The whole reason we stopped in St. Louis is for me to see the Gateway Arch.  It was completed in 1965 — a few months before I was born — and I have always been fascinated by Eero Saarinen’s work.  I know that taking Kelley 10 hours and 500 miles out of the way was a little selfish. but after all, it is my vacation — and he had a day off.

After a night at his gracious friend’s home and being awoken at 3:00am by a tornadic (not my word — NPR’s) storm, we packed up the van and headed to the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park.  Kelley is not a fan of heights, so I planned to go to the top alone, and we would both see the highly recommended movie afterwards about the building of the monument.

Walking up to the site is impressive. The 60-story stainless steel form rises from a beautiful park (made prettier my the multicolored autumnal leaves), its gleaming facade glistening in the sun.  Wow.  I am jaded by the monuments throughout Washington, DC.  They are in my backyard, so I do not think of them often.

The ride to the top of the Arch completely fascinated me. Entering very small 5-person capsule (if there were actually 5 people in it, I would have not gone to the top), you see Saarinen’s vision of the future — circles of steel, abstract concrete forms — and an engineering feat that marvels.  The doors to the pod closed and soon I was being transported in a ride that was part elevator, part roller coaster climb and part Ferris wheel.  It was all brilliant — and in 20 trips, I would not see enough through the small window to satisfy my curiosity.

Of course, the observation deck at the top had spectacular views.  I imagine it is what I would see at the top of the Washington Monument.  Now, I have never been to the top of the Monument — as a kid, we never went — my mother often complained of long lines and that “its for tourists.”  So this trip was vindication for a viewless childhood.

When I landed back on terra firma, Kelley and I entered the large 60s-era auditorium to watch the film.  I love educational films from the 1960s.  The manly narration, the scratched and oversaturated color film stock, the warble of the optical soundtrack — it adds to the story.  The film does need a restoration job, but I hope the preservationists do not remove the charm.

The 35-minute film chronicled how the Arch was built.  Forms from steel from plants in Pennsylvania, arrived to the site by trains — their locomotives dwarfed by the size and weight of the traveling sections. Men with cigarettes dangling from their lips — as they also dangled from the towering structure — with nary a belay or harness in sight.  No computerized cranes, no laser-guided survey equipment — just hard work and guts to create this masterpiece.

As the lights came up, we started at each other — blown away by the amazing feat.  I commented that I was a little nauseated from the views from the construction platforms. If this has been shot in IMAX, there would not be a full stomach in the house. Kelley agreed — and thanked me again — for insisting on stopping.

In the early 1960s, a team of men took on an incredible project.  This fall, I am too — and I am glad to be the person to take Kelley out of his routine and see emore of America than her highways and college lecture halls.

This adventure is my vacation.  It is also Kelley’s work and livelihood.  Where I am all about stopping to visit roadside attractions and taking pictures if Pilot at historic markers, Kelley needs to book more engagements, ensure future bookings, and sell DVDS and books.

Yesterday, on the way to a lunch (Kelley’s work — see earlier post) — we were heading toward the “Field of Dreams” — the Iowa farmhouse used in the Kevin Costner baseball movie of the same name.  Sensing that I would like a diversion from the road, Kelley actually suggested the stop.

Iowa farm country is as I had imagined — lots of flat land and large swatches of crops.  The only thing you see in the distance is a lone tree and towering grain silos.  We winded through a series of farm roads and ended at our destination. On the way there, we researched the place on the ‘net — even at slow AT&T Edge speeds, I was able to read their web site.  The place has been attracting visitors since the film was released (more than 65,000 every year), and is now up for sale.  The asking price was not published, but rumor places the price at $1.5M.  Actually, not bad for a farm and an attraction, that at $10 in merch a visitor is a half-million dollar-a-year business.

The site itself is nothing special — the white farmhouse with wrap-around porch sits on a small hill behind a sign that reads “Field of Dreams.”  Next to the house is the baseball field and a single bleacher section.  Being late October, the corn crops had already been mowed down — so I had to imagine Shoeless Joe appearing from the tall, green stalks. Pilot bounded out of the car and immediately proceeded to pee on the pitchers’ mound and again on the bleachers — harkening the phrase, “If you build it, he will pee.”  We walked around a bit — it was all very simple and well maintained.

We ambled to the souvenir stand and proceeded to cull over the immense amount of available merchandise.  T-shirts, baseballs, thimbles, spoons, bells, magnets and a “collector’s edition” book.  I ended up getting a magnet for my brother (who I know would have appreciated this place MUCH more than I), a pin for my ukelele bag which reads, “Is it heaven? No, its Iowa,” and a mini baseball bat (in case I wanted to play midget baseball.)

As we loaded back into the van, a small bus of disabled kids pulled up and started to play T-ball on the field.  For all of the hokeyness of the attraction, it really is a Field of Dreams to some.  I mentioned to Kelley that the scene was endearing — he agreed, and mentioned that had I not been on the tour, he would not have stopped.  We were both glad that we did.

Yesterday, Kelley and I stopped in a small Iowa town to lunch with an enthusiastic middle-aged filmmaker (and I use that term loosely.)  He urged us to stop on our way to St. Louis (it was a 3 hour detour) to discuss a current project.

We pulled up to an idealistic small town — gentrified “downtown” lined with shops, barbers, restaurants — and a movie house playing “Stagecoach” (very modern.)  We met the filmmaker (who I will call Mr. X.) and his intern.  They showed us an unfinished marketing video to sell the idea of moving back to Iowa from a major city.  A a city person, no video — unless it came with a free house, 4 acres and paid staff — would entice me to move to a field in the middle of Nowhereville.

The piece was too long, with cheesy music, bad acting, and although the cinematography was nice, the piece lacked oomph.  We made a few quick suggestions (cut 1/3 of it out, rearrange shots to add action and drama, and pick less hokey music.)  Satisfied with the comments, he asked us to lunch. I could tell from Kelley’s eyes he was hungry for the free meal, but not up to the consequences.

At the sandwich shop — which, by the way, was actually quite good, although the decor was NYC based and I believe that the only people in the restaurant to ever step food on Manhattan had just pulled into town with a dog in tow — Mr. X started to kiss butt.  Now, I am a great ass kisser — I have always been.  I have schmoozed professors into forgetting about papers and grades; talked clients into design projects I had no idea how to create; and on a daily basis, seem to convince people that I know what I am talking about.  It is a skill that has taken me lifetime to perfect — and I am proud of my talents.  Mr. X was out of his league.

First, he name dropped.  “I know So-and-So,” and “When I worked for Big-Name-Here” never impress me. I could see from Kelley’s darting looks that he was less than enthused, also.

Next came the Quotation Dictionary. Now, I like to quote my idols — after all, I respect them because of their accomplishments — and often their words of wisdom are worth repeating.  But when you begin every other sentence with “You know, Oscar-Winning-Director always said…” I wonder if you have you own thoughts or opinions.  Yes, being well read is important.  Yes, knowing the lessons from the past will get you farther with less aggravation.  But such a technique is to be used sparingly — not to the point where I was about to place a bet on who he would quote next.

Having sensed Kelley’s increasing frustration (and I will not go into his cringing every time Mr. X called him the Angry Filmmaker), I looked at my watch and said we had to get a move on — I wanted to arrive in St. Louis before dark.

I felt bad that, once again, we met filmmakers who are frustrated by their lack of resources and film community. I know that if Mr. X banded together with others in his college town and surrounding cities (of which I know there are others in the same boat), he would be more confident in his abilities — and create works which focus on his strengths.

Ultimately, he bought $80 of merchandise and paid for lunch — so that was an upside.  And a few hours later, he emailed to say he followed our advice and the commercial was much tighter — so the meeting was not a total loss.

Read previous posts from the beginning…

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