Place to Park

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

These days, when you go to a meeting pretty much anywhere, they ask to see your ID at the front desk. It's a small indignity, but I think we're all used to it. You show your license, you sign a little pad with an illegible scrawl -- there's usually something like a "Time In" box and a "Time Out" box, but mostly that's just where people lie and give themselves an extra five minutes, indicating that they arrived for an eleven AM meeting at ten fifty-five rather than the more truthful 11:05.

But those are the easy toll gates to pass through. For as long as I've been in the entertainment business, though, I've never really lost that feeling in the pit of my stomach, when arriving at the studio gates for a meeting, that this is where I'm going to learn that it's all over for me. The guard is going to shake his head sadly, the office on the lot that called in the drive-on pass is going to deny ever having heard of me, and the gate arm is going to remain down and I'm going to have to do that thing no one ever wants to do, which is back out of the line. It means you're too scared to go down the slide, too broke for this many things in your grocery cart, too short for the Disney ride, somehow not making the cut. And then the people behind you have to back up, too, so the whole thing is a swamp of small humiliating moments, which is why I think it goes through my head every time I drive onto a studio, even when I know I’m expected, and even when I have a key card and a parking spot and a job and checks coming in. I still know that when it happens, when it is over, this is how I’ll find out. Gate arm stays down. Time to put the car in reverse.

Which is why, I think, parking is such a big deal in Hollywood. Where you park and how close to where you're going -- these are big deals in the entertainment industry not because we're superficial and obsessed with status -- I mean, we are, yes, both of those, a lot -- but mostly because we're always looking for signs and signals and indications about where exactly we are on the great big greasy power ladder. The signs and codes are important, of course, because no one will ever tell you when it's over. It's a cliche, that old story about being told you'll never do something in this down again, whatever that something is. A person uttering that threat is simply indicating their own lack of potency. What really happens is nothing is said, no words are spoken, no one tells you anything, it's just that the gate arm doesn't go up.

I know most studio lots pretty well. I know, for instance, from my decade and a half at Paramount that it’s often impossible to find a place if they’re using that big blue divot in the middle of the lot — called the Tank, because you can fill it with water and shoot boat kind of stuff — and I know that at Warner Brothers Lot I kind of morphs in a borderless way with the surrounding lots, so that you can pretty much park anywhere.

Every lot has a parking structure — some have two — and you’re not supposed to want to park there, though I’ve never really known why. At Paramount, the big parking structure across Gower was, for most of my career, much more convenient to my office than where I was supposed to park, when I was a fancy producer with a studio deal. The fancy lot was always crowded and hard to manage, and while I was fancy enough to park in that lot I wasn't fancy enough to have my own parking space, with my name on it, like you see in the movies about movies.

I have had that, of course, on other movie lots. It's usually just temporary, though, and the sign with my name on it is more like a page from a computer printer tacked up with tape, so by the end of the project the tape has lost its sticky and the sign is on the ground, blowing in the hot valley breeze, asking to be run over.

Here's my strategy: when I drive onto the Radford lot these days, I just instinctively go directly to the main parking structure, even though from time to time they've given me what they call "preferred" parking on the lot somewhere. The guard usually reminds me, after checking my ID and making a surreptitious phone call to confirm that the guy in the Subaru with all of the dog hair is, in fact, expected, that I have better parking options available, but I always say, just put me somewhere in here. I'm just happy the gate arm still goes up.

And I am.

That’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll be unreachable. For KCRW, this is Rob Long.