Friday, October 22, 2010

Road trip to Chalan, Washington (Part I)

Dear Reader

This year I have gone up and down the I-5 corridor from Los Angeles to the Northwest numerous times. Every trip is filled with challenges, there is always construction projects going on, weather issues and crazy drivers. On this trip weather was not going to be a problem, the problem was going to be boredom. I convinced my wonderful wife to join me on this trip, at first she was reluctant, she finally agreed. At 7:30 in the evening I merged onto I-5 from Sun Valley. The traffic was moderate, most of the heavy traffic had subsided, I looked at Lecia for a second, she smiled, and I knew this was going to be a fun trip.

The wonderful thing about traveling in a motor home is the view of the scenery and the comfort of the ride. The “Ambassador” has eight air-bags and eight shocks, the ride is smooth almost “Lexus” like, except the RV is a lot larger than the average size car or truck and I have almost as much horse power a big rig. My windshield is eight feet wide and six feet tall; in my journeys I have numerous collisions with birds of almost every size, insects and rocks. In fact since I have owned this motor home I have had to replace this $3,000 windshield at least once or twice a year. Until this trip I had gone ten months without a crack windshield, unfortunately a rogue rock cracked my windshield just outside of Olympia, Washington, my windshield person is going to love me.

As the last glimpse of sunlight disappeared, I was snacking down the grapevine, the exhaust brake kicked in, keeping me at a steady 55 miles per hour. To all you non-truck driver types, the “Exhaust Brake” or the “Jake Brake” uses compression from the exhaust to slow down; this allows the driver from using the air brakes on long grades. Only diesel vehicles are such equipped with this brake system. Most commercial drivers use a combination of down shifting to a lower gear, Jake braking and air brakes to keep their rigs at a constant speed and thus avoid excessive braking. Lecia was mesmerized by the view from the San Joaquin Valley; after the Grape Vine, I-5 becomes a lonely highway except for the occasional rest stops and fuel stops. My goal for tonight was to travel at least a couple of hundred miles before I called it a day. Lecia bought me up to speed with her life; I listened intently I was her captive audience. It felt nice to be next to her, I wanted to share a part of my life that unfortunately because of her 9 to 5 job, she could not travel with me on my many adventures. Finally, even Lecia’s best story could not keep me awake, I pulled into a Motel 6 in Coalinga, parked the RV for the night and proceeded to get some serious sleep.

After a big breakfast at Denny’s I was on the road again, this time, the longest leg of my journey, roughly 700 miles to Portland. Lecia was still tired, she enjoyed a comfortable sleep in the bedroom of the motor home; try that in Mercedes or any other luxury car. When we got north of Redding, California the terrain became more scenic, with Shasta Lake, then Mt. Shasta and finally Yreka, the large windshield offered an incredible view, and Lecia was beside herself and me. The weather was perfect, cool and cloudless, we stopped in Weed, California and had lunch at the TA. By nightfall we were just north Coburg, Oregon, I was starting to get tired, I decided to pull over at a rest stop and make some coffee.

It was great having Lecia with me; I had a chance to share a lot of stories about my travels up and down the I-5 corridor and other things. I think we both learned a lot about each other on this trip and I did not need my XM radio to keep me company. By eleven in the evening the rain was steady, this was a good thing, I did not need to stop at Jubitz and get an RV wash. At 11:45 PM I pulled into my favorite RV Park in Portland, Jantzen Beach RV Resorts. I hooked up the power, and the plumbing, it was time for a good sleep.

The next morning we pulled out of the park and headed for Seattle, a three and half hour drive. We decided to pull into my favorite casino in Tacoma, the Swinomish Casino and had a nice hearty lunch of pork ribs, baked beans, fries and a coke. Yes, I know this is not the healthiest food, but darn it taste so good. The slot machines beckoned “us”, I usually play the nickel machines, and Lecia liked the old fashion quarter slots with the triple sevens. Today I would be the winner, I doubled my five-dollar investment in thirty minutes, I felt good, and Lecia was not so lucky; she lost her forty-dollar investment, it was time to leave.

I had a pick up to make at SeaTac, the photographer wanted to load some equipment into my RV and I needed to drop off Lecia at the airport for her return trip to LA. I decided to make a side trip to Seattle first; Lecia had never seen Seattle and the surrounding area. I exited at Mercer Street, and showed her the EMP, the Space Needle and downtown Seattle. I merged onto I-5 north, then took the 520 east to the I-405 south, snaking our way to SeaTac. We did a lot of talking, if Lecia had been able to take off for a week, she would have been able to stay with me for the rest of the trip. This job came at the last second, which is typical for me; usually I have a few minutes to make up my mind if I want to do a job.

At last, Dean the photographer showed up, we loaded the equipment in the RV and then I reluctantly drove to SeaTac airport to drop off Lecia at the airport. I was a little sad; I gave Lecia a long kiss and a bear hug. I drove to my favorite RV Park in Bellevue, Washington about fifteen minutes east of Seattle for the night.

To be continued…

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

San Francisco Part 2

Dear Reader

One of my most challenging shoots I have worked on in recent memory was a job in San Francisco (July 2010) for a department store in Germany. I knew this was going to be a difficult project before I left Los Angeles, the producer could not obtain parking permits in time so “we” would have to wing it. “Wing it” in San Francisco is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Fortunately I had been to SF numerous times, so I knew the city relatively well, I also learned what streets would be impossible to navigate a large motor home.

With that said, street parking on all my previous shoots were locked down. This photo shoot was going to be a enthralling, but I had a few tricks, a couple of cones, a sign that read “Production Vehicles” and a personality that could talk myself out of most parking tickets. Rule one I learned, stay with the motor home, the moment you walk away is the moment “they” can ticket you or worse. Fortunately, SF is accustomed to filming; therefore we were only harassed twice; even then I was able to talk myself out of a ticket.

The second day of this six-day photo shoot, China Town for a night scene. Of course there was no legal parking, there was a sign that read “No Parking between 4pm and 6pm”; it was now 3:35pm I found the perfect spot between two cars. Parallel parking a car on hill is no easy task; on a forty-foot motor home, the task is daunting. Fortunately for me I am a skilled driver or I like to think I am a skilled driver and I was able to park the RV, though it did require me to use the parking brake, get the RPM up to 1600 before I could engage the transmission to “Drive” or “Reverse”. One brave tow truck driver contemplated towing me, but I had him out weighed by 14 tons, only a “Big John” (large 40 ton tractor trailer tow truck) could tow me and there was none in San Francisco. Wrong, I saw a “Big John” wiz by me on the way to tow a disabled trolley car. Six in the evening could not come too soon, I made it, and I did not have to relocate the motor home. “ Two beautiful German models, silhouetted against the backdrop of China Town, the perfect shot.

The next morning we drove out to Rodeo Beach, about fifteen minutes north of SF, it was cold, misty and dark. Only surfers in wet suits ventured into the icy Pacific Ocean; the waves were small, the wind was light. Our two German models were freezing in their summer dresses; I leant them one of my warm blankets that I kept on the motor home and turned the heater up to 80 when they returned. The temperature never rose above 59; this is summer? According to meteorologist this is one of the coldest summers in the Bay area on record. Our crazy photographer came up with a wild idea; he wanted to shoot the models driving in a Ford T-Bird while in motion on top of the motor home. I was extremely reluctant at first, but when the Producer agreed to accept all liability if something bad happened, I agreed. To key to safety in this type of situation is communications and adherence to being careful, I made the photographer tie a rope around him and the ladder. I engaged the transmission to drive; the motor home lurched forward at a graceful speed, “we” drove for a quarter mile. The road was flat; the photographer got his shots. Next location is Baker Beach, for a sunset shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. A heavy fog engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge, the sun slowly melted into the darkness of the Pacific Ocean, the ladies were only too glad to return to the warm motor home.

To be continued....

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The best 1950's Service Station

Dear Reader

In my eleven years in the business, Clients have picked my brain for location ideas; the best 1950’s gas station that is in mint condition is the Flying A Service Station in Gladstone, Oregon. Gladstone is about forty minutes east of Portland; it looks more like Mayberry than a town in the twenty-first century. I was there last fall (2010) for a Mercedes shoot, we were shooting a new sports car with two very hot models, and the Producer wanted a very authentic 1950’s service station. The wonderful people at the Oregon Film Department (503-229-5832) were able to assist my Client find this location.

The Flying A is the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot, commercial or a period piece feature. This location has been used on countless shoots and the detail to the 1950’s is impeccable, including oilcans, fuel pumps and a host of other props beckons to that bygone era. Across the street are the Gladstone City Hall and the volunteer fire department, all as it did in the nineteen fifties.

Parking is easy, there is a lot just south of the station and plenty of street parking, the best time of year to shoot at the Flying A is summer if you want a shot with plenty of clean Oregon sunshine, if you want a more moody look, shoot in the late fall to spring.

For more location ideas please feel free to call me (818) 317 7099 and of course if you need a motor home I can help you with that as well.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Mojave Airport

Dear Reader

It is a cold windy morning at the Mojave Airport, just east of Hwy 14, in the town of Mojave. Our site representative is leading us on a one-lane dirt road. The high beans reveal the twist and turns of the road, I am the last vehicle in the caravan, I make a sharp left turn, and then I position my motor home next to the other vehicles. I drop the jacks, and then I let the slide-outs out.

Mojave airport is not the usual airport, there are no gates or ticket booths, it is just one huge runway with lots of parked planes. There are a number of private hangers, repair facilities and a fuel station. The Mojave airport is a place that the airlines store their old planes in a mothball state. It is also a place that is used for many car shoots, commercials and feature films. Take that scene in the movie “Speed”, when Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock try to escape from that out of control bus. The bus hits a cargo plane and blows up; it is suppose to be LAX, one problem, LAX does not have mountains from the west, there is a little lake called the Pacific Ocean. The closest mountains are north east of Los Angeles about forty miles. Though the Producers would have love to shoot that shot at LAX, the FAA said “no”. A little movie magic and the Mojave Airport is the perfect substitute.

We were shooting a commercial for a big Japanese car company. It was a two day shoot, the first day it was just a couple of people to set up the shot, so they did not need me, the second day they really needed me, the airport was hit with gale force winds. Anything that was not tied down flew to Barstow eighty miles away. This was typical weather for late spring, cool and windy. There are numerous helicopter pads on the airbase, with various views; to the west are the Tahippi Mountains, a favorite with producers. The movie “Water World” was shot at the airport, they bought in a huge water tank and blue screen, add a little movie magic and you would think they are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

As the day wore on, the winds increased, the crew came into my motor home to access the Internet, and watch the latest news updates. I kept the coffee and tea brewing all day long. Our caterer had his own motor home and he kept the crew very happy.

The town of Mojave is several miles away, with plenty of lodging, dump stations and affordable restaurants, for any size crew. One is not going to find any high end dining in Mojave, but you will find a Starbucks. Mojave is located about two and half hours from Los Angeles, if one is tempted to speed on highway 14, think twice, even in the early hours the CHP patrols the road, looking for speeders and drunk drivers.

The Mojave Airport is the perfect location for your next shoot.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Los Angeles to Seattle in a night and a day

Dear Reader

It takes me about twenty-two hours to get from Los Angeles to Seattle driving about sixty miles per hour, that may sound slow, but when your vehicle gets about seven and a half miles per gallon at 70 miles per hour. At sixty miles per hour I can up to nine to ten miles per hour. At this speed the CHP pays little attention to me, I can enjoy the ride, listen to my XM radio, drink some coffee, call some friends, access the internet, take a long nap, text some friends, make a cake, the usual things a California driver does while driving.

On this trip I had a night and a day to drive to Seattle, normally I like to take two days at twelve hours a day to get to Seattle. I drove until I was tired, I stopped at a rest stop, and in fifteen minutes I was sound asleep. I was on the road at four in the morning, the sun was slowly rising, it was time to find a truck stop to fuel up, I had driven about two hundred miles I was on ¾ of a tank. I pull in to a TA, the truck stop is filled with every imaginable tractor-trailer, the smell of burning diesel fuel fills the air, and the sound of diesel engines idling produced a constant roar.

By noon I was passing through Sacramento, the traffic was light. I was starting to get tired; I pulled into the next rest stop and took a power nap. By twelve-thirty I was on the road again. At five in the afternoon, I was eating diner at a Pilot Truck Stop in Roseburg, Oregon. I had burn through a hundred gallons of diesel fuel by the time I reached Jubitz Truck Stop in Portland. It was eleven thirty, I had driven about eight hundred miles, I was tired, and my eyes would not stay open anymore. I top off my tank, parked my RV in one of the stalls and breathe diesels fumes from all those idling trucks all night long; I did not need to take hit from my can of “LA Smog”. I set my alarm clock to wake me up at three in the morning. By four I was on the road again, at six-forty-five I was at a rest stop in Tacoma, I met Roger there, he would be driving RV number two, I was driving RV number one and Dave would meet us at the location in his Class C production motor home.

We were finished by four in the afternoon, we drove back to Tacoma, there’s a Casino just north of the city, great food and plenty of parking for our large motor homes. I stayed in the North West for the rest of the week, getting caught up with my paper work and getting information on my next job.

Part two, my ride back home on a train.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gas Works Park-Seattle

Dear Reader

One of my favorite parks in Seattle is Gas Works Park, located north of downtown Seattle next to Lake Union. Gas Work Park was built in 1906 to manufacture gas from coal; in the 1950’s the plant became obsolete because of natural gas. In 1975 the land was opened as a park; because of toxins in the Lake Union, wading or swimming is not allowed. This is unfortunate because the lake is beautiful.

On a partly sunny afternoon last Thursday (5-20-2010), the sun peek through the clouds, the wind was brisk and few boats ventured onto the rough waters of Lake Union. To the uninitiated, Seattle is surrounded by water, the Puget Sound to the West and south, Lake Union to the north, Lake Washington to the East. The park is unusual in the sense, it was not designed initially to be a park, the boiler house is now a picnic area; there is a beautiful grass hill that has a spectacular view of the city. When the sun sets, there is an orange hue that lights up downtown Seattle, the perfect background for a romantic comedy. Gas Works Park is one of my favorite parks on the West Coast because of the view from almost every angle. Even on a rainy day the park has a moody appearance; surreal, I think Federico Fellini could had shot a master piece film at this location; with the random objects scattered along the park, including the boiler room.

Last summer I was working on $5 Cover, when I was introduced to this park, it was sunny and warm; Seattle had just experienced a record heat wave. Lake Union was crowded with sailboats of every size. We were shooting one of the bands on the shore, the sun was setting, the director could not ask for better light.

On this shoot we were filming a music video for the Seattle Sounders, it was festive, like a soccer game. There were over a hundred extras, including the Sounders marching band. An intoxicated bystander, an attractive young lady, decided to disrobe in front of the camera, that was not planned and it provided a great story, the “lady” did not make the final cut; this is a family friendly music video that will run during games, her appearance was not family friendly. We shot in the wee hours of the morning, at 2:30 am; the video was finished.

At four in the morning it was time to head back to Los Angeles; I had twenty-four hours to make it back. I enlisted the help of one of the best motor home drivers in Los Angeles, Fred Masino. I was up all night, so Fred drove the first leg of the trip, I set up the bed, but soon I realized I was too wired to go to sleep. I set the GPS to Jubitz Truck Stop in Portland; I would fuel up the motor home and get some breakfast. In Ashland, Oregon it started to snow, but not like my last trip back home in early March in which I was almost forced to chain up and endure forty miles of driving snow. This time, the snow stops before we got to the California border. At 2:30 in the morning we made it back to Los Angeles, I would get three hours of sleep before I was due to start my next job. Note to myself; don’t do this again, learn to say "no".

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Seattle (SMP)

Dear Reader

It is late afternoon, the Grape Vine is behind me, and it is so named because Interstate 5 winds down the grade like a grape vine. In winter time this pass at 4000 feet turns into a winter wonderland, that means the Grape Vine, the main artery north and south out or in of Los Angeles, closes, usually for a few hours, sometimes days. I live about fortify-five minutes from the Grape Vine, so if I want to play in the snow, I do not have to travel very far for such an experience. The San Joaquin Valley is on my horizon; this is some of the most fertile land in California for agriculture. The ride from the bottom of the Grape Vine to Sacramento is very boring, I use this time to make a sandwich, take a nap, access the Internet, it is amazing how advance cruise control is today.

My goal tonight is to make it to the Flying J, just south of Sacramento, I stop a couple of times to top off my tank and stretch my legs. Around 9 pm I pull into the Flying J, there are several motor homes and trailers parked there for the night. It takes me about five minutes to set up my bed and about fifteen minutes to reach a deep sleep. The reason I like the Flying J, it is very RV friendly; most J’s have dump stations with fresh water, motor home supplies, fuel and a safe place to park overnight.

At 5:15 the next morning I am on the road again, a full tank of fuel and some beautiful country ahead of me. I decide to set the cruise control to 60 to conserve on fuel, for the next eight hours I will be traveling through several passes, unlike my last trip to Seattle, snow should not be a factor in my trip. I fuel up in Weed, California; I will not fuel again until I reach Portland. I can go almost 1000 miles on tank of fuel, usually I fuel up every quarter to a half of a tank, the reason, if I let the fuel tank get under a half, I cannot use my generator and also I do not want the injectors to suck up debris on the bottom of the tank. At 3:30 in the afternoon I reach my destination, Jubitz truck stop, just north of Portland. This is the ultimate truck stop; there is a truck wash, truck repair shop, a restaurant, a clinic, a post office, a store, a movie theatre, a barbershop, a hotel, everything one would want in a truck stop. My motor home was covered in bugs, so I decided to have my rig washed, next I top off the tank, then it was time to fill up my tank, my stomach. I dined on ribs, coleslaw and baked beans, my waitress convinced me to try the apple crisp with whipped cream, and it was awesome. Though, I was tired I decided to see a movie, I watched “Wild at Heart”, I really liked this movie, and I understand why Jeff Bridges won the academy award for his performance in this movie.

If I had wanted to, I could have made it to Seattle that night, my shoot was not until Monday morning and I did not want to pay for an extra day at an RV park, so this why I decided to stay in Portland. After a big breakfast, as Willie Nelson says, “I’m on the road again”, by 11:30 am, I pull into one the few RV friendly fuel stations in Seattle and top off my tank, in fifteen minutes I was in Bellevue. The rest of the afternoon, I clean the RV and pick up supplies, as a light rain falls from the sky.

In my travels the worst traffic I have even been in; is in and near San Francisco, a month ago, it took me four hours to travel sixty miles, according to the “locals” this is normal. In Seattle, no stranger to traffic, the commute to the EMP in Seattle, took me less than thirty minutes to travel sixteen miles, of course I left at 5:30 in the morning, the same trip would had taken me an extra twenty minutes. Last week in Oakland, it took me an hour and a half to travel 6.4 miles; part of the problem is the tollbooth. This is the twenty-first century; tollbooth should be in museums, not on bridges, which brings traffic to a crawl. I think some smart person like Steve Jobs should be employed by the State of California to solve this problem, maybe the “toll pad”? Actually there is FasTrak, unfortunately, it seems most people do not take advantage of FasTrak, instead most pay cash.

A myth about Seattle, Seattle gets a lot of rain. False, Seattle averages 37.1 inches of rain, that is less rain than Atlanta, New York and most of the Eastern Seaboard. Today the weather is a combination, cloudy, rainy and sunny. I set up the motor home, made coffee and get the crew situated. We are located in the parking lot of the SMP (Sound Music Experience) museum, if one has never been to this museum, one should visit it. Seattle is known for music, and this museum exemplifies the music scene in Seattle and how it has influenced rock, folk, jazz and classical music. I could not have asked for a better location, there is also the Space Needle, the children museum, the monorail, which takes you to within walking distance of Pike’s Market and a water front view of Puget Sound. Across the street is the Duck tour; I am not talking about water foul, rather a bus type vehicle that travels on land and water for a two-hour tour of Seattle and the surrounding area.

What makes the SMP so interesting is the design of the building created by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the Disney Center in Los Angeles. The building is supposed to look like a guitar with a lot of round angles and hues. From a photographic perspective the building gives an abundance of options for shooting. Our team spent three days at this location, with no shortage of background ideas.

I have a music video the next day and back to Los Angeles for my next adventure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

San Francisco Part I

Dear Reader

As I made my way up California St. in San Francisco, I felt like Captain Kirk in Star Trek, “Scotty full power ahead”, “Captain I’m giving you everything she’s got, but I don’t think the ship can take anymore.” My 8.3 Cummins engine was running at full power, the mighty Ambassador struggled to climb the 15% grade. The light changes to red, I engaged the parking brake, hoping it would hold the 34,000-pound RV in place, it does. The light changes to green, I throttle the engine to 1500 rpm, I release the parking brake, and the motor home slowly gains speed. The Allison transmission changes to second gear, the engine roars to life as I pass four cylinder cars huffing and puffing. I turn at Taylor Street; on my right is Huntington Park, an oasis in a city made of high-rise buildings. I am in Nob Hill, a place one can spend $8,000 a month on a flat, the well to do call this place home. The people of Nob Hill are very friendly; they did not mind our film shoot. One middle age Asian woman thought her dog was a kid, as she swung her dog on the swing. Tourist and regulars with their exotic dogs walked by, the bells from Grace Cathedral rang out, today is Sunday, as churchgoers run up the stairs for service. Parking is illusive in San Francisco, the church provides parking for their guest at a bargain price of $11, I indicate “bargain”, parking in SF can easily exceed $40 a day. And that $8,000 a month apartment does not include parking, that is another $300 to $400 a month. This is what makes SF such an expensive place to live.

We move to our next location, a park on Greenwich Street called the George Sterling Memorial Park, just off of Hyde Street. The park has tennis courts and a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge. The parking lot is on a suicide slope, normally I would go all the way forward and then cut my wheel hard left, the incline was so steep, I felt the motor home would continue to go forward and not stop until the front of the RV collided with the wall in front of me. I decided to stay put, we only had two shots and then we would wrap for the day, I cloaked my rear wheels. The sun was slowly starting to set, in a magnificent hues of orange and yellow, in the center of the Golden Gate Bridge was the sun fading to black. Two crew members guided me out of Greenwich Street, and onto Hyde St, a street famous for the San Francisco cable cars, since I was backing up, I needed my guides to block traffic for me and watch the rear end of the RV. A car decides to enter the park just as I back up, bad idea; my spotters dissuade the driver from that thought. I carefully pull out into the busy street, blocking traffic for a moment, I pull forward, I made the maneuver in one arc, damn I’m good.

I engage the exhaust brake, as I navigate the roller coaster like streets of San Francisco, in fifteen minutes we arrive back at the Palomar Hotel on 4th street, I drop off my crew and head back to my base in Oakland.