This Meant Something! Harry and the Rolling Roadshow at Devil's Tower for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND!!!
Published at: Sept. 5, 2005, 3:31 a.m. CST by staff
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.
I never dreamt I’d be here. Actually, I never stopped dreaming of being here. We’ve come 1,246 miles in the last 30 hours. We’ve driven through endless valleys, mountain passes, amber waves of grain. The sheer endurance test of that drive has been wearing on Dad and I like you just can’t imagine.
As we began our approach, we began the discussion… “I hope it isn’t small.” “I hope this isn’t just an also ran, behind Monument Valley.” “I hope we can get close.” As we drove our endless drive, the miles seemed to be elongating, our eyes constantly searching the horizon for IT. But the road always seemed to dart behind a bluff, dodge behind a hill. About 14 miles away – off in the distance, I saw it for a glimpse, and it was gone.
The entire approach we were listening to the final 4 tracks from John Williams’ soundtrack to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. From the second of that first glimpse – I began to cry. Not a sad cry. Not any sort of feeling other than absolute happiness. As Williams’ music continued to soar, our eyes continued to scour the horizon for another glimpse. How do you hide a giant rock thrust out of the very bosom of the Earth? I don’t know, but whoever designed these roads… they understood presentation and dramatics, because after that first view… you don’t see it again till you’re close. By then, Dad and I were bawling… cascades of tears rolling over the biggest bestest smiles of the trip.
The nephew in the backseat asleep. I was his age when I first saw this stunning work of nature. The Indians may believe a bear clawed the grooves into it, others may be here solely out of Teddy Roosevelt’s decree making it the first National Park of the United States. Me? I’m here because Steven Spielberg made me dream. Not of a galaxy far far away, but of this place. And the dream of something magical, intelligent and otherworldly wanting to meet us. We human beings. Why would they bother? Why would they care? Why at Devil’s Tower. Maybe it was there way of giving Roy one last wonderful look at Earth. Maybe they wanted to come and see it.
But right now as I type this, right beside me is Devil’s Tower. There’s large hawks or eagles swooping above it as clouds dance all around it. There’s tourists aplenty here. From all over the world. Are they here to see CLOSE ENCOUNTERS? I don’t know, but it is just magnificent. I’m just gonna sit here for awhile and look at it. WOW. There must be 40 or 50 birds swooping around the top. This is beautiful.. I love being a geek. I love that being a geek brought me here. That I’m looking at this. Feeling so wonderfully at peace. Again… I wish you could be here. Whoever, wherever you are, I wish you were here. Watching as the clouds bath this tower in shade, only to again bathe it in sunlight. My cel phones don’t work here, I can’t log in to the net. I can write though. There’s 43 big birds of prey up there… just counted them. Never seen these types of birds flocking like this. Wow. I’m going to set the computer down now. I need to just feel this wind, smell this air and watch the world come to life. I’ll be back in a few hours. Wish you were here.
You know the saying… “Careful what you wish for?” About 10 minutes after I typed the above many of you found me. From Pennsylvania, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Burbank, Denver, Minnesota and parts unknown. I was there, door open to DEVIL’S TOWER. I’d just put on the last 3 tracks of the Soundtrack, and I was relaxed, zoning out looking at the tower… watching the Prairie Falcons swarm about – and just enjoying the peace and quiet and the majesty of this thing… But the music, the damn music… While it was taking me to the seventh plane of Geek nirvana – Williams’ tune was calling geeks off the tower. I look down from the top of the tower and there’s a Los Angelino there to chat with me, then… in short order, one from the East Coast… both with wives… Suddenly there were friends from New Orleans. There were suddenly 7 fellow geeks basking in the communal geek glory that is Devil’s Tower.
As Father Geek and my Nephew returned from their trek, Dad tells tale that whilst on the backside of the Tower, he was approached by a fellow asking, “You’re Father Geek, Right?” Being identified as Father Geek on the backside of a National Monument took him by surprise, but that was nothing. Turns out, this geek was from Austin. Not only that, but this fellow has served Dad & I BBQ at one of our fave Austin eateries. This slimy mud pile of a planet we call Earth is entirely too small.
We flee the tower base to go grab supper, the restaurant at base’s end had closed though. I took this opportunity to shop for knick-knacks while Papa-San and Nephew-San went in search of food. I wound up getting a DEVIL’S TOWER yoyo and a little Snow globe. But I took my root beer and decided to sit on the front porch and just stare at DEVIL’S TOWER. And reflect on the day that brought me here.
We started today in Bozeman, Montana – drove like a bat out of hell through Billings, Montana – then down into Wyoming. At one point, just outside of Hardin, Wyoming – we suddenly were stuck in what seemed like an endless traffic jam. We saw ambulances, cop cars – and folks up here tend to just turn off their cars and just walk up into the traffic accident scene to see what was a going on.
Our car has developed a peculiar eccentricity on the trip. Every time you turn it off – you must open the hood, jiggle the battery cables – as someone in the car turns the ignition. This results in… The car starting. Well, we were over-heating and due to slight movements… we were going crazy. You don’t drive a car at 85 mph in 99-102 degree heat without there being some sort of overheating possibility, specially when you’re stuck idling with no air. We decide to drive down the shoulder to the ditch, engage 4 wheel drive, and return back to Hardin, I’d found an old Crow Reservation Road that would take us past the accident… and hook us back into 90. Without missing LITTLE BIG HORN!
I’m a huge fan of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON and LITTLE BIG MAN and the Custer legend, fact… and just never thought I’d be upon the battlefield. The stones mark where they fell, and folks… Let me tell you. They were fucked. You go to the field and you can just see – TRAP written all over it. Seeing the stone where Custer fell… well, it was the sort of thing that really made you time trip. I was playing the 7th Cavalry theme over and over in my head on the way to the field… but once there, I started humming Steiner’s Indian theme that he wrote for THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON – and started alternating between 7th Cavalry and that cool as hell Indian theme. Just like in the film.
Explaining to my nephew that this was where “the white man got his just deserves” was hard. History is really abstract to a 5 year old that can’t grasp that when his Grandpa was a kid there was no Disneyland or Cartoon Network. Trying to explain – real real history is even harder. I suppose I should show him Flynn’s film when we get back to the world, at least then he can quasi-picture the legend of what I was trying to get across. Just explaining that the Indians were not the bad guys and that the white people weren’t the bad guys, but that progress and understanding sometimes has a cost in human lives… well that’s a bit heady for a 5 year old. The end result had him pretending that Grandpa had hair and that he’d scalped Grandpa… Hilarity of demonic laughter.
Around this point, I was found again. Folks driving up to chat and talk and thank me for making AICN, for telling them about CLOSE ENCOUNTERS at Devil’s Tower, that they’re really loving my reports. I’m used to folks coming up to me, but I’ll never be used to the praise. Or how nervous some get before talking to me. I knew this would happen at this location. This is, by far, the geekiest of the Rolling Roadshows. The founder of the STAR TREK COMMUNICATOR, a Star Wars fanzine and the Official LORD OF THE RINGS fan club magazine – drove up from Denver. He’s a fan of the site, but even more so – he loves CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and makes the pilgrimage from Colorado to here often, but this is the first time he’ll have seen the film in this location. He and his wife are absolutely thrilled. Another couple came from Burbank and want me to renew their wedding vows tonight. Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time this has happened… and it won’t be the last, I’m sure.
By the time Dad returns with the small Buffalo Burger – they’re all off to go play at DEVIL’S TOWER.
After we eat – there was a short time where the sun was still way high in the sky – and as redheads, we decided to sit it out on this deck. My nephew was wanting to change into his Alien shirt he bought at Roswell, since the aliens were coming tonight – so he went to change in the car, while “grampa” helped him. About this time, I noticed two Wyoming Deputies giving Dad and our car the “stink-eye”. I asked if we could help them with something. Turns out that in Hewitt (or some such town) they had received a report of Child Endangerment / Possible Abduction… (I shit you not) We get given the 5th Degree by these two Officers. Separate Questioning. We point to the Alamo Drafthouse truck and ask them to go talk to them about whether or not this child belongs with us. We give them my Sis’ phone number, physical address. Meanwhile… Kubla is trying to rack the police officers with his skull ball he got at Disneyland from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN ride store. It’s kinda adorable, but openly hostile all at the same time. Dad’s an old school Hippie that can’t stand Imperial Entanglements, whereas I have generally no problems with this sort of thing. Soon, we’re small talking about New Orleans, Crowd Control in Emergency Situations, what would you have done differently had you been in charge… you know, that sort of thing. After they find that neither Dad nor I have any criminal record – they let us go, we tried to get them to take my nephew and put him in jail if only just for the night, but their balls hurt too much from their brief encounter.
After this, I head over to the screening. Just about everyone saw the two Police Men interrogating us – so the story spreads quickly. The term, “I see you picked up a couple of new fans” becomes a catch phrase. The officers didn’t get “Adult Endangerment” when we asked them to arrest the child, I suppose they don’t get much humor in these situations, but dammit – The Nephew is so far from endangerment it isn’t funny. Although his bug-phobia has him convinced that flies will hurt him, and I try to convince him that flies only eat people after they’re dead. Not before. Somehow this isn’t comforting.
Anyway, I decide to sit way off to the side of the screen, so that I get Devil’s Tower in its full glory and the screen. It isn’t like I need a full on perfect screening of the film. I’m here to see Potato sculpture next to the real thing. The living room sculpture next to the real thing on TV next to the real thing off screen. I love those sorts of moments.
As the sun begins to dip, Tim calls a start to the Mashed Potato Sculpting Contest. They’ve got 4 minutes – and they have to run from the table in front of the screen over to the Mashed Potato factory that the Drafthouse created on site – and then back to the front table to sculpt.
The contest was hilarious. Minneapolis Wendy’s Slave (aka Husband) won the contest. But, I’m betting that Wendy drilled him for 3 weeks on Mashed Potato sculpting. She’s exacting. But who could argue with the results.
After that – it was time for the trailers.
We started off with STARSHIP INVASIONS – a hilariously awful trailer for a very tongue in cheek flick that I know of only one huge fan for.
Then began the run of Spielberg.
The Trailer for E.T. came on. If you wonder why I tend to take photos of Titles rather than images from films – it’s because – Titles tend to be stagnant images – that on a 2 second handheld exposure… have the least chance of being shaky or blurry. I’m very happy with these shots. E.T. instantly got my nephew geeky – his mom collects E.T. stuff. But he claims she’s never shown him the movie. Sheesh Mom!
Next was RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – at this point I was beginning to go into geek overload. You see – as I sat here, I realized that where I’m sitting… this is where the helicopters that were trying to take Dreyfuss far away were sitting in the film. Some of my best friends have arrived and they’re getting very charged up. Tom Joad (and wife) and Babyface Nelson.
Then came JAWS – red trailer – must be Eastman stock – but damn it’s strange to have clashing iconography. Seeing Robert Shaw huge beside Devil’s Tower… I mean, it was just cool.
Then came time for the film. After snapping the pic of the title, it was Camera down and complete focus on the experience at hand.
This was a religious experience.
First, this was the original 1977 35mm Film Print. Which I haven’t seen projected since Capital Plaza when I was 5 – same age as my nephew. I love this version of the film. I love how Teri Garr is shown putting up with an awful lot till it’s finally enough, in the Special Edition, her leaving him is kinda bitchy on her part. Here, it’s completely understandable.
My nephew is riveted every time the Aliens or their craft are on screen. But also almost every moment of that scary child and Richard Dreyfuss. He keeps looking at the screen and looking up, and during the big mother ship sequence – his jaw was just hanging and he kept asking me quietly, “When the ship coming? I wanna ride in the space ship!” There’s a part of me that wonders what the Prairie Dog town about 30 yards in back of the screen, what that local population is thinking of all of this. Are they laughing, cuz they know when the ship is coming back for them?
This was Dark Side of the Moon… no moon. No clouds. You could see every powdered dot of the Milky Way. You could see satellites moving across the night sky. And you could see the midnight black silhouette of DEVIL’S TOWER.
The emotion of this screening is not nearly calculable. Sitting with a bowl of mashed potatoes at Devil’s Tower watching CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND… It’s kinda the greatest non-sexual thing ever. I didn’t want to leave. I knew we had to leave the location, but I wanted to just sit in the darkness and watch the sky and dream of something non-us out there.
This was about as perfect as humanly possible. We had a crowd of about 160 or so for this, mostly from parts far from here. They all came for a reason, a love for the film, a desire to connect with something special. There are folks here for wedding anniversaries, birthdays and just the wild hair of it all. Me, I’m here to see one of the greatest geek films of all time in the most perfect circumstance.
This one, this one was magic. Thank you Tim, thanks Steven!
Tonight, I’m in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the base of Pike’s Peak after a day wandering around the Garden of the Gods. Tomorrow is Canyon City, Colorado and CAT BALLOU in the town it was shot in. I can’t wait. I have a very deep love for that film. But more than that, I’m looking forward to that suicidal train trip that’ll have my nephew making skid marks! This is going to be awesome! I really wish you were here.