Now let’s see…where were we?
Ah, yes. In Los Angeles, getting word of an actual, real, live, union acting job on the last day in town.
Enough suspense. Here we go:
Picture me, sitting hunched over in Ft. Raphael, desperately trying to finish my latest public domain audiobook before I left Los Angeles.
It is my final, full day on the West coast and Milo and I have already packed up most of our stuff for the trip home. But Ft. Raphael, in all it’s blankety glory, remains standing. And it would continue to do so until I finally got through my latest project. I felt it essential to finish this book before we get on the road.
Why? Well…my primary concern was that if I didn’t complete my current book before driving back to Chicago, then the sound of the recordings in Ft. Raphael would not match the sound of my booth back home.
And if the sound quality of the two different booths didn’t match well enough…I’d have to start all over again.
Which would be no good at all.
So I’m sweating away in my little hotbox, trying to lay down the remaining chapters of “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (a truly fun read) when…my phone rings.
It is my agent.
My voice-over agent.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hey, Kevin. Linda Jack here. Good news. I’m checking your availability for a voice over job.”
Ding, ding! Fantastic! Though I play it cool.
“That’s wonderful, Linda. When is it?”
“Well…when are you going to be back in Chicago?”
“Milo and I leave tomorrow. We’re driving back and should be in town late on Monday,” I say.
“Oh,” and here, a little bit of concern creeps into Linda’s voice. “Well…the job is supposed to be on Monday.”
And I think, “No! No! I’ve been sending off voice-over auditions to Chicago for five months and I’ve booked only one job since arriving in L.A. Now I’m going to get my second job in months on my last day in Los Angeles and not be able to actually do it because I’m arriving home twelve hours too late?!?! Impossible.”
I say as much, though a lot less frantically, to Linda. The situation seems intractable.
Then I get a brainwave. “Hey, listen,” I tell Linda. “I’ve got a complete audio setup here. Microphone, laptop, booth, the works. Send me the script, I’ll record it a million different ways here and send it off to the client. They can pick and choose what they like!”
Linda isn’t buying it. “No…no…they want to be able to give you direction while you’re doing it but…let me call them. See if we can get it moved to Tuesday.”
“Okay,” I say, watching the job float out the window. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
And we hang up.
I mean, really. Imagine it. You’ve been looking for work for months. You continually send off VO auditions to your agents in both LA and Chicago and…bupkis. Then, literally on the eve of your departure….that’s when you get the call?
This business. I swear.
The phone rings again.
“Hey, Kevin,” says Linda. “I’ve got good news.”
My heart leaps because, naturally, I assume that I will be booked for later in the week, after I get home.
Not so fast.
“They want you to record the spot on Monday.”
“Yes,” she says, “Monday at 3:30 in the afternoon.”
Second long pause.
“But…I won’t be in Chicago on Monday at 3:30 in the afternoon. I’ll probably be…in the middle of Nebraska around that time.”
And Linda says: “Yeah, they know that. They want you to record the spot on the road.”
These new phones are such a pain. You’re always hearing the craziest things on them.
“I’m sorry….what?” I say. “What do you mean ‘on the road’?”
“That’s what they said. They want you to pull over, wherever you happen to be at 3:30 on Monday and set up your microphone and laptop. They’ll call you. You record the spot where you are. They’ll listen over the phone and give you direction…then you email them the sound file.”
I’m waiting for the punch line. But it turns out this isn’t a joke.
“You’re serious?” I ask Linda.
“Totally serious. They want you to record it from wherever you happen to be. Find a quiet spot by the side of the road. I’ll give them your cell number. They’ll call, you lay down the track…that’s it.”
Well, I’m certainly not going to be the one to say no to such a ridiculous plan. After all, I’m the one who needs the money, not them.
“Okay, Linda,” I say. “Tell them I’m all for it. I’ll do my best to find a nice quiet spot to record the ad…somewhere around Omaha or something, I imagine, and…I’ll expect their call at 3:30 Chicago time.”
“Great!” says Linda. “I’ll let them know.”
And she hangs up. A few minutes later, just to be sure, Linda calls me back, formally books me for the spot and…that’s that.
I am now officially hired to be the new voice of Mr. Muscle Bathroom Cleaner…coming to you live from…my car.
Show business. Ain’t it great?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When Milo and I first arrived at our apartment in Northridge, lo these many months ago, the room was practically empty.
Practically, but not entirely.
There was, in fact, a bed frame and a full-size mattress in there, which Milo graciously ceded to me (I don’t think he liked the look of it), along with a standing lamp and, for some reason, a DVD player. Otherwise, the place was barren.
We jetted over to IKEA and set about furnishing the joint, getting Milo a futon/bed thingy, a mini-dresser for each of us, a table for us to eat and for me to use as a desk, a couple of folding chairs, an air cooler and a few other odds and ends. Made the place quite homey, in fact.
Now, upon preparing to leave, I was in no mood to just leave this stuff behind so…I held an apartment sale. I put up signs all over the building saying that we would be having the sale on Saturday morning, between 10:00 and 11:00 (one hour only!) and then figured we’d either donate the rest of the stuff to Goodwill or leave it to our roommates.
Early Saturday morning, by the skin of my teeth, I managed to finish up recording “Call of the Wild” and then spent a wistful few minutes dismantling Ft. Raphael.
If I had owned a bugle, I would have sounded “Taps.”
Then, having packed up the car with everything we wanted to take back home with us, we awaited the throng of people who would doubtless arrive promptly at ten to rid us of the rest of our furnishings.
Crickets. Nothing. For a solid ten minutes.
Then? Knock, knock. A very nice lady came in and, before you could say “Jack London,” was the proud owner of two barely-used dressers and a nice futon/pullout bed.
Minutes later, another lady came by and snapped up the air unit, the lamp and a few other small items. We had done pretty well.
Finally, just as we were heading out the door, two more women came by, bought the rolling chair I used in Ft. Raphael, the little table from my studio…and then asked about the DVD player.
The DVD player…I had found there when I moved in.
So of course I said: Buy the bed you can have the DVD player.
We sold every stick of furniture in that room. Even the stuff we inherited from the previous tenants.
And then we got the hell out of there.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There is nothing quite like a sudden, unexpected and terrifying accident on the road ahead of you to keep you on your toes during a road trip.
And that is exactly what Milo and I witnessed as we drove up I-5 (colloquially known as “the five”) on the way out of LA that Saturday.
Minutes after we got onto the highway, some guy in a blue BMW, who must have been busy with a very important text, zoomed across three lanes of traffic in front of us, careened into the cement partition in the median and completely destroyed the front left portion of his car. It happened in less time that it takes to read it. Ker-SPLAT and it was over.
We were directly behind the guy but I reacted quickly enough to avoid being in any real peril. Both cars coasted slowly to a stop and we pulled around the now-wreck, saw that the guy was shaken but otherwise fine and then continued on our way.
But I was…plenty alert, let’s say that. And despite (or perhaps because of) the suddenness and violence of the accident, it seemed to me to be something of a good thing for me to witness that soon out of the gate. Why? Because that was one of three nasty-looking accidents Milo and I witnessed on the road back to Chicago and it surely kept my eyes glued to the road for the rest of the trip.
Speaking of which, here was the plan: The easy leg first- a five hour jaunt to Vegas where we would spend the night with the same fine folks (Aunt Caron’s brother) who hosted us on Thanksgiving.
Day Two: Vegas to Denver, driving over the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter in what would turn out to be our first snowstorm in almost a year.
Then, finally, the real test: Denver to Chicago – a trek of over 16 hours- with a stop by the side of the road for a commercial break.
This final leg weighed heavily on me, not just for the length of the final journey but also because I had my doubts about this VO experiment ending well for anyone. But…if that’s what the client wanted, that’s what they were going to get.
As LA disappeared in our rear view, I admit to feeling a touch of melancholy. Los Angeles had been my home for eight of the past twelve months and, despite being an awfully difficult place to find work, I had really come to appreciate the town itself.
I mean…you have to love a place with that many skinny people coupled with – quite literally – a donut shop on every corner. You may think that is an exaggeration, but I defy you to find me a single intersection in the city that doesn’t have a sign advertising fried, sugary dough at one of the four corners. They are as common as weeds but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who actually buys the damn things.
And it is sooooo easy to trash L.A. To complain of the plastic, inauthentic atmosphere of the city, to bemoan its lack of class or look down your nose at the want of culture and refinement. Complaining about (and sneering at) Los Angeles is an American institution.
But during my time there, I truly grew to love the city. The natural beauty of the landscape, from the beaches to the mountains, the parks and soaring vistas from innumerable vantage points. The stunning diversity of the cuisine, which reflects it’s multicultural population, ranging from some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever tasted, to the freshest sushi this side of the Pacific Ocean to the most mouth-watering Korean barbecue that has ever been fried up right before my very eyes.
Museums, art galleries, live theatre, street performers, classic movie houses, world-class shopping and charming farmers markets. If you scratch below the surface, you’ll find it has a lot to offer.
Yeah, the traffic sucks sometimes. It’s no picnic here in Chicago either. But if you don’t get on the 101 at 5:30 in the afternoon…you’re generally fine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wanted to go home. I still believe Chicago to be, by far, the superior city. I’m not willing to go that far.
But there was no question that I would miss my new quasi-home.
What can I tell you? Like the man says:
I love L.A.
Til next time, Nirvana.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Aside from the beautiful desert sights – plateaus, hills and cacti a-plenty – there isn’t much between LA and Vegas that is worth stopping for. But…there is Peggy Sue’s.
Like “Wall Drug” in South Dakota, you see signs for “Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner” for many miles before you actually arrive at the advertised establishment. But Milo and I, in our three previous trips this year between the two cities, had managed to avoid stopping for a bite, mostly due to the nagging sense that it would be a kitchy, touristy, bad-food-for-high-prices kind of rip-off joint.
Now, however, making our way through the desert on what we were sure would be our last time for perhaps years…we just had to stop. After all – how bad could it be?
Turns out: Pretty damn good, actually.
The coffee was first-rate. The onion rings were fantastic. And the “Frankie Avalon Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich” was everything you could wish it to be. And yes, it was indeed a kitchy, touristy joint…but in the best possible way.
When I want cheesy Americana, I want authentic cheesy Americana and boy howdy was this place authentic.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Our hosts in Vegas were just as kind as they could be, surprising us with a pizza dinner when we arrived but, sadly, we did not have long to visit, having a long drive the following morning. We got up with the chickens, as they say, and were high-tailing it for the Rockies in no time.
Driving out of Las Vegas, I had no similar feeling of nostalgia as I did for my LA departure. Vegas is not my scene but, happily for those who live there, plenty of people disagree with me. I don’t know how on Earth they keep all of those hotels full but…God bless ’em. I’m not planning a return trip any time soon.
Now, one thing you should know about Milo: Milo likes the cold. For the first couple of months we were in Los Angeles, he was miserable. The temperature rarely dipped below seventy degrees and, with his penchant for wearing black most of the time, the sun became almost unbearable to him.
I know he enjoyed our time in the city, but I feel sure Milo would never live there later in life. He prefers temps in the 60’s and below…preferably far below. I’ve often said, he’d rather it be five degrees outside than ninety-five.
So the further up into the mountains we climbed (and the colder and colder it got), the happier Milo became. When we hit 32 degrees, we both celebrated our first freezing temperature since the previous Spring in Chicago. (Yes, Chicago is regularly at freezing or below in the Spring. Aren’t all great cities?)
However, as we climbed higher up into the mountains, we started to hit some weather and it became less and less fun for Milo’s father. We saw one nasty accident…then we saw another. Temperatures outside continued to fall (we had a temperature gauge in the car that showed the outside climate) and my speed continued to decline due to the icy road conditions.
By the time we started down the other side of the mountains, we hit an actual snowstorm. I was gripping the steering wheel firmly, easing us down the mountain, while Milo called out the temperature as it continued to decline.
“Nine,” he’d pipe up. As if it were good news.
Then later: “Four.”
Soon it got all the way down to one degree. Milo’s eyes shone. He really wanted for it to get down to zero.
Then: “Two.” The temperature started to go up again. If by “up” you mean the high single digits. “Eight. Nine. Dammit.”
But the snowstorm roared on and things got nastier. Pretty soon: “Three!” The situation was, in Milo’s world, getting “better.”
My driving had slowed to a crawl. It was really getting slippery on the road and the salt didn’t seem to be helping much.
Finally….”Two….one….zero!” We both celebrated this so-called milestone, one of us far more enthusiastically than the other.
But then: “Um…minus one,” he said.
“Minus two.” It kept going down. And down. “Minus four….minus five.”
Within minutes, the LED monitor told us it was negative ten degrees outside and, believe it or not, I became absolutely convinced that I really, really did not want to skid off the road in this weather. Perishing in the frozen wilds of the Colorado Rockies was distinctly not why I had chosen to go to California.
In time, after white-knuckling the wheel for more than two hours, the roads became clearer, the temperatures went back up to a “normal” level and we were able to make our way out of the storm and into Denver proper where we were, at last, warmly greeted by my always-generous and hospitable Uncle Larry and Aunt Bobbee who wined us, dined us and sent us off to our rest.
But that drive had absolutely scared the bejesus out of me. And I knew just one thing:
I was going to need a whole lot more bejesus to get me through the final leg of this damn trip.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Day three. Recording day. Plus…about a thousand miles between us and home.
This was going to be fun.
We staggered out as early as possible but, for those of you who know how time zones work, you may realize that we’d already lost an hour by crossing over the Rockies. And we were going to lose another hour by the time we reached Chicago.
It was going to be a long day no matter how you sliced it and we were slicing it pretty damned thin.
We were out of Colorado in no time and had begun the truly epic slog of getting through that state that dare not speak it’s name: Nebraska.
I don’t know if you’ve ever driven across Nebraska before but, if you have, you know what a mind-numbing experience it is. The road is as straight as a plumb line. The countryside is wholly unremarkable.
And the radio stations. Good gravy.
Listen: You want to know how Trump won the election? Drive through goddamn Nebraska and turn on the radio. You can get exactly one of three types of stations on your way through the Cornhusker State:
Country, Christian and right-wing Hate Radio. That’s it.
Oh, you might occasionally run into a “classic rock” station, but it’s the kind of programming that somehow lists Def Leppard and Billy Squier is “classic rock.”
Thank God the speed limit is seventy-five or I’d still be there.
All the while, as the clock kept ticking towards 3:30 Chicago time, I’m thinking: “How the hell am I going to do this?”
I started to think of potential solutions. But when I pictured myself walking into a motel with my laptop, microphone and sixteen year old son and asking if I could borrow a quiet room for half an hour or so…I started to realize just how abysmally this whole thing could turn out.
Milo had a great thought: Park near a Starbucks in some town somewhere, log on to their WiFi and I should be all set. He’d throw a bunch of blankets over me and the setup would be just like Ft. Raphael.
But…you know…far more ridiculous.
Then, at about 11:30AM – DING! – text message. From Chicago.
“Kevin – Just sent you an email. Recording session set for tomorrow, downtown. Please confirm. And drive safe.”
The experiment had been canceled. I didn’t have to do the spot on the road.
And you know what? I was actually kind of disappointed.
I mean, I was absolutely convinced that the whole “record this spot in your Volkswagen studio” plan was going to be a complete clusterfuck but…that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to try it.
Besides…didn’t you all want to know how it would have turned out if I had given it a shot? Yeah, me too.
But no, the traveling fort idea was nixed. All I had to worry about was getting through the next twelve hours of driving.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Ugh. It was just awful. My long-distance driving friends will know just what I mean. After a while, it becomes pure torture. Especially when you’re driving through the Midwest, which is so bloody monotonous your eyes start to cross.
Milo’s job was to keep me awake and focused and he was born to it. He blasted loud music, talked baseball with me, joked around…anything to prevent me from careening into a light pole.
I turned to him after gassing up in Iowa and asked Milo how much further we had to go, hoping to hear “three hours.” When he said “About seven hours more,” my heart just sank. Seven hours was an eternity, a prison sentence. I would sooner have taken a punch to the tenders.
But we made it. We sang and talked and almost ran out of gas at one point (which really kicked up my adrenaline) but…
At last…there it was.
The City by the Lake. Sweet home, Chicago. Her beautiful, frozen face looming on the horizon.
We got in just after midnight. It had been a painful, brutal day or driving, but we had survived it.
Sara had waited up, but Gwen had gone up to bed, having school the next morning. (Happily, the over-excited dog woke her up and I was able to see my daughter briefly before sending her back upstairs to sleep.)
We were back. Our five-month odyssey was now complete.
And the best part?
I had a job the next day. A real, live, actual, union acting job.
My first day back in Chicago…and I was working.
And if that’s not a good sign? If that isn’t an indication that I was exactly where I was supposed to be?
Brother…I don’t know what is.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I have now been home for about two weeks. The adjustment out of L.A. mode and back into Chicago mode took about…five seconds. It is really wonderful to be back in the arms of my family, in the city that I love and…working. It is really nice to be working again.
About a week after I hit town (the commercial spot went very well, by the way), I got to hold auditions for the show that I’m directing next summer.
And I started recording audiobooks full-time, down in my new basement studio. (Oh, the studio name? Presenting….Ft. Donatello. He looks like his brother, but not exactly.)
That’s my day job, for the time being. I’m a professional audiobook narrator. For as long as I can keep the family’s heads above water, anyway.
I’m even toying with the idea of starting my own audiobook publishing house here in Chicago. We don’t have one here and there are an awful lot of hungry, talented narrators out there.
I might even teach a class in how to do it yourself. Maybe some folks would show up. It could happen.
Not to mention the idea of turning this blog into a book. And, naturally…into an audiobook as well. Might even sell a few copies. Who knows?
For now, the possibilities are endless.
People ask me what I learned on my year-long adventure to Nirvana and back. And I learned a lot. More than I expected.
About the business. About Los Angeles itself. About myself. My family. My strong, loving wife. My brave, brilliant children.
I spent five months living with my son in a Californian pseudo-dorm room, recording books in a closet, overdosing on baseball and eating a steady diet of raw fish and barbecued Korean pork, people.
You don’t go through something like that without getting one hell of an education. And you absolutely do not just drop back into your old life as if nothing happened. An experience like that changes people. It certainly changed me.
I think I am the better for it. I hope I am. Who can say?
But I know one thing:
I’m one hell of a lot happier now than I was when this beautiful, ridiculous, ill-fated pilgrimage began over twelve months ago.
I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. But if I could go back and talk to the Kevin I was in December of last year?
I would sure as hell recommend it to me.
So..here’s to the future, my friends.
To the unknown.
To the frightening.
To the questionable decisions.
To the chances taken.
To the crappy odds, the dangerous risks and the pipe dreams.
Most importantly, here’s…to what awaits.
See you there.