The Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California offers daily tours of its back lot. This is one of the things I was really looking forward to seeing on the vacation and it did not disappoint. The Warner Bros. back lot consists of almost 30 sound stages and lots of other sets both indoors and out. Some of them were instantly recognizable, some of them were recognizable with a bit of prodding, and some you wouldn’t recognize in a million years.
Our tour began with a brief movie showing clips from nearly 100 years worth of WB movies, television programs, and cartoons. Between the four of us I would say we recognized roughly 20% of the clips. Many of them were from old movies and new television shows we had not seen. Once the movie was over we headed outsite, climbed upon our 15-man golf cart, and hit the road!
This is the first location our guide pointed out to us:
“Why are we looking at a dirt road,” we all asked. Apparently, this is the dirt road that a T-Rex chased a jeep down in Jurassic Park.
The road was only about 30 feet long and our guide explained that they drove up and down the road many times to string together enough footage for the chase sequence.
Just past this road on the left was a small cabin.
“Has anybody here seen TRUE BLOOD?” our guide asked. Nobody on the train had seen True Blood. “Oh well, if you had, then you would recognize this cabin as Merlottes Bar and Grill!” We quickly learned that telling the guide that we had not seen a movie or did not watch a television show didn’t prevent her from showing us the location regardless.
The pond on the right hand side was much more interesting.
This pond has been a lot of things, including the sea in Poseidon. However, what I recognized it from was this:
If you look closely you’ll see Pee-Wee Herman swinging across that very same pond.
Actually if you want see what the back lot looks like (at least the outside of the sound stages), watch the chase scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Here’s a shot of the fake backdrop Pee-Wee places to fool the security guards chasing him:
…and here’s a shot of the back lot itself.
There were tons of little places that you might only see in a few seconds of a movie. Here are a small set of steps that lead to nowhere.
(Note the square around the tree. All the trees are actually potted plants and can be added or removed depending on what the shot calls for.)
In the movie Gremlins, these steps are in the heart of Chinatown, and lead down to a mysterious shop where a man looking for a Christmas present for his son purchases a Mogwai!
Right around the corner from this was a small alley.
You might recognize it as the dark alley in which a wet Pee-Wee Herman runs into a bunch of thugs shortly before discovering Madame Ruby the Fortune Teller…
…or you might recognize those steps as the ones the orphans sing on in the 1981 version of Annie.
It was also the place where Spider-Man’s famous “upside-down” kiss took place.
A block or so away is the front of Annie’s orphanage. Many of the locations were difficult to recognize because the fronts of many of the buildings are actually foam core and can be switched from brick to rock to wood easily. Also all of the door knobs, lights, trimmings, and everything else are designed to be easily changeable.
One other interesting thing we encountered was the Mystery Machine, getting some fuel at the lot’s onsite gas station.
In Part 2 of this post I’ll be sharing pictures from some of the television sets and inside the WB museum.
When people who know me find out I’ve never been to California, most of them are surprised. “It seems like your kind of place,” they say, and they’re partially right. I love movies and music and the entire entertainment industry and I love reading about and seeing “behind the scenes” of how those things operate. When I was a kid I used to tell people the reason I hadn’t been to California is because I was afraid I would never come back. As a young man that might have been true, but I’m afraid at this point the crowds, traffic and high cost of living would be too much for me to adapt to. “It’s a nice place to visit,” as they say.
The Hollywood sign and Walk of Fame was not the first place we visited chronologically, but thematically it seems like a good place to start.
I grew up seeing the Hollywood sign plastered in entertainment, from the original Muppet Movie…
…to video games, like Epyx’s California Games.
If you really want to see it, here is the sign as it appears in 80 different movies.
In reality, there are more than a few ways to get a good view of the Hollywood sign. By simply driving around Hollywood you can see the sign from lots of places. There are also hiking tours and other ways to get closer to the sign, although I found the iPhone’s zoom good enough to get a decent shot of the sign from almost anywhere. Our favorite viewpoint came from the Hollywood & Highland Mall.
As you can see, the mall was specifically designed to include a viewing area from which one can easily see the sign. Here’s a phone shot from the walkway itself.
As most people know, the sign was originally an advertisement for a housing addition and read “HOLLYWOODLAND”. The original sign cost $21k to erect in the 1920s, although many more millions have been spent maintaining it throughout the years. In 1932, aspiring film actress Peg Entwistle lept to her death from the “H”. After the war and during the depression, the Hollywood real estate business went bust, and the sign became the property of the city in 1944. In 1949, “LAND” was removed, leaving the sign to appear as it does today: “HOLLYWOOD”. The sign was completely renovated in the late 1970s at a cost of a quarter million dollars — in fact, for three months in 1978, the sign was completely removed while the letters were being restored. Today the sign is surrounded by a “state of the art security system” preventing people from getting anywhere near it without police helicopters quickly swooping in.
After viewing the sign we returned to the mall, walked out one of the exits, and found ourselves looking at this:
Grauman’s Chinese Theater (or simply Mann’s) is an iconic movie theater in downtown Hollywood which has been the home of several huge movie premiers, including this one you might have seen:
Later that summer, R2-D2, C-3P0, and Darth Vader had their footprints placed not in carbonite, but concrete.
On the sidewalk outside the theater is where we first saw stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Two of the first ones we saw belonged to Slash and Godzilla, so the stars are not limited to real people. I had hoped to take pictures of some of the stars but there were literally thousands of people walking on them and getting much more than a quick phone snap of any particular star proved difficult. There are more than 2,500 stars on the Walk of Fame so without a map, finding a specific one would be pretty difficult.
We spent a few more minutes driving around Hollywood, stopping briefly at Hollywood and Vine and again at Sunset and Vine. It was weird to see so many locations and names that I’ve heard about in songs and seen in movies for so long.
We spent less than half a day in downtown Hollywood. I would love to go back and spend a week seeing everything.
It’s funny how that carrot-on-a-stick promise of “it’s only a 2 1/2 hour flight from California to Oklahoma” turns into 11 hours after you figure in the drive to the airport, returning the rental car, time spent in the TSA security line and so on. We left our hotel in Pleasant Hill, California at 6:30am this morning, and arrived home at 5:30pm.
In the past seven days we visited Disneyland, the Warner Brothers Studio, Rancho Obi-Wan, the Jelly Belly factory, the Sequoia National Forest, Computer History Museum, and Alcatraz/Pier 39, with lots of other little stops and diversions along the way.
I’m going to spend the next week writing about our trip, saving the posts about Disneyland for the weekend. Look for lots of fun stories and pictures!
Monday morning, we toured the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California. The tour was free and only 30 minutes in length, but was a fun distraction and interesting.
Twenty-four hours later I found myself standing in front of the largest living thing on the planet.
“General Sherman” is not the tallest, oldest, or wisest tree on the planet, but by volume, it is the largest. The tree is estimated to be between 2,300 and 2,500 years old, 275 feet tall, a diameter of 25 feet and a circumference of just over 100 feet at the base.
So — something small and something big. I’ll write more about each when I get back home this weekend.
It’s the fourth morning of our vacation and I haven’t updated the blog because we haven’t had a lot of downtime yet. Here’s a brief recap of the past three days. I’ll be writing more and posting more pictures when I get home for sure.
Last Friday we flew out to California. As you all know by now I am not a big fan of flying but the rum and Cokes in first class make the experience a little more tolerable.
Saturday morning, bright and early, we went to Disneyland. It was the first time for all of us. We visited the park for 6 or 7 hours, took a midday break, and then returned later for another 4 hours. We used the Fastpass system to the best of our ability and got to ride most of what we wanted. I think all of us agree that we will come back in a year or two to ride see the things we missed. We had a great time there and one day is not enough time to see and do everything there.
Sunday morning we visited the Warner Bros. studio back lot tour. This was a tour of the 110 acre lot where many famous Warner Bros. movies were filmed, from the Big Bang Theory all the way back to Casablanca. We got to see lots of famous faux buildings like the orphanage from Annie and the hospital from ER, and we got to see a lot of costumes from Batman, Gravity, and Harry Potter. In retrospect I wish we had studied up on our WB history before attending. I’ll be posting a ton of pictures from this when I can get a faster internet connection.
Monday we drove north to Petaluma, California to visit Rancho Obi-Wan. Rancho Obi-Wan is owned by Steve Sansweet, owner of the largest privately-owned collection of Star Wars memorabilia. Steve owns everything you can imagine related to Star Wars and lots of things you wouldn’t dream of seeing there. His collection contains somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 individual items, from books and posters to toys, artwork, and more, including lots and lots of one of a kind items. The tour is led by Mr. Sansweet himself and for four hours we (the four of us and three other guests) got a private tour of his 9,000 square foot personal museum. Steve Sansweet has authored 16 books on Star Wars, so he definitely knows his stuff. We took hundreds of pictures during the tour and I know we didn’t capture everything. Definitely the mecca for any Star Wars collector to see.
After the kids swim and rest this morning we’re going to go tour the Jelly Belly factory before heading out to the Sequoya National Forest.
Each time a morsel of news related to the new Star Wars films currently in production hits the web, I get asked the same question by people: “Are you looking forward to the new Star Wars films?”
In short, I am.
I saw the original Star Wars the summer of 1977 shortly before I turned four-years-old, and the other two films on opening day. I may have previously mentioned that my dad took me to see Return of the Jedi opening day (May 25, 1983) the day after I had my tonsils removed. I remember standing in line outside the movie theater with hundreds of other Star Wars fans. I remember the theater erupting in applause when the film began, and again later when Luke sprung into the air to avoid being devoured by the Sarlaac, caught his lightsaber launched to him by R2-D2, and went all Jedi on Jabba’s henchmen.
From 1978 through sometime around 1984, my world was Star Wars. I asked for (and received) Star Wars toys for every birthday and every Christmas for six or seven years in a row. I spent Halloweens dressed up as Darth Vader and Stormtroopers and Chewbacca. I slept in a Star Wars sleeping bag with pillows in Star Wars pillowcases next to windows covered with Star Wars curtains and walls smothered in Star Wars posters. I went to school wearing Star Wars shirts, filed my homework in Star Wars folders, spent my time reading Star Wars books, comic books and newsletters (Bantha Tracks!), and eventually began actively collecting Star Wars toys.
The world wide web was not as mature back in 1999 as it is today. Video had to be compressed so that it would be watchable by dial-up users, which often left viewers with a viewable area the size of a postage stamp and compressed to hell and back in either Quicktime or Real Video format. I was at work the day the trailer for Episode I leaked in the spring of 1999, and when I first watched it — in a tiny, pixelated window on a Russian web page — I got choked up.
The debut of Episode I: The Phantom Menace was as big as any Star Wars release I can remember. People lined up just to buy tickets and lined up again to get into theaters. The day we showed up to buy our tickets the wait was already four hours long — fortunately for us we happened to see a friend of ours who was sixth in line! He bought our tickets and we attended the opening show at midnight. Another friend of mine also ended up with spare tickets so Susan and I ended up seeing it twice opening day.
Continuing the tradition I saw Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith opening day at midnight as well, meaning I saw five of the six Star Wars movies in theaters opening day.
Can I argue that the prequels were as good as the originals? Not really, no. They had plenty of reasons to dislike them (and a couple of reasons to hate them), but they had one main reason to like them: pure and simple, they were Star Wars. Yes, we all agree that Jar Jar was annoying, and, perhaps, Jake Lloyd was not the greatest child actor on the planet… but the chills I got when Obi Wan first met Anakin (or when R2D2 met C3P0) were very real. Those who focused on the maudlin scenes between Anakin and Padme missed out on the excitement of the pod racers.
My Star Wars acquisitions have cooled off since those early days. I still pick up old figures here and there from time to time and occasionally find something new to stick on the shelves, but it’s not like it used to be. I no longer sleep with that Star Wars sleeping bag or keep my papers filed in Star Wars folders, but I do have a “Star Wars room” in my house to display my collection, and more importantly, I still have Star Wars in my heart.
So am I looking forward to the new Star Wars films? You bet I am. They won’t be perfect. There will be things fans don’t like about them. With Disney now owning the rights to the Star Wars universe you can bet we will see marketing on a intergalactic scale. It’s very possible we will see another “Jar Jar” type character to help market the film to children.
At the end of the day, Star Wars is still Star Wars, and both of us — me the adult, and me the kid — will be there again on opening day.
Over the weekend I updated the States! section of the website. If you have not checked it out, it’s a list of every states I have ever visited with lots of pictures and mini-stories. In 2013 I added or updated Missouri, Illinois, Indianapolis, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Toronto (Ontario), Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In this weekend’s update I updated Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.Check your state — maybe I’ve been there!
(Apologies if you got this one twice. I killed my webserver earlier and had to recover this one from the cache.)
Look — if you’re going to live in Oklahoma you can do one of two things: deny it, or embrace it. Me, I’m all about embracing and experiencing things, which is how my family and I ended up for a second time at the El Reno GRASCAR Races.
My dad, Mason and I have attended the races once before. I told my wife it was “three or four years ago” but after finding this old blog entry I guess it’s been eight. Time flies, and all that. Despite that, little has changed. Races are held in El Reno every other week during the spring and summer. Attendance is free and attendees can sit outside the fence on chairs or go inside and sit on the metal bleachers.
We arrived as the different vehicles were doing hot laps, testing and tuning their rides. This bored the kids to tears as they had no interest in watching things zoom around the track whatsoever.
Roughly an hour after the scheduled time, races began. According to the GRASCAR website they race karts, yard karts, power puff flat karts, and riding lawnmowers. I couldn’t tell you which was which, but the general rule seemed to be they began racing smaller, slower karts and worked their way up to bigger, faster things.
All the karts were loud and many of them slung dirt on to us as they whizzed by, even though we were behind two fences and not next to a corner. When the races began things got a lot more competitive and it wasn’t long before we saw our first crash of the evening.
The kid was alright, even though his kart was dead and had to be hauled off by a 4-wheeler. I was actually less worried about the kid (who was wearing a helmet) than I was for his mother who ran out on the field carrying a new born baby, although I must admit I’ve been out on the basketball court a time or two whenever my kids go down.
As bigger and faster karts took the track the action got louder and faster which eventually won the kids over. The highlight for me however is always the riding lawnmowers.
According to the website, all lawnmowers must have started life as a real riding lawnmower. There are a ton of rules on the website regulating the height, bumpers, and engines of these mowers (it specifically prohibits nitrous oxide, for example) and warns drivers that any mower can be inspected to ensure that they have brakes, which is amazing to me to think that anyone driving a 35mph lawnmower would not want brakes installed on it.
Our favorite driver of the night, whom we dubbed “Satan” (for his all-red outfit and red waving bandanna in the rear) easily smoked the competition and won his heat. His “8 Ball” helmet (with two GoPro camera mounted to the top of it) was a crowd favorite.
We left during intermission — two hours of kart racing madness was enough for this group. Being completely free and only 20 minutes from my house I can’t believe I don’t go to these races more. The next time I’m going I will announce it online to see if anyone else wants to join me.
Below are three Vine videos (6 second loops) I recorded while at the races. You can click the speaker icon in the upper left hand corner to un-mute the sound.
Mini Sprint Cars
500cc Sprint Cars
And finally, the riding lawnmowers!
Oklahoma. Is this a great state or what?
EDIT: I found some POV footage from our favorite racer. Tell me again you wouldn’t want brakes on this thing!!
Earlier today for Facebook’s “Throwback Thursday” I posted the following picture with a bit of a tease as to the story behind the photo. I might as well tell the story.
My buddy Andy (seen in the picture above) is pretty much the pillar of honesty — always has been, always will be. Most of his stories that involve debauchery also involve me because, let’s face it, Andy was the nice guy and I was the little devil sitting on his shoulder saying things like, “Hey Andy, wouldn’t it be awesome if we stole that fire extinguisher and set it off in my room?”
(And yeah, I really said that. And we really did that. And it was not at all as funny as one might think from seeing fire extinguishers go off on television. But I digress…)
This story dates back to 1990, when I was working for Mazzio’s Pizza. We had a manager — John or Jack, maybe — who used to come to work every day carrying a briefcase. Even as teenagers we thought that was kind of weird. One day he quit or got fired or something and he never came back to the store to get his briefcase. After a week, curiosity got the better of me I took it home and pried it open. Inside was an ink pen and a Playboy magazine.
A few months later, Darryl Starbird’s Custom Car Show came to downtown Oklahoma City. My dad has always said the key to being somewhere you don’t belong is to act like you belong. Andy and I decided to put this to the test and devised a plan to sneak into the car show, and the whole plan revolved around that briefcase.
The evening before the show was set to open, Andy and I showed up. Andy was wearing the outfit you see above while I was wearing a shirt with a (clip-on) tie and my hair slicked back. I was also carrying the briefcase.
Instead of going to the front door, the two of us walked around to the side and tried walking right through the door. When a guard looked at me, I said, “Oh, this is the door Bill said to come through,” (or something like that). When the guard asked me who I was I introduced Andy and myself and told the guard we were there to purchase Bill’s car. I then nodded my head toward the briefcase. (In my stupid 17-year-old head, someone buying a car at a car show would do so by bringing a briefcase full of cash with him.)
The guard looked at the two of us, yawned, and waved us through. As we rounded the corner into the show we entered the first bathroom we found. I took off the shirt and tie (I had a t-shirt on underneath), stuffed them into the briefcase, and left it there in the bathroom. Today that would probably cause a security incident but back then I’m guessing it just ended up in the trash. The two of us spent the rest of the evening with the place to ourselves, walking around and taking pictures. That’s how we were able to get a picture of Andy standing on the wheel of a monster truck-sized Mustang with nobody else around.
Here at robohara.com I offer e-mail notifications for whenever I post a new blog entry. You can add and remove yourself from the list, so I rarely get bounced e-mails from the mailing list. Unfortunately, last week, I got one.
Error Type: SMTP
Remote server (126.96.36.199) issued an error.
Mail Server sent: RCPT TO:
Remote server replied: 550 email@example.com…User account is overquota
Last week while I was in Vegas, my friend Rogmeister passed away at the age of 61.
Online communications have redefined the meaning of the word “friend.” I grew up calling BBSes, so it was not uncommon for me to have “friends” that I rarely saw in person. In fact, I met some of my best friends online! Because most of us lived in the same area code, it was more common back then for online friends to eventually meet up in real life. Through the internet I now have friends all over the globe, some of which I’m met in person and some of which I doubt I ever will.
I first “met” Roger through the Digital Press forums. Roger was already a staple of that community when I first joined back in 2003. Like most people there, Roger enjoyed playing and talking about old games. My impression of him was that he was a gentleman, in the truest sense of the word — a gentle man. Roger liked his cats and his games and would talk about anything but rarely argue about anything.
A few years ago (five, maybe) Roger was downsizing and looking for a way to store his growing DVD collection. I suggested picking up some DJ CD carrying cases, designed for holding 500+ discs. I had found a place locally selling them, and when Roger couldn’t find any in his area I bought one and mailed it to him. He told me he filled it up with western movies. Anyone who knew Roger knows that he had a fondness for classic westerns, especially those starring John Wayne.
Due to diabetes and heart-related conditions, Roger’s health began declining to the point that he could no longer live alone. Roughly six months ago, Roger moved in with his brother Sherrill and his wife Donna. A couple of months ago, Roger posted on Facebook that he was looking for a second Gamecube controller so that he could play Gamecube games with his niece. I went out to my garage, grabbed a spare one, boxed it up and mailed it to him. I never heard if he finally got to play any games with her but I hope that he did.
Anyone who knew Roger knew about his cats. His cat, Shadow, passed away a few years ago and it was a sad time for Roger. His cat Cindy, who was I think 12 years old, made the move with Roger over to Sherrill’s place. In one of Roger’s last blog posts he wrote about some health issues Cindy was having. To say that Roger was always thinking of other people (and cats) is an understatement. Roger’s Christmas cards had a picture of him with his cats. We had that card sitting our mantle for something like six months.
A few months ago Roger posted that he was looking for things to read, so I sent him a copy of my book Commodork. He later posted that he enjoyed it even though he owned an Atari computer back in the day. I also sent him a copy of my second book, Invading Spaces, and he later posted on Facebook that he finished and enjoyed that one, too.
Through Roger’s Facebook updates and blog posts I (and I’m sure many others) feel like we’ve been along for many of Roger’s adventures. Even if only virtually, we were there when his cat Shadow passed, when Cindy temporarily disappeared, when Roger began dialysis, and many other trips to the hospital. In one of his last updates he spoke about going to Ohio for another surgery. Unfortunately he didn’t make it through this last one.
Roger’s funeral was May 6th, one day before his 62nd birthday. RIP Rog, you were one of the good ones.