Sunday

ART OF THE ROAD TRIP - UTAH - MEXICO EDITION

Growing up I was surrounded by two things…hilly back roads and things with engines…we would drive everywhere for everything and my rural tree lined world was either framed through a car window or motorcycle helmet. Those early ways of seeing landscapes helped shape my early composition skills and also a love of being in a car and taking road trips.

Every once in a while the freelance life allows little windows of time where you can run away last minute and pretend to be an explorer. This time I chose to make a run to Southern Utah to explore Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Then off to Mexico to take part in the best collection of bad ideas that has become a couple time a year adventure and rally north from San Miguel De Allende to Chicago. All tallied, I will be in a car, mostly as driver for a little over 3000 miles in roughly 14 days.

You are not doing a road trip, or any travel right, if you don’t come back with some bit of perspective change.   (Zion’s Angels Landing was a bad ass) unusual landscapes and people from around the world…like the Dutch couple who was taking a motor home from Chicago to San Francisco via Southern Utah. Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase Of The Escalante were also unforgettable.

This trip was especially full of perspective changes. I’d never been to the national parks I listed…Bryce was like walking onto the back lot of the Flintstones, Zion was a more arid and sandstone version of my beloved Yosemite. Both…mind blowing and beautiful with dazzling hikes,

Feeling inspired, recharged I spent a hot second in my home to repack and off for a 5:18am departure to Leon, MX.

I was at a roadside table with bubbling caldrons of goodness in Mexico by 11:30am, feasting on the spicy, saucy, offerings and a couple cervezas for the equivalent of $5.00 us.  San Miguel is a beautiful town up in the highlands, this is my 5th trip here. High on the checklist this time was a 150 miles worth of motorcycle riding on the back roads of the area. Stunning scenery, coble stone back roads, Spanish Missions, cows and chickens. A virtual obstacle course that left smiles from ear to ear.

GALLERY OF TRIP MAGES HERE 

 
I’ve had a LOT of road trips and a good number of co-pilots. The good ones become life long friends…the bad…well…let’s just say, if ever there was a test for a relationship, 700 miles at 85-100 mph is my litmus test of relationship strength..any relationship. A girl who can read a map and call out directions rally style will win my heart as fast as her 5’10” slender frame and snark would catch my attention.
Driving through the vast amounts of these here United States of America requires a couple states of mind, preparations, and commitments. So here’s my guide, some photos from the last couple runs and hopefully you’ll take this and get out there and see something.

1.   Make a plan and then have a plan to cover the first one once it gets completely scrapped. Restaurants will be closed, airlines will loose luggage, glasses will get broken, you might get lost. Roll with it. Have a car charger, have a map, have spares, and have fun.

2. You need to be in the car with someone who’s got the same level of adventure lust. Tim Steil…Tom Neubauer…Francis Anderson…Tom MacDonald…4 people who I didn’t know so well before getting into a car and driving thousands of miles with. These guys have become friends for life and all had the attitude of “yeah…let’s do that, sound fun”.

3. Context…if you’re from the city and you think you’re going to get “city” service or food in “not the city”…or expect city points of view, you will be consistently disappointed. You’re visiting someone else’s local…someone else’s culture. Is what it is, Mate…blend and flow, be water, talk to people, be nice, be courteous, people actually dig meeting people who aren’t from “there” who aren’t dicks.

A lot of the food in anywhere USA, kinda blows. If you live in a food mecca consider yourself lucky. Most of your fellow Americans are stuffing their faces with Sysco frozen goods at their favorite restaurant and are eating their feelings at home via carbs and fat. That sucks…but know it and understand there isn’t a Whole Foods or Starbucks or an “awesome Indian joint” at every turn. McDonalds has the best coffee…”out there”…that’s the reality. Also, in the vein of context…pulling up Wikipedia and looking up info about places you’re at is an amazing way to enrich the trip. The story of the Jim Bowie knife fight at a sand bar in Natchez MS, stories of the Comanche Indians in Texas and Oklahoma…all at your fingertips with a smart phone. Being where history happened and reading the stories puts it all into a unique perspective.

4. Have friends along the way. Driving an hour out of the way in another state to spend an hour with someone you know is time well spent. I stopped and saw the Bonneville Salt Flat Racing fellow I wrote about and photographed for a car magazine, while in Texas. An hour of his and our time was so worth seeing his operation, the cars and just cementing chance meetings into friendships. Not to mention seeing the article proudly framed in his office.

This last trip from Central Mexico to Chicago had a new crop of firsts. Back roads in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa that opened my eyes to landscapes, people and US History stories that were new to me…Wikipedia and a co-pilot looking up Comanche Indian stores put every hill into context and the stories we read about had a tactile realism because we were in the landscape that the stories took place. Time was taken to stop and see and interact with people and places along the way…planned and unplanned.

Road Trips allow you to see, smell, taste and feel different parts of the country first hand. Being aware, open and humble will take you places you didn’t expect and will undoubtedly give you story material…and the rule is…he who dies with the best stories, wins. It ain’t hard…gas and go…hotwire, hotels.com, Google maps, do it.

Saturday

Finding Vivian Maier - Review//Thoughts





I took myself on a inspiration date last night and saw Finding Vivian Maier at Landmark in Chicago. I've been looking forward to seeing this story told since Vivian, an unknown nanny in Chicago who's photo treasure trove was "discovered" when bought at an estate auction by John Maloof. Thousands and thousands of negatives and hundreds of rolls of film along with bits and pieces of life were in boxes and boxes. John had an eye enough to know the images he found were special and began a process of scanning, printing and displaying the work. But who was Vivian? That's what the film is about.

http://www.amazon.com/Vivian-Maier-Street-Photographer/dp/1576875776/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1396702925&sr=8-1&keywords=viviam+maierFirst off, the film is a must see. There. Two thumbs up, 5 star, whatever. It's not the greatest documentary in the history of documentaries, and having done one I know how hard they are to do.  But, the story is interesting and done well and you do get a better picture of who this person was. Spoiler...she was a hoarder. Which makes sense...keeping all those photos and obsessively creating them is an OCD/Hoarding trait. And that brings me to my big point.

I think Vivians work is awesome! I bought the book when it came out. I absolutely love the images of
a time gone by. My thought on her being an undiscovered great artist is this...I think she was, but by accident. I think Vivian was a "Pure Eye", and by that I mean she wasn't driven by image sales, portfolio or art school. She was a person who obsessively took photos, had a keen eye, a personality that allowed her to "be" places...in that sense much like Annie Liebowitz's early work...minus the Rolling Stones. I think she knew about other great photographers of the time, as her styles flow between emulating all of them. I think her true treasure is in the images she captured...they were regular life in the cities she visited or lived in, and their point of view was so beautifully neutral. And I think because her work was her outlet/hobby she didn't look at things the way a 20year professional photographer would. I look at something and I know how to make a, at least, decent photo. I've been doing this since I was 18....I went to school for it, I worked for top people and I've been shooting and DEVELOPING my way of shooting conciously in order to fulfill my artistic persuits but to also gain and retain clients. I don't think Vivian had this specific drive, which is why I love her work for the documentation of an era over the "artist" aspect. Which may also be why, as mentioned in the film, the "Art World" hasn't filed in to buy into her work. She didn't have an artistic message, she was looking and clicking...which I find beautifully refreshing. I went to the late show and got to enjoy a Q/A with Maloof and Siskel (director/producer). Fully enjoyable...go see it on the big screen.


Wednesday

Collaboration Nation

I've always maintained that I will never be "a guy with a camera". I'm a visual problem solver. A label which is  becoming more true now than ever. My clients have a hole in a layout, a concept, an idea or plan they need to execute and it's up to me to partner my skills and esthetic with their creative teams needs and create something unique and cool. Long time friend and client, Susan Bennett of Simple Truth, who I've shot some really fun projects with over the years asked me to help out on a project for the Chicago Made booth for Chicago at the 2014 SXSW Conference in Austin TX. The project was to be a time-lapse film of Chris Silva creating the artwork that was to become the backdrop of the booth in Austin. I set up two cameras in Chris's studio, set them to shoot a frame every 20 seconds and then take all those images and create a 2:30 film. With assets from Simple Truth that I animated, and a sound track from Chris and his band This Mother Falcon I compiled everything into a pretty cool piece.


Friday

Road & Track Mag + 14 Million in Exotic Cars = A great Birthday

"You had me at McLaren", was my email reply to a shoot request from an editor at Road & Track Magazine. What a cool project, photographing 3 of the 51 coolest cars of the last 50 yearsA McLaren F1, #001An Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale, one of only 18 in the world…and a Lancia Stratos…and the shoot date was on my Birthday.


The challenges with this shoot was we had one day with the cars, had to shoot all three in the studio and had to make something unique and different for each one. I've shot cars in the past in the studio…a lot way back when, actually. The pleasure was getting back on the bike of automotive studio lighting. We pulled off the shoot within normal working hours. The Alfa instantly reminded me of a photo a friend and mentor who had passed earlier in the year, Steve Grubman, had on the walls of his studio…I think of a Ferrari. One of the variation we did was in honor of steve…I shot it just like I remember that shot looking like. Felt good to do that, as he was not only a great guy, photographer and generally inspiring fellow, he was the first person I showed my barely out of school "car photography" portfolio to…the whole collection of mounted 4x5 transparencies. My pal Pete, who's been my hot rod compadre at Bonneville was along to help drive my car for the car to car shots, and help sculpt the light over all those sexy curves.







Thursday

Are you a DJ?

Well, no, I am not a DJ. I can firmly attached published magazine writer to my resume along side Photographer, Director, and Film Maker, though.

During the planning of my second of what was becoming an annual trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover UT for Speedweek, I had gotten a response from Grassroots Magazine after I sent a email blast to every car magazine saying I'd be there.  "I'll have photos, I'm shooting this one car, If you have anything specific I'll shoot that let me know if you're interested, you can have first dibs on the shots", that type of thing. They were and picked up a whole story worth of images for a article they were doing about my friends Alfa Romeo Spyder. The following year I emailed my contact at GRM and asked if they could hook a brother up with a legal press pass and then same deal, they get dibs on anything I shoot that they like...not a problem...then I got an email from them..."hey we have a friend who's doing the ignition on this bananas crazy old Dodge, want to shoot it while you're there?"...yes!...4 days later "hey...how do you feel about writing a story about the car"...Yes...(note...never really written anything published before), but what the hell, how bad could I do, I can tell a story, just have to write it down.

The car was nuts, just a beautiful collection of horsepower, turbos, orange paint, perfect welds and aluminum. The team were all a bunch of full on characters. I showed up, started interviewing everyone, like a good journalist...I was very serious...as I felt more comfortable with my task, everything got more friendly and I was inducted into the group and I felt like one of the team as I observed, chatted, took notes, snapped photos. There was other press there, it was interesting to see how they worked compared to how I was operating. Not bad, not good, just me watching cocking my head and thinking..."hunh...ok"...A little weirdness was shooting the car out of the pits. Myself and a couple other people had asked to shoot the car with the blank flats in the background...the team decided to do one session and let everyone have at it. I got more access, better shots, but felt a bit like I was hijacking someone else's shoot.

The car's first post shakedown run the car ran 275mph average and a peak of 280mph. They're trying to bust past 300mph this year.

So, that was last September when I turned in the article. About 1700 words. 14 photos. I just got the magazine in the mail...They gave me the cover and 6 pages. I couldn't be happier...thrilled actually. They took a chance, I asked, win, win. The experience was really fun and I'd love to do more. So...ya know...photographer, film maker, writer...let me make magic for you!










"It Is The Burden Of Every Gentlemen To Lead An Interesting Life"

"That is a HORRIBLE idea...mmm...ok, I'm in"...was how one phone call from Mexico ended and how an epic adventure began.

I have learned...that when certain opportunities come your way you have an obligation to grab hold and hope to whatever higher power you celebrate, that you can hang on. If not, you are sentenced to live a long life as your soul slowly dies and you fade from average pedestrian to forgotten footnote on ancestry.com

I had for the last couple years been a willing co-pilot/pilot in a Volvo station wagon that had been hurtling north from San Miguel De Allende Mexico to Chicago at speeds that would concern any safety minded individual and enrage law enforcement. My good friend Tom, a restaurant owner, motorcycle rider, generally swell guy and...avid rock climber, spends time in Mexico every year and while wife and kids fly back to or from Chicago, he'll take the bulky whatevers, Taco the dog, and put it all in or on the XC70 and do the drive North in June, South in August.

I love road trips...let's get that out of the way...if you say, "Jim, lets drive to....." You'd be stopped mid sentence with me saying, "You had me at drive". If there's an opportunity to cross vast space in short time via wheeled mechanical beasts, I'm in love with the idea.

 The problem with Tom and I is that we had done this particular trip a couple times already. This time we both had an itch to do something a little more fun than stop off at random places for BBQ, Carnitas or a historical marker. This was going to be the EPIC road trip of all road trips...and still stick it into 5 days.

The HORRIBLE idea? Climb Pico Independencia just outside of Moterrey Mexico. Suffice to say, rock climbing has never been a main hobby...I've actually never climbed before the day I hiked my size 15 Keen boot up to the first metal rung of a Via Ferrata route nestled in a dicey part of Mexico on a rock formation straight out of an apocalyptic film set. Via Ferrata is basically a route of metal rungs attached to a rock face. You have the "safety" of a cable and something to hang onto, but the open air quality of free climbing....ie...at one point there was 1500' under of open air under my heels.

Quite possibly one of the scariest things I've ever done, and with a complete suspension of common sense and belief in my climbing partners ability and years of experience and my physical abilities we did the whole thing in 6hrs car door to car door. It should also be mentions that it seems that particular route was closed, and in leu of hiring a guide, which was an option, I suggested we use the money for a good dinner and tequila. Priorities. Have a look at the video and enjoy the scenery.


Sunday

ROUTE 66 - TEN YEARS LATER - THE WHOLE DAMN MOVIE

After filling the beloved and embattled Portage Theater in Chicago for it's premier, a really nice double header at the Julien Film Festival in Dubuque Iowa and some nudging by a couple Route 66 community members, I finally uploaded the complete Route 66 - Ten Years Later movie. It's free for you to watch, you'd be a peach if you shared it. I'd love your comments. I hope you enjoy it, keep some Kleenex close for the laughs and tears. About a year and a half of work went into this.

A pre Kickstarter, completely self funded project, I'm really happy with the outcome.  Especially since I used it as a way to learn directing, digital film making, camera operation, audio recording, non linear editing and color correction. Enjoy the show.




Wednesday

JULIEN FILM FESTIVAL - WE'RE THERE!

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I had the distinct pleasure of having my film “Route 66 –Ten Years Later” be a featured movie in the Julien Film Fest this past weekend 2012-04-21/22 in lovely Dubuque IA. Two screenings, two amazing Q/A’s and lots of smiley mouths and teary eyes.

The two screenings were at the Holiday Inn and a bar called "The Hug". And yes, I get the implications of playing the Holiday Inn in Dubuque IA…where can I go now that I’ve done it all…sleepless nights since, is all I can say. The Hub was Sunday at 11:30am…and they were serving…and everyone had a glass…and this is now my solution to any and all technical issues the film may or may not have.

The premier of the movie was at the Portage Theater in Chicago…That event was a success for me, more because of the PR campaign that got 250+ people in the door over than the fact my movie was on the screen. I was spent, tired, and ready for it to be over by the time everyone saw it that night. The trip, the editing, the expectations, the let downs, and the scratching away to finally find the stories voice was a rough experience. Even now I find it hard to watch this movie and not get a little choked up. I’ve never looked for validation for my work beyond repeat clients and paid invoices…having a gallery show or entering contests to fish for praise has never been anything that interested me. The premier of 66 was different. I did the premier as a way to have closure to the project, an experiment in PR, a lesson in film making, and this was a universally worthwhile story, not an art piece, no interpretation needed. For the Film Fest I went back and fixed every technical issue I didn’t have the skills to fix before, added a few scenes to smooth the story and prove to my self that I have actually learned a lot about film making in the last 3 years and that I have so very much more to learn. Now it's finally time to burn a master Blu-Ray or two, take the hard drives, put them in a lead box and bury them in the back yard so I'm not tempted to "tweak" it. Time to let it be. But, it's also as good as it's ever going to be. Finally.

A few HS classmates came out and one even sent his folks in his place, everyone who hadn’t seen it really enjoyed the story, the visuals, the music and the emotional aspect of the movie. So far the movie has made over 300 people feel something significant. I’ll call that a success.

Hanging out with the other “real” film makers was inspiring. This was my first movie…period, I’m really motivated to do more and take what I’ve learned from that and the bunch of other motion projects over the last few years and do another movie. Keep watching.


Friday

A Year Ago Tonight - September 9th 2010

A year ago today…September 9 2010 a project that was ten years in the making hit a big screen at the Portage Theater in Chicago. “Route 66 - Ten Years Later” was an idea that was slightly ill planned, overly ambitious and basically a way to get out of town and do another road trip down a famous road with a friend who there was never a dull moment. My other motivation was to get my hands on some motion equipment and see if I could make a moving image look like my still frames. That seamless continuity between the two visuals, maintaining the same feeling, color pallet, and point of view with two wildly different ways of telling the story was a big part of the project for me.

What happened during the filming is something that comes out in the film. But what I will tell you is that I came back with a “what the fuck am I going to do with this?!” $12,000.00 and 5000 miles later I had driven across the us on a famous road, seen what addiction can do to someone you care about, driven for a straight 36hrs at mostly over 100mph to get home to see another dear friend. In the weeks that followed I started to sift and look and search for a direction to all the footage I had.

The next year and a half was a vertical learning curve of the editing software, story telling, self realization, weight gain (you become a hermit and spend 14hrs in front of a computer for a year) and mental struggle to find a path down this movies road.

There’s several events that made the film come together. 1. I said fuck it….really, I said fuck it, I don’t care if I look like an ass or Tim looks like a drunk. It’s what happened out there. It’s the story I have, It’s not what I went out to get, but it’s the hand I’m playing. 2. Webster Wine Bar rough cut screening. Feedback from friends who don’t sugar coat….gold standard. 3. Chris Bathgate graciously offered up his music catalog for the sound track….GAME CHANGER

What I learned…well, there’s a lot of technical bits that are in my head now. Camera moves, audio recording in the field or in studio, working with the editing software. All of that is the tech and I’m glad to have it. The story telling aspect was the one I’m happiest to have gotten. Telling a story in one frame @ 1/125 of a second is very different than 24 frames every second. Mixing sound, motion and imagery to convey a feeling and tell the story. It’s magical when it all happens.

The screening at the Portage was a wonderful surprise. A little over 250 came out to see the film. I think I knew 60. The staff at Portage had done a wonderful job of making sure it looked good on the screen and that the film was properly promoted.

The two best things about that night were, the entire crowd clapping after an emotional interview with Angel Delgadillo, and the response Tim Steil got from everyone after the show, in the lobby. Tim had not seen any of the film prior to the screening. How he and I are pictured is as we were in that car, on that road, those days in June 2009. The crowd was asking for Tim’s autograph on the book and dvd’s, asking him about the trip, revering him as the star of a film. I think he got more accolades and positive energy that night than he had in the previous 10 years. I think Tim needed that as much as I needed to have the project come to a close. We were the last two to leave the theater, the marquee of the Portage had the name of my film up in lights, it was a beautiful September night and I said “I’ll never do this again with you”…which, is exactly what I’ve said 3 previous times.

This past year has been filled with wonderlust. I can’t wait to get out on the road, any road or plane and go someplace. So far so good.

Saturday

Underwater(ish) Holga Mod - Hot Tech Tip For Your High Tech Russian

Labor day weekend...you have choices...take a spin on your favorite motored vehicle, see how fast you can be face down in a pile of burgers and Budweiser, or hit the beach with your trusty plastic camera. If you're choosing the later, I've got a tip that will keep your memories from getting soggy and you can enjoy running amok in the surf with that flask of Patron.

Enter "The Holga". The cheap piece of plastic stamped out someplace in Russia, some movable parts and a plastic lens, it takes medium format FILM and leaks light...costs about $17 bucks. BUT! This is the perfect camera to get your Art-Z on and be creative at the beach, you can't really break it...with my tip you can submerge it, and hell....the effect it makes is iphone app worthy.

Take your Holga, load it up with a roll of film, then tape the crap out of every seam...I mean EVERY SEAM...next...you know that tape that comes with window plastic...use that, or some other fairly narrow but super strong double sided tape. Next...Ziploc Freezer bag...don't be a dork and go for the cheap on this, get the thick, branded, with zipper lock bag. Cut a tiny hole in the lower middle of the bag...wrap the lens barrel with the double stick tape. Shove lens through...press bag to tape...making sure there are not bunching or air holes. Next, take some gaff or duct tape and wrap the outside of the lens and bag. This is double protection. Close the bag...is should hold air without leaking...if it does, you've done it right.

Last step...go outside to the lake, river, stream or whatever....toss in camera, dive in after. Take POV photos when your treading water, find love and live happy ever after.

Tuesday

September 9th - Portage Theater

Welp...it's coming up. The big screen debut of this lil' film I've been hacking at for the last year. I am really excited about the way it's all coming together in the final stretch. As a still photographer for the last 10 years, every frame told a thousand words, taking on a project where I had to tell a story with 24 frames a second, 1440 frames a minute and 76320 frames all together, posed several...challenges. How the ef does that work? It's not a miracle, it takes time, thought, planning and trial and error, and error, and error, and start over, more error, finally, shazzam!. Shooting the footage is one thing. Telling the story with all of the scenes, variables, sound...hoy! I made a sequence change the other day...switched two clips around and placed a different piece of music under it...simple changes, but completely changed the mood and nailed the message I wanted to convey and ended the "there's just something not right" issue I was having. Every step along the way has been a new lesson. I can't wait to show it off and share what I learned with anyone interested.
Everyone is invited...September 9th, Portage Theater the film will go on about 8pm, they sell booze, easy parking, the film is about 53minutes, Q/A after. More info on the F-Book.
In the mean time...check out the new trailer below, and I hope to see you there.


Collaboration - Making a film in 24hrs


Creative challenges usually come in the form of something f’ed up on a shoot or rolling with a direction change from the client or you’re just not “feeling it”.
Putting yourself into a creative challenge contest is a whole new ball of wax.
And, it’s one I would do again in an instant.
As the time drew closer to the 10pm email of our mystery theme and prop that was to be the basis for the following 24hrs of movie making magic, we had our resources all in the ready. We had cast actors that could handle a wide range, even one that was a brilliant “that guy”. We had gear, we worked out the technical bugs, we had crew, we had several locations, batteries were charged, the cooler was filled, we were ready.
The Andy’s and I got the email…Theme – Courage, mandatory prop – Milk. Ok….um…go!

This is where the beauty of collaboration, experience, communication, points of view, and being prepared come into play. I’ve known Andy Spyrison for a looooong time. Been pals, been Client/Photographer, given each other enough shit and ball busting over the years that there isn’t going to be any issue saying an idea doesn’t work. At the same time, each of us can say exactly why something isn’t working or why it does work for either of us. Andy T and Andy S have a similar relationship...no punches pulled as we threw out ideas.

The Brainstorming session was quick, decisive, and we narrowed about 30 ideas into our 1 concept – An Agoraphobic, OCD, character who has run out of milk, but can’t go outside to get more, meanwhile his friends are coming by or calling to check on him. They are all enjoying milk in some subtle way while our hero has non.

Scripting – Mostly Andy Tillman. We’d all add to the story, “hey how about this, this would be cool, ooh, ooh, what if he did this” was how ideas were tossed about.

Once we were a little into the scripting, we had the basic direction and story line the film was going to take. At about 1am we called everyone who had expressed interest and was applicable to the project. The actors, the crew next, I called Tom from Bluebird…”Sooooo, I know you wanted to help out, I love that, what do you say to opening your bar at 8am”?

At about 3am we had the script, a plan, and we were off to catch a wink or two and then the film making assault begins. 7am call time at my loft.

I am very fortunate to have worked with two seasoned broadcast veterans on this project. Spyrison has been a part of global TV spots, same with Tillman, who has directed and written several spots himself.  Drawing from their 30 or so years of experience was such an asset and I learned a ton, just in this one project.

The shoot went smooth, the actors were a pleasure to work with. Basically working with a quick pre take read and cue cards, they nailed lines over and over. We wrapped about 4pm at my place, the editor was working with the files, the clock was ticking, now we had to put all the parts into a story.

In collaborations everyone has to come to the table with something of value. Point of view, a skill, money, vision, whatever it is. You need each other to reach a goal. Every person that worked on this project, the actors, the crew, myself and the Andy’s (which I’m just going to call them that from now on) all brought something and displayed our abilities and our work ethics transparently and under a common situation...the time crunch. 
In doing projects like this, where new people are involved with a core group, when there is pressure put on yourself and the team, rather than client, when you HAVE to own every part, not just your specific role, what you learn and the overall take away is almost more important than the final product. We're doing this for ourselves, we're doing this to challenge creativity, our abilities, and hone skills that paying clients will seek out. No excuses, only solutions.

The ending of our evening was proving to be just as dramatic as the excitement of 22hrs ago. Render Render…double checking, burning the discs…tick tock. I ran to my garage to retrieve my pony for the inevitable express. My instructions….”when I get back, I want a disc, in an envelope, and the address, in my hand!”. I came back, ran up stairs, helmet still on, grabbed the discs and moved out. The sound of a Ducati 900SS under full throttle on surface streets is one that will either have pedestrians and children crying and running for cover, set off every car alarm within sonic vicinity, or plant a semi permanent ear to ear smile on the rider....but, is highly illegal (full throttle in second gear = 93mph) so, don't do it!!….with 30 seconds to spare, I bound through the doors of the film race drop location, envelope stamped, and the next words are "close it, we're done". We had made it. I no longer cared about the contest, we achieved the goal of making a pretty cool little film in 24hrs, I had learned a ton, and I was tired...the good kind of tired, the kind you only get when you've gone all out for a long time.

A the following week all the entries were screened at the Portage Theater, we didn't hide our heads, there were some really wonderful submissions, cool people, the cast and crew showed up for the screening and after party. Really a fun, rewarding experience.

 Take a look, I think you’ll like it.

Friday

In It To Win It - Film Race 2010 - Chicago

Collaboration is the name of the game in the creative industry. You just can’t go it alone. Andy Spyrison and I have known and worked with each other for well over 10 years. Andy has always been one to utilize and challenge any one person's creative talents. Our most recent adventure in advertising was an award winning series of billboards and  ads for the Kansas City Medical Center in Kansas City, MO. This is also where we cemented our “probably a felony in Ohio” love of the smoked pork things. Fast forward.

Again, collaboration is the key. Mr. Spyrison forwarded me a link to the Chicago Film Race 2010 with the simple message “we must do this”. I checked the link…”Upon given a secret theme at 10pm on Friday 16 you will have 24hrs to write, shoot, edit, and deliver a 4min film based on that theme and a wild card element.” The last time I stayed up for over 24hrs I was scooting my turbo charged station wagon across the western states at 120+mph coming home from filming my Route 66 movie this past June. So…hells yes I was in.

Enter Andy Tillman. The two Andy’s have worked as AD/Writer in several top agencies around Chicago and are veterans of TV production on a global scale. Over the next couple weeks we established our roles as myself being Director, Andy S. as Producer, and Andy T. as Writer. The crew grew to include eager young talented production people, we cast for actors, we secured locations, we borrowed gear, we even stole a few things just for good measure and street cred. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are making a movie…about what…who knows…but we’re gonna make it. So, that’s this Friday/Saturday. We’ll be posting things on F-Book, Twitter and probably texting you as well for good measure. I’m excited, the whole team is excited, the actors are excited. Worst case, we crack open the magnums of Svedka and have a rip roaring wrap party.

 Andy Spyrison - Jim LÜning - Andy Tillman

 

Tuesday

A Perfect Day...In An Eagles Song

I have a friend named Miriam...one of my favorite people I don't see enough of. Every once in a great while we'd hop on one of my motorbikes and tool around town. She started getting the idea of having her own bike and was quizzing me on models and asking for help/advice on buying one. Fast forward to a rainy Saturday in April...she rolls up in this very used 300,000 mile Ford F250 4x4 Diesel Farm Truck a friend of her's from back home had. She swung the door open and I simply said "good god, I've just stepped into and Eagles song".


We had some map print outs, some craigslist ads and a mission. Motorcycle hunting, picture taking, road tripping, and hopefully we'd both bring home a prize. Polo IL, close-ish to Dixon was where her 1975 Honda CB360 was...a year newer bike than my "rHonda 360" project bike. Which I've deemed "The Perfect City Bike". The guy wanted $1000. Miriam offered $800, the guy went for it. Done. It was like a girl with a new pony, the excitement was infectious.

  shot of me by Miriam

From Polo we headed west on RT 52 toward Savanna and then up to Galena. We stopped off in Lanark IL for a quick drop in to see my mechanic Jeff...the wizard...buy some spark plugs, grips and say howdy. 1/2 the price of Chicago bike mechanics and way better at the old bikes.
Once we hit Savanna and headed north, you're right along the Mississippi river, the bluffs, the rolling hills, this is the type of landscape I grew up in...rural to the extreme, but lush and beautiful. 
I had spotted a 73 Yamaha TX500 in Galena IL on craigslist...5000 miles, complete, but not running. The price was right, it was close to the folks, we had a truck, it was beautiful out, we were off to meet Jim the bike guy.

photos: Miriam
Jim's place was on top a hill right in Galena, he must have had about 50 bikes, mopeds, bicycles, all stacked into a machine shed. He talked a mile a minute, and was showing me 10 things at once. He showed me the bike he was selling, told me the story, and we haggled. Did the small town price dance, which kind of enjoy, we agreed on a price that we could both live with. I loaded my 6th bike up next to Miriam's first. Next was a windy trip down RT 20 to Stockton IL. for quick stop in at the folks and then back to Chicago. I had brought along my old rangefinder camera and an old polaroid camera...I had such a good time snapping shots, hanging out with one of my favorite people and scoring two motorcycles for just over a grand. A good day indeed. I snapped this Polaroid near the lookout tower just outside of Galena...I love this image...perfect depiction of a great day.









Thursday

Video Hits

When the Canon 5D MKII came out I was curious...I had blown through 3 5D bodies in about 2 years, and basically hated the camera with the power of ten thousand white hot suns. So, when I got to be the first person in Chicago to rent the new camera from Helix, and give it's new video features a whirl I was mildly excited, but apprehensive at the same time. AT THAT TIME the camera's video functions were fully automatic except for the focus. The way the exposure system worked was you could set the f/stop but that was it, the camera ramped iso to compensate. Basically your light kit would be a pocked full of zippo lighters and you'd it would still look over lit. I had a model I've worked with before, she was up for anything. So, having picked the camera up in the morning, her showing up at 1pm, we shot until 4 and then I slapped everything together in FCP. Uploaded the footage and the hits have been coming strong ever since...when it hit 20k, I was blown away. 50k, completely surprised. 80k...well, in it to win it. I want 100k hits on this thing. Cute girl, popular camera. Please forward the link, watch it yourself, let's see how long it takes to reach the goal, and thank you for the help!

Friday

My Seat At The Back Of The Room

Thank you to the 50+ people who showed up to take a look at my fairly rough cut of "Route 66 - Ten Years Later". Tom and the staff at Webster Wine Bar did a fabulous job of making sure every glass was filled, and everyone had a seat. I can't thank you guys enough. Sandstorm Rosencrans has my eternal thanks for the loooong hours she put in getting the last minute PDF behind the scenes book together for the DVD/Book combos being sold. Also, a thanks to everyone who came up and gave an honest opinion to the piece. It's been an interesting journey putting together a movie with minimal planning and a story that changed once we got into it. Right now all the technical issues have been worked out, the final edit is in place and I'm getting together with a musician to do the sound track, be looking for a proper release mid spring and another party. 

Tuesday

I made a movie - Screening is Feb 4

Be careful of what you wish for, you might just get it.
When Tim Steil, writer and my book partner, called me to find out when a mutual friends play was running, I had no idea that call would turn into us making a movie. During the conversation, and I hadn't talked to Tim on the phone in a year and a half, he reminded me that June 13, 1999 was the 10 year anniversary of us hopping into his crappy Ford Windstar and spending 17 days meandering down one of the nations most famous roads. "AH HA! We must do this again", was my response, to Tim's response of "pish, whatever man".

Several months of begging, pleading, outlining, threats and finally bribery Tim committed. My photo buddy and brilliant documentary photographer Miriam was my backup co-pilot, but having the original writer, original me, and us seeking out what "WE" had fond memories of was really the story I wanted to film. It was supposed to be a story about what's changed along this road, and there's plenty. Ten years is a long time. The exterior story is what I was shooting for, it was a story I was interested in, it was what my frickin shot list had scribbled on the top.

This was really the first time I had directed/filmed anything that wasn't a scripted short very commercial/corporate vibe. Also, the first time I was going to handle everything start to finish with my own hands. The camera, the audio, the production, the post work. It was going to be "film school". I also wanted to figure out how to make my moving pictures look like my still photos. I think I did. As the miles blew past, the story was morphing, the road had changed, people had changed, Tim had changed a lot.



After Santa Monica we drove to a motel by LAX, I dropped Tim off, I headed to Hollywood to hang out with some old friends and not be in a car for the weekend. It was about two months after that I started hacking through all the footage. My original story was there, but there is the story of my co-pilot that floats to the surface and is as compelling. If you can make it out to the screening on Feb 4 at Webster Wine Bar, come out. Otherwise postings on distribution will follow.

Wednesday

"Route 66 - Ten Years Later" Gallery up at Webster Wine Bar

I'm proud to have my work on display at Webster Wine Bar in Chicago. Come by and check out the 19 images which are a collection of ten years of Route 66 imagery. And, the gallery is a prelude to the early January screening of my documentary "Route 66 - Ten Years Later". The documentary is a video journey down the same road, with the same two guys who did a book together 10 years ago.

Tuesday

I AM NINJA

So, what to do with an old Ninja Suit left over from a project, a new assistant who fancies herself as a "covert assassin",
and several hours to kill on a sunny fall afternoon?
Make a Ninja Movie, of course!!!
The recipe:
1 Complete Ninja Suit
1 Set of wooden ninja weapons
1 Willing person with no shame
1 Canon Digital 1ds MKII
2 Video Lights
1 Panasonic HVX200
1 Wireless mic
2 Hrs in Final Cut Pro and Sound Track Pro
Shake, render, upload, enjoy.

Wednesday

Hollywood To Wicker Park


.
There's a bittersweet aspect to most road trips. At some point you have to turn around and come home.
Terry, one of my closest friends in HS, and I hopped in my barely working '82 diesel VW Rabbit and set out to visit friends in CO and CA. I think we were barely 20 at the time. Both of us had a limited time to do this trip. 7 days to go from Stockton to Colorado Springs to Oxnard to San Francisco and a straight 32hr drive home. I still remember the weird conversation at some truck stop in Utah with locals at 4am. I saw Terry for the first time in quite a few years recently, that trip was still a major topic of conversation.

It is my holy belief that road trips, and travel in general, are on this earth to help people discover themselves, the people they're with and the world around them. You can fly over anything and be as removed as you want to be. But, take a car, you'll need gas, food and a bathroom at some point. You get out and breathe the air, walk on ground and feel the sun, interact with locals or fellow travelers, you have a tactile experience. And if your open to it...things just start happening.

Taking a couple day road trip with a new girlfriend is a great way to get to know this person and it will answer a lot of questions...directly and indirectly. Driving the back roads to Bristol TN for a "Team Moby" member wedding with a lady I had started seeing was the most fun I'd had in a long time. Life gains an additional layer of fun when your new lady friend is a co-pilot and not just a passenger.

One of my all time favorite road trips, and it embodies everything I’ve been talking about was the  Hazardous Sports Cannon Ball Run. A wealthy car racing real estate mogul in Chicago had contacted me about doing some photography for his new clothing line. The tale he spun at a breakfast meeting was nearly unbelievable. Cars, girls, drivers, film crew, tour bus, etc. My eyes blurred and I was about to stamp “bullshit” on this whole thing…then the tickets showed up at my door and I was off to the airport that evening.

Vegas is weird, just putting that out there. These guys had rented the House Of Blues for a private kickoff for the next leg of the trip. Party, party, party,...5am,...limo to undisclosed hotel out in the desert someplace and "oh, you'll be rooming with Tom, he's also from Chicago". Fine. Next day, crawl out for the 8am call time, grab a coffee, and SON OF A BITCH...it was all weirdly real. A semi circle of 6 or 7 black, 500+HP, 6 figure price tag, European super cars. All paired with a pro driver and at least one set of fake boobs. Hunh. As I snapped away, I was wondering which one I got to ride in. The answer came in the form of a glaring white Cadillac Deville. Myself, Tom, and some Brit named Francis were all told "that" was our car. Diss. So, the three most cantankerous, jaded, snarky chaps in Vegas at that moment were thrust into a car. The race was on. 8 Hours later we had hit the rev limiter 3 times, shot about 1000 frames of film, been passed going 122 by an Astin Martin going 150, and came in second place behind the ring leaders AMG SL55. Always follow the guy with the gps and who planned the route.

There is an unbreakable bond that happens here. You're in a car that your being told to, in no uncertain terms, “it’s an insured rental, don’t worry about it, go faster”. When the engine cuts out at 123mph from hitting the rev limiter for the third time, there's a bond. When there’s three like minded strangers bullshitting and laughing to the point of tears for 8hrs, there's a bond. We got to know each other, we gave our gang a name “Team Moby”, which to this day we’ll end emails with “Go Moby”. (Moby, White Whale, Big White Caddy…Get it?). Grab a friend, map a route, book hotels online, get a credit card with gas rewards, take a road trip. See something at ground level...and for god's sake, if you have kids, leave the fucking dvd player at home. That framed glass has the best movie ever made.

Friday

Route 66 - Part 7


“I’M IN, BROTHER!!!” was what came over the receiver of my phone. Finally my month and a half of begging, pleading, lobbying, and finally physical threats had worked. Tim and Jim, the band was back together!
That sentence was followed with...“But, I have a few health issues and such you need to know about."...ugh. So, you did tell me Tim…but you know how I listen when I have a project I’m geeked about.
My simple inspiration was to go out and see what’s changed along a sleepy East-West Route in a world that’s changed so much since 1999. I wanted to take along the guy who ten years ago I barely knew when we first started down the same road, and in the last ten years have spent almost 8 weeks in a car with doing other books.

This time was going to be different; I knew that ahead of time. I knew the pace, the frantic pace that had to be maintained to finish in the slim window of time. I knew there was way more involved in shooting video than shooting stills. I did forget, most people are not as mono-focused, obsessed freaks about their work as I am. The project at any cost! The capture of the image is the most important thing! Nothing and no one has a chance if they get in the way of me getting that shot. Hence, some unceremonious shoving out of the way prior to this trip of me, and by me…sorry about that ma'am, character flaw removal is in the works.
We were doing loooong days, lots of miles, couple hrs of sleep a night, not exactly the most brilliant diets, though healthier than the original RT66 adventure. I know Tim wasn’t impressed with my blatant and taunting disregard for any and all speed laws, and my demand for “better” and "more" all the time. It all took a toll.
As we cruised west, meeting our interview subjects and blasting along to meet the next checkpoint, we talked, we reminisced. Tim has had a lot of words locked up in his head that have not had a viable outlet. I listened most of the time on this trip. “C’mon”, “Are you F’in kidding me”, and “Jesus, man” were common responses as I heard his stories.
I’ve come to believe that the "Road Trip" is a great and wonderful creature. It bonds people together, it can make or break a relationship, you learn a lot about the people your with, and it’s inevitably filled with adventure. In the case of this project it’s the common thread that binds all the characters, places, Tim and myself together. It's the real backbone of this whole story.
It took ten years and two trips down Route 66 for Tim to get his feet into the Pacific Ocean. When he did, I realized that the two things that may have changed most in ten years along Route 66 might just be the two fools who drove too fast, and too far to get here.
I dropped Tim off at a hotel near LAX...I had bought him a ticket for the following day back to Chicago. He thanked me for getting him out of the house, then called me a few well deserved expletives, which I responded with my own. A hug, a "so long fucker" from both of us and that was it. That was the last time I saw Tim.
This is the last Route 66 Blog "Webisode". Work now gets into gear on the full length documentary. I'm really happy I did this project, glad Tim was there, without whom, this would never have happened.

Thursday

Route 66- Part 6


"Snapshots From The Road" is what I'm calling this post.
One of the challenges I put to myself on this project was making the video footage look as close to my still images as possible. You judge, but I think I'm getting closer. The interviews have the look of my portraits, the landscapes have my blue/black skies and zooming clouds. So friends, Episode 6 is a "slide show" of sorts, containing snap shots, stills and video footage from basically all image capture devices I had with me, including the Blackberry. This was a nice recap of the trip for me. John Holst, Angel, Lidden, Tim slumped over the Bagdad Cafe counter waiting for our malts, the biscuits and gravy mega platter for $7.95 at Emma's, all great memories. Makes me want to hit the road again. Though...the 37hr run from LA is still haunting me...and Swedespeed...phantom engine codes keep popping up after topping 130mph...repeatedly...but I digress. I heart road trips.
Still shots posted HERE as a nifty web gallery for your viewing pleasure as well. I'll send you a quarter if you can tell which shots are from Blackberry in the video. God love technology.
Feed back is fun, let me hear what you think.
Cheers!

Wednesday

Route 66 - Part 5.2


Well…again, a lesson on how things change. How things, people, places, etc, change either completely, subtly, or have gone away completely. In the case of Oatman AZ. all of the above. My beloved Garlic Burger is gone…we did hit the Oatman Hotel for a sad substitute, I think Chef Jim is going to be knocking one of these suckers out of the ol’ 1551 Thomas St. kitchen just to feed the jones.

Cindy at Arizona Girls gave me the low-down on Cactus Joe’s. The old guy that owned it passed several years back, the building, which, literally is built around a big old Cactus, became “not up to code” for a restaurant in Arizona. She bought/acquired the place and opened her Candle/Turtle/Tourist Info shop.
I got to feed some turtles, Cindy was great, full of into, I bought some candles from her (they’re really quite nice) for her time. This is about a ½ hour of hanging out with Cindy and Turtles, getting an audio interview and etc. I notice two things as I’m wrapping up. 1. There is a Burro in the house…literally. Pony in the living room, Horse in the kitchen, Zebra on in the foyer, how ever you want to say it. This thing just mossied on in and was eating something out of a pail. Thing I noticed #2…Tim in a heated debate with several 5-6 year old boys about GI Joe. Knowing Tim and his “military past”, I’ve learned to steer completely clear of anything that has to do with military service. Apparently there was quite the discussion of explosives on belt or chest. All I know is that old 12” GI Joe needed a fire suit when in my presence. Call me Cobra.

Tuesday

Route 66 - Part 5.1


We left Kingman and doubled back a bit to catch some footage of the Hackberry General Store. I was hoping to do a quick interview of the owners, but schedules didn't jive on our whirlwind spin across the west. So...met some cool Brits on Harley's, shot some footage, hit the road to OATMAN...

Hells yeah! I love driving, I love driving fast, I love driving technically and fast. I love cars that can deliver on those two things. I also love having a passenger that's "medicated" enough to still be uptight about hairpins at 80mph, but not freaking out...like 10 years ago...in a van...doing 40mph. C'mon 5 days with ol' Hunter S. sitting next to me was requiring some rapid pace, steam blow off, don't hate.

Oatman has held a fascination for me for the last 10 years…Reason 1. The road. I remember ambling along, navigating around hairpins, the drop offs. Being a bit nervous. Reason 2. Garlic Burger. I’ve wanted one for 9 years. One of the best “Sittin’ round jawin stories with friends” stories I have is about Garlic, Onion Truck, Mojave, and 115’ heat.

Check the video.

Monday

Route 66 - Part 4


So we blast out of the Blue Swallow, and head west. The Jack Rabbit at the Here It Is gas stop is still there, it's a bit weathered, but in fine shape. Next stop was the Twin Arrows. This used to be a gas stop with restaurant, gift shop and otherwise. The arrows are in bad shape these days, the buildings around them are run down, and you have to hop cement barecades to get into the grounds. One of my favorite photos from the book was done here. The color of the old arrows, the deep blue S. Western sky just popped off the page. I heard a rumor of a restoration group possibly taking it over.
Williams AZ. I want to come back here with a girlfriend and explore. Williams is a cute little town not unlike Galena IL, which I grew up near. You can take the train to the Grand Canyon, there's new and interesting shops, restaurants and things to do. The Red Garter would be my pick of places to stop. John Holst, the owner, is a civic minded Route 66 businessman. His interview conveyed his passion for his town and making it a successful Route 66 stop.
Then there's Angel Delgadillo. Two things would have kept me from doing this documentary.
1. Tim not committing to it. It took some work as it was to get him out on the road.
2. If Angel was not going to be available/willing to do an on camera interview.
Angel is Route 66. If it wasn't for this guy, most of the road would have been forgotten except for the heartiest of road trip historians. He's gracious, wonderful, and you just feel better being around him. His passion for what he stands for and his humility about his celebrity is inspiring. This is a longer video post, but it's so very worth watching every second. The men featured are champions of the road and promoters of their towns.
After the interview, Angel gave both Tim and I honest to god real old school barber shaves. I've had two in my life. This one and the one he gave me 10 years ago.

Sunday

Route 66 - Part 3


From Jim:
I hate you Broadband Connect to nothing card...I love you road trip.
Minor tourette's issue here and there followed by bouts of awe. Long day, lots of miles, we started at Lucille's, a classic spot on the road and ended up at the Blue Swallow. Points between were filled with in car confessions about life and duty, plans and hopes. It's been about 8 years since the last book "Highway 61 Revisited" Tim and I worked on. I've changed a lot, grew up, have been running my own business, traveled to many other countries, gotten my heart squished, and probably done the same to someone else. My copilot has changed too. The road trip, next to camping, I think is one of the best ways to get to know someone. You talk, you open up, and you share. Tim and I hadn't talked, for no reason, for probably a year prior to his call randomly a few months ago. My hope was that this trip would be an exercise in directing and video production for me, and a clearing of the head and get back in the game push for Tim. I know I'm up until 4am working on the footage, photos and audio, Tim is as he put it "I'm drinking from the fire hose and trying to take it all in". I'm looking forward to his written words.
The next segment is going to blow your mind. Call 911 now.
And yeah...it may take a day or two. Apparently even I need sleep at some point within 56hr blocks. Jeez.
You can bother us on the Facebook or Twitter, or hell, just call, I need to know if the Blackberry is alive.

Friday

Route 66 - Part 2


From near Ft. Leonard Wood in MO to Yukon OK...lots of driving, but what a day. Spending time with a couple of my favorite Route 66 personalities was an absolute treat. Jim Ross opened his beautiful home to Tim and I as a location to film the interviews with him and photographer Shellee Graham.
The old section of 9' wide road and the Blue Whale both seem to be pretty much as they were 10 years ago. Which, is nice to see. This was my fourth time to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. First time was as a photo assistant, about 6 mo after it happened. Second time was with Tim doing the book, the next was as a photographer, in town for a gig, and today. The last two it was in it's current state. For me the personal artifacts that were put on the chain link fence always got me. The monument is moving, somber, and beautiful all at the same time.

From Tim:
Just outside Fort Leonard Wood

There are a few rare treats in life I think everyone should experience at least once. An incredible French meal that takes you four hours to eat, three bottles of wine to wash down, and six months to pay for.

A chance to drive a car so fast and expensive, that once you get over 125MPH. you just hope if you crash it you die on impact because you don’t want to spend the rest of your sorry life paying for it.

I think we should all get at least one night of awesome sex with someone about ten times more beautiful than ourselves, and just by way of rare treats, I think every person on this rock ought to spend one Saturday night in a motel just outside the gates of a major military installation.

---For More Of The Story Click Here-----

Thursday

Route 66 - Part 1



From Jim:
Whooo-Hooo!!! What a great and wonderful late start in the pouring rain. Then, a ride in a RED 57 Thunderbird, an interview with Rich at the Ra66it Ranch, BBQ in St. Louis and our first landmark that isn't there. Tim's working on some text to go with this...updates to come...work flow is being tweaked...smooth is the word for Sunday.

From Tim:
I was talking with Jim a month or so back about absolutely nothing and the subject of Route 66 came up. I reminded him that it would be ten years since we took that first ride, and Lord how things have changed since then. There was a silence on the other end, and he said;

“We ought to do it again”

“Yeah right” I answered.

“No” he insisted, “We HAVE to do it again!”

Long story short, we are.


We were trying to come up with a concept, a through-line for this whole thing, and I guess what it is all about is not so much just Route 66, but the very spirit of a road trip. Not the mileage, but the friends made and maintained. Not about the last time you saw something or somewhere, but how both have changed in the last ten years. It all about people, and change.

Lives.

Changing.

Lives,changing.

The comma is important.

---TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY CLICK HERE----

Monday

Route 66 - How I met your photographer

If you think back hard, I figure every story you ever heard that made you laugh till you wet yourself, cry till you felt better, or stand in front of a mirror for a sec and tell yourself to cut it out, all tend to either begin or end with the exact same words:

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Ten years ago today, June 9, I gassed up my minivan and drove down old Route 66 with a photographer. We published a book about the trip. See above.

Backstage with a band at a rock show in the VIP room at a club in Chicago. He had shot the album cover for the band I was reviewing that night. I was working for this little suburban magazine at the time. It involved showing up about twice a month and cleaning out my mailbox, which, with all the typical press releases and tickets to shows from three weeks ago, usually included two kinds of CDs. Either a black and white cover with five balding guys from Westmont standing in front of a brick wall, or the latest major label failure that after three months of launching them and Letterman won’t book them they find my damned address somewhere.

I used to sort the CD’s into two piles, one for the locals, and one for the majors. I figured give the local guys a little love just to support the music scene, and seriously, there just ain’t anyone on this planet that has enough money to make me go see Third Eye Blind-again.

Then there is this woman on an album cover. Pearl earrings, necklace, red dress, draped across a theater balcony. She’s got the sort of legs that go all the way to the ground, and the tone of her skin is almost exactly the same as the gold on the balcony. I wouldn’t know good art if you snuck up and broke it over my head, but I just remember thinking, wow, that’s a really nice picture. I threw the CD it in the major label pile, because obviously no indie band could afford that kind of artwork. Then I got around to listening to it.

The band was called Oo Oo Wa, and I mean….if you really tried hard, you couldn’t have come up with a stupider idea for a band at the time. They signed their record contract on the day Nirvana released Nevermind. While everyone else was doing a heroin nod on the pavement in their long johns holding a reissue Fender, these knuckleheads were out touring in suits, playing New Romantic stuff. A touch of ABC, a bit of Steely Dan, maybe a scent of Thomas Dolby. Their first album, “Screen Kiss" is one of my guiltiest guilty pleasures. I listen to it often. I’m listening to it right now.

So anyway, my main contact with the band was the keyboard player, Darren Callahan. He’s a real nice guy, once you get over the desire to beat him to death with your bare hands. In the last ten years, I think I have got about one email a month from him announcing a new novel, two new CDs, and whatever his latest play being produced for NPR is. I consider him a very good friend. In the same respect, if he writes another damned book or play, I’m either going to have to get a paper route or kill him.

Darren and I had stayed in touch over the years, and when I got this Route 66 thing, I emailed him and said I needed a photog, he suggested Jim. He had introduced us at the show, I remember standing there thinking he was kind of a hipster, then the head of the record company stood up and cracked his head right into a light fixture. The fact he was bald made it even better.I think Jim and my ent ire conversation that involved me asking if there was any beer up here.

Fast forward a bit, I call Jim and leave a voice mail message saying heydarrensaidishouldcallyoucauseigotthisroute66bookprojectthingwannagoforarideleetsmeet.

Election night, Chicago 1998. About $125 worth of Guiness at some bar in Wicker Park. I have a pretty good outline for the book, he’s got a pretty good camera and some money for film. It’s a deal.

I think Jim had a whole better notion of what he was going to do than I did. I wrote from the gut, and he shot from whatever knowledge center he had, whether it was just good schooling or plain instinct.

I rousted him out of bed about 5 the morning in June 1999, and we took off. Our plan was just to hit the interstates and go to where we needed to interview folks, but once we hit Old Route 66, we never got off. It really was the trip of a lifetime. Whether you want to believe it or not, there’s just a whole damned lot of America out there, and its fun to look at.

Wheat fields, Oilfields, Canyons, Deserts, Battlefields, Swimmin Pools, Movie Stars, and one gray afternoon on Santa Monica Pier where neither of us could really speak to each other of the enormity of what we just did.

So anyway, we’re doing it again. Both of our lives have changed a lot since that first trip. I think they will change a little more after this one.

We’re going out loaded for bear this time. I think Jim has already spent more on new technology than I made for the book back then. It will be online in many places, and there will be a longer form piece coming in a while, assuming we get back alive.

You know, there’s a lot of hoo hah about the romance of a road trip. But the damned truth is they suck. You have to trade off driving so you don’t get all sunburned just on one side, sooner or later you have to take a crap and realize you’re in Texas and the next gas station is 90 miles up the road, there is a point where you start to miss your family, you don’t have any more clean clothes and the entire car smells like feet.

But for all the hell and high water you meet along the way, you get a thousand or so miles into a trip like this and you realize there are two kinds of friends you can have in this world. One will call your wife and tell her what jail you’re in, another will help you get rid of the body in the first place.

When the guy walked out and pointed a gun in my face in Amarillo, I knew I had made a good choice of running mates. (so it's clear...no one died, or were harmed in the production of Rt. 66...much - Jim)

I’m going. Jim’s going. We leave this week.

Want to come along?

Tim

p.s. This really does seem like a good idea.

Saturday

Route 66 - The Begining



Ten years ago writer Tim Steil and photographer Jim Luning collaborated on what they thought would be a one off fun project. A book on Route 66.
During the 17 odd days on the road the two strangers became friends, were moved by the enormity of the American West and were forever changed by the experience.
That was 1999, it's now 2009, the world is different, they are different, follow them as they do the trip again. Ever wanted to see Route 66 but haven't? Come along with Tim and Jim...the adventure begins June 09.