A funny thing happened ten days ago. My cordless phone had been acting up, making it difficult to dial any number that had a 1 or a 3 in it. My solution was to press as hard as I could on the buttons, which then either made multiple 1s or 3s appear on the screen or made my thumb hurt. Finally, it stopped doing the number 1 altogether, leaving me no choice but to replace it. Since I didn’t feel like going out and buying a phone that instant, I looked in my closet and found the old prop phone from my short film “Call Center.” It’s the kind of big, clunky black desktop phone you haven’t seen in twenty years. I had found it on eBay for ten bucks (gotta love eBay) and it is the kind of phone that those who are hip and retro might admire if they ever came over. I plugged it in and there was a dialtone, an indication that the phone actually worked. I pushed aside a bunch of papers and put it in the middle of my desk.
A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was shrill and tinny, not the beepy chirps of today’s phones. I answered. It was someone who had been referred to me by a friend of mine. They had a job for me. I wrote down the details and said sure, I could do it. Then the other line beeped. I clicked over (which on an old phone means pushing down those two pins that the handset sits upon) and it was another stranger calling with another job! I couldn’t believe it. I wrote down their details too. Then the phone rang again. Another job. All of a sudden my calendar was full and my notepad was covered in names, numbers and various important details.
Like any rational person, I could only assume the phone was magic. I marveled at the old black telephone, then berated my useless, newer Motorola cordless. They don’t make ‘em like they used to! I yelled. I was elated. That phone had, in a matter of an hour, resurrected my prospects for actually paying rent this winter.
While two of the jobs have taken longer than I’d hoped to develop (probably due to the Thanksgiving holiday), one was more urgent. So last Monday I hopped on a plane to Lubbock, Texas to begin a three day trip field-producing two segments for a new show for the Weather Channel. I had never been to Texas before (very flat) and I drove two hours across the western portion of the state to Portales, New Mexico. There was no one on the roads for the most part, and I drove through small, run-down towns that looked like time had forgotten. (That president of ours should have given his state a “No Town Left Behind” program). I passed old houses with rusty tractors in the grass out front, boarded up old burger joints and fireworks stands. When I got to Portales, I wandered around the town, filming some landmarks (what’s called B-roll in the biz) and then met up with two State Troopers who had been struck by lighting during a flash flood a few months before. I had been warned it would be tough to get much out of them during the interview and they lived up to the expectations. Why is it that so many cops act like robots? “When the incident occurred, I managed to regain consciousness and proceeded to assist my partner with the evacuation of the vehicle…” Nice guys, and brave too, but it was truly comical.
My next stop was in Phoenix, Arizona, to interview a fireman who had helped rescue drivers during a huge pileup on the highway in the middle of a dust storm several years ago. I got into town late at night and, of course, there were no restaurants open, so after driving around aimlessly I had no choice but to adjourn to my hotel room to watch cable TV for several hours. The next morning I was at the Phoenix firehouse, interviewing the fireman for about a half hour before throwing the tapes in a Fedex box and heading back to LA.
It was the day before Thanksgiving and the airports were full of college kids waiting for their flights home. Many of them seemed to know each other and as I stood in the line, listening to my iPod like a zombie, the exhaustion of the past fifty six hours set in. I started to reminisce. I missed college. Those were the days. I felt old. So I got depressed. Why was I shooting these boring segments for some show that maybe nobody will ever watch? Why wasn’t I directing my first, or better yet, third feature film by now? And going on the road is lonely. I love airports, but they are much tougher to deal with when you are just a wayward traveler, in between destinations, with nobody saying goodbye at one end and nobody saying hello at the other.
I comforted myself with the fact that I was still paying dues and that the money was much needed. I was lucky for the job to come when it did. I’m always lucky when it comes down to it.
I got home and unpacked before my parents arrived in town for Turkey Time. The magic phone was quiet but it had done its job. Over the next week, it did not deliver any more news, good or bad, and people started to complain that they couldn’t hear me or that there was an echo on the line. So I went to Best Buy, finally, and bought a new cordless phone, a fancy silver one with Caller ID and speakerphone. It takes up a lot less space on my desk and all the buttons work.
But if it doesn’t start ringing soon, I’m taking it back.