"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan


Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

16 Down and 35 Back

The mission was to take a Bell and Howell Marc 300 16mm projector, with two matching speakers, one of them a special Bell and Howell “power” speaker for large auditoriums, to the Loft Cinema in Tucson. The Loft would be showing Andy Warhol films available only in 16mm from the Museum of Modern Art. I would be driving my 1981 Chevrolet C-10 pickup. It being a rare 6 cylinder model. The nice thing about it being 6 cylinder, is fuel efficiency, the bad thing, lack of power on hills when with a load. I don’t mind that. The Loft would reimburse me for the trip expenses. I arranged film shows to pay for my time on the road.

Loft Cinema by ebensorkin.

Since there would be room in the vehicle for both a passenger and cargo, I put an ad on Craigslist. I got a couple replies about a ride, but they didn’t work out. I got one request for cargo. That did. I hauled a red Vespa to San Francisco.

I picked up the Vespa at 7:00 am on Friday. It was at the house of a cousin of the the young woman who owned it. It had to lay on its side for the trip. On the way out of town I picked up the projector and accoutrement at Marylhurst. That went slow. I was on I-5 heading South at 10:00am. It was a lousy rainy day. It stayed that way most of the way to California. Once across the border the weather got worse. A severe head wind hit me from Yreka to Weed. After that was a snow storm. I hunkered down behind a semi and followed it through. Shortly after that it rained so hard the car in front of me wisely slowed down the thirty. So did I.

Eventually I hit some sunny weather. How could I help it? I was in California. By the time I was nearing the toll booth before the bay bridge it was dark. That is why I didn’t see the big pothole I hit that jarred the fillings in my teeth. Things sure have gone south in California since the Howard Jarvis tax revolt in the eighties. The roads in Cal are now years behind in upkeep. Luckily it didn’t seem to bother the intrepid truck.

The address for the Vespa drop was house number on Turk street in the Tenderloin district. Using info from Mapquest I was soon lost. I missed the correct exit, which took me to the Mission district. I got help from a pedestrian and finally found the place. The young woman was on the sidewalk waiting for me. I was two hours late and she had began to worry. After all, she didn’t know me from Adam. So is the world of Craiglist. That world is why she hadn’t given me the apartment number. That is why had hoped that the address might be for a house. One of my favorite writers is Dashiell Hammett. One of his stories is: The House on Turk Street. Her boyfriend helped me get it out of the truck. As I had figured, the gasoline had leaked out, giving the truck bed a strong explosive smelling aroma.

That night I slept on the sofa at Oddball Film on Capp Street. The next day I stopped in and saw George and Mike Kuchar.  I hadn’t seen them for a couple of years.

http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/26/26_images/kuchar_today.jpg

George and I talked while Mike worked in another room on his latest film,

That night I showed my programs “I Know Why You’re Afraid” and “Terrorism Light and Dark” there. Usually my shows at Oddball draw crowds of between fifty and a hundred people. These shows attracted only ten. I was able to park on the street on Van Ness for two nights without getting a ticket.

Still in the truck to drop off in LA were some 35mm film reels, a couple of rare silent shorts, and some lens. My destination on Sunday was Tucson. I was on the road at seven in the morning. I should have stopped for coffee first. Heading out of town I was supposed to take a ramp toward Stockton. Unfortunately there was no sign on the freeway heading east that said Stockton. Next time I’ll know that going that direction the sign says Hayward. I was on the way to Sacramento when I took an exit to find out where I went wrong. I was in El Cerrito. It was a sunny Sunday. Slowing to pull into a service station at least forty guys in the casual labor pool assumed I was stopping to offer a job. I hated to disappoint them. From the station attendant I got directions that would take me back on the freeway to SF. They weren’t very good directions. Or at least, not for me. I could see the freeway, but I sure couldn’t find a way to get on it. There wasn’t a big green sign in sight. At a second gas station I got a second set of directions. They seemed clear. I followed them and they took me to a Starbucks. I decided I’d pushed my luck enough. I went inside and had coffee and a bagel while reading the local news. A young man there gave me directions to get to Stockton. I wrote them down. He said going west on the freeway there would be a sign. Apparently only people going west wanted to go to Stockton.

There was a time when driving on Sunday was a leisurely thing with little traffic. Not anymore. My truck likes to cruise at 65. That put me in the slow lane for most of the trip. Occasionally I’d pass a semi. In California they have to drive 55. That must be to save the roads. It doesn’t seem to be working. We jolted along together. I got up and over grapevine hill and managed to make the exit to Pasadena. The film stuff was going to Joe’s house in La Crescenta. The last time I’d been there, last fall, I found Joe outside cutting down the shrubs close to the house. The hill above him was on fire and he’d been told to leave. The fire never got to his place. This time I didn’t find him home at all.

I guess I should mention that I don’t have a cell phone. I hope to keep it that way. It makes things interesting, or difficult, depending how you look at it. I went looking for a pay phone. Too bad they are rapidly disappearing. The only one I found was broken. I went back to Joe’s. Next door to Joe was a house with a young woman on the step smoking a cigarette. She had never met Joe. She was from Florida. She let me use her cell phone. I called the two numbers for Joe and left messages. I was handing back the cell phone when he arrived in a van. It was around three in the afternoon. We put all the stuff on his porch. I told him not to worry about the odor of gasoline.

Somewhere past San Bernadino the moon rose on the horizon like a huge orange ball. It was the biggest moon I’d ever seen. It looked like I could drive right through it if it would stay put for a while. It was a signal that I’d be getting to Tucson after midnight. I would be staying with my friend Dennis McMillan. He is a book publisher. I arrived around two. Already there was a the painter James Campbell. They’d gone to sleep shortly before I arrived. James was on the sofa. I was given a spot on a big piece of foam between two tall book cases. Dennis has a fabulous collection of first edition books. Being surrounded by books was very restful.

I was up at seven and walked to the Starbucks on Campbell and River. The only other pedestrians I saw were walking dogs. One thing I really like about Starbucks is they almost always have the New York Times. They also usually have bagels. I got to like the combination when I live in New York. They go together in the morning. I am not per se against local news, but the Times always gives me a toe hold in the America I love, wherever I am. That is doubly so with the International Herald Tribune whenever I am out of the country.

On Tuesday I was at the Loft to set up the projector and give a tutorial to the projectionist. We got everything ready. The projection lamp wouldn’t light. It could have expired during the bumpy ride. I’d left the spare at Marylhurst. I’d sent an email a month earlier telling Jeff at the Loft to buy their own spare. My directive should have been clearer and was not acted on. The projector is from 1966 and the lamps are obsolete. Various old stocks of them exist. One of the Loft people got busy finding one.

    • Buy a Mug

The first Warhol would be Lonesome Cowboys on Thursday. A new lamp over nighted should solve the problem. That is, unless the lamp power supply was the problem. I’d considered bringing two of them but decided that would be paranoid. I had another projector with me as a back up, and also for my Tempe show, but it would put a much small picture on the screen at the Loft, which has the biggest screen in Tucson.

At four on Thursday I was back at the Loft with a new lamp in hand. It also did not light. It was head scratching time. I took out the fuses on the power supply. They were opaque, by design, with some method of telling if they were blown that I couldn’t decipher. Maybe when they blow they become clear? I gave them to the projectionist to see if they had any spares. I cleaned the lamp electrical connection. I pulled the the main plug from the power supply to the projector. It is a large and unique plug with a bunch of odd tines. One of them was bent at an odd angle. I straightened it out. The projectionist brought the original fuses back. He’d found nothing like them. I put them back in.

This time the lamp lit. Hard to say why it hadn’t previously. I was just glad it did, and left it at that. We could now assume the first lamp was also good and could become the spare. I advised Jeff to buy a third lamp anyway.

That evening Dennis was bringing his mom to dinner. She is 98 and lives in a group home with other old ladies a half mile from Dennis’ house. We picked her up at five. That involved a wheel chair. It all worked out. Dinner was nice. We got her back just in time for us to go to the Loft for the Warhol flick.

My presence there was to make sure nothing went wrong with the projector and presentation. The film came in on three reels. That meant two reel changes. I was interested in the film because Taylor Mead was in it. I met Taylor in 1996 when I had my theater on the lower east side of NY and he was a local celebrity. He was over seventy then, and a very delightful and entertaining man. He was easily the best thing in a mess of a movie. We left after the third reel was safely running and in focus on the screen.

On Saturday I was up early and on my way to Peoria. My goal was a Spring Training game between the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. The last Spring Training game I’d seen was in 1989 when the Mariners played in Tempe. That year the players who sprang to my attention were Ken Griffey Jr. and Omar Visquel. It amazed me that both were still active players in the majors. Griffey was again with the Mariners, but I doubted I’d see him play.

It was five bucks to park. Not bad. I knew I couldn’t stay for the whole game and would like the vehicle as close as possible for my last minute getaway. I had a five o’clock show at Madcap Theaters. I bought a seven dollar lawn ticket. In 1989 that would have bought a box seat. The lawn was where outfield bleachers would go in a regular ball park. A very nice, and relaxed, place to see a ball game. A Dixieland jazz band was playing on the outside concourse. They were old guys. I asked for Swing Mr. Charlie. That was a swing and a miss with them. If you want to hear it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYGqEQZV2M0 . My friend Vince Giordano is the bass player.

Sitting on the lawn I was only person out there with a scorecard keeping score. I was in the only shade I could find. It was from a light standard that also had a loudspeaker. Before the game and between innings loud music blared from above my head. Baseball used to be a game where you could chat between innings. Now it is too hard to hear. A nice guy and his daughter were near me. Seeing me keeping score, he asked me about some finer point of the game. He was from Chihuahua in Mexico. He’d driven up that morning and would drive back home after the game. That is sort of baseball fan I admire. The Mariners, led by designated hitter Mike Sweeney, had the game in hand when I left after the fifth inning.

It took forty minutes of freeway driving to get my hotel, the Best Western Inn of Tempe. That is also where I had stayed when I showed films at Madcap in October. I just had time to take a shower and change into better clothes before having the hotel van drop me at the theater. My show was The Rarest Greatness of Chuck Jones: Unseen Awesome Animation A small but enthusiastic crowd came to my three shows.

The next morning I was up and out early but had to find a Chase bank and get some cash before hitting the road. My destination that day was as far north in Nevada as I could get. I got the cash and after a while found a freeway entrance. Phoenix is an awful place with too many freeways going on for too many miles. It took a couple of hours just to get out of town. Much of that was on several miles of a glorified city street in a driving rain storm. I had considered delaying my departure from Phoenix and seeing a game that day. I was glad I hadn’t, as the games were all rained out.

Eventually I was on Route 93 on a two lane road going through Joshua trees. I had forgotten just how wonderful driving that route was. I hoped that I would never again travel between Portland and Arizona on I-5. I had been advised to bypass Hoover Dam. I figured that if everyone took that advice, I could sail right through. Once there I found that all trucks and anyone pulling a trailer was restricted. That made it easier for me and everyone else. There was little delay. I was again struck by what a wonderful example of human ingenuity the great dam is. It took five years to build, and that included coming in two years ahead of schedule. It is awesome and I hope all of you get to see it sometime, if you haven’t.

http://www.visitlasvegas.com/images/features/experience-vegas/postcards/hoover-dam.jpg

Right now you still get to drive across the top of the dam.  That soon will change.  A new highway will bypass the dam.  In a new monumental effort a high bridge is being constructed above the dam.  The span is almost complete.

My truck does have a couple of problems that make driving at night a challenge. First is that a light is out on the dashboard and the speedometer is hard to see. I have tried getting into the dashboard to fix it, but found it it a very difficult thing to do. The other is that I don’t like to use the high beam switch. It is on the floor. It should be replaced. Using it can shut down the head lights. I should fix it as soon as I get home. To get around the speedometer issue I try to find a pace car to follow to keep a constant speed after dark. For the high beam problem I just have to see what I can see with the lows. If I am following a pace car that isn’t an issue.

It was getting dark when I passed Las Vegas. I settled in behind a semi that got me to Beatty. There it pulled over. I soldiered on from there alone. It was only past nine when I got to Tonopah. That was good enough for me. The winding road had been a challenge for my eyes. It had got down to 32 degrees. I stayed at the Tonopah Motel. By the name I figured it was oldest motel in town. It was also just thirty bucks. For three dollars more I could have gone on line. I was tired and decided against it. That was penny wise and pound foolish, as I would later find.

The only identifying effect in the room was a large framed picture of a black sailing ship against a yellow sea, the shipdone in a plastic yarn bas-relief way. The total effect was more ominous than welcoming. It had a brand new wall heater that worked with a remote. There wasn’t much in the way of covers on the bed. I set the heater at seventy and went to sleep. At five I woke up shivering. The high tech dingus had been programmed to shut off. I turned the heater back on and woke up again, shivering, at seven. I got up and hit the road.

It was clear and cold morning as I drove north on a very straight road toward distant snow capped mountains. To the west was a fully snow covered range. Reaching the snow capped range was quicker than I’d guessed. The road then turned west, right toward the snow covered range. Luckily it didn’t go through them. The road again turned north to skirt the end of the smaller range. I was soon enveloped in fog. That lasted for twenty miles. Then the road passed though a “dust hazard” area. That reminded me that I hadn’t changed the air filter in quite a while. In the town of Yerington I bought a filter at a Napa Store and installed it in the parking lot. I then looked, but didn’t find a trash can. What is with guys today? In years past I, and many others, put in a lot of parts into cars parked outside of parts stores. There was always a big barrel used for the disposal of alternators, starters, brake shoes, and such. I had to walk around the back of the Yerington store and slip the old filter under the lid of a locked dumpster.

Before Yerington I passed through the town of Hawthorne. That is creepy place surrounded by thousands of concrete ammunition bunkers. It was a very busy place during WW II, but now the bunkers are just sitting there looking malevolent.

I got lost when I turned right on route fifty instead of going straight. I accidentally had arrived at route fifty many miles west from where I was supposed to. My mistake took me to a Starbucks in the town of Dayton. There I found coffee, no bagel, and the Times. I also got directions to get back on track. My destination was Cedarville, California. There I was hoping to pick up the contents of a movie theater projection booth. The Surprise Valley Theater in Cederville had opened in 1936 and closed in 1975. There had been a craigslist posting for the projection equipment. The stuff had no real cash value. I could be passing by with a empty truck. I was hoping to work something out and keep the stuff from going into a landfill. I needed to get on line to see if there was an email from the craiglist guy giving me instructions.

For Christmas and my birthday my sister Debbie gives me Starbucks gift cards. Among the perks of using them are free refills on coffee and free wifi while on the premises. I had drank many of the refills. I had never used the wifi. At Dayton I got out my labtop and found getting on line meant knowing my user name and password with my card. That stumped me. The only way to work around that meant calling the 800 number. I would think Starbucks could make it easier than that.

For all of you who equate Starbucks with MacDonalds, I was living in Seattle in the seventies when there was no such thing as a good cup of coffee. Starbucks was instrumental in changing that. Now there is good coffee in many places. I retain my dignity by only ordering a medium cup of coffee instead of using their weird lingo.

I gave up and drove on. I got to Fernley around two in the afternoon. I needed to make a decision there. If there was no message from Cedarville I would go through Reno to I-5 and be home by midnight. Outside of the post office I finally got on line and found a message from Cedarville. It gave a phone number to call. I found a pay phone an called. I got no answer. I decided to drive to Cedarville. First I had to get more cash. Looking on line I found there wasn’t a single Chase bank in Nevada. I went into the post office. There is asked if I could buy some stamps and get a hundred back on the debit. The clerk told me that there was a limit of cash back of fifty bucks per debit. She then said she could ring up the first four post card stamps as one debit, and then ring up the other three on an additional debit. Voila! I got the hundred. I am so happy Postal clerks are still allowed to make executive decisions and think on their feet.

The road to Cedarville took me through some of the most spectacular, and isolated, scenery I have ever seen. The route is Nevada 447. The road starts by following the Truckee river and then heading up and through a cut in the rocks. It is like going up the first hill of a roller coaster. On the other side a couple of tumble weeds blew across the road in front of me. The road is on the west edge of the valley. The valley floor is a huge dry lake bed. Volcanic cliffs form the upper edges of the valley with huge tumbled boulders in weird shapes scattered about. One of them had been painted to form a face sort of like a sock monkey. For the 160 mile route, with me going five under the speed limit, the only car that passed me was a Fedex Van.

To Be Continued:  Snowstorm

One response to “16 Down and 35 Back”

  1. You says:

    I really love this thoughts! The information is priceless. Thank you for all the articles and making my week. Thank you, You

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