Monday, September 23, 2013

This Thing Could Write Itself by Michael Golding

Before moving to Los Angeles, I thought danger was riding the subway in Manhattan at three in the morning. Two days after the 1994 Northridge earthquake decimated my dwelling I was introduced to the world of mountain biking by my neighbor Ray, who sensed that my adrenaline level had reached a toxic peak. New Yorkers may be street smart, but that doesn’t adequately prepare you for stashing all your possessions in an eight-by-ten storage space and finding a new apartment within two weeks.  But, I digress.

Ray in front of our neighborhood bakery.

Over the ensuing months I learned the intricacies of mountain biking the only way I knew how – the hard way.  After each excursion, I would return home to my wife from the field of battle, bruised and humbled – but looking forward to my next outing. 

With Ray on one of my first rides.

It wasn’t just the release of endorphins that was so addicting; it was the camaraderie of being with a group of enthusiasts on a three to four hour adventure surrounded by scenery that left you breathless and rejuvenated.  Plus, you get to look like a super hero in your tight fitting bike outfit.

Author with his machine.

A major benefit of barreling down a technical, rocky single track, was that it kept my mind off my career.  Slow dancing with the Angel of Death can focus anyone - in the Angeles National Forest, you’re really bait on wheels.  A trek through the craggy San Gabriel Mountains often would clear my head when I hit a roadblock in a script I was working on.  But what was particularly refreshing was that I rode with people who were not writers, actors or directors.  Finally, I could relax and have real conversations.

When it became common knowledge to my posse that I was a writer, the pitching began.  “Dude, you should write a mountain bike movie.  No one has done it before,” was how one ride began, followed intermittently by “It’s Deliverance on mountain bikes.  Bunch of people go riding, the big one hits, and they have to fight their way out of the mountains.”

By the time we reached the halfway point in the trail, there was dissension among the gang.  “No, no, no. You have it wrong. It has to have a hook. How about, bunch of people go biking, when they come out of the canyon it’s 1865?”  Each biker would try to enhance the other’s idea – “What if, the bikers were all 13 years old – and they meet their great, great, great grandfathers?”  It was like a grandiose outdoor development meeting, without the name dropping. I knew I was in trouble when one cyclist turned to me and said “You know, this thing could write itself.”

Mountain bike chorus line.
As a favor to Ray, and because I found the story intriguing, I wrote an article about him and his new passion: – mountain bike racing. At the age of 44, with an actual authentic nemesis dogging him at every racing event, Ray completed the ’97 Bud Light Mountain Bike Challenge series as Point Leader in his age group - an impressive achievement. The article was a joy to write and provided me with the satisfaction of completing a job without dealing with producers, executives or agents. 

Checking out Ray's bike before his race.

Soon, I was getting calls from various biking extremists who heard about the “killer article” I wrote for Ray and proceeded to pitch their own stories to me.

LINDA: Drugged out and directionless in high school. Discovers mountain biking at the age of 30. Now 35, she races professionally and models sportswear for print ads. (Linda’s hook, is that she drives around in a battered old VW bus. Contact Mattel for toy VW bus merchandising rights.)

SHERMAN: Once attacked by a mountain lion, he now proudly wears the helmet that the animal bit down on as a badge of honor. (His hook:– Franchise for helmets imprinted by mountain lion teeth.)

HEATHER:  (AKA “Pirate) Blind in one eye, which screws up her depth perception. Airlifted out of canyons at least once a year. (Her hook – franchise for eye patch.  “Pirate” – get it?)

As I politely listen to these character biographies, I attempt to slip into the conversation that as a professional writer, I tend to get paid now and then. That’s usually when the conversation comes to an abrupt halt.

Turning on the computer to face the mocking blank screen once again, random thoughts and images begin to fill my head:  Hmm… characters based on Ray, Linda, Sherman and Heather. Go biking in a canyon. Heather crashes and has to be air lifted out. Then the big one hits. Sherman is attacked by a mountain lion.  Gang goes through hell to get back to civilization and discovers that it is now 1865 and they’re all suddenly 13 years old.

You know, this thing could write itself.

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games.  Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.


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