Thursday, September 24, 2009

as robert frost said via ponyboy, nothing gold can stay. so it could be construed as poetic that after an extremely smooth tour thus far, i woke up in mobile with a flat tire.

the rental car company said they could either charge me $76 to come pick me up, or they'd trade in the car for no charge if i could get it to the airport rental office. no sweat: it was a slow leak, i figured i could probably just fill it up with air and drive it 10 miles before it flattened again.

but the air hose at the gas station was broken.

okay, fine: time to change a tire. it's something i've learned to do and have seen done quite a few times, but something i've never actually done. i always figured there would come a time when i'd be stranded somewhere and that would be my moment to put theory into practice, and now here i was. so i opened the trunk and started digging out the donut.

but just then, a guy in coveralls stopped me and said he'd change the tire if i could spare a few bucks for him. it seemed like he needed the cash a bit more than i needed to get in touch with my manhood, so i agreed and he got to work. he was a local dock worker who happened to be at the gas station and he said that when he saw me he said to himself "this guy's not used to getting his hands dirty." ouch. but fair enough. i told him that i'd never changed a tire and he said "god sent you an angel!" we laughed about it, but later i wondered why god bothered to flatten my tire in the first place...

i switched cars at the local airport with relatively little hassle and finally got on the road to montgomery, grabbing an absolutely perfect Waffle House breakfast on the way. oh, Waffle i've missed you...i'm sorry i haven't been in's just...well, you know how life goes sometimes...

i arrived at the Lattice Inn B&B, which was adorable, and met the proprietor, Jim, who was equally adorable. after dropping my bags, i headed to the Capri Theater to meet martin, the theater manager in charge of that night's screening. time was tight due to the tire snafu, but he took me out for a pleasant dinner and we talked about his history running the theater for the past 20-odd years and his experience with the punk scene and the Great Capri Punk Raid of the late '80s, in which 30 cops were dispatched to break up a punk show being held at the theater.

the screening only drew a dozen people, but i considered that a victory for an indie punk documentary on a monday night in montgomery, alabama. and the next day, martin told me that the film outdrew new mainstream releases like Sorority Row, The Final Destination, Jennifer's Body, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs at the other theaters around town on the same night, so i guess it was even more of a victory than i realized! Tyler Perry's new movie still crushed us, though... so now i have a new nemesis...

most of the southern circuit filmmakers seem to blog about how they get sick of watching their film over and over again, but that hasn't happened to me yet. sure, i might not have opted to watch the film this many times in a row on my own, but watching it with an audience is always interesting. thankfully, the reactions have been consistent, with the crowds generally responding to the same parts the same way. it's been great to confirm that most of the filmmaking choices my co-producer ryan and i made were successful ones, but it's also been educational to hear laughs at unexpected points, and to discover moments that don't work as well as we would've hoped. next time we'll have to do the southern circuit tour BEFORE we release the finished film.

this time, as the film started, martin invited me back to his office to show me news clippings about the Capri Punk Raid, and i figured that the laughs or gasps from such a small audience would be barely audible in such a big theater, so i sat out the screening for the first time. might not have been the best choice as a glitch with the DVD left the theater in blackness for 5 straight minutes or so and it took a second for martin and i to realize what was going on, but it was still fun to sit for a while and chat with martin about films and politics and the south. and during the q&a afterwards i told the crowd that the extended blackness was an artistic choice to symbolize the void felt by members of the early punk scene when shows were being shut down... they were a great group and most of them stuck around afterwards to ask questions, buy dvds, and say hello and thanks personally. quality over quantity!

all of the people i've met on the road have been extremely warm and generous and wonderful to talk to, but out of everyone so far martin reminded me the most of myself. i like to think of myself as a nice fellow, but i also have a propensity for cynicism and sarcasm, and some might say i'm hyper critical about movies and music and other things. turns out that martin hates stuff, too! he also comes from a punk background, and we both seem to share a tendency for rubbing people the wrong way and getting a kick out of it.

the morning after the screening, martin took me on quite possibly the snarkiest historical tour of montgomery possible. it was awesome: i learned all about the dirty politics, racism, and religious fundamentalism behind the sights we visited, including the capitol building, the dexter avenue church where MLK used to preach, hank williams' grave, the courthouse, the original white house of the confederacy, the site where rosa parks boarded that fateful bus, the f. scott/zelda fitzgerald house, and the nearby fountain that zelda fitzgerald got drunk and jumped into.

we ended the tour at a deliciously authentic bbq place called Sam's that still serves "Freedom Fries" (come on, sam...seriously??) and several thousand calories later, i was headed for jackson, MS. keeping with the theme of things not going so smoothly, my GPS decided to take me on a more "fun" route... taking me many, many miles out of the way (theoretically in an attempt to keep me on major highways rather than going the direct route on smaller roads). the silver lining is that my new route would send me through tuscaloosa, which is where george wallace stood in front of the door of the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium to protest desegregation, which i was excited to have a chance to see.

aside from my re-routing, i also hit a dead-stop traffic jam just a mile or so from the university exit, so that gummed up the works as well. i pulled off the highway, found the auditorium, snapped a quick photo, and found a detour to get around the crazy traffic. after all that, i was really running late...i would need to speed the whole way to make it in time.

and that's when the rain started...

heavy sheets of blinding alabama rain caused everyone on the freeway to slow down to at least 40 mph for a while. it let up here and there, but it pretty much poured for the remainder of the drive.

somehow, i made it to millsaps college in jackson with a few minutes to spare before the screening...but then i couldn't get in touch with melissa, my local contact. after some frantic driving and calling and asking around, i managed to find the screening room JUST before the movie was scheduled to start. melissa introduced me and i offered an out-of-breath intro to the film.

afterwards i fielded a few questions and on their way out a number of the students made it a point to thank me for coming. melissa took me out for a late dinner and i tasted fried green tomatoes for the first time. (everyone who knows how good those things are and didn't bother to tell me is a huge jerk)

abigail, one of the PhD students (or faculty...or something...i don't understand how colleges work) who was at the screening invited me for drinks with her and her boyfriend and some other PhD people, so i met up with them after dinner at an irish pub. nothing terribly exciting, but some great conversation with some really great people. enough to make me hope that i end up in jackson, mississippi again at some point in my life so we can all hang out some more.

that's generally been a theme of this whole trip: great people who live very far from where i do that i hope i see again at some point. it's making me want to start working on another movie immediately so i have a shot at getting back on the southern circuit as soon as possible!

but for now i'll just keep enjoying it while it lasts...