Way back in the summer of 2002, I took a long road trip out to Los Angeles with 3 new friends for what would be a life-changing 3 months in Hollywood. Not only did I grow close to Red, Ben, and Anton and consider them brothers to this day, but I also became close with a very special family who has since become so much more than mere "family friends." The Armstrongs are one of the most amazing families I have ever had the pleasure to know and have grown to be, in a sense, my second family. This weekend I was able to reconnect with memories of that amazing summer in LA (sans Ben's presence, although he lives here in LA with me and is a part of my daily life).
On Friday, I arrived around lunch time at the airport in Salt Lake City. I met up with Anton and Red who were both furiously typing away on their MacBooks with coffees in hand. This was their usual state of existence in times of waiting, contemplation, inspiration, boredom, or work. They jumped up to pass out the hugs and we headed out into the cold to meet up with Beth. We hopped in the car and raced home after we learned that, if you present your boarding pass, you can get a free lift ticket for skiing on the day of your arrival. We jetted into their home only long enough to change into our ski gear and grab our "free ski passes" for the day. We were headed for the slopes only a mere hour after touching down on Utah soil. Once we arrived at Park City Mountain Resort, we met up with Brett who was just coming down off of a run, skis on, poles in hand, goggles firm on his icy face. He was so happy to see us and he squeezed his puffy jacket against ours to welcome us for the weekend! Unfortunately for me, I wasn't able to get a free lift ticket because Southwest had taken my boarding pass upon getting onto the plane. I had my Itinerary but that was no good, as far as they were concerned. I would have been upset had there been hours left to ski but the truth is that the lifts closed about 45 minutes after we arrived so I knew I wasn't missing much. The guy checking tickets was nice enough to let me go up one lift and ski down, just enough to make me realize that I needed some practice! I think it had been about 10 years since I had been skiing!
After being out in the snow for a few hours, the whole gang went home to get some grub and prepare for the night's festivities. One of the primary reasons for making the trip was to see Brett in his stage debut at the Egyptian Theater as John Darling in PETER PAN. Red, Anton, and I were really excited to see him perform and to spend some time at the theater. The show was fantastic and Bretty really did a great job. Anton and I were having a bit of stage envy as the show progressed, wishing that we were also on stage with them belting out the familiar and fantastical tunes. At one point in the show, Anton leaned over to me and whispered in my ear that he thought the girl playing Peter looked remarkably similar to a young Ellen Degeneres. I had to laugh because for about 30 minutes, I had been thinking the exact same thing! Ellen as Peter Pan...now there's a show! The 3 Amigos in the audience, me included, gave Brett a standing ovation and probably hooped and hollered more than should be deemed appropraiate in terms of proper "theater etiquette." We didn't care. We love Brett! And the THEATER! Following the show, and quite frankly for the rest of the trip, we kept singing a spoof verse of the popular song "I'm Flying." It went something like this:
"Candy Canes, Cookie Dough, Fairy Dust, Tinkerbell, Neverland"
(*insert your own 3-syllable words and phrases as you wish!)Anton was hilarious about it. I laughed every time he sang a new "version," partly because of this word choices but more-so because of the 80-yr old lady voice he did it in. Oh, Anton. Hats off to you.
Saturday can pretty much be summed up in one word: SKI! After carb-loading in Cucina de Armstrong, we hit the slopes. Brett skied with us until he had to go to his matinee performance, and then it was just the 3 Amigos once again. I started out slow, on greens, making sure I didn't kill myself or get too over-confident. The guys were really sweet and went with me a few times, all the while I know they wished the could have just gone straight for the blues. I worked up my courage and soon, after only about 2 runs on the greens, found myself on the blue lift...going up...and up...and up. Once we reached the top, I took a while to gain my composure as the guys strapped on their snowboards. "Meet you at the bottom?," Red said. "Yep, I'll see you there." They took off and I, well, I took one more deep breath. Then, I dug my pole into the ground and WHOOSH, I was movin! I'm not gonna lie...I was scared. But the good thing about going up to the top of the blue is you pretty much MUST find your way down. I was determined to make it down with one goal: don't fall. No matter how long it takes, just don't fall. And, I'm happy to report, I did it. After the first time down, it got easier and easier and I, in turn, got better and better.
Around 1 pm we headed into the restaurant lodge for some refueling and bun-warming. It took 3 tries to get my meal right, but it wasn't long before I was shoveling fries like there was no tomorrow. We stayed inside for a good hour, talking, roasting, joking, and people-watching. After we were good and fed it was time to again suit up and head out. We went straight up to the blues again and this is where I would have a great memory of the day....
I actually started down the mountain first this time, knowing full well that Red and Anton would blow past me and beat me to the end anyway. About half way down, I stopped to rest my legs, which I did frequently on the blues because I was trying to dig so hard to maintain control on the steeper parts. While I was resting, I heard a little girl on a snowboard crying to my left. I reached out my hand and asked if she needed help up. She then replied "I can't move my leg. I think it's bleeding." This was not the response I was expecting, but I was excited to be able to help with an "injured skier." I turned and started walking up the mountain sideways to get the attention of a mountain worker who was whistling at skiers who were coming down this particular section too fast. He immediately went to the girl and asked that I take his spot and yell at any skier coming their way. I was standing backwards, in skis, looking up a giant slope at skiers and snowboarders tearing their way toward me. It was intimidating. But, there was a rescue at hand! I had to play my part. I waited for a good 10 minutes for the other rescue skier to make this way to the site. Once he arrived (with a rescue sled), he, too, asked me to stay and help he direct "traffic" around the injured girl who was getting loaded onto the the sled. So, there I stood. My calves were throbbing as I dug my skis into the snow, trying hard not to slide backwards down the mountain. I was yelling "Right, stay right, please. Injured skier." I was flailing my arms, not knowing whether pointing or using "air-traffic controller" hands would be more effective. I guess I was up on the mountain a good 20-3o minutes before they finally took her down. I never found out her name or what happened to her but, in that moment, I was glad that my legs were cramping up giving the the opportunity to stop and see her in need.
After we skied, we went home and CRASHED. Not really "sleeping" but more-so just lounging around in our long-johns, our matted ski-hat-hair rising messily from our heads. We had been sans shower for T-minus 2 days and we didn't really care. Brett, we were told, had invited a few "friends" over from the play to watch a movie and eat before the night performance. Well, little did I know that in Armstrong talk that meant the entire cast of PETER PAN! I was fine until I saw Peter/Ellen D/Molly (that was her real name) walk in the door and suddenly I felt like I was a gross pre-pubescent boy and needed to go shower and "girl" up. I did and then headed up for some Beth-Spagetti. Yummy!
After Brett was dropped off at the play, Red, Anton, and I went our way and mom and dad (Beth and Roge) went theirs. We were going to meet up with one of Red's friends at a coffee shop and then, perhaps, hit up a pub for a brew. We chilled at Java Cow for about an hour, chatting and laughing with Micajah (yep, that's his name). I instantly liked him because 1) he was from Louisiana, 2) he went to LSU, and 3) he was throwing stories and jokes out left and right. Very good people, that one. He had to head to work at 9 pm so Red, Anton, and I decided to head to a local brew pub and down a cold one, or two. We sat and down the amber goodness of a pitcher of Park City's finest, discussing life, religion, dreams, and goals. Once the pitcher was done, Red and Anton decided that they couldn't leave without trying to darkest beer this place had to offer, simply because of the title: POLYGOMY PORTER. Gotta love that...
When we returned home, it was time for us to curl up on the couches and get inspired. What better way to do that than to pop in ONCE, this indie-film made for $150K that has more heart, more beauty, more melody, and more art than most any other film I've seen in a long time. The soundtrack alone was enough for me to fall in love with the movie, even before seeing one single frame. The film chronicles the tale of a heartbroken vacuum repairman who moonlights as a street musician and, with the help of a woman he meets while performing one afternoon, sets out to record some songs and travel to London to win back the love of the one he lost. This film is such a perfect example of how to do a musical without all the spontaneous bursting out in song. The songs are organically woven into the fabric of the film and, in many ways, tell much of the story within their lyrics. I was both intimidated and inspired by this film and would put it at the top of my list of "must-sees" for the year. Truly remarkable and proof that big production value is NOT what makes a film memorable. ONCE tugs at your heart and takes you on a musical journey through broken and flourishing relationships.
I was up most of the night thinking about ONCE. Thinking about its simplicity. Thinking about how talented the two leads were and how lucky the film was to have found them and brought them together. I hope my films are half as good as this one.
On Sunday, it was a day of complete relaxation before heading to the airport to conclude the trip. We, again, watched another movie (come on, they have so many good ones at their house!!!) and cozied up until lunch time. This time, we watched MICHAEL CLAYTON, starring George Clooney. This film was written by Tony Gilroy, the guy who wrote all of the BOURNE movies and it very much so had the "BOURNE" feel. All in all, a very good movie with outstanding performances. The story at times was hard to track, as things were not laid out in a linear fashion and there were a lot of names and case points to keep track of, but by the end it answered most of the questions it asked. One thing that none of us understood was the bit with the horses. Now, if you've seen the film, you'll know what I'm talking about. What made Michael get out of the car to oogle over the wild horses? This question is a major point of contention and a catalyst for a lot that happens in the movie. Anyone know? I'm sure I could Google it and fund out but it's more fun swishing it around in my head. Another thing that I wish they would have done a little better is given some resolution to the references to the book REALM & CONQUER. Anywho, I could go on. It's a good flick and worth seeing but it will still leave you with a few "huhs?" in the end. Performances to mention are Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkonson. Both do a great job in this film. There were times, however, where I felt like Tilda's character (Karen) was "gone" from screen for too long but there's a great "I got ya" scene between her and Clooney near the end that really shows how well she plays subtlety.
Before we went to the SLC airport, Roger took us on an hour long car ride through the area. The scenery was breathtaking in the winter, stark whiteness as far as the eye could see in some places. Little mountain towns tucked away in canyons and alongside chilly rivers. It's certainly a different kind of existence. A more peaceful one, I imagine. I kept thinking about what I was flying back to: the traffic, the urban metropolis, the celebrity, the biz. Suddenly all of that seemed so...well, gross and unimportant.
I'm back at work now. Thinking about the weekend as I write this. Of course I could say much more but I feel like I've gone on too long already. I just got a call from Beth telling me how great it was to have us there and also an IM from Brett telling me that he misses me. Oh, the things that matter in life! It's hard to turn to my left and shove my face deep into this budget and pick it apart when my mind is not focused at all on tangible, concrete things.
Back to the grind...