that I would have returned it once we were done. He vigorously offered to help us shovel out Barb’s car, an offer both Barb and I accepted. It was only later that I realized that he must have thought that I was such a douche dressed in a too small, pink leather jacket, hiding out in the car and while leaving a woman to do the hard work of shoveling snow. Twenty more minutes of shoveling, and with much wheel spinning, slipping and sliding, her car was finally freed. We thanked the shovel owner one last time, and drove up to the resort where she dropped me off at the ski patrol house.

With both access to a phone, and a warm place to wait, I called up AAA. After the usual canned music-on-hold, I finally spoke to a representative; I explained that I was locked out of my car with the engine running, and the service representative told me, “due to the extreme weather, AAA has stopped all service calls.” This was now totally WTF and getting to be FML.

My next option was to break into my car myself. I called up the borough police asking if they had a Slim Jim that I might borrow. The dispatcher said she would have to check with the patrol cars to see if any patrolman had one, and that she would call me back. We used to have a Slim Jim at ski patrol, but it could no longer be found.

I got equal doses of sympathy and amusement from the ski patrollers who managed to get to the resort and were reporting for start of shift. A ski patroller heading out offered to stop by the office for Winter Operations where their director might knows of Slim Jims on premises. Police dispatch returned my call to tell me that none of their patrol cars carried Slim Jims. Word then came back from the Director of Winter Operations that the vehicle maintenance department had a whole kit for gaining entry into locked cars.

I easily hiked the two hundred yards to the vehicle maintenance garage to borrow their Slim Jim. It turns out that they didn’t use Slim Jims as much as a plain stiff metal rod to disengage the door lock switch from the passenger compartment. Unfortunately, all their rods were in the trucks that were now plowing the roads, and they couldn’t afford to call any of them back. The maintenance mechanic dug out some surplus iron bars, cut off a segment of about a yard and a half, put a bend in it, and ground down the rough ends of it and lent that to me as a manufactured door lock rod. He also lent me two window wedges. The rod was definitely much more substantial than the flimsy coat hangers that I had previously used.

I was just in time to come across two patrollers driving up to the ski patrol house as I was returning there. The patroller in the passenger seat got out of the car, and I leaned in to ask the driver if I could con him into driving me back to my cabin. Surprisingly, he  said yes and said he knew exactly where the cabin was since he was renting a cabin in the same development. On the drive back to the cabin, I told him the whole story of how I locked myself out of my car. He said he and his passenger had seen my car and had wondered whose car it was.

It took me about ten minutes of fidgeting and jiggling the rod inside my car before I had it unlocked. The patroller who had ferried me back to my car, had driven up the access road to turn his car around, returned and told me that while he was up by the cabins, he had helped shovel out two other cars.

Finally, past eight in the morning, I was able to drive out with my car and head to the ski resort. I noted that my gas tank was just under three quarters of a tank full, making this little point the one small standout highlight of the weekend.

National Novel Writing Month, redux

The art of crafting a good story and the goals of the National Novel Writing Month are completely at odds with each other.

What I discovered of my writing process was that I needed a significant amount of time to develop a character and create a name for that character, and more time to map out story arcs. The aims of the National Novel Writing Month are unabashedly write with reckless abandon: generate quantity over quality, and use rewrites after the 50,000 word month is over to polish up the novel. So for three weeks I wrote with reckless abandon, giving no heed to naming my characters, or spending too much time on assembling together the intricacies of interlocking story lines. Even with my stream of conciousness writing, I entered the last week of the National Novel Writing Month about 10,000 words behind schedule, and with the traveling I was about to do for Thanksgiving, I knew there was no conceivable way I could produce 20,000 words in the final week of November.

So, what I have now is a rather messy 30,000 word outline of what my book could be, stripped of all except the single main storyline. It’s been a good experience, and has allowed me to explore the story space of my yet to be written book. I’ll be using this outline as the basis for fleshing out a more complete outline of my book, and then using that re-outline, I will write.

National Novel Writing Month, revisited

My original intention of writing War Gods for Nano was largely influenced by the fact that it was my newest and freshest idea, which also meant it my most undeveloped idea. My thinking was that since this would be my first real concentrated foray into writing anything substantive, and having only a month to do so, I didn’t want to waste one of my “good” stories for which I had bright hopes. Thus, War Gods would be my throwaway attempt, ready to be sacrificed to ignominy should my Nano month turn out less than good. War Gods would have been about tribes on an island, waging war, and praying to their respective gods, who seemingly omnipotent, have a weakness which may expose the tribes to their destruction.

Over dinner tonight, a friend of mine, having long been subjected to precis of my stories, might have convinced me to instead use another, more cherished story for the Nano. This is a complex story, but without a compelling title, which for the moment is sadly The Dreams Stuff is Made of or perhaps Dreams of Stuff. The story is no less than finding a doorway that lead out of our universe, and the discovery that our universe is a construct, but one that is flawed.

Three more days for me to decide, and then to start laying down the words for a novel.

The Marine Corp Marathon

I provided support sherpa services to a friend running the Marine Corp Marathon over the weekend. I had run this marathon in 2003 on as part of my four marathon extravaganza that year, running four marathons in four consecutive weekends: Chicago, Baltimore, Marine Corp, and New York City.
The Marine Corp Marathon in 2003 was described to me as the best organized event and also known as The People’s Marathon. My experience was that the marathon was sufficiently managed and executed, neither extraordinarily better nor worse than any other marathons that I had run. The finisher medal as adequate, but I don’t recall getting a T-shirt in the runner’s packet, as is the practice of most other marathons.

The marathon this weekend past was again decently run, but there was a nice long sleeved shirt in the goody bag. V-22 Ospreys made fly-bys at the start line, and the official starter must have been a hasher because he called out “on-on, marathon” over the PA system just prior to the starting gun. The finisher’s medal was a big honking Eagle, Globe, Anchor hunk of metal, and all finishers also received a Marine Corp Marathon coin, admittedly not in as heavy a weight as a challenge coin.

This weekend eventually degenerated into us concluding that I must have run the Marine Corp Marathon during the sucky years, which has resolved me to return to running marathons. Right up front, I want to start my season with the Chicago marathon in 2010, and I definitely have the Marine Corp Marathon in my sights as well. Other possibilities are to sandwich in the Baltimore marathon, and/or the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY. Oorah!

National Novel Writing Month

It’s been about a month since someone told me about the National Novel Writing Month, Nano for those in the know.

It’s alwaye been a dream of mine to be published, although through all these years while I keep coming up with idea after concept for books, short stories, and screen plays, I’ve never really put words to paper and written anything.

Nano has become, for me, the kick in the pants of having a hard deadline to write something. Anything. The goal of Nano is very simply to write a 50,000 word novel from scratch within the time span of one month. The primary aim of the campaign is quantity, not quality. Apparently the hard part is to generate the requisite amount of words. Rewrites to polish the opus can come later after the initial 50,000 words are done.

Instead of dusting off some of already thought-of ideas, I’ve inadvertently come up with a brand new idea for my novel. I originally wanted to title it Gods of War, but that name is already used for a video game. The backup title, and now the working title is War Gods.

So, let’s see how November works out for me on my road to published-dom.

I got Molly cred

I went with friends of friends to the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Coming out of the movie, I remarked that the actress Gemma Arterton, who portrayed the character Strawberry Fields, reminded me much of Molly Ringwald, to which the others expressed concurrence.

From there the conversation went to listing the works in which Molly had acted. Someone brought up Sixteen Candles; everyone knew this. Then other John Hughes‘ movies were mentioned: Breakfast Club, and of course Pretty in Pink. I nominated a little known gem that Molly was also on The Facts of Life; you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life. There was a general round of disbelief. It was conceded that George Clooney had a part on The Facts of Life, kind of like a Schneider of The Facts of Life. Still no acknowledgement that Molly Ringwald was on The Facts of Life. I held my ground saying that she was on only in the early seasons, and also proclaiming that “I know my Mollys.”

Aren’t we lucky to live in this connected world? Someone pulled out his Blackberry and looked up the facts on imdb, and gamely announced that Molly Ringwald did indeed play Molly Parker in the first season of the show. Someone at that point said, “you do know your Mollys,” and someone else gave me my just props and added, “you have your Molly creds.”

So damn yeah, I got Molly cred.