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.