Friday, September 08, 2006

How Many Things Can You Cram Into One Day?

Yesterday was a busy day for me. I was scheduled to tape a segment for a TV show. I can now reveal that it was for an episode of, "Seconds From Disaster." I had a call time of 8:45AM at the location for the shoot. As the pay was minimal, I wanted to travel by the least expensive means I could. As he doesn't have a car, my friend, Tom, the Injured Cyclist ( let's me park at his flat for free. The only problem is that he lives on the opposite side of the London Congestion Charge Zone as I do. The Charge comes into effect at 7AM, so I needed to be through the zone and out, before 7AM.
I planned on departing at 5:30AM, from beautiful Bracknell. You know me, so of course I didn't make that. I managed to pull off at 5:50AM. That still gave me just over an hour to reach and transit the Zone. It was going to be close. My route took me northeast on the M3 to the M25, clockwise. From there, onto the M4 east, which turns into the A4. Right at Earl's Court Road, heading south, toward the Thames, then east again along the Thames embankment, till I reach Tower Bridge. South across Tower Bridge, out of the Zone, then east to Surrey Quays. At this early hour, traffic was somewhat light, but there were still a lot of cars out already. As it got later and later, more traffic started filling the streets. Along the Thames Embankment, the going was slowing. So many of these numpties just weren't in a hurry. 6:45AM and I'm still in the Zone. Where is Tower Bridge? Finally, I am upon it, with less than ten minutes to go, I am out of the Zone.
Upon arrival at Tom's flat, there's no place to park. Tom's ex, Katie, has been staying with Tom for a few weeks, and she has parked in the lot. Usually, there are plenty of spaces, but all but two are full and the two that aren't, people have parked so close to them that it's impossible to get my car into them. I decide to pull around the block and wait. Hopefully, someone will leave for work, or something, and a space will open up. As I slowly drive to the end of the street I notice a side street with no signs prohibiting on the street parking. A couple of vehicles are already parked there and there's room for me, too.
After parking, I set off for Canada Water Underground Station on foot. The last time I tried to walk from Tom's to there, I got lost and ended up taking a bus. Then I had a Travelcard, but I don't have one yet, so I would like to walk all the way. I thought I realized where I went wrong previously and set off in a different direction, this time. Soon, I saw a sign that says Canada Water is 11 minutes walk further. I still have plenty of time, as it's only a few minutes past 7AM and I don't need to be on location till 8:45. I begin to feel an urge to pee. I start looking for an alley, some big tree, or some other hidden corner where I can relieve myself. As soon as I think I have found one, I see another commuter walking to work. I keep moving. The bloody toilets in the Underground Stations you have to pay to use. Pay toilets went out of fashion in New York decades ago. I don't know if I can hold it till I get all the way to the location.
Finally, I get to Surrey Quays Shopping Centre. There is a twenty-four hour Tesco there and Tesco has customer toilets. I go inside and look for them. Hey, I'm a Tesco Clubcard holder, so they won't turn me away. Inside, I don't see the toilets. They are not in the same location as my local Tesco stores back in Bracknell. I start a sector search and end up walking around the whole store, until, finally, I find them. Relieved, I head to the men's room, only to find the doorway blocked by a dude with a mop. Why is someone always cleaning the loo when I need to use it? Slowly, he indicates the special toilet with baby changing facilities and tells me to use that one. But I don't have a baby! Screw it! In I go.
What a relief! I wash my hands and go out again. Walking to the door, I try not to make it look obvious that I have only come in the store to use their toilet and have bought nothing. The guard looks at me, suspiciously. To hell with him, I have a Clubcard. Outside, I head on to Canada Water. At the station, I look at the ticket machines. A one way ticket is £3! Bloody hell! I can't buy an off-peak Travelcard before 9:30AM. The machines don't indicate a peak Travelcard. Surely, they should have a peak Travelcard? I don't have that much in change anyway, so I join the line for the manned ticket window. There are a gang of school children at the window, slowly conducting their business, oblivious to the line of people behind them, who need to get to places to earn a living. Ahead of me is a metrosexual looking construction worker, who lets another kid cut the line. Come on, man...some of us have places to go. Finally, it's my turn and I discover that, indeed, there is a peak time Travelcard available for £6.20. I purchase one and head to the platform for the Jubilee Line. All around me are signs pushing the Oyster Card, prepay system, but I don't like it, as it records your movements. Besides, I don't come into London often enough to warrant the investment.
The location is in Kentish Town, so I connect with the Northern Line to get there. This is the third production company I have had dealings with in Kentish Town. What is it with that place? I reach Kentish Town at 8AM. I don't have to be at the location for fourty-five minutes, yet. It's a nice morning, so I sit on a vacant bench near the corner and read a paper. At 8:25, I decide I had better start walking, as I don't know exactly how far it is to the location. I follow the instructions on my email and, soon, I am there. Inside, I am led to a room where one other extra is there already, plus a gorgeous production assistant. Free food and drink is on offer, so I tuck in. Slowly, more and more extras, all male, turn up. We sit around enjoying the food and talking.
Eventually, the director comes in and introduces himself. He takes us on set to block out positions for us relative to the cameras. I am the only American there, so they say I may get some spoken lines, as the scene we are taping is set in America. There's a Canadian guy as well and who can tell the difference between a Canadian and a midwestern American? At first, the director plans to use me as the facility manger, but later changes his mind. He and the second camera operator decide to use me as a radar operator, because they like they way the light from the radar console reflects off my glasses. Initially, I feel a bit let down, because I was getting into the idea of being the boss of the facility, but at least they have given me a piece of equipment to play with. I am instructed to randomly flick switches and turn knobs on it, to look like I am operating it. I love flicking switches! Something I can get into. We rehearse a few times, then begin shooting. Take after take. Different camera angles. The day wares on. Eventually, we have lunch. I fill up on as many of the sandwiches and crisps as I can.
After lunch, we are back at it. I am feeling tired, as I only had two and one-half hours of sleep. For one shot, I am sat at a desk with my back to the cameras. I sit there and veg. My eyes are feeling heavy. A few takes and we are moved around again for another shot. I am back to facing the cameras, so I wake myself up. Finally, it's a warp. I turn my mobile phone back on and find that I have a message from the producers of a new show that I auditioned for the night before. They had liked me and asked me to participate in a run-through presentation of the show for ITV execs, on Thursday at 5PM. I turned them down, as I was scheduled to work on "Seconds From Disaster" until 6PM. Besides, they weren't paying anything for doing the run-through, just a suggestion that if you do the run-through and the show is commissioned, there was a strong possibility that you would get selected for the actual show and get some money. "Seconds" was a paid gig. Sorry, money talks. When I checked my voicemail on my phone, there was a message from the producers of the run-through. They were pleading with me to reconsider and said that they would be willing to start as late as 6PM, if I could make it, and would pay my cab fare from where I was, to the location for the run-through. The message had been left between 10AM and 11AM, that morning, when my phone was switched off. I checked the time and it was 4:50PM. I called back, hoping it wasn't too late.
They still wanted me. I asked how long it would be and was told they expected to finish by 6:30PM to 7PM. I was scheduled to attend a casting call for a new game show before 8PM, so I wanted to make sure I had time to make it. I accepted. All the guys from the "Seconds" shoot were heading to localcl pub for a drink. I declined to join them, making the excuse that I had another job to go to. I didn't want to spend the money buying rounds anyway, as I hadn't been paid that much. Out on the street, I looked for a cab. I am generally not a cab person, as they are too expensive in London, but when someone else is paying, why not? Wouldn't you know it? Just when I am on the streets with money to burn, I can't find a vacant cab. I start walking toward the Underground station, hoping that I will eventually spot a cab near there. Finally, I spot one who responds to my gestures and stops for me. I give him the address and he starts off, driving quite sedately. As it's after 5PM, it's rush hour and soon, we are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. Progress is painfully slow. It would have been faster on the Tube.
Eventually, after what seemed liked ages, we arrived. I buzzed the door and was greeted by one of the production staff I had met the night before. He walked me in and I found that they had begun rehearsing the run-through already. No, I wasn't too late. I missed all the rehearsal, but as I had done a couple of run-throughs the night before, as part of my audition, I was confident I could perform adequately. Then it seemed like we were waiting for the people from ITV to turn up. They had better hurry, I had a casting call to go to.
Eventually, some guy turned up and they instructed us to take our positions and begin. Halfway through, another, older guy, in a more expensive suit, turned up. Then it was over. I cornered the guy who had promised to pay my cab fare, over the phone. I had given him the receipt when I arrived, but he had said he would pay me, later. Now was later. I was ready to go. He said he had to get the money from the boss, who was in discussions with the ITV guys. I had to wait. The cab had cost £23 and I wasn't about to leave without my £23. It seemed to take ages. Finally, the boss came into the room and they provided my £23. I was off.
I now had less than an hour to make it to the casting call. I couldn't afford another cab, so I headed toward the Underground. The last Underground station I had seen, while riding in the cab, was quite far away. I just missed a bus across the street, so I started walking toward a main intersection, hoping to catch a bus there. I caught up to a line of three buses, pulled over at a stop. I jumped onto the last one, as the front two pulled off. I didn't even know where this bus was heading. Surely, it would stop at the nearest Tube station, right? Traffic still seemed heavy and painfully slow. I didn't spot a Tube station, and still we plodded on. Then I saw a sign for Liverpool Street Station, pointing off to the right, as the bus stopped. I jumped off and headed in that direction. I walked for what seemed like ages, but I ended up in Liverpool Street Train station, which has an Underground station. It had taken so long, I looked for a clock, fearing it was too late. 7:35PM, still 19 minutes left, as I caught a train on the Central Line. I needed to get to Goodge Street Station, to get to the casting call, so I rode the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road and changed there. Only one stop on the Northern Line took me to Goodge Street. I reached Goodge street at 7:50PM. If I wanted to be there before 8PM, I had nine minutes.
I found the address, but the front door was locked. I walked further along and saw someone waiting at a side entrance, which was lit. As I walked up, he was buzzed in and held the door for me. I saw signs for the casting call. Following them, I found the room it was being held in and walked in at 7:55PM. I just made it. There were half a dozen people in there. I was welcomed and told to fill out four forms. This casting call was for an odd game show, being filmed in the UK, but they only wanted Americans to participate, as it was to be shown only in America. I didn't give a damn what they did with it, I just wanted the chance to win some money, as was advertised. I was the last person they interviewed. The interviews were videotaped. During the interview, I was asked what I would do with the money if I won. "How much are we talking about?" I asked.
"$5,000," one of the interviewers replied. Shit, that's only a little over £2,500.
I said, "well, it's not enough to pay off my debts...but it can make a dent." A very small dent. What kind of tight assed show was this? They advertised themselves as the company behind "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." £2,500? Then we were finished. Outside, I called Tom on my mobile and told him where I was. He invited me around for a drink. I accepted and headed back to Goodge Street Station, into the bowls of the Earth, for the journey to Tom's and a cold beer. I wouldn't get there till after 9PM and I had been on the go since 5AM. It was a long day.


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