Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Comic-Con Experience, Chapter I: The Road to San Diego

If there’s one part of Americana that is deeply ingrained in me (other than Drive-In double features), it’s the classic all-American road trip. I’ve been a fan of road trips ever since I drove to Island Park with four friends the summer after I graduated from high school. Since then I’ve cruised the Pacific coast highway, driven to Chicago and back, and made numerous swings to Vegas and back.

That’s why the notion of driving to Comic-Con 2007 instead of flying didn’t deter me in the least. Even with gas prices as bad as they have been, a trip to San Diego would cost less than half as much in gas as it would cost to snag two airplane tickets for my sister Katie and I to make our destined pilgrimage to meet Ray Bradbury.

So about 3PM last Thursday afternoon I pulled into the parking lot of Equity Title in Salt Lake and picked up Katie after working a partial shift. The car was all packed and ready to go, and following a quick stop in Alpine to drop off a DVD of my Harry Potter piece to my producer, we hit I-15 and made for the southern horizon.

Our initial plan was to wait until Friday morning and drive all the way to Los Angeles on the first day, where we would stay with my old friend Fabian Jakins in the north LA suburb of Canyon Country. But at the last minute we figured it might be smart to break the jaunt in two and crash in Vegas with my longtime friend Steve and his family.

On the way down, we passed the sights I’d gotten used to seeing on the way through Southern Utah, and looked forward to getting into a state where people know they’re supposed to yield the left-hand lane. Other than a pickup truck packed to the rim with boxes of Hostess desserts (and a driver behind the wheel who honestly looked like he was passed out—at 75mph, no less), nothing too extraordinary crossed our path. It was just good music, good conversation, and open road.

In an effort to get past our usual habit of grumbling about dating and career frustrations, Katie and I tried to stick to more topical conversations. I suggested we come up with our five favorite vocalists, along with an explanation for each.

Here’s my list:

1. Sam Cooke
2. Aretha Franklin
3. Steve Winwood/Ray Charles
4. Simon and Garfunkel
5. Janis Joplin

Finally around 11pm we pulled into North Las Vegas, and found ourselves relaxing on Steve’s leather couch while discussing the virtues of the latest Harry Potter book with his wife Sarah. Steve is one of my oldest friends. My earliest memory of him is the two of us watching “Gilligan’s Island” with another neighborhood kid—JC Lee—while sitting on a red shag carpet in my parent’s basement shortly after making the move from Centerville to Bountiful when I was four years old.

We spent much of the next several years playing Star Wars, GI Joe, and Transformers, as our interests gradually evolved from outer space to basketball to girls. We even got our Eagle Scouts together:



After graduating from Southern Utah University, Steve moved down to Las Vegas with his new wife Sarah and started having energetic kids. These days they’ve got three of them, and the last two times I’ve been down to see them, watching the kids has been as entertaining as anything else I did on the trip.





Instead of doing anything inherently “Vegas”, Katie and I had lunch at a local Mexican restaurant named “Viva Zapatas” the next day before hitting the road again. Zapatas was a good spot, partially for their good salsa, partially for the restaurant d├ęcor, which consisted mainly of guns hung on the wall.

We’d already endured a lot of hot weather on the way down, but as we drove south out of Nevada, things went from bad to worse. In the Death Valley area, Sunny California boasts a landscape that is far from anything the Mamas and the Papas would ever be dreamin’ about. Long stretches of desolate rolling terrain, peppered with sage brush and the odd Joshua Tree, eventually rises into mounds of dirt and rock that I suppose would be considered mountains. The God-forsaken environment looked a lot more like a desert than the place I grew up at, in spite of what people told me.



After a quick rest stop, things just got weirder. Eventually we started to pick up elevation, and I figured that soon we would cross over into the beautiful paradise so many native Californians are always bragging about. But MapQuest had other ideas.

Once we reached Victorville, our directions took us off of I-15 and onto a rural highway headed due West. Palmdale Road eventually turned into Peachtree Drive, but the scenery remained the same: a long two-lane highway with almost nothing but dirt roads peeling off of it. Hand painted address signs tacked up next to the entrances to obscure trailer parks and ramshackle houses, and everywhere sagebrush, dirt, and dust. For a long time we questioned whether we were going in the right direction, but eventually we met up with the southbound Highway 14, and found ourselves on a much busier highway heading south towards Los Angeles.

Around 6pm we hit Canyon Country, and after unloading our bags at my friend Fabian’s place, we found ourselves in an In-and-Out Burger Drive-thru getting burgers and fresh fries. Fabian and I got to be friends while attending the 32nd Ward together two years ago. We both have an interest in film, so we spent the evening watching each other’s recent short film projects before Katie and I decided to crash on his couches around 11:30.

Following a borderline-miraculous rise from bed at 4:30am, Katie and I got our stuff together and got onto I-5 for the last leg of our drive to the conference. People drive very fast on southern California freeways, but at least there weren’t many of them out that early on a Saturday morning, and by 8am, we arrived safely at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers and the Green Line stop of the San Diego Trolley System.

Qualcomm Stadium was serving a double purpose that day: hub for Comic-Con folks, and headquarters of American Idol auditions. As we stood on the dock waiting for the train, Katie and I looked out at the crowds in line to get ripped by Simon, and wondered what our lives would have been had we been steered onto that path rather than the one we were on.

Maybe they really aren’t all that different.



Candy Resurrection

Sometimes it's the little triumphs that see you through the dark times...

Last weekend I picked up some snacks/munchies/garbage/junk food to take on the road down to California, not realizing that anything chocolate left in my car longer than 13.5 seconds would soon be relegated to a misshapen mess. Over the course of the first leg of the journey, between Bountiful and Las Vegas, a bag of Deluxe Grahams, a Twix bar and a Three Musketeers bar fell victim to a solar transfiguration experiement.

Convinced that the candy bars were a loss, my sister suggested we cut our losses and chuck the unsightly candy bars. The outer wrappers had been twisted and mangled by the ebb and flow of the melted chocolate inside, resulting in a pair of choco-treats that looked like they may have been cooked up by the inbred family on the old "Home" episode of "X-Files". Even Mulder and Scully wouldn't touch them.

But I would. Rather than give up, I stood firm to my well-ingrained cheapness and demanded that they be spared a trash receptacle grave. I put them back in the food bag and waited until the end of our trip, when I promptly stuck them in my freezer, hoping that the extreme cold would generate the necessary separation of chocolate and outer wrapper. After leaving them overnight, I set them on the counter to return them to room temperature.

Today, while preparing my fifth taco meal in 14 days, I curiously withdrew the Three Musketeers bar and peeled open the wrapper, hoping a generous layer of chocolate would not come stuck to it. Suddenly I found myself holding one of the ugliest candy bars ever known to modern man. But in spite of its ugliness, it was whole.

Triumph.

B All Over sketches now on YouTube!

OK, I finally broke down and got a YouTube account. I'm gradually uploading all my sketches onto my account. Here are the first four:

English Re-Education 930:



Potter Syndrome:



The Merriweather Stone Pilot:



The second Merriweather Stone episode:

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Comic-Con Experience

In other news, last night I just got back from my road trip to San Diego, where I attended Comic-Con 2007. Yes, in eight days time I managed to hang out at a Harry Potter release party, wait in line for an hour at WalMart to buy the seventh book, and drive to California to attend a comic book convention. There's really no way to deny the nerd thing anymore.

At any rate, too much happened at Comic-Con to sum up in one column, so I think I'm going to have to do it in chapters. That way I can focus in on specific aspects of the conference, like the geek aspect, the autograph aspect, and the "pilgrimage to see Ray Bradbury" aspect. Of course, since I already still need to write columns on the Jackson Rodeo, Country Music, and the 2007 Days of '47 Parade, you can expect the Comic-Con pieces to be finished by sometime next year.

Probably while I'm attending Comic-Con 2008.

My only excuse is that it's been hard to write for the blog (an unpaid job) while working on pieces for KJZZ (wait, that's an unpaid job, too). Maybe I'll try to buffer the void by posting YouTube links!

OK, this is a special one...on the way to the convention, I stayed with my old friend and collaborator Fabian Jakins in Canyon Country, California (north LA suburb). He showed me this link to a short piece he did with his friend Stacy. Enjoy.

AMBER ALERT...DOH!

As I announced previously, my Harry Potter segment aired on Saturday's "final" episode of "B All Over". The original thirteen-episode run is now complete, and in the next week or two we'll find out if I've still got a comedy sketch job. Unfortunately, halfway through my piece, an Amber Alert flashed over the top of the screen and effectively muted the rest of the segment, so anyone who did watch only got half the "story".

Kind of puts me in an awkward position...I'm annoyed that my segment got geeked up, but I can't really complain about an Amber Alert, even if half the announcement was constructed of incoherent electronic beeps, static, and buffer junk. My solution, then, is to once again post a link to my own Web site, Planet Venison, where all my segments (B All Over or otherwise) are posted. They're all located in the pulldown menu at the bottom of the page, or you can just click the direct link here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shameless Family Plug

Time to welcome my sister to the Blogosphere!

Katie has finally hopped online as a blogger, penning a site called "The Bird Refuge". It's named after her favorite spot for photography/meditation up in Farmington, though from what I've seen so far, her commentary won't be limited to nature.

Here's a shot I took last time I swung out to the refuge...



Go check it out!

Harry Potter Sketch to Air Saturday

This Saturday night "B All Over" will be completing its initial 13-episode run at 10pm on KJZZ. The future of the show is still quite clouded, so this may be the last opportunity for me to get one of my sketches on the air for a while.

This week's contribution is called "Potter Syndrome", and auto-biographical examination of how one can dive headlong into Harry Potter Mania without even meaning to. I put it together using footage shot on my own, as well as with material gathered at last weekend's book release party at the Salt Lake City Library. I got some valuable help from family and friends, as has usually been the case. As is also usually the case, there are compressed Quicktime versions of my sketches available at Planet Venison.

Here are a couple of photos from late Friday/early Saturday, after returning from my 1am visit to WalMart to go buy book 7.





Tune in (or TiVo, I'm headed to SoCal to see Ray Bradbury) this Saturday at 10!

Monday, July 16, 2007

English Re-Education Sketch

Here again, in case you missed it (or didn't know about it), is the link to my most recent spot on "B All Over".

English Re-Education 930

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Merriweather Stone Episodes 1 & 2 Available Online



Just finished compressing the original, uncut versions of the Merriweather Stone episodes for online posting. As you may recall, KJZZ had to combine and cut the broadcast of these two episodes for time reasons, but here are the original separate episodes in their entirety. (I've just posted links to them since I haven't figured out how to stop them from automatically playing yet.)

Episode One: The Interview

Episode Two: The Bear Trap

"Accent" Piece to air this Saturday

Still struggling to get a lot of writing done with this dumb splint on my finger, but I can still manage to make a couple of token announcements...

This Saturday at 10pm on KJZZ I've got another short film appearing on "B All Over". This one is a parody news piece about an adult education class that tries to help Utahn's speak without accents. It turned out really well, so enjoy. As usual, I'll probably post a smaller version of it on here once it airs.

Posts on the Jackson Rodeo and Country Music are still forthcoming, as soon as I can start typing with more than six fingers. Until then, I will leave you with a killer YouTube find. My friend Abby turned me on to these guys, and this is my favorite video so far:

Friday, July 06, 2007

!!!STITCHES!!!

JUST SO YOU KNOW...THIS POST IS A TAD MORE GRAPHIC THAN USUAL...IF YOU CAN'T TAKE THE SIGHT OF STITCHES, DON'T CLICK ON THE LINK AT THE END.

Looks like I've got a built-in excuse to slack off on writing for the next couple of weeks...I've got a big splint on my right index finger to go along with nine stitches. Last Tuesday at the Stake Sports Night activity I went up to block a Volleyball spike in a typical effort to be a sports hero. I met the ball at the same time as my opponent and caught the ball at a bad angle, hitting it with my fingers instead of my palm, spraining my right middle finger and dislocating and lacerating my index.

When I came down, I could feel that my fingers weren't lining up the way they normally did, and I could tell it was more than a sprain. Plus sprains don't usually bleed all over the place. Looking down at my right hand, I saw my index finger bent upwards after the first knuckle, the rest of it crooked into a little hook.

Instinctively--or maybe just channeling Jim McMahon--I grabbed my index finger and immediately popped it back into place as more blood squirted out. I was relieved that my finger was now able to move and flex normally, but I knew I was still in trouble from the flash of white I saw during the process.

A friend from the ward swung me up to University Hospital, and four hours and several nurse cringes later I had my nine stitches and a splint. The laceration wound 180 degrees around my finger, though it didn't go deep enough to cut any arteries or anything. Plus I managed to avoid an open fracture; turns out it was just one whale of a dislocation. From the right angle, it looks like the whole thing was lopped off and sewn back on.

In fact, if you can stomach it, click HERE. It's really not a very graphic photo, but I figured it would be wiser to link to it rather than give any casual surfers a nasty surprise.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Pair of Independent Memories...

Whenever the Fourth of July rolls around and firework shacks start popping up in parking lots all over town, I fondly remember a pair of childhood memories from growing up in Davis County.

The first of these gems took place somewhere in my mid-teens, while still attending church with my family at the Bountiful 19th Ward. On the Sunday nearest the 4th, sacrament meeting would always feature one or two patriotic hymns like “America the Beautiful” or “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

One year Bishop Bob Carling got up halfway through the meeting and announced that he’d arranged for a special musical number for our holiday service. Seems a few weeks earlier he’d come across a little-known patriotic ditty called “The Liberty Bell March” by John Phillip Souza, and had been so inspired he’d persuaded our organist to learn it for the day’s meeting.

Our organist was Rob Nish, a kid my age who’d morphed from a head-to-toe Utah Jazz superfan into a sophisticated organ-playing classical music guru in six months time. When Rob sat down at the organ to start pumping out the march, my family thought little of the situation. Rob’s Sunday recitals had become fairly commonplace even by that time. But when he started playing, my family’s ears perked up quickly.

Something sounded familiar.

Mom, Dad, Katie and I looked back and forth at each other wide-eyed as grins gradually spread across our lucid faces. Rob was playing the Monty Python theme in sacrament meeting.

When it comes to Python, most of the general population has only seen “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. But before the grail, there was “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, a half-hour TV sketch show that started them down the road to infamy. Apparently the Python boys had used the “Liberty Bell March” as their theme song.

I sat back on my bench and beamed as Rob continued to toot and wail his way through the song, which to everyone else in the chapel just sounded like any another patriotic tune. But to four grinning Mormons on the left flank of the pulpit, visions of waving banners and patriotic powdered wigs were replaced with dead parrots, effeminate lumberjacks and giant cartoon feet. The performance was a watershed moment in my religious upbringing, a dramatic crossing of the streams reminding me that God most certainly had a sense of humor.



My second fond memory took place a few years later, the summer after I’d returned from my mission to Chicago. After spending the previous two summers pounding the pavement in Illinois, I was anxious to return to our family’s traditional Island Park retreat near Yellowstone National Park. My loyal cohort Mike and I had just finished my triumphant return trip and were making our way south through Jackson Hole, Wyoming when inspiration struck.

Back before Mike joined the ranks of the married and domesticated, he was a semi-mischievous fellow who was always up for some offbeat fun. He was also the kind of guy that liked blowing things up, so as we got ready to leave Wyoming, he suggested that we pick up some fireworks while they were still legal. Our last option before crossing into Idaho was a lonely bar off the side of Highway 89 about a quarter mile shy of the border. Unlike the Evanston superstores and lavishly-colored parking lot shacks dedicated to pyrotechnics, this sullen bar just had a small hand-painted sign reading “fireworks” in the window. But we were still in Wyoming, which meant the place was good enough for Mike.

Even though we were both legal at the time, Mike and I felt a bit odd walking into this remote bar at 2PM in the afternoon. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we saw that the only person inside was a squat bald bartender in his 50’s who stared at us curiously while polishing a glass.

“Can I help you boys?” he asked us in a gruff, unwelcoming voice.

“Uh, yeah”, started Mike. “We saw a sign that said you had fireworks.”

The bartender raised his hand and pointed a thick index finger over our shoulders.

“Behind you,” he rasped.

We turned and saw a vast glass case that stretched from floor to ceiling, filled with a who’s who of fireworks. Mike moved in for a closer look, peering with the purposeful inspection of a seasoned veteran.

“You looking for anything in particular?” came the voice again.

“You got any M-80’s?” asked Mike.

The bartender smirked. “Come here,” he said. “I’ve got something better.”

As we crossed the room, the barkeep secretively reached down under the bar. In the movies, such a motion usually triggered a shotgun shootout. But instead of a sawed-off shotgun, this bartender pulled up a handful of small cylinders, each the size of a roll of quarters. Far from gaudy, each cylinder was wrapped in what looked like cheap 1950’s wrapping paper, with an inch-long fuse sticking out of one end.

“$1.25 each, or four for five dollars,” the bartender said.

Mike beamed at the insider product while I tried to decide whether the bartender realized that four for five dollars wasn’t a better deal than $1.25 a piece. But five dollars later, we walked out of the bar with four quarter-sticks of dynamite, quickly forgetting any questions of economics.

Mike wound up taking three of the cylinders, leaving me one triumphant artifact of the black market explosives underground. He took his contraband up to some family property in Morgan, where he managed to blow some 12-inch holes in the ground once he’d figured out a way to safely extend the fuses. Mine rested safely in an old Los Angeles Raiders coffee mug waiting for the proper time to do its thing. It rested there partially because I thought it was more valuable as a reminder of the story itself, but mostly it rested there because I suspected that if I ever actually lit it I would be swamped by a team of undercover ATF agents and thrown in the slammer to do hard time.

It was a typically paranoid fear, augmented by memories of prison scenes in movies like “Cool Hand Luke” and “Shawshank Redemption”. For better or worse, fear is an effective motivator, and eventually my mother convinced me to chuck the thing, probably because her paranoid fear had the firecracker mysteriously self-lighting in the middle of the night and blowing her only son to unfulfilled smithereens.

Nine years later, the regular firework displays are still pretty fun, as long as there are some cute girls watching with me, but I still wonder if I should hop in the car and cruise north to see if that old bartender is still around to cut me a deal on the kind of merchandise even Wyoming dealers keep out of plain sight. I’d probably bring along a fair assortment of Simon and Garfunkel for that killer drive up Logan Canyon, but at least once, I’d have to pop in a little John Phillip Souza for good measure.

Bishop Carling would be proud.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Rocky Anderson Follow-Up

Once again, for all those that either don't get KJZZ or actually had social engagements last Saturday, here's my follow-up piece to the Rocky Anderson interview:




Click to view!

WARNING! Until I start loading these on YouTube, they will automatically start downloading whether or not you hit "play". For that reason, you may want to scroll down the page and pause the original Rocky Interview post, which is no doubt streaming at the same time this new one is.