Cross Country Pt. 4

The desert can be unforgiving. Waking up in Holbrook, Arizona the temperature was 20 degrees.  My Dad and I packed our bags in the motel room and took them down the stairs in the brisk air and drove west, watching the sun – and temperature rise. We passed Flagstaff, the land barren and dry the entire way, and made a right at Kingman, until we detoured north to the flashing lights and ka-ching slots of that sinfully decadent city of Las Vegas.

It was almost by mistake that we happened to come across the Hoover Dam. The dam lies on Lake Mead, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, and its concrete arch is massive and impressive.  Constructed during the Great Depression, it’s a testament to the human will and a monument pays tribute to the hundreds of men who lost their lives during its construction.

We got into Las Vegas on a Sunday, which was perfect timing, since the weekenders were leaving the city in droves and traffic was backed up for miles away from Vegas. We sailed into the city and hit the Vegas Strip. The city bills itself as “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” and is a sensory overload in many ways. There’s everything: bright lights, scantily clad women, and large monuments recreating historical landmarks: on one block there’s the Statue of Liberty, on another the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower, a Pyramid, and the Piazza San Marco. You can legally smoke smoke indoors, drink outside, buy designer clothes, and go to a strip club all with one block.  If that’s not America, I don’t know what is.  Needless to say, my Dad loved it.

We stayed at The Venetian, which had singing gondoliers, frescos on the ceilings, and a recreation of the Rialto Bridge. You can get a good price on a suite on Sundays, so we splurged. We gambled a bit and saw Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity at night. It was a whirlwind and some much needed fun, after the grueling 2,000 mile drive. The essence of Vegas was spoken to me at the bar near the pool area.  When the bartender gave me my gin and tonic, I asked him, “Can I take the drink with me in the pool?” He responded, “You can do whatever you want.” Las Vegas is truly a city where anything goes.

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Cross Country Pt. 3

If I’m being honest, it was in Oklahoma City, when I had my first “what am I doing?” moment. My Dad and I were halfway into the country and the terrain, air, and people were all different.  In the papers we read about a controversial law passed in the state called “open carry,” where Oklahomans had the right to openly carry their handguns while at a diner, worshipping, or going about their day-to-day business.

Getting wifi was also a seemingly impossible task. When I asked the hotel receptionist for the wifi password, she told me that I’d need to fill out a form with my address and phone number. When I told her that I just wanted to access the free wifi without entering any info, she apologized and said, “we just don’t do that.” That’s when I learned: in Oklahoma you’re free to carry a gun, but not get free wifi.

Oklahoma City wasn’t all bad though. If a woman hadn’t told us at brunch about Cadillac Ranch, we might not have stopped at one of the coolest pitstops along our trip.  We crossed into Texas and headed west for Amarillo.  Cadillac Ranch is an art installation of ten junk Cadillacs that have been buried longways at a 45 degree angle in the ground. They’re brightly colored with graffiti, and spray painting is strongly encouraged.  If Texas does end up seceding, I’m sure it will become a national landmark for the Texan Republic.

The pandhandle of Texas was easily passable, and we crossed into New Mexico after driving only an hour from Amarillo.  The “Land of Enchantment” must have cast its sleepy spell on me, because I was conked out for most of the time that I was in the passenger seat.  I only remember a blur of red rocks and mountains for the first half of the trip.  I do remember seeing a string of El Pollo Loco restaurants and wondered whether the fried chicken chain was the inspiration for the Pollos Hermanos restaurants from Breaking Bad.

We drove through Albuquerque, which was surprisingly gorgeous, and then kept going – crossing the 2,000 mile mark and into Arizona as the sun set.  By the time we got to Arizona, we had been on the road for over ten hours, and my Dad and I were both exhausted.  We had alternated talking, with listening to podcasts on my iPhone, and listening to music.  As we crossed into Arizona, and the hum of the road started to lull us to sleep, the only sensible thing seemed to be to blast classic rock like the Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival for the two hour trek to Holbrook, Arizona.

By the time we rolled into Holbrook, we had felt all of the 774 miles we had driven.  We checked into a motel in the town and headed downtown for Mexico food and beers.  My Dad and I went to Joe & Aggie’s, which was a perfect mom and pop restaurant that had been the inspiration for Pixar’s Cars.

There was a Route 66 mural on the side of the restaurant and the staff were friendly and lively.  We stuffed ourselves with burritos and tacos and called it a night.  The longest part of our trip was over.  Los Angeles was only an easy 557 miles away, but we wouldn’t be there for another day.

The bright lights and ca-ching of slot machines were beckoning from Las Vegas the next day.

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Top 5 Books About LA

I read the Vice article about “Why Los Angeles is the worst” and wanted to create a rebuttal to what I thought was an unfair attack. Of course, I’m motivated by the fact that I just moved to LA and want to reassure myself that I’ve made the right decision and that “Los Angeles is really the best.”

I’m not overly naive and I’ve read up on my fair share of the dark side of tinseltown, but I still remain optimistic. Why? Well because I guess that’s in my nature.  My friend Tim recently told me, “Nobody reads in LA.” But I like to read and I want to live here.

So, flying in the face of “here are the worst things in LA,” I present, the best books that are pessimistically optimistic. Some may call it disillusionment, but in the land of dreams, you need a healthy dose of the truth to get by.

5. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind

Peter Biskind’s book about the swinging sixties and seventies chronicles the rise of the auteur movement in American cinema and how it gradually gave way to the blockbuster and the corporatization of modern film. The book covers the great modern directors: Coppola, Scorsese, and Spielberg, along with the best actors: De Niro, Pacino, and Warren Beatty.  The book is a history and celebration of the film movement filled with scandal, triumph, and defeat in Hollywood.

4. Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis

The 80s were a time of fast money and over the top extravagance, and Ellis wrote about what it was like to grow up in rich, glamorous LA. The listlessness is described by its narrator, Clay, who comes back to LA from college in New Hampshire. He does lots of drugs at parties with trustafarians, and drinks with movie stars and producers at The Polo Lounge.  At 20 years-old he has it all, but hasn’t earned any of it.  The novel portrays what it is like to grow too fast, too soon, and with too much money while coming of age in Los Angeles.

3. Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger never failed to provoke. His avant-garde films are poetic and visually stimulating, but his dalliances into the occult often alienate. His book on the Golden Age of the film colony that would eventually become Hollywood is the gossip column of its day. Filled with the juicy goings on of Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, Douglas Fairbanks, and Louise Brooks, it’s shocking, titillating, and never dull. You might need to take a shower after this one.

2. Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

The ultimate disillusioned novel about those that come to Los Angeles to make it and realize that “the orange juice doesn’t taste any sweeter and the waves don’t crash any higher.” The book revolves around costume designer and painter, Todd Hackett, who witnesses the desperation of struggling actors and wannabes in Hollywood – including a businessman named Homer Simpson! – and ends in an over the top riot. The pain and desperation is palpable with each turn of the page. It was written during the Depression after all.

1. What Makes Sammy Run, Budd Schulberg

This is the Hollywood rags to riches story. Sammy Glick rises from tenement housing in Lower Manhattan to become a Hollywood executive. He is smart, vicious, and will stop at nothing to succeed. Written by Schulberg, who grew up in the Hollywood system, and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for On The Waterfront, the novel is a no holds barred look at those who succeed in Los Angeles, and at what cost.  The book also contains one of my favorite lines about Hollywood:

“Hollywood may be full of phonies, mediocrities, dictators and good men who have lost their way, but there is something that draws you there that you should not be ashamed of.”

So perk up Vice and Jamie Lee Curtis Taete! The future looks bright and Los Angeles may be bad, but there’s some good in there too.

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Cross Country Pt. 2

The biggest difference that I discovered between my Dad and me on our trip was that I think he wakes up entirely too early, and he thinks I’m a reckless driver.  I’m all for getting a head start on the day, but waking up at 5am to be on the road by 6am is a cruel act of punishment. While I admit to driving about ten miles above the speed limit, my Dad was constantly on watch for the police.  When we left the Hoosier State for the Land of Lincoln, he was convinced that there were speed traps just ahead.

“The speed limit drops here, it’s a trap. Watch it!”

“Dad, I’m sure we’re fine.”

“I see it all the time, the speed dips and then they catch you when you’re still going over. Look there’s a cop car on the shoulder.”

“That’s an abandoned car.”

My Mom back in Delaware, would call and ask if we were getting into squabbles – which we weren’t. My Dad and my temperament are very much alike. We are both high strung 15% of the time, but fairly easygoing the remaining 85%. If you figure we both sleep 33% of the time (or maybe 20% for my Dad), and being high strung is proportional to the amount of sleep we get, I was a nervous Redbull drinking mess with a sleep deficit, and my Dad was calm and relaxed.

We left Indiana and headed into Illinois. The environment was very similar to the east coast – houses and pine trees lined alongside an open highway. We joked that we could still be in Delaware.  We arrived in St. Louis, Missouri – the “Gateway to the West” around 10am.  We made a pit stop at the Gateway Arch and I had a photo-op at the Lewis & Clark Memorial.

Driving deeper into Missouri, and crossing the Mississippi River, you start to realize that the terrain starts to slightly change.  You also realize that the blue states you passed start to blend purple, then bright red for conservative. Being that it was an election week, the number of pro-Obama sings began to dwindle as we moved further across the Mississippi.

Interestingly enough the left side of I-44 driving west were filled with religious scripture quotes in white text on a black billboard, while on the right side of the highway were adult bookstores and strip clubs. I wonder what outgoing Missouri Rep. Todd Akin has to say about that.

My favorite billboard was nonpartisan and located in Springfield, Missouri, home of The Simpsons:

The sun began to set as we entered Oklahoma, and it was pitch black by the time we arrived in Oklahoma City.  The air was still warm, in the high 70s when we arrived. A stark difference from the 50 degree weather we had woken up to in Indianapolis.  Since we had been in the car all day, we decided to see what Oklahoma City had to offer. We walked along the riverfront and, looking for something to eat, my Dad suggested Coyote Ugly. While we didn’t eat any wings, we did see plenty of breasts (covered of course – I am with my Dad after all.)

Men with cowboy hats sat at the bar as young buxom bartenders danced and lip-synched to Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.” We had a few beers and watched the show, as the emcee bartender talked dirty into the microphone and dragged the cowboys’ girlfriends up on the bar to do body shots off them.

If we went in search of the Wild West, this was the wildest it was going to get. We decided to finish our beers and leave before my Dad was asked to do a shot of tequila off one of the Coyote girl’s navels. “Y’all leaving already,” said the emcee sadly, “They’re smart – they know it’s ’bout to get crazy ’cause the night’s just started!”

When you’re on the road with your Dad, it’s best to remain wholesome characters in a Modern Family episode, and leave the tequila shots, half naked girls, and dirty talk to an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

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Cross Country Pt. 1

On November 1st I packed up my newly purchased, and slighted used 2009 Honda Accord in Philadelphia.  Six days and 2,872 miles later I was in Los Angeles. My Dad and I drove cross country on a father-son bonding trip. We plotted out the trip to drive 700 miles a day, and alternated taking two hour shifts for roughly twelve hours a day.

Here’s my journal of each day.

Day 1: Philly to Indianapolis

I said goodbye to Sean – my boyfriend of nearly seven years, and my roommate for two.  The night before on Halloween he was the life of the party as the Long Island Jew, Linda Richman, but at 6:30am he was in a bathrobe and was a sobbing mess.

We said our goodbyes as best we could, and he promised to visit in Thanksgiving. And then I was off.

I picked up my Dad from the University City train station and we drove west on I-76. We hit a ton of traffic getting out of Philly, but once we got past King of Prussia, it was smooth sailing. The five hour trek from Philly to Pittsburgh was uneventful, except for the snow. Hurricane Sandy had decimated the Mid-Atlantic, but it brought several inches of snow to the central part of the state.

It’s funny thinking about snow now, since today’s high in LA was 79 degrees as I write this. But there was plenty of snow near Allentown and west through Harrisburg. The snow stopped once we got closer to Pittsburgh. The tiny sliver of West Virginia that we drove through was blink-and-you-miss-it, and not much to report, but Ohio was vast and open. There were fields, sky, and scenes like this:

By the time we rolled into Indianapolis we had traveled 643 miles and felt every one of them. We went to a sports bar that my aunt suggested to celebrate our first leg of the trip with a few beers.  I always feel out of my element in sports bars. Although I consider myself competitive, I’m not a huge sports fan. My Dad, on the other hand, loves sports – at home in Delaware he has a basement dedicated to Philadelphia sports memorabilia including signed Eagles jerseys, rare Phillies Baseball cards, and seats from Veterans Stadium.  In that way, we’re the father son odd couple I guess.

The waiter at the sports bar told us he loved Philly when he asked where we were from (I guess he could tell from our accents, or lack thereof) and said his favorite bar was The Nodding Head, which coincidentally also happens to be my favorite as well.  We walked around Indianapolis, and we were approached by a man who claimed to have been stranded and all he needed was $15 to get on a train. My Dad fell for it and shelled out his money, while I shook my head.

The jaded Philadelphian in me has seen that trick a hundred times, but my Dad felt genuine pity for him. I guess that’s the difference between being hardened by a city and being a trusting suburbanite.  The midwest has a sense of charm about it. Good people, doing good things, in God’s country. Oh yeah, there was a lot of God and religion once we kept driving further west, but that’s for the next post.  I’ll leave you with this gorgeous view from our hotel window in Monument Circle.

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Farewell Comedy Show with Mayor Karen

I’m leaving for Los Angeles, land of sunshine, dreams, and 5 million cars.  In fact, I just bought a car so I’ll be heading out on the old Route 66 on November 1st.  BUT before I go, I’m having a comedic farewell with my beloved improv group, Mayor Karen.

If you’re in Philly on October 19th stop by the Shubin Theater at 8:30pm for my last show. It’s sure to be a good time, and I promise to make you laugh or I’ll be forced to buy you a shot of Jagermeister – and you should know I don’t throw that around lightly.

See you then!

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Sherminator Serves Sushi

In American Pie he was the Sherminator, “A sophisticated sex robot, sent back through time, to change the future for one lucky lady.” But now Chris Owen is waiting tables at a sushi joint in Santa Monica.

This photo surfaced on the internet last week and some trolls trashed him, because his career has gone “backwards.”  I get defensive about this, and I thought one of the most poignant responses was “at least this guy had his moment of glory. So many aspiring actors never even get that.” So true. And he’s paying his bills. I remember hearing a similar story about Chad Lindberg in My Big Break who was bagging groceries in between acting. This was after his success in October Sky and The Fast and the Furious. He mentioned getting recognized in between asking people for paper or plastic.

According to Chris Owen’s IMDB page, he’s worked steadily in TV shows and smaller films for the past ten years and I’m sure he’s also working as a waiter to supplement his income in between gigs. Do what you got to do Chris. I bet a waiter at a sushi bar in Santa Monica also makes bank.

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New Spiderman

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Andrew Garfield and Marc Webb have signed on for a sequel to The Amazing Spider-man. So that means more parodies are in the works where I impersonate Andrew Garfield as the befuddled, yet charming Brit playing a superhero. This time perhaps he’ll be a little more uncomfortable with his new found fame.

I also think this would make the sequel much more compelling (although I think a riot might breakout at next year’s Comic Con.)

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The Shooting Star of a Commercial Actor

Business Week published a great article today called “Branded For Life.” It profiles five commercial actors from the past thirty years, including the Verzion “Can you hear me now” guy, the Dell dude, and Smiling Bob from the male enhancement drug Enzyte.

The article interviews the actors, and chronicles the commercial actor cycle: from first booking the commerical, to the hefty paychecks and morality clauses they sign, and ultimately receiving a letter in their mail informing them that their services will no longer be needed. “It’s like a great party, and then the party ends,” said Dan Gilvezan, who played Jack in the Box‘s David to McDonald’s Goliath.

I had my own brief flirt with commercial fame from being the CarSense guy. Personally I was anonymous, but on the streets of Philly I was recognized as “Sam” and was treated like a minor celebrity at my oral surgeon’s office.  Last week, I reached out to CarSense because I’m purchasing a car. I emailed them to see if my CarSense fame could get me a discount. A polite woman emailed me back explaining that they’re a “no haggle dealer.” And so it goes.

My star as a commercial actor for CarSense, Dust Off, and Saladworks have faded, but it never shined so bright that they eclipsed me being cast in another commercial because my face was too associated with a specific product.  I’m reminded of the opening scene of Hamlet 2 with Steve Coogan. The film opens with a montage that shows seven or so commercials that Dana Marschz, Coogan’s character, was in.  The voiceover narrates each one and at the end, when the final commercial fades the voiceover says, “To act is to live a dream.”  I love the dream, along with the glitz and fame, but I recognize the reality of a business that can be illusory and disposable. At the end of the day, I’m still just Michael… but a free car to ride in would still be awesome.

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Full House Lesbians

There was recently a Full House Reunion and I guess John Stamos and the old TV family were going through old photos. Stamos tweeted this one to Dave Coulier, which was just too hilarious not to share:

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