At this point, I thought we were done with cities for a good long while. But life has a way of screwing with my plans. At least this interruption is a welcome one. It comes in the form of a phone call from Canada.
“Hello?” Hannah’s voice is mussed with sleep. I roll over, already awake, and study her expressions for context. “What? Yeah! That’d be fantastic. Sure, we could do two. I think. Hold on, I’ll call you back in five.” Beep.
“Who was that?”
“Wanna go see Universal Studios?”
“Not sure we can afford that.”
“We won’t have to. If we leave right now we can make it in time for a free VIP tour.”
I blink. “Jesus. I’ll make oatmeal. You call them back.”
Several hours of backtracking later, we pull up to the studio gates. The security guard eyes our duct-taped side mirror and the dishes drying on the dashboard dubiously, but hands over a pair of VIP guest passes nevertheless. We park on the roof of the Bud Westmore building, careful not to scrape the BMW or the Lexus which flank us.
As it turns out, Hannah’s dad’s secretary’s brother is the VP of Universal Studios. Willi Schmidt arrives to greet us in a golf cart. He is remarkable in his unremarkableness: Vans and an understated olive sweater, average build, quiet bearing. “Nice to meet you. Hop on.”
Born in Loon Lake, of all places, Schmidt never harbored any film-related ambitions. In a city of people slavering and desperate for a foot in the door, this is probably why he got the job. Love brought him from the BC boonies to the heart of the American media industry. “A lot of people in this business go mad or starstruck,” he says, matter-of-fact. “I’m not like that.” In fact, he seems quite impervious. This is useful, in a line of work that involves persuading big personalities to temper their ideas to fit studio facilities.
As we putter past the sets of The Voice and Desperate Housewives, he regales us with celebrity gossip in a level tone better suited to municipal policy proposals. “Michael Bay is very particular about his trailer,” he says. “Has to be the right dimensions. Once, it was half a foot short; he brought a measuring tape. Demanded to be moved.”
Speaking of Michael Bay, we pull up to the nearly completed set of an upcoming Transformers movie. The place is crawling with crew, too busy to give Hannah and me more than a curious glance. Apparently, this is Day 14 of setting up a million-dollar, fifteen-second stunt in which Hailee Steinfeld’s double will plunge thirty feet into an artificial lake. Willi introduces us to a lot of people I vaguely suspect I’ve heard of. Everyone seems to want to talk to him. He wanders off, leaving us to chat about the weather with some production guy.
The visit culminates with the tourist tram circuit, which winds past replicas of the lake from Jaws and a Bates Motel. A tram hurtles past our golf cart. Wide-eyed onlookers in Hawaiian shirts jostle to snap our picture, apparently under the impression that we are famous. We do not disabuse them of this notion.