As I Drove
Across the country in late 2022, embarking on an unknown new chapter of life that began with a shaky and concerning phone voice (my mom’s), packing up my posessions in Nashville, moving said possessions back to California (into the same dang storage facility on Dutton Ave.), securing a stable job, and ending with finding a great little house for both my mom and I to live, I remarked to myself how well-bookended this journey had turned out. In fact 15 years almost exactly.
15 years since I quit my stable (if stressful) sales job to move to Hollywood to try and become a filmmaker. To sleep on my friend’s floor. To get kicked off of my friend’s floor. To sleep on a friend-of-a-friend’s couch for two months. To accumulate too many parking tickets. To show up for background work on a new series called Mad Men and see the line of extras stretch 300-long in the Burbank sun. To find a cool Hollywood hills apartment where Jewel used to live. To sit the table next to dudes like Jamie Kennedy and Mark Ruffalo at my hipster coffee shop. To learn where all the ‘power agents’ have lunch and to learn that it didn’t matter even when I did. To write seven screenplays and lead a writer’s group. To make a documentary about my dad that was so low budget my biggest expense was gas.
Gosh did it sound that cliché when I did all that?
My friends would probably answer with a firm uh, YEAH DUDE IT DID.
The above artwork is an early — early — early — first stab at a book cover for a book I haven’t written.
But one that I’m thinking I pretty much have to.
When you pursue a dream and it turns out that you actually did do what you set out to do (make movies) but then again didn’t (make a living out of it), and when the strangest moment of the 15 year journey entails standing in Richard Simmons’ kitchen as he tried to cheer me up after my dad had died, juxtaposed with the high point of standing in my hometown movie house to an almost-full theatre of friends and family cheering my (arguably best) film, a bmx-memoir called 30 Bikes, I owe it to at least myself to record what happened.
The Richard Simmons
Moment was while doing the most bizarre job: delivering scripts, tax papers, and the odd public relation swag to celebrities and agents around Los Angeles.
I had a crappy Honda Civic that wasn’t even registered in my name, was living on a friends’ couch for the third or fourth time in as many years, and was at the lowest point since my mid-twenties, which was darker than I’d like to admit and need not repeat here.
It was early April if memory serves so tax time was in full swing. I was dropping off receipts and accounting papers to people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and $50,000 royalty checks to the drummer for Maroon 5 (I peaked — it wasn’t sealed), and it was at this time that my job-provided flip phone buzzed and I looked down and saw the following text:
Pickup: 17250 Santa Monica Blvd. Century City (a common accounting firm)
Dropoff: R. Simmons 1350 Belfast Drive West Los Angeles (above Sunset Plaza)
Time: 15 min.
Don’t mind the 15 min. unrealistic time estimate — that was just code for “as soon as your sorry a** can get it there.” This job paid so low I was losing money DESPITE living on a couch. I still can’t figure that part out.
But I glanced at the ‘R. Simmons’ and thought what you’re thinking too — ‘R as in Richard?’ As in Simmons?
But of course it was.
On the front door but got no answer nor any sound nor hint of anyone at all (btw this was a year before Richard’s now famous disappearance). I was about to leave the manila envelope in the mailbox when I thought I’d check things out first. After all at 4:30pm this was likely my last gig of the day and at three months in I was getting the feeling the job was nearing an end as well so what did I have to lose?
I walked to the east side of the modest (ish) home and saw a side door on the lower level, sort of an apartment or basement door — slightly ajar.
I knocked lightly and pushed the door open to see you-know-who, at a small desk — eagerly awaiting his tax paperwork apparently.
“Hello — knock, knock — got some papers from your accountant” I said.
Richard looked over his reading glasses at me with hair a bit grey-er than I’d thought and said
“How are yooouuu?” in typical Richard Simmons-speak.
“Pretty good,” I answered, honestly as I could.
And there was my guard, let down as clear as day.
“Just pretty good — Not great?” Said the upbeat physical fitness guru predictably.
A bit startled I realized my defenses were down. I was down. The job sucked and I knew it. The couch living couldn’t continue and I knew it. Dad was gone and my random bouts of tearing up I knew were affecting me.
“Well,” I said and paused.
“Do you like the baby Jesus?” he answered back.
Vulnerable and now further confused I answered honestly (as anyone but satan would):
“Uh, of course.” I said.
“Well co’mon” He said as he got up and began walking up the stairs.
Was a brief but beyond-odd 45 min. of touring Richard’s home, looking over his collection of baby Jesus statuettes from around the world (I had no idea this was even a thing) and yes receiving a pep-talk in his kitchen.
I didn’t set out to tell him about my current struggles but he pressed. He asked what was wrong so I told him. I told him about dad and his cancer and of Governor Jerry Brown trying to close down dad’s life’s work after he died and about my non-profit fundraising and the minor successes of saving both of his parks.
And of making a movie about it.
“Well I think you’re doing great.”
Said Richard, after listening patiently to my three-year saga.
“You do?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “You’re a son who lost his dad and now you’re keeping his legacy alive, that’s so great. I bet he’s proud of you.”
“Hmm” I answered and thought.
“Well maybe I am a bit hard on myself,” I responded.
“It sounds like it,” he said.
We wrapped up with some small talk about fathers and choices and I was on my way.
Back to my crappy Civic.
Back to the crappy job.
Back to my friend’s couch.
I would finish the second documentary about dad and his work called The Story of Jughandle which would premiere on PBS in Northern California, and by the following summer I would be Director of Photography on the first of three films directed by longtime friend Don Johnson, and in 2017 would receive an award from the Red Cross for continued work securing my dad’s legacy.
In The Summer of 2018
I would meet Kevin and Brian, the twin brother documentary filmmakers who would help me tell my most personal story in 30 Bikes: The Story of Homestead Bicycles, about tracking down some missing bikes, but also about tracking down my missing confidence, and regaining my belief in myself.
And just two weeks ago my third film about my dad and his work, ‘A Wild Independence’ premiered on PBS Sacramento, and is now streaming online for all to enjoy.
Like I said, these films and the stories behind them, along with countless other details, struggles and accomplishments were all passing through my mind as I drove west on Interstate 40, considering all I’d done and what I’d thought would happen in this 15 year tour — when I dropped out of life to find one.
The summary as it turns out is that Richard was right — I was foolish to think of life as a failure back then, and I still need to be reminded of that even now, in this next chapter, heading into this new journey.
Do I have regrets?
Do I think about what-might-have-beens?
The correct answer is clear:
Not today Satan — not today.
*Thanks Richard — wherever you are. Book coming soon.