Willy Wonka in the Park – Movies as an Experience


I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the snozzberries. Face it, they taste authentic.

This past Monday night in Bryant Park, NYC, I took a date out to an outdoor screening of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and let me tell you, there’s no other high note I could’ve imagined hitting upon the end of my Summer 2013 NYC journey. Movies are meant to be a shared experience, and large event screenings like this are really the only way, sometimes, to appreciate the medium.

At 5pm the grass in the park is opened to the public. The invasion of the grass was an event to see — people line the border of the grass, blankets and supplies in hand, waiting for the call. At exactly 5pm, the organizers announce that the lawn is open — and in 7 everyone at those borders is now on the grass, cracking open their wines, beers, and meats & cheese plates.

Hours pass, as the movie doesn’t start until dark — 9pm. That’s about 4 hours hanging loose, playing games, and trying to annoy as many of your co-viewers without actually touching them. Seriously, when people walk by you can make a pretty good game out of “what WON’T they step on.”

But eventually, the movie started. We’d brought some water, whiskey in a flask, some grapes and of course, chocolates. And the crowd was into the experience, shouting, hooting and hollering, and clapping like crazy when Charlie opened his lucky candy wrapper to reveal his golden ticket. Gene Wilder’s shout of “I said Good Day Sir!” got a resounding applause, and even “Cheer Up Charlie” caused a stir.

Despite the drizzle, the obnoxious drunks, and the questionable viewers (‘That’s the dude from all those memes!”) I found myself engrossed in the movie like never before. The experience, as a whole, was a great one. In this lifetime of multiplexes overrun with the smell of popcorn butter, soda, and overcooked Nachos with cheese, don’t forget the reason you go to the cinemas: The MOVIES themselves. Once in a while, look for an outing like this, an “event” to watch a movie — whether it’s a midnight show, a movie in the park, or a Q & A of a mediocre hit.

Go to the movies and be a PART of them. It’s an evolving industry and these days it’s much more pleasant, at times, to sit on your couch in the peace and quiet of your own home. Don’t discount the crowd platform entirely, I implore you. When you’re there, even the most obnoxious of viewers will be engrossed for a part of the movie — and sometimes, that’s the best revenge.

A Great Escape — NY Tales

I debated internally (it’s a war zone in there) what this “New York Tale” should be. I haven’t written one up in a while, and I should frankly be getting more of these out to you given the fact that I’m only here a limited amount of time, and I’m a “displaced” LA dude so there should be a new perspective to the City here.

But what story remains about the Big Apple?

Hey here’s a photo from Lincoln Center:


I could tell you a little about this bagel shop around the corner from my current residence, which has become a consistent hangout and writing location over the last few weeks. The wood tables with easy access to power outlets and limited nighttime customers means this is a joint in which I can focus easily. The bagels come in numerous flavor varieties, as do the cream cheeses — 30 in total, and a weekly flavor of the week (this week’s is Four Berry, last week it was Mojito).

Or perhaps I could tell you about my nightly frustrations with the N or Q subway lines, which inevitably get stuck one stop away from my stop during rainy nights, leaving me to walk the remaining mile in the rain sometimes without an umbrella (thanks, Apple, for lying about that weather again). One of these nights was after a rather lengthy bus ride back from Boston, it was after midnight, and I’d gotten a sunburn from a beach visit. Walking home in the rain with a sunburn is not the kind of refreshing walk in the rain that Owen Wilson desired in Midnight in Paris.

But I think I’d rather talk a few minutes about the Great Escape. Unfortunately, I don’t mean the amazing movie starring Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen. No, I mean the (Six Flags) Great Escape Fun Park in upstate New York, just outside of Lake George.


This park has been around since before I was born, and was essentially an amusement park built around a “story town” which took classic fairytale characters and locations and allowed children to roam free within them, as though they were a part of the story.

When I was much younger, my family and I would venture once a year, maybe twice if my brother and I behaved, to this story town adventure park. The Balloon ride, the Condor, and of course the Scrambler and the Steamin’ Demon — all of these rides in their own ways represented our ages.

The balloons were shaped like hot air balloons and was essentially a mini-Ferris wheel — the kind of ride my dad was OK to go on. This and the actual Ferris wheel were the basics — kids with parents, listlessly flying through the air in very controlled, very protected little carts.


The Skyride was next, a carriage of sorts that takes you over half the park at a slow clip, couple hundred feet in the air. The highlight of this ride was scooting past the water show which happened a couple times a day — a divers who would entertain kids and families, climbing higher and higher to smaller and smaller diving boards, jumping into a deep pool each show.

Next on the list of rides was the Condor, which went probably a hundred feet in the air and circled at a medium pace. The ride consisted of three “arms” each holding about five vehicles for most ages and heights. The vehicles were painted like the heads of Condors. Your arm’s set of Condors would follow the others in circles, over and over and over as the ride took you up in the air.

If  you and your family venture to the Great Escape on a hot summer day the best way to keep cool is to hit the Raging River and the Desperado Plunge. Both will get you wet — these days more-so than years ago, as though not enough people were getting wet and thus were left dissatisfied enough to complain and force the park to build more spouts of water. The Raging River puts eight people in a round raft, which turns round and round down a “river” track, splashing water into the raft, drags you under the trickles of waterfalls, etc. These days there are spurts of water that eject from the grass, and I only recently discovered that this water is ejected because kids nearby, watching the ride, actually pay to control these spurts.

Sadistic kids.


The other water ride, the Desperado Plunge, is basically a log ride, wherein you sit in a boat/cart shaped like a log, and flow up and down along a track until the final plunge, at which point pretty much everyone in the log is guaranteed to get a little wet.

For the “big kid” rides, and the main focus of Ms. Johnson’s physics class in high school, we had the Steamin’ Demon — the original coaster — and the Comet — a wooden coaster added just before my high school years. The Steamin’ Demon is that classic ride I’ll probably never forget, my first upside-down roller coaster, and the focus of pretty much every kid to visit the park, ever. Orange, yellow and green, the best time to ride the Demon was at the end of the day, the last five minutes the park was open, as the folks controlling the ride would let you circle around two or three times if you were on the last train. The Comet is rickety and a little frightening, but still manages to thrill because you’re just thinking the entire time “when will this fall apart”?

At some point along the way another thrill ride was added, the Boomerang coaster, which started in forward motion, went on a few loops, then ran backwards along the same track. Didn’t hold the same aura as the Demon for me, though.


This trip to the Great Escape a few weeks ago was the first time I’d been in 7-8 years. It’s still much the same, from the Story Town structures to the skyline, the train ride, and yes, the coasters. I spent time with my family, including my new sister-in-law and her son, my brother’s new stepson. This kid is four and a bucket of energy, and as it was his first time at the park I got to see things from a different perspective. The kid’s eyes lit up multiple times throughout the day, either in wonder or in fear. He even won a prize at a game, a stuffed red turtle, which he proceeded to carry around by holding it at the neck.

At one point, most of us went on a mini-coaster, a train which to be honest went pretty darn fast around a track in a mining setting. (The only member of the party not to ride was my father, who chose instead to watch the ladies’ bags and take pictures.) As soon as we disembarked the ride, my step-nephew (is that even a thing?) demanded to ride it again, but wanted to ride with me.

I cannot express my fear at attending this ride alone with the kid. On the one hand, he was too shy in that moment to go super crazy and misbehave, as most kids do, so I was sort of blessed in that short time span. On the other hand, holy crap my brother and his wife are now trusting me to take this kid on this crazy ride. What if he cries? What if he trips and falls? What if he poops his pants, or picks his nose and rubs a booger on my eyeball?

All sorts of crazy thoughts, and at one point I was terrified the kid would slip right off the ride and into the bushes below. But we survived, and fear left the park. The rest of the day, short lived as the afternoon became, was a cinch. I eased up and relaxed a bit more, despite my earlier tension around the kid. My brother and my family know that I’m hesitant around children, just the kind of uptight, stressed dude that I can be. But this tiny experience was a wave of new consideration, so to speak, that I’ll have to get used to kids some day, might as well start here.

My brother’s a great dad, his wife a great mom, and our own parents (“Gammy” and “Chippy”) are super grandparents. The beauty for me of living so far away from them means that when I visit home it becomes an even greater escape than those trips to the park when I was a kid.

Oh, and this purple dragon is still there.



NYC Dude with a Chain gets Mean

While walking through Hell’s Kitchen the other day on the way back to the office after a location scout we heard a sudden shout in the street. Just a few feet from the sidewalk a bald guy with a cutoff t-shirt, exposing his pale, white, hairy arms, threw his bike to the ground. “Come on!” he shouts. “Come on then!”

Who was he yelling at? What the heck did we do?

This dude, sweat drifting down his face, shoulders red and burnt from the 80-degree sun, then stepped on and over his bicycle and in the same motion pulled a CHAIN off the back of the bike. Not just the bike’s chain, but a THICK METAL CHAINLINK, the kind of weapon you would see a TMNT villain holding in Eastman’s comics.

His face glistened and was burning red around the nose. Eyes on fire, he waved the chain back and forth at his side while pacing furiously, like a bear trapped in a cage. “Come on then!” He shouted.

As we continued to walk by we discovered that this odd, unexpected outburst was directed at a tall, lanky college kid wearing a Red Sox Jersey. The kid was holding a stack of flyers in his hands, his jaw bouncing as he continued chewing gum. He was wearing sunglasses, but we didn’t need to see his eyes to know he thought this predicament was ridiculous.

The smirk was enough.

Chain-man continued pacing closer to Red Sox dude, whipping the chain around. Red Sox finally started to say “alright, alright,” and backed away, without crossing the street.

He kept smirking.

“Come on then! F**cking Red Sox!”

There it was. Whatever the supposed reason this Chain-man was angry apparently had nothing to do with the heat, or an invasion of personal space, or the silly flyers. This was personal. This was the city come alive.

This was sports.

(Or maybe he just needed a material reason to justify his anger.)

We turned the corner with a final look back at the scene, Chain-man continuing to circle while Red Sox just smirked and chewed his gum.

The chain jingled again, actually echoing through the streets. We put a building and a block between ourselves and the scene, outcome unknown.

Be pleasant, New York.