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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

B Fest 2014: Tuesday, or, Getting There Is Half The Suck

I've been in the B movie scene for three decades now, and more. I can remember back when my age was in single digits, checking out the Crestwood monster-movie books from the Wheaton library (the ones with the bright orange covers that a significant number of my readers are now nodding nostalgically over). I was an instant lifelong fan of "Son of Svengoolie" on WFLD-32. As my appreciation for the art of cinema deepened, I never got past my love of monsters (human-sized or city-wrecking), badly dubbed kung fu movies, evil computers and jingoistic responses to the existence of the Soviet Union. Regular viewings of It Came from Hollywood and readings of Danny Peary's cult movie books gave me the knowledge that adults still watched these pieces of art that were far out of the cultural mainstream.

And, five years after I moved to the Detroit area, I found out that there was a Chicago-area celebration of second-tier cinema. B Fest, held since the 1980s at Northwestern University in Evanston, was first brought to my attention by the now-defunct Stomp Tokyo and Bad Movie Report sites. My joy in realizing there was a 24 hour long bad movie marathon was tempered only by my sorrow that I could have been going to it since 1993 if I'd only known about it. I had to move two states away before the internet clued me in to something taking place an hour or so to the east of my home town.

In 2001, I made my first trip to the Norris Auditorium to sit through a torrent of not-particularly-good films and I've returned to the festival every year since. There have been some memorable aspects to the trip; that first year I had the cast taken off a broken arm and wrist one day before driving five and a half hours to Illinois to sit in an auditorium for a day, and my car's alternator died an hour or so away from home, necessitating a lengthy wait in sub-freezing temperatures and a baffling conversation with my credit card company over a pay phone, where I answered five different layers of security questions and they refused to tell me my PIN number so I could get cash from an ATM to pay the two truck driver. Other years have had travel complications ranging from whiteout snowstorms to getting sick enough to miss the first ten movies on the schedule.

And this year might have been the worst trip down of all.

It all started so normally--leaving home at 7 AM on January 21st and driving to Ann Arbor for breakfast with a former coworker and fellow B movie enthusiast, David. David was taking the train to Chicago two days later, since he has to spend his vacation days more wisely than I would have recommended. But the train didn't allow passengers to check luggage, so I was taking his clothes down to the hotel two days early, where they would be pampered by being put on the side of the room and completely ignored. On the drive in to Ann Arbor my car started wobbling at low speeds, and a quick trip to the Ypsilanti Belle Tire for an alignment check gave me some good news and some bad news. The good news was "but we can do that today and get you back on the road in an hour and a half or so"; the bad news was "you need to replace the Pittman arm on your car and get a set of new tires". It being B Fest and me being utterly ignorant of matters automotive, I assumed a Pittman arm had something to do with the journalist who gets three lines in The Apple and works for the Anti-Christ partway through the narrative. Eight hundred dollars and a couple hours later, I was able to hit the road for Chicago.

And things were honestly going quite smoothly--no snow, light traffic, tunes on the iPod keeping the mood light, and a stop for lunch in western Michigan were all fine. I assumed everything was going to continue to go fine, and up until the point where I got stopped dead for four hours in Indiana while traffic came to a deadlocked standstill, everything was groovy. A few phone calls to people waiting for me at the Best Western later, I resigned myself to waiting for the snow to blow over and the traffic to proceed. And the first thing happened but the second one stubbornly refused to occur. And continued to not happen. There'd be a moment or two of vague forward momentum followed by nothing. And--no joke--I went in to the traffic jam with a half tank of gas, and exited it with a quarter tank after going fifteen or sixteen miles. Thankfully I had the iPad, which I'd planned to use as a navigation aid, so I could at least look at Facebook and check weather news while mired in the flypaper that was the 94 / 65 interchange.

What really got up my nose was this--every year I check the weather information for Detroit, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Chicago. The four stages, more or less, of the trip. And the band of snow that wrecked things in Indiana was so narrow that it didn't register for any of the locations I checked. I got off lucky, though; two days after I made it through the boring and tedious part of the trip, a massive several-dozen-vehicle pileup killed three people on the same stretch of interstate. And truth be told, everyone in the traffic jam realized that there wasn't anybody to blame for it, so there were no honking horns or idiots trying to zip along through the breakdown lanes. We were stuck, and there wasn't really anything we could do about it. C'est la vie.

Once past the Illinois state line, things went immediately back to normal. There wasn't even any snow on the ground to slow things down and I made it to Morton Grove, checking in to the hotel thirteen hours after I set out on vacation and getting started on the serious business of relaxing. A quick dinner at the Seven Brothers restaurant a block and a half from the hotel and a viewing of Streets of Fire with my brother from another mother Bryan (who runs Cinemasochist Apocalypse over there on the right in the links widget) put things to right, and I was able to return to a sense of equilibrium and harmony.

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