Santa Monica has long been a home to the television and film industries. Not only do many in the business live here, but our picturesque city is often used for location shots — too often if you ask me. Of course I may be biased from a rather unpleasant incident of a few years ago.
It was a summer afternoon during a heat wave and I was walking home from the beach. I was sunburnt, sandy and carrying an umbrella and a beach chair that goes over my shoulder like a backpack. In the heat, weighed down as I was, I felt like part pack mule.
I was about to cross Barnard Way going east when I was confronted by a young woman holding a red stop sign that had a handle. Seeming self-important, she informed me that she was part of a film crew and I had to wait until further notice — from her. “We’re shooting a scene for a Chevy Chase movie,” she said and her tone reeked of “I’m in show business and you’re not.”
The odd thing was that as I looked left and right, I didn’t see any film crew or any vehicles. Or any Chevy Chase for that matter. Feeling ridiculous, I just stood there. After a minute I gave thought to opening my beach chair and sitting down to wait.
I tried to reason with her, but to no avail. I felt like Jack Nicholson in “Five Easy Pieces” asking for a side order of toast. Finally, I figured it’s only 20 feet, I’ll make a break for it. Just then the young woman thrust her sign near my face. “Can’t you read?” For a fleeting second I thought I was a victim of the TV show “Punk’d” and Ashton Kutcher would step out from behind the bushes.
One last time I tried logic. “Look, by the time I finish this sentence I could have been across the street already.” She responded coldly, “Do I have to call the police?” That did it. This was crazy.
“Go ahead,” I said defiantly. She immediately got on her walkie-talkie and I heard her describe me as “potentially violent.” Potentially annoyed was more like it, only forget the “potentially.”
Seemingly only seconds later a cop car barreled down Barnard Way. She glared victoriously, “Now you’re in big trouble.” Suddenly I pictured myself being handcuffed and shoved into the backseat of a squad car (along with my umbrella and beach chair).
Angrily, the cop got out of his car and I thought maybe he was going to taser me. Instead, he pleaded with me. “She doesn’t have any authority but just don’t make a scene, OK?”
As the exasperated cop drove off I should have just gone home right then, but I was too angry. I had just imagined myself getting fingerprinted and having my mug shot taken. Trust me, it would have looked worse than Nick Nolte, whose infamous 2002 mug shot resembled a homeless alcoholic. (No offense to homeless alcoholics.)
“Do you have a supervisor?” I demanded. She glared again before reluctantly using her walkie-talkie. This time I heard myself described as “an old weirdo.” Yikes.
The supervisor was in a trailer at the far end of the parking lot. With my umbrella and beach chair, the last thing I wanted to do was schlep over there. But what pride I had left was on the line.
Much to my chagrin, I had to fill out a complaint form. Frankly, I’d rather be tasered than fill out a form. Especially when it was obvious the supervisor was going to throw it in the trash can the moment I left.
That was a few years ago. Recently, however, my apartment building lobby and parking lot were rented out to “Mad Men” to simulate a Miami Hotel circa 1960s. It’s a great show and the thought was exciting. But, the following day, when trucks started noisily unloading heavy equipment at 6 a.m., it got considerably less exciting. Tenants were told we couldn’t use the lobby, the parking lot, or even our balconies. (Modern-looking clothes conflicted with the period-era show.) So, this was twice Hollywood production had irked me. Once I couldn’t cross the street, now I couldn’t get my mail. Grrr.
The next day I checked with Rent Control and city permits and guess what? On private property apparently there’s no limit to how many times a landlord can rent out his building to production companies. (Great, now I’ve probably given some greedy landlord a new money-making scheme.)
That day when “Mad Men” was here, we were instructed that to leave the property we had to go out the side exit. Grumbling, I decided to walk and see the filming from afar. As I did I kept thinking that I might run into the busybody woman with the stop sign. Of course, that was ridiculous. She’s probably a director by now.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.