Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Phew. What a week.

It didn't start well, the flight to California being unusually grueling. I'm not a small guy, so it's rough when I wind up crushed between two people...one of whom is even bigger than me. For seven hours.

So I arrived in San Diego feeling less than fresh. Fortunately, the weather was cool and almost Autumn-like, a major relief from the heatwave afflicting the rest of the country. I met up with my friend Dave Ray at the airport, and we took a cab to our cheap (but cozy) hotel in San Diego's Old Town district. The hotel is really nice except for little signs everywhere warning that the property is contaminated with toxic waste. We immediately went for a swim in the pool. Ahhh--paradise.

After a delightful swim under the palms, we found our friend Chris and caught a trolley to the Con. It was late in the day, but we only wanted to get our badges and have a quick look around.

It was just as mammoth as usual--a vast temple of geekdom. The highlight for me was the DeLorean from Back to the Future, looking exactly as it did in the movie. Wait--then I found a second DeLorean, this time the retrofitted one from Back to the Future III! The exhibit even had Doc Brown's remote-control gadget, the stolen box of plutonium, and the JVC Handicam that Marty used to record Doc's time-travel experiment. Cool.

I have very fond feelings for Back to the Future. The first time I saw the movie was when my wife and I were on a road trip to Canada, and we stopped in this tiny little town by Lake Ontario. We had been driving all day, and were feeling tired and a bit lost, wondering when we'd find a motel in the endless empty prairies.

All of a sudden there was a sign for this town, so we took the exit and found ourselves in a quaint little Canadian burg that looked like a relic from the '50s. The motel there was also quaint, in the best way--a cluster of tree-shaded private bungalows with no TVs. There was a restaurant on the grounds, but we were annoyed to find that the only way to get a meal there was to buy a ticket to the evening's dinner theater--a performance of Neil Simon's Same Time Next Year.

God. We were worn out and just wanted to eat and go to bed; last thing we needed was to sit through some local-yokel stage production. But it was cheap, we were starved, and the dinner on offer was prime rib. We bought the tickets.

It was fantastic.

I mean everything about it: the food, the acting, the musical accompaniment. It was the best Neil Simon play I've ever seen, and that includes the movie versions. Afterwards, my wife and I went back to our bungalow with a sense of stunned gratitude for having lucked into the experience.

The next day, Sunday, we went for a walk along the bleak, gray lake shore, and then through the deserted village. On the main street there was an old-timey movie theater showing Back to the Future. I had been avoiding this movie since it came out a few months earlier because I thought the poster looked stupid--obviously it was some kind of post-Spielberg '80s crap like Weird Science. But we had nothing else to do, so we said what the hell and bought tickets to the matinee.

The inside of the auditorium was a little unusual: along the walls was a miniature facade of the town, like a stage backdrop, and the ceiling was painted to look like a night sky, complete with little lights for stars. We took seats down front. When the lights dimmed, the Canadian national anthem started playing, and my wife nudged me to turn around. Everybody in the theater was standing at attention--everybody but us. Oops. We jumped to our feet, really feeling like we had stumbled into a time warp to the '50s.

Then the movie began.

Well, of course, it was great. We loved it. It's a wonderful movie under any circumstances, but to see it in this strange little Canadian town, purely by accident and with the lowest of expectations...it was one of the highlights of my moviegoing life. More than that, it was like a confirmation that my wife and I were on the right track; we weren't just doomed dreamers seeking something that didn't exist. There was magic to be found, and over the coming years we would keep finding it.

So that's what Back to the Future means to me.

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Blogger Professor Oddcabinet said...

Lovely Walter. Just lovely. It sounds like the antithesis of a creepy town. Something creepy should have happened there. But didn't. Which makes it even weirder.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I could offer a tiny correction, Mr. Greatshell, the reason you thought "Same Time Next Year" was such a great Neil Simon play is that it wasn't written by Neil Simon but by Bernard Slade.

4:26 PM  
Blogger Walter Greatshell said...

Holy cow! I liked that play so much, you'd think I'd remember who wrote it. Good old Bernard Slade. Well, thanks, Anonymous!

And thanks for the kind input, Professor Oddcabinet. Yep, it was definitely an eerily lovely experience--I sometimes wonder if that town is still the same...and will always be...

8:28 AM  

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