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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I want to tell you a story. I started working in the entertainment industry in 1990. I was twenty-four.

I'll wait while you do the math, if you feel it's necessary.

I learned a lot in the first 10 weeks of my employment as a staff writer. I learned that sitting silently terrified on the sofa in the writer's room is an excellent career move. I learned that if you order two lunches, no one notices and you can wrap one of them up and take it home for dinner. I learned that if you're nice to the PA's, they'll tell you stuff they've overheard people saying about you and they'll bring you doughnuts from craft services. And I learned that at Paramount, anyway, if you're a low-level staff writer -– even on a huge hit show –- you don't get to park on the lot. You park in the parking structure across the street, on Gower.

Which is where I learned my most important lesson. In order to get this story, I need to get some details clear:

The Gower structure was about five stories tall. By the time I arrived in the morning -– around 10-ish; hey, it was a hit show -– the only available spaces were on the top level. The folks who came in early, way before nine -– day players with early calls, construction crews, electricians, that sort of thing –- filled the lower level; people slightly higher in rank -– office workers, data entry types -– came in a little later, around 9, and filled up levels 2 and 3. Level 4 was for higher level employees -– hair and makeup, wardrobe, casting, people who could set their own hours and come in around 9:30 or 10. Which left level 5 for staff writers.

So I'd park on level 5 and walk down to the street level. And every time I did this, on level 2, in roughly the same spot every day, I saw a car.

Before I go on with the story, let me stipulate: this was a long time ago, but for all I know, that car and that driver are still driving around town somewhere, and who knows? They may actually be listening to this right now. And if so, let me say to that person at the outset that I mean no disrespect by what I'm about to say. Really. We've never met. I don't know you. You don't know me. This is merely an observation about what your car, its make and model, and the message on its vanity license plate, meant to me, a young writer starting out. Please, don't take it personally.

Okay, then. As I walked down the stairwell –- a young writer, 24, just starting out, working on a monster hit of a show, feeling cocky and invincible and like the king of the world, I would see a car parked on level 2. In the same general spot, too, which meant that the driver was required to keep regular hours -– and early ones at that. So every day: me, skipping merrily and carefree to work, sure that the future before me was paved with riches and acclaim, that nothing –- nothing –- could change that magnificent destiny, would confront on level 2 -- level 2: a level in which destiny had already been met, in which dreams had already been visited, in which the future had been used up -- this sight:

A car. Not just any car. A DeLorean. A car that screamed, "I had lots of money in 1983!" And a vanity plate. "Alf Ritr."

That's Alf -– as in the hit NBC television show that ran from 1986 to 1990 -– writer spelled r-i-t-r.

A Delorean. With the vanity plate "Alf Ritr." Parked in the Gower structure. On level 2.

And that's really all you need to know about Hollywood. A Delorean with an Alf Ritr plate is the thing you do when you've had a bit of good luck and you can't imagine it won't last. It's just one version of a super-leveraged house on Burlingame in Brentwood, or Trancas. A Delorean with an Alf Ritr plate is just another production company based at Warners. A shingle. A pod at NBC/Universal. A Delorean with an Alf Ritr plate is a director with a deal, a writer with hot pilot, a producer with an assistant. The point of this story is that to be in Hollywood at all, in any way, is to drive a Delorean with an Alf Ritr vanity plate. It's everyone's car, eventually. And ultimately, we all park on level 2.

I didn't say it was a happy story. That's it for this week. Next week, we'll try to get paid. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.


Photo: Eric Popp Photography

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