I know some people prefer to travel by air, but we are not among their number. I remember last year reading that during Covid, several airlines in Europe were offering round-trips to nowhere. They would take off and fly for a couple of hours in one direction and then turn around mid-air and return. And, amazing to me, the flights were fully booked. I just don’t get it. But then, there are lots of things I just don’t get. It doesn’t make them wrong; it makes them odd and perhaps a little fascinating.
Andrea and I prefer to travel by car. For us, there are lots of reasons not to fly. You have to fit into their schedule instead of your own. You place yourself in their hands rather than maintaining control of your own movements. (Or perhaps it is only that your loss of control is more obvious when you fly.) You can’t carry as much with you. You must subject yourself to the inspection of security. You must restrict your movements, often sitting still in an uncomfortably cramped seat for hours at a time. And then there are the environmental costs of flying, spewing large quantities of hydrocarbons high in the atmosphere.
But if you want to go across the country or across an ocean, flying will get you there a lot faster. We wanted – actually, we felt the need – to go to Philadelphia. At the rate we drive, it would take us nine days to get there by car. Flying, it would take one day – an uncomfortable, exhausting day, but only one.
Then there is safety. We usually don’t think about how dangerous it is to drive. We as a culture have accepted car travel as normal, even though it is not entirely safe. Statistically, it is safer for us to fly to Philadelphia than to drive to the airport. But driving is normal behavior, so we don’t think about that. Flying, for us, is not normal behavior. We humans are not always rational or logical.
And then of course there is Covid. Flying from Portland to Philadelphia is safer than driving through Idaho and Wyoming and other areas of low vaccination rates and correspondingly high infection rates.
So we flew to Philadelphia. It was the first time since early March of last year that we’d been more than 50 miles from home. It was a tedious, sometimes anxious trip, but in retrospect it was not bad.
Remember Geraldine Ferraro? She was Mondale’s running mate in the 1984 presidential election. During the campaign, a scandal broke about problems with her taxes. She denied any responsibility, saying she had let her husband handle the taxes. She was a strong, powerful woman, running for Vice President of the United States. How had she given up responsibility for the filing of her taxes to her husband? I thought about her on our trip. I had made the hotel reservations, but Andrea did everything else – car to the airport, flights, even a wheelchair for her between planes in Chicago. It was really nice to rely on her and just not worry about it. Just tell me when I need to be ready.
(The wheelchair was a really good idea. The return flight from Philadelphia left almost an hour late, making our connection at O’Hare very iffy. Fortunately, the flight to Chicago was able to make up a little time. At O’Hare, the wheelchair was pushed by a 30-something man who set a pace that I could barely keep up with, although I had to break into a trot only once. We came in sight of our departure gate just as they were announcing last call. We wouldn’t have made it without the wheelchair and such a healthy pusher.)
We were fortunate to travel with our friend, Bill Dickey. He shepherded us from the Portland airport to our Philadelphia hotel, and eased us through our time there. He is a fun companion. Thanks Bill.
In Philadelphia, we stayed in the Arts District – an area full of art schools and theaters designed for live performances. It is a noisy, bustling, lively area in the central city close to the old city hall. And it is an area of narrow streets and tall buildings. It is in the area William Penn platted out in 1682 – a regular grid of streets, which was quite remarkable at the time. Much of the Arts District is on South Broad Street – a relatively wide thoroughfare. But just off Broad the streets are narrow, with a number of paved, named alleys that run for only a few blocks. In the movies and TV shows, someone will be running away, chased by the police or villains. The runner will turn a corner and find they have trapped themselves in a cul-de-sac with just blank walls and no exit. I don’t know of any in Portland, but Philadelphia has a bunch.
Mostly, we just stayed in our room, resting, or walked around the neighborhood, finding places to eat. We did go to a number of the films at the festival, some of which were very, very good. But we tried to conserve our energy. It is times like this that I feel my age.
We arrived in Philadelphia late Wednesday night. We rested on Thursday until the evening, when we went to the theater to meet some of the people putting on the festival and begin watching the films.
Friday afternoon our son Eddie and his partner Gregory, arrived. We spent the evening at dinner with two of the people from Breaking Glass, our film distributor, and two from the festival. It was a fun, exciting, exhausting time in the cellar of an old house that is now a busy tavern on a very busy back alley.
And then Saturday was our big day – the world premiere of our movie, “Strictly for the Birds.” This is a project that began with a memoir I wrote for my daughter in 2017. I worked with the director, co-writing the screenplay, in early 2019. Filming was completed in the summer of 2019, with Andrea and me playing ourselves, friend Zoe Taylor and Andrea’s brother Tom playing themselves, and with many of our friends as extras. Post production continued until the summer of 2020. And after all that work, this was the premiere, putting all that work out into the world. Nervous? Excited? Anxious? Nah, why would you think that?
We walked to the theater and it all began. Pictures, signing the poster, meeting people. And we settled down to watch. There were less than 50 people in the theater, and an unknown number watching virtually. I’ve watched the movie, in various forms as it continued through post production, at least a dozen times. I’ve watched it enough to become inured to the difficult parts of the story, enough to accept the parts of the shots where I wish we could redo it, enough to get used to seeing it. But seeing it on the big screen in a lovely Philadelphia theater, at a festival with other well-done films, was wonderful. It really is a good movie. I hope lots of people will be able to see it. I think it’s a story that needs to be told.
(The distributor has submitted it to other festivals. We expect it to get onto a streaming platform sometime after the first of the year. Beyond that, I can’t tell you when you’ll be able to watch it yourself. Sorry. I’ll keep you updated as the process unfolds.)
After the showing, Andrea and I sat on the stage, telling how the movie came about and fielding questions from the audience. Then we gathered with other filmmakers and festival people at the same tavern as the night before. It was great to talk with them about their projects and hear their take on ours and get to know them a little as people. Then it was back to the theater to watch another film.
By then we were done, and went back to the hotel for a light supper. The hotel was madness – Saturday was Temple University homecoming, and Sunday was an Eagles game. (Both are American football games.) After a late supper, we rode the elevator up to our room and collapsed onto our bed.
Sunday we took a break from the festival and went to the Liberty Bell and toured Congress Hall – where the Congress met from 1790 to 1800. Then Bill and Andrea and I walked through the neighborhoods to get Bill the best Philly cheesesteak in the city. But when we got there, we weren’t the only ones who had heard it was the best, so we went to a deli where we could sit down while we ate. Eddie and Greg and Bill went off to the airport, and Andrea and I stayed for the festival’s closing night.
We misinterpreted the instructions and got to the theater 45 minutes early, but the festival people were there and made us welcome. We met a married 30-something couple who had watched our movie virtually the day before. These two women spent a long time with us, telling us their take on the movie, asking questions, telling us a little of themselves. It was a wonderful way to spend the time. We also heard from several others about parts of our movie they especially liked. We have been so close to the project, it has been hard to put it in perspective. These comments from the people we met were gifts to us.
Then the awards ceremony. We were given the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. How wonderful. Afterward, we had many people, including other filmmakers, tell us they voted for our movie. It was a bit overwhelming. And it was gratifying to get the award. But more than that, perhaps the award will help spread the movie’s message of hope and love. Then we settled down to watch the closing night film – a delightful, well-done story: “Potato Dreams of America.”
There was an afterparty, but we were done. We said good-bye to the people we met and went back to the hotel. Monday we flew back home, arriving about 7pm Portland time.
Tuesday I did laundry.
What a trip.