10,000 miles (to go before I sleep….)

83 days. 10,000 miles.

The fat moon was spiking its rays.  Or maybe drinking away its lonely nights, drooling silver moonshine down upon our dreams…. Because we’d been having some wild ones, when we could sleep at all, that is.  But southern Utah can do that to you– fracture your thoughts and visions, rearrange them to its liking, then blow them all to smithereens all over again.
 In Arizona, at the bottom of Canyon de Chelly, I met a Navajo woman named Darlene, and we made the climb back up together.  She stopped at a juniper tree to pick and peel a berry and told me to put it near my child’s bed for good sleeping.  She handed me another and said the Navajo use the seeds to bless “long trips.”  The berries smell like bright sugared gin, their seeds hard and brown.  She didn’t know we’d been traveling for months already, or about our hapless sleep.  But since then Lulu and I have been putting juniperberry seeds under our pillows (zzzzz….) and we’ve got a few wedged into our seats.  (However, this morning Zelda awoke from such a deep sleep she said, “I didn’t even need those nuts!”)

So our sleep has tamed, (our trip has felt charmed from day one) but our vision of the film has tripped over our happiness, fractured its darkly intended direction, and hopefully will rise up with the skinned knees and unscathed resolve of a kid with a new plan.  A really new plan.  “We can rebuild it! ….. Better, stronger, faster (and funnier) than before!”
In other words, the film we’d planned to make– a Western-turned-modern revenge tale/ghost story/road trip movie, and, frankly, stranger and darker than a dirty-denim wearing funeral director — is no longer the film we wanna make.  Blame it on the stars, the mountains, the coast and canyons…. Blame it on the freedom of a big map and a new road.  We are happy as hell, and somehow making a movie that spelled sadness no matter how charming and funny the kids are just wasn’t cutting it.
  You see, it kind of looked like this:  the girls and I meet the handsome stranger (John), and then, through an unfortunate turn of fun-gone-wrong, the girls take their final bow (at least in theory) on this earth.  And John’s character was to do the dirty deeds.  (He started shuffling his feet weeks ago.)  But in Utah, a place we love like a mother, we shot a scene integral to the story– an unexpectedly heavy scene– and that was a beacon for us.  It sent a clear message:  “Turn to the light, fools! …. One hanky will do…. And if there’s any killing to be done, kill ’em with creativity…with color… with the same fierce celebration of life that this trip is for you!”  Or maybe it just said, ” Are you trying to empty every seat in the house, or what?” At any rate, we’ve changed our tune, and I think for the better.  Anything we do is destined to be a bit wicked, wild and slightly deranged, so don’t think we’re getting all Disney on you– ha! Fat chance.  You can always expect the Adams Martini to be stirred with a little blood, butane and butt jokes.  Add a little sugar (Zelda’s chocolate stare) and spice (Lulu’s Irish wit), and we make’a you somethin’ nice….  And now John will get to do what he does best:  love big and have fun.

This is what a normal film day in Harvey the RV looks like:  John is driving.  Lulu is doing Math in the back room. I am in the front seat with a book or dry-erase board; Z is behind me with another.  John says,”Can you hand me the camera?” I do.  “Can you grab the wheel?” I do.  He shoots.  I steer.  Ten seconds later I am back to short a’s and i-before-e.  We drive.  John shoots.  I take the wheel.  We change subjects.  We say “look at that!”  “Yeah, that’s cool.”  We drive some more. Then John gets out, sets up camera down the road somewhere; I get behind the wheel, drive past, la dee da whistling a tune, turn around and do it again.  “Didja get it?” ” Got it!”  He gets back in.  Then on a lonely desert road we see a burned-out car that has an invisible Hello My Name Is Target Practice sticker on its rusty lapel.  We pull over.  John says, “Let’s shoot!”  The kids say, “How long’s it gonna take?” And I get all serious and try to quiet the various voices in my head.  (The producer is wondering if we’re on private property; the writer is cursing at John for shooting out of order, not to mention a totally unwritten scene; the actor just vants to be alooone, please, to get into character, thank you very much;  and the assistant director is telling the actor to get over herself and start attaching the lavalier-mikes, honey.) John speedily sets up the sound, tripod and camera and… Action!  We do a little antagonistic doe-si-doe about what to say and how to shoot it, I usually come to terms with John being the smart one, and in the end we come up with something we are pretty damn proud of.  We say, “Nice job, girls” and Lu says, “How much time did we put in?” and I send a time report to Screen Actors Guild and voila we are making a movie.

Ok, here’s a Greatest Hits of weeks 7-12:
–Mendocino and Sonoma counties are heaven.  I may just want to settle down here in our golden years, in a little house where farm meets ocean and the fog is an old friend….. 
–There are remote beaches off Manchester that look like outposts from Mars– bulbous seaweed rides in on righteous white waves and colonizes the beach in creepy tangles.  Someone has built forts out of driftwood tied with the weeds– it’s like Mad Max Goes to the Beach.  
–In San Francisco we got to see John’s parents, in town to celebrate their book, A Force For Nature; a history of Natural Resources Defense Council.  What a treat:  the girls got to see their  fun, lovable grandparents feted at NRDC’s office, and we all went to the Academy of Science and had great dinners…. (Last week John’s dad received news that he would be honored by President Obama with the Medal of Freedom!) 
–En route to the Sierras:  Murphys is a sweet town.  Killer bakery.
–Yosemite is relatively empty now, which is great.  It was snowing there and Half Dome sparkled.  We hiked, saw a lot of bear shit, and Zelda lost a tooth.
–October 30, Zelda turned 7!  While buying pumpkins at a farm in El Dorado, CA the owner invited us to park overnight in his cow field, home to his 16 “girls”– all of them pregnant.  We shot a cake scene here and were lulled to bed by moos.  This was one of my favorite nights, and Z said it was the coolest birthday ever.
— Spent Halloween in Sacramento with a childhood friend of John’s, artist Andy Cunningham, and his family.  Great folks, and 3 cute, cool boys to keep the girls busy.   Best pizza ever at  One Speed.
–Back to the Mendocino coast then through beautiful wine country and my-kinda-towns like Philo…. and an encore of San Fran, where I did some voice-over work and John got a priceless Final Cut lesson from my college buddy, the one in a million, Jesse Spencer.  Also got to see another favorite Tulane pal, Daniel Hawkins.   We played a fierce soccer game on Cristy Field and visited Dan’s bar/cafe Gestalt in the Mission.  Great German food!  
BEST Puerto Rican food EVER?  Sol Food in San Rafael.  Old friends+ good food+ the Exploratorium (coolest science museum)= happy family.
— Snow from Donner Pass to Reno, NV then on to America’s Loneliest Highway, Route 50.  John and I swore we’d return to explore this barren terrain.  (This is where we found the bullet-ridden burnt-out car.) 
— Torrey, Utah.  Empty, cold and can you say, “We’ll rent the whole cabin, please, because there are two rooms and a nice solid door between them.”  Lulu and Zelda get a TV; Toby and John get laid.
–Capital Reef and the beginning of canyonland nirvana.
–Natural Bridges National Monument– Hallelujah. 
— Gooseneck,Utah– Amen.
–Monument Valley, AZ– Praise the Lord.
–Canyon de Chelly, AZ– Navajo ruins, Darlene and Juniper berries.  Also, the most beautiful stray dogs all over, just begging you to take them in.  The girls begged, too.  Soon, soon, a dog… But not just yet….
— Flagstaff is cool.
— Joshua Tree.  At Jumbo Rocks we ran into some Topanga friends, David and son, Luke!  They, too, are NY transplants.  Dave is a filmmaker and screenwriter, and we were not shy about running our new ideas by him. Great guy, great kid.  Great hiking.  If you find yourself hungry in Joshua Tree, go to the Country Kitchen.  The lovely owner, Mareine, will hook you right up.
— Thanksgiving in Rancho Mirage with the Korades!  What a sweet reunion with our great, generous, lovable Topanga friends…..  John and I communed with Linda and Dave; the girls were just blurs of hi-and-byes as they reconnected with their pals EmK and Jillian.  We love this family.  And we had a good time with Nancy (Desert Doll!) and Oleg, too.
— Salton Sea and the General Patton Memorial Museum. My Uncle “Colonel” (Ellis Robinson) was field promoted by Patton in WWII. 
–Phoenix,AZ : more VO work (It’s happily working out just fine from the road) and now Picacho State Park, where the saguaro cactus reigns and the hikes are hypodermic– ouchee!

The West was wild–and wondrous.   Now we are officially headed East.  John is editing up a storm and writing a great score as we look at what we’ve got and look forward to what’s next– which soon will include his snaggle-toothed mug!  Should be interesting, as we all play musical chairs with the camera.  

Three months have raced by, and we are still pinching ourselves, living this dream.  By now, we are happiest in Harvey, as opposed to a hotel; Harvey feels like home.  The road still beckons, the stars are now familiar, and the girls seem to see their world through sunset-colored glasses.  It’s good.  Really, really good.