Sunday, April 28, 2013



Dear Reader,

We get up early and head south continuing on our way toward Greenville, SC.  It’s about 390 or 400 miles away and we’ve still got two days to get there, so we hit the road deciding to decide later how far we’ll go today.

We stop every 100 miles of so to stretch our legs and so The Captain can stretch his, and, if possible, have a quick run with the tennis ball.

We get into North Carollina and hit a rest stop for just this reason and because I have a phoner radio interview with the guys at the local, Greenville, SC, ESPN affiliate. 

The call goes great and I’m looking forward to the screening in the next couple days.  And then, I see two strange things which are very much the same.  They are two, unrelated, very large older men; big dudes with big bellies, and they both have t-shirts proudly announcing (advertising if you will)  their personal comfort with the state of their physicality.

The first big man is by himself wearing a t-shirt that says, “Body By Bacon.”

The second hefty chap is a bit older, perhaps in his 60’s, holding hands with whom I presume is his wife, walking slowly toward the vending machines with a shirt, I kid you not, that declares: “I Beat Anorexia.”

We always park in these spots.  If a State Trooper tells us to move, I tell them The Captain is a cop.

I like North Carolina immediately.  Clearly they have a sense of humor here.  And, even better, a self-deprecating sense of humor, which, of course, is the best kind.  So I grab the iPhone and start over to ask both of these fine gentlemen permission to photograph them.  The Navigaor grabs my arm, aghast, asking, “What are you doing?!”

“I’m gonna go get a picture of the two fat guys with the funny shirts.” I answer.

“No.  You’re not.  That’s not nice.”  Navigator Stacey retorts.

“Wait.  What?  Why not?  They’re hysterical.  They’re fat guys.  They know they’re fat guys - or so indicates their wardrobe choice clearly - and I think they’ll be pleased as punch if I asked to get a picture of them.”  I reason.

A security guy at a rest stop told me once I had to put a leash on The Captain.  I told him, "No, I don't.  He's not a pet."

But The Better Half is not to be dissuaded.  So I stand down on the matter.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.  These guys were the genuine article.  And damn funny.

Just as we’re about to pile back in the Tour Truckster and hit the road, I get a phone call from Mission Control at FOX.  The Greenville, SC screening, it has been decided, will be re-scheduled due to an impending 98% chance of a thunderstorm on the day. 

Apparently North Carolina knew The Captain was coming, and they coned off a fire hydrant for him.  The Captain was pleased.

Now it just so happens that this is a blessing in disguise - silver linings and all that.  The original screening date was on a day where there would’ve been no game actaully taking place at the stadium.  And attendance is always better for The Sandlot Tour screenings after a game, that goes just a bit into the late afternoon so that there is a small waiting period between the game and the screening, during which I can host the crowd, conduct a trivia contest from the field with the “house mike” and stuff like that.  So that it is being re-scheduled for a day just like that, is a good thing.

My vote for totally bitchinest truck seen so far on The Tour.

The driver told me the owner of this company has 30 of these trucks - all identical to this one.

Wolf Pak.  Captain Maverick approved.

Just so happens, that we are exactly at the junction of the west bound interstate whereon, had we had to (and now we certainly do have to) turn right to head west for Arkansas this is where we would do it.  Kismet.  It just keeps happening on the Sandlot Tour and I love that.

So we do, turn west that is, and head toward the new ultimate destination of Springdale, AR, where screening number 3 will now become screening number 2. 

Nicest state map we've seen so far at any "Welcome To" state rest stop
I have no idea why this rock was chained off.  Perhaps it likes to wander away?

It’s about 1,200 miles from where we are (which is basically Roanoke Rapids, NC) to Springdale, AR.  So since we have a couple days we decide to, once again, chop up the drive into bite size chunks.  We set a destination about 320 miles away on Rhonda The GPS Lady which corresponds to arriving in Asheville, NC about 8 PM.  This will give us time to find a grocery store and, if necessary a liquor store for the end of day beer.

The ubiquitous Blue Star Memorial Highway monikers


Driving through North Carolina is really beautiful.  Easy, undulating interstate and thick green forests in this, now, spring time.  It’s a no brainer why Vanderbilt  chose this place to build that  a “little summer cabin” clocking in at 178,926 square feet featuring 250 rooms.  It simply dwarfs San Simeon at - all buildings included - 90,000 square feet.  It is the single largest home in America - perhaps the world, not including the Sultan of Brunei's digs and that sort of Caliphate thing...

It is also the main location for one of my all time favorite films, Being There.

This from Wikipedia:

Being There is a 1979 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby. Adapted from the 1970 novella by Jerzy Kosinski, the screenplay was by Kosinski and the uncredited Robert C. Jones. The film stars Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard A. Dysart, and Richard Basehart.

Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role.[1] The screenplay won the 1981 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Film) Best Screenplay Award and the 1980 Writers Guild of America Award (Screen) for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the 1980 Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

Being There was the last Peter Sellers film to be released while he was alive. The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.

During the several years between the novel's publication and the film's production, Peter Sellers reportedly engaged in a determined quest to obtain the rights to bring the story to the screen and portray its lead character, sending several postcards and letters signed "Chance" to Jerzy Kosinski and Hal Ashby.

There was a serious disagreement between Lorimar Films, the production company, and Ashby with respect to the final scene of the film, before the end credits. The original screenplay ended with Chance wandering down from the Rand funeral site and simply regarding the trees and leaves near the lake. Ashby thought of the "walking on water" ending and incorporated it into the production and the final cut. Lorimar hated the idea, and it nearly led to Ashby being fired from the picture; but Ashby prevailed, and his ending is now regarded as a brilliant mock-allegorical coda.

Yeah.  Lorimar hated the idea.  Of course they did.   Wait, is there still a Lorimar?  Well, there's not a Hal Ashby anymore either, but you get my point - there is, however, the ending to his film.  Kudo’s Hal.  God rest your restless soul.

Navigator Stacey locates a pet friendly hotel in Asheville via iPad and alerts Mission Control in Los Angeles to book it for us.  They do.  And then I ask her to call the place and make sure it is, indeed, pet friendly - just in case.  She does.  And they are.  And then, just for yucks, I say, "Oh, and ask them their nightly rate just so we know."  She does.  And they tell her.  And then she tells me.  And then...

... I about run off the road into a freakin’ ditch!  “How much?!”  I ask.  She tells me again, and I say, “Are we staying the night in a hotel or buying the Biltmore Estate?!  Because the boys at Mission Control are spit up their collective Nicoise salads when they hear that sort of highway robbery!”  I mean, this is the kinda of price where the “pillow chocolates” are actually Rolexes.  Yeah, it was steep.  

They said "please" - and we always do.

People in the middle of the interstate, literally, picking up a load of plastic cups that spilled from their truck bed.  Traffic actually slowed down for them.  In Los Angeles they'd have been dead in 4 seconds.

So I ask The Navigator to re-establish communications with Mission Control and tell them not to book it and that we’ll find different, more fiscally responsible accommodations for this evening, because yeah, I’m a writer/director and I make movies, but I am the furthest thing from a Diva you can possibly imagine and I do not need to be getting a reputation for that sort of demanding, white tulips and green M&M’s only in my dressing room, J-Lo shit at this point in my career.

But, alas, the deal has been sealed and the room has been booked.  Gulp.

We continue on about 100 miles at a time and hit the rest stops so The Captain can stretch his legs and do his business.  Which he does.

I often wonder when I watch The Captain leap out of his Command Center and into fresh new un-sniffed territory at a rest stop, and proceed to take-in the world 4 square inches at a time - about the size of his nose - what the hell can be so astoundingly, irresistibly interesting on the ground to him?  I mean, really, we’re in North Carolina and it’s beautiful country all around as far as the eye can see, yet The Captain prefers to encounter all this startling visual splendor with his eyes on the ground and his nose to the grass; like I said, about 4 square inches at a time. 

Then I remember that the eyes of a Falcon or an Eagle are about 200 times more accurate, with about the same multiplicity of resolution, than a humans.  Which is some damn fine visual acuity.  However, The Captain’s nose is somewhere around 600  times more sensitive than mine, ours, a human’s.  How he does it, process all that sniffy olfactory overload I’ll never know; I mean if you think about it, that sort of sensitivity (and I’m not exaggerating here) would be roughly equivalent - if a human had that level of sniffological tuning - to any one of us taking a deep sniff of a fresh baked apple pie right out of the oven, and instantaneously dropping dead from a myocardial infarction.  It would go something like this, “Goodness, Aunt Bea, that pie smells soooooo good - ARGH!”  Boom.  Dead.

So anyway The Captain sniffs the entire rest stop and declares it I.E.D. and Drug free (good for you North Carolina) and we pile back in the Tour Truckster for the last leg into Asheville.

Getting close we see a bunch of hotels the likes of which we usually prefer to stay at, Drury Inn, La Quinta and Marriott’s Residence Inn - because as I have said before they’re inexpensive, clean, pet friendly and ubiquitous.  However, as Navigator Stacey had been checking on-line with the new iPad as we travelled, every single one of them in this area, according to their websites was NOT pet friendly; this, directly  contraindicative of what we were now seeing on the huge billboards for every single one of the them: “Now Pet Friendly!!!”

The Captain in his natural habitat.  Sea Shepherd.

Captain Maverick Vom Evans.  Head Study.

So then, am I to understand that the effort it takes to erect an entire advertisement on a billboard is so much less laborious than all that manual labor and sweat it takes to log into your hotel website as an admin and click a few keys, that you’ve all just decided to forego that end of the equation and drive all the pet friendly business to your competition?   Attention website Administrators for Marriott Residence Inn, Drury, La Quinta and Holiday Inn Express close to Asheville, NC - you’re all idiots.  That is all.

We finally roll into Asheville, NC in the evening and head straight for the local market - which The Navigator has pinpointed and guides us to via iPad & Google Maps.

Sidebar:  Google Maps is God.  That is all.

It’s a community institution sort of place, been there forever and a day, but Whole Foods recently bought it, and, God love them, and I’m guessing here but probably against their better corporate wishes, kept the old name.  Nice.  But on the inside it’s all Whole Foods all the way.  All the way down to the clientele.  Scruffy beards, Birkenstocks and Macrame’ come to mind.  Nonetheless it is awesome.  We gather a fine dinner of veggies and some awesome hummus and hit the beer aisle.  No need for a liquor store after all, because, and I about was overcome with a case of “vapors” when in the beer cooler section they actually had a selection of fresh-filled on-the-day growlers of locally produced craft brew IPA.  Heaven.

Two birds with one stone, so to speak, Navigator Stacey and I not only acquire the end of day beer, but a souvenir growler to boot!  Bitchin’.

We stow the stuff in the Tour Truckster, and I dash back into the store for something we forgot to get.  And now, Captain Maverick...

A little story about The Captain:

The Navigator and I are GSD people all the way.  There are dogs, and then... there is the GSD.  I had a GSD in the late 80’s all the way up through 1998.  Max.  He died at 13 years-old and it was so painful letting go of him that although I swore I would always get another, I never really did get over losing him (I was there, holding his head, giving him his last fresh tennis ball, while the pink juice made him sleepy and finally took him to the other side).  Just couldn’t bring myself to replace him with another GSD.  Look, Max saved two of my children from certain death, once by jumping in a pool and duck-diving under one of my sons and swimming him to the edge, and once by running down the driveway and grabbing another by the pampers and pulling him back out of the street. God love and God rest Max.

Max.  Puppy.  1986.

Max.  Big boy.  1990

Once I got over that (it took about 14 years) and decided I was ready to bring another GSD into my life (and that really is the way you have to state it, because a GSD is not a pet, they become functioning, contributing members of one's family and they require enormous amounts of your time in order to thrive - if you ain't got the time to devote to a GSD, get a hamster), as was The Navigator ready (warning: she said she always wanted a “Tennis Ball Dog”... Careful what you wish for Navigator!), I put the word out on the MPDTG: “Motion Picture Dog Trainer Grapevine” and let it be known I was looking. 

Within a week or so I got a call from a trainer friend that there was a GSD in Miami that had been rescued by a prominent Schutzhund Handler.  The guy runs a team of about 10 GSD’s in International Schutzhund competitions and although he did not have a place for another, this GSD was so magnificent that he could not, NOT, rescue him - the wealthy people that had approx $15,000 into this GSD, his cost as a puppy, some useless “guard dog training” costs, preventative veterinarian costs... - essentially just gave him away.

The Captain 18 months old and skinny.

On the day we first met Captain Maverick.  His name was then, Romeo.

Lots of potential.  But at this point, lots to learn.

I saw a picture and told my friend, “Go get him.”  The Navigator and I got to meet him about a week later.  Romeo, as he was then known, was about 18 months old, skinny (about 80 pounds), rangy, beautiful and somewhat out of control.  And aggressive.  The Navigator was instantly intimidated by and scared of him.  Smart girl.  Because he was, of course, intimidating and freaking scary!   An out of control “Glock With A Brain.”  Bad combination.  But I had made the commitment and I was overwhelmingly enamored of him at first sight.   Handsome.  Noble.  Magnificent.  All at once.  But behaviorally?  A challenge.

Shiny black coat.  A good sign.

"Teach me something!  I can learn anything!"

About 2 years old and starting to put on muscle weight.

So we got his Sky-Kennel into the back of the Tour Truckster and drove him back to where we were staying in Central Florida.  It was touch and go for a few days, until using teaching methods I had used with Max many years before, Romeo started to come around.  Started to listen.  Started to behave.  Started to learn.  Within a few weeks he was off-leash and heeling tight on the leg.  After 6 months I was confident we could take him literally everywhere and anywhere we go.  He is exceedingly well trained (or “learned” I should say), polite, proudly well behaved, and deeply protective of myself and The Navigator.  He’s also trained to get-up and get-the-bad-guy should the need arise, and that training combined with his overwhelmingly protective instinct makes him a double threat to the a-holes of the world and double layer of safety insulation for myself and Navigator Stacey anywhere we go - especially OTR.

The GSD is the only canine on earth whose learning abilities both physical and mental are limited only by the time you (the care-taker) commit to them.  In other words, their learning curve is smooth and literally endless.  There is nothing they cannot learn, know, absorb.  No other dog is like this.  With other canine’s there is always a limit.  Not with the GSD.  Strongheart and Rin Tintin come to mind.  Not Lassie.  Lassie would run home, bark at mom who would restate the Collie’s words something like this: “What’s that girl?  Timmy’s fallen into the well?!  Oh goodness, lead me to him girl!”  And off they would go, Lassie running point.

The Captain.  In pursuit.  He always gets his ball.

Working dog.  He carries his own weight.

The Navigator with The Captain.  He's not skinny no more.  3 years-old. 110 lbs.

Now, if The Captain had been with Timmy, he never would’ve fallen into the well in the first place.  And if he had, The Captain wouldn’t have run off to get mommy.  He would’ve gone down the well after the kid, dragged him back out, scolded him a little for not being careful, taken him home, got him ready for school, made him a lunch with a bologna and cheese on Wonder, bag of cut apples and a snack pak chocolate pudding, then driven him to school in the mini van.  Picked him up later in the car line, and made him do his homework before little league practice.  Yeah, GSD’s are that smart.  They don’t just think, they reason.

So, back in the parking lot of the grocery store... we always park away from the other cars because when we travel we open the hatch on the Captain’s Command Center and one of us stays with him while the other does the errand.  This time a guy in a Prius parks right next to us, his driver’s door next to the Truckster’s passenger door, meaning he has to walk out from between the two cars directly past the open hatch, which contains, of course, The Captain.  He doesn’t see The Captain, but The Captain senses him, and when the dude steps around the rear corner of the car, he’s a little too close to The Navigator who is sitting on the bumper.  He wasn’t threatening, just passing by.

The Captain with his ball and backpack harness.

Well, The Captain is up, on alert, hackles spiked and barking big the second the guy appears.  He about has a heart attack (in fact I think he actually grabbed his chest at this point) and staggers away a few feet.  He had not done anything wrong, except get a little too close - just inside the “personal space” area we all carry invisibly around us.  I like to call this The Captain’s DMZ.  It’s a no-go zone.

I give The Captain the command to stand down, and he does, with a latent growl at the guy for good measure. “Sorry about that.”  I say to the guy, and he looks none too pleased about it.  But hey, dude, don’t walk too close around the back of parked cars, at night, and breech anyone’s DMZ - right?

I’m proud of The Captain and give him a handful of his favorite treat - Tatanka riblets.  We have never actually used the commands he has been trained with, and had never, up till that moment, seen him go-big into protective mode, simply because the need has never arisen.  It was deeply gratifying to see him in action and to know he’s always got our backs.  Always.

When the guy comes back out with his bag of groceries, he takes the long way round the other side of his car to get to the driver’s door.  As he’s getting in, I say, “Hey,  you’re gonna wanna get rid of that bag of pot you’re carrying.”  Sometimes that joke falls flat, but most of the time it works.  This time it worked.  The guy laughed.

As of the time of this writing, Captain Maverick Vom Evans is 3 years old and weighs 110 pounds.

The Captain at the beach.  His favorite place.  Ours too.

Here’s a quick list of The Captain’s potential behaviors, according to certain commands, translated from the military parlance:

A defense readiness condition (DEFCON) is an alert posture used by the United States Armed Forces. It prescribes five graduated levels of readiness (or states of alert) for the U.S. military, and increase in severity from DEFCON 5 (least severe) to DEFCON 1 (most severe) to match varying military situations.

DEFCON 1 - Cocked Pistol - Nuclear War imminent - Max readiness - White (The Captain’s posture when either after being given the command to attack, or either mine, Navigator Stacey’s or The Captain’s personal safety and/or well being are directly threatened.  Get up.  Get big.  Take the guy down with extreme prejudice.  Sidebar:  I like the color code on this one, because it roughly corresponds to the color the bad guy turns - ghostly white - when he sees 110 lbs. of airborne GSD coming for his arm or throat ;))

DEFCON 2 - Fast Pace - Next step nuclear war - Ready to deploy - Red (The Captain’s posture when responding to a certain command meaning: Get up.  Get Big.  And get in this guys face! Right now!)

DEFCON 3 - Round House - Increased force readiness - Ready to mobilize - Yellow (The Captain’s posture when something is definitely not right, head up, ears alert, on his feet, hackles spiked, growling)

DEFCON 4 - Double Take - Strengthened security - Above normal readiness - Green (The Captain’s posture when something seems out of the ordinary, head up, ears alert, on watch)

DEFCON 5 - Fade Out - Lowest state of readiness - Normal readiness - Blue (The Captain’s normal posture, vigilante and always ready)

The Captain had gone somewhere around DEFCON 4 on the poor unsuspecting dude in the Prius.  It was very, very scary - even though he was just warning the guy, not threatening him - and even more so considering there are yet still 3 levels above his big-boy display from his Command Center in the parking lot.  We hoped we’d never have occasion to witness or utilize those levels with The Captain.

One last word about the GSD (for this post anyway), and especially The Captain.  Consider this: they are the only dog on earth, and perhaps the only animal, wherewith, if you shined a spotlight behind their heads pointing toward the night sky, what would appear on the cloud?

The Bat Signal, of course!

Captain Maverick.  BatDog.

We take the short drive into downtown Asheville, and even at night you can tell how pretty it is.  The pet friendly hotel The Navigator had found was smack in the middle of downtown, which normally is a hassle for parking etc... But Asheville is such a laid back pretty place it was on the contrary, no trouble at all.  The place is called The Haywood Park Hotel & Promenade and in its former life it was a department store - twice.  It’s also one of the Historic Hotels of America.  It was first known as Bon Marche from 1923 - 1937, then Ivey’s from 1937 - 1975, and when it became a hotel they kept a bunch of the period display cases with actual clothing and mannequins from the period.

Great fountain at night, in downtown Asheville, NC.

On the way to the downtown plaza park

And this is just too cool, here’s what happens when you take the elevator to the second floor and the doors open.  Listen to the “Elevator Lady’s Voice”:

I’ll describe it more thoroughly in the next post, but suffice it to say it was awesome and worth every cent.  Oh, and the very nice Front Desk young lady’s name was Bambi.  So, right there, you know you’ve got hotel gold.

After a long ride with only a few quick rest stop breaks, The Captain was full of energy, so he trots into the lobby like he owns the place, because any place The Captain walks into, he most certainly instantly owns, and gives the lobby the once over.  He digs it.  We head up to the room and find it’s something on the order of 650 square feet.  Nice.  So large in fact, that The Captain decides to get his “squirrelly puppy on” and attack the blanket and play some tennis ball - in the room:

After this in-room playtime, we decide, despite the late hour, to walk The Captain a few blocks away to the main downtown Asheville park area.  There is no one there when we arrive and so The Captain has a nice tennis ball run.  We spy a tidy restaurnat/bar called “Pack’s” and make a mental note to visit on the ‘morrow.

Back in the hotel room, The Navigator, The Captain and myself have a few late night snacks and bed down.  A great day, and with visions of yet a greater awaiting us, sack out for the night.

End of day beer, Pisgah IPA, Asheville, NC

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