This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
I was having lunch with an agent friend of mine, and I had just finished telling him about my plan for a two-year sabbatical from Los Angeles, and from the entertainment business in general.
"Ohhhhhh... kay," he said slowly. "So you're going through a mid-life crisis kind of thing."
"I am not," I said.
"Rob, you're talking about moving to Mumbai. That's pretty much the definition of a mid-life crisis."
Typically for an agent, he missed the big picture. My plan, which I'm calling a "sabbatical" or "mid-life review" -- notice the absence of the word "crisis"? That's because, you know, it's totally not one -- is to take a two-year break from writing and producing and pitching in Hollywood, and spend some time finding out what other people are doing in farther-flung parts of the globe. I mean, everybody's always talking about the "global marketplace," but nobody ever does anything about it. I'm going to go take a look, and see for myself.
My idea is to pick five cities around the world -- right now it's Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Mumbai, Istanbul, and Rome -- and plop myself down for around four months and get to know the place. Rent an apartment. Nose around. Eat locally. Use each city as a hub for jaunts along the spokes. Take my time getting from one place to another. Instead of the usual two or four week race to see the sights, eat the food, buy the trinket, and head home, this is going to be a more leisurely, less structured trip. I'm not going to see the world. I'm going to visit it, like a relative or an old friend.
I've already done a lot of traveling in my life, and to some pretty far-out places, too. I've gone ultra-cheap and super-swank, sometimes in the same week. But the truth is, low-end travel and high-end travel is pretty much the same everywhere. On the low end, it's backpacks and bus stations and drinking cheap local liquor. On the high end, it's hotel spas, shopping, and badgering the concierge. The low end is internet cafes. The high end is the ethernet cable on the desk in your hotel room. What I'm going for is something in the middle -- and honestly, maybe even the lower middle, depending on the state of my bank account. Put it this way: there's not going to be a lot of shopping and concierge-hogging going on.
But that's the point. We've all had the experience of walking through a strange city wondering, "Would I be happy living here?" We've all been racing through a place -- on a train, in a cab to the airport -- and suddenly we catch a glimpse of a perfect vest-pocket piazza, or a tiny restaurant with tables outside and we get that traveler's pang: I wonder what it's like to be there? To sit there? To have a drink at that table, with that view? To not be going anywhere or seeing anything. But just being there. And then the cab turns a corner or the train curves away and it vanishes. Well, the sight vanishes. The feeling stays.
I explained all of this to my agent friend. I told him that I thought that people in the United States, and people in the entertainment business especially, were too insular and inbred. We don't realize how huge the world is, I told him. We see everything through the window from the Four Seasons Wherever, with our continental breakfast and CNN on the TV. This trip isn't an escape, I said. It's a refresher. A career recharger. A chance to see how other people live, what they watch, how they cook their dinner. I'll come back, I told him, brimming with ideas and impressions and scripts burning to be written.
"You'll come back broke," he said, and then he shrugged that all-writers-are-crazy shrug that agents have. When the check came, he picked it up. "Allow me," he said. "You'd better start saving your pennies."
For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.