Spinning Donuts In The Parking Lot Of Life


More years ago than I care to admit, I spent a frigid Christmas Eve packing nearly everything I owned into a used brown Chevette hatchback in preparation for a move to Los Angeles. I had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin on the coldest day that my skin has ever experienced, so even to a dedicated indoorsman like myself, California seemed particularly inviting, beyond its obvious allure as the only place you could really live if you really wanted to do what I was sure I really wanted to do, which was make movies.

On the bitterly cold morning of December 25, I left home, my brother Greg along to share the driving and cut the loneliness. We headed south immediately, in hopes of escaping winter as quickly as we could, but winter, like most things, could move faster than a used brown Chevette hatchback.

We encountered glare ice as far south as Oklahoma, and if we didn’t slip around quite as much as some of the other vehicles, maybe it’s because they didn’t have the ballast of a fruit-crateful of vinyl albums like we did. (If that detail alone doesn’t sufficiently date this anecdote, the Chevette was equipped with an AM-only radio and, needless to say, we couldn’t rely on cell phones or OnStar if we encountered car trouble. However, if you ran out of gas, there were still dinosaurs liquefying into petroleum alongside the highways!)

These memories returned to the front of my mind as I was watching the Weather Channel this Christmas Eve, where they reported on more than a foot of snow collapsing upon Oklahoma City. The longer you live, the more it seems that God is scheduling reruns.

The final week of each year, from Christmas through New Year’s, offers us all a vivid marker by which to measure our lives. Where were we a year ago, a decade ago, a generation ago? Have we progressed, fallen back, or do we find ourselves continuously spinning in circles like a car with bald tires in an ice-covered parking lot?

If that scrawny kid behind the wheel of the Chevette could have seen where he would be at the end of 2009, I think he’d be happy that he could point to a few accomplishments, but disappointed that there weren’t more. With only one lifetime to fill, he’d find the roster of experiences mighty paltry. With any luck, there’s still a little time to make up for that.

In his final semester at Madison, college-me had devoted a huge amount of time to a 25-minute film that he wrote, directed, shot and edited, so he’d probably find it curious that his 2009 self had just spent three years writing, directing, shooting and editing a feature by himself – a documentary this time. I’m pretty sure college-me would really enjoy this new movie, but would be baffled to discover that he had more money in his savings account than 2009-me. Oh, well. That’s for 2010-me to worry about.

He’d be pleased to know that I still had all those vinyl albums, even though I hadn’t listened to the majority of them even once in the Pacific time zone. They now weigh down the floor of a walk-in closet, buried under piles of old inkjet printers (what are those?), not worth the bother of carting to the few used-record stores that exist. He would have great trouble believing that modern-me could carry all of his music on a single device the size of a deck of cards…and that you could make phone calls, read the news and watch videos on that same doohickey. He would certainly wonder, if 2009 did have gadgets like this, why did it not also have flying cars and why wasn’t everyone clad in spandex jumpsuits? If he took a gander at us, he’d be relieved we hadn’t gone the spandex jumpsuit route.

College-me would be happy that I’m still in L.A., despite the frustrations of the business that thinks so highly of itself that it refers to itself as “the Business”, because I’m still pretty sure that what I really want to do is make movies. In fact, I have now lived the majority of my life in the Los Angeles area, although this is the first year I have spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in California. Until now, I have always managed to head east to be with family. I didn’t think it would bother me to be here alone for once. I’m a rational adult. It’s just a day on a calendar, after all. There’s nothing magical about it. Besides, I’m getting on a plane on Saturday which, with the weather’s permission, will deliver me to Wisconsin on the 26th. That’s Christmas-ish, right?

But a quick Christmas Eve call to my mom made it clear.

I may live in California. But on Saturday, I’m going home.


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