Friday, April 20, 2012

My day hanging with Al Roker on Treme

When I got to New Orleans, I parked my car. More on that later.

The scene was a consolation booking after last Friday’s call was canceled at the last minute. I would have been an “upscale diner,” though I didn’t have my sport coat in my closet. The cancellation allowed me to grab my coat at my parents’ house in Lafayette over the weekend. Only after I got back to Baton Rouge did I learn that I was now to be a “tourist” wearing street clothes, which meant I visited my family for nothing this past weekend. Drat.

The scene, which takes place on Lundi Gras in February 2008, featured Al Roker filming a “Today Show” cooking sketch above the performance area near Jackson Square. I was among the assembled crowd you always see on the Today Show.

Before reaching our places, I decided that I was visiting from Toledo, Ohio. (In retrospect, though, I should have been from Springfield, Missouri, where I was living at the time this takes place.) As I tend to do, I teamed up with another extra who would play the role of Lifelong Pal. The prop people gave us both beads and cups of nonalcoholic beer and told us we had been out all night drinking, so we immediately commenced to falling over each other. We continued the schtick while sitting on the stands waiting for final orders — apparently well enough for several people to think we were really drunk and/or lifelong friends. And as you might expect, I spilled half of my beer.

I know the beer was nonalcoholic because, while practicing my fake swigging, I inadvertently swallowed some. It tasted like a low-sodium saltine. Nothing should taste like a low-sodium saltine.

The director advised the crowd to act as if we were from Kalamazoo and other midwestern cities, happy to be out in the sun for the first time this year. He didn’t specifically mention Toledo, which brought down my whole self-drafted backstory. Also undermining the whole out-of-hibernation angle: my tan from two months of swimming in Louisiana.

One woman behind me was given a sign to hoist above her head saying, “Lafayette, Indiana loves Al!” Someone else had a sign that said, “Kasas City,” which was tea party levels of incorrect. I thought that was a clever take on the occasional misspelled sign that really appears on “Today,” but it turned out to be a genuinely embarrassing typo, which the crew promptly corrected. Other sings included “Who Dat!” and “Bring back Arrested Development!”

My job was to dance wildly while a local brass band jammed. Typecasting. We also had to cheer Al Roker. That’s not acting.

My Lifelong Pal is a guy from Texas who owns a couple of restaurants and has had a few speaking roles. He and I ate lunch afterwards at the Camellia Grill. There, we sat next to two cute girls from Montreal who turned out to be on the Treme crew, and one of our waiters was a guy who planned to audition for a voiceover role for Treme the next day (he should get it, too, with that velvet voice). Small world.

On our way back to our cars, we started talking about the Saints. He’s from Dallas. You can imagine how well this went. It ended with him telling me how hilarious I was when I got heated and how funny I was in general. That’s a good way to win an argument, I think.

At that point, he discovered he had lost his parking validation sticker. This was critical, because it was the difference between skating out for free and paying $35. Earlier, he had attached his to his bag while I stuck mine on my cell phone. At the time, he said I’d have a hard time peeling it off. Yep, which is why it didn’t flutter away. We frantically retraced our steps from Hard Rock Café to Camellia Grill all the way back to Westin, but never found it.

Fortunately, my incompetence saved the day. Turns out I had parked in the lot adjacent to the correct one. The first hint that something was wrong was when we first walked to his car, which was not where mine was. We figured out that one of us was in the wrong place, but we weren’t sure who. It was only after we got in my car and attempted to use my validation (which by then was in three pieces from trying to get it off my phone ... curses!) that we realized he was in the right. That was actually good news, because it meant the idiot in this situation (me) would pay less — had my co-star been wrong, he’d be out $35. The attendant, sympathetic to my situation, charged me the $9 Early Bird fee, which was even better. He also handed us back the validation sticker, which was in even more pieces after he tore it off the garage ticket. I dropped off my friend who, armed with what was left of my validation, headed off. But just before he did, he amusedly pointed out the numerous huge, honking blue signs reading, “EXTRA PARKING” that I had somehow missed entirely in my unblinking allegiance to Google Maps.

The day ended as most good days do, with a screaming headache. But it’s always fun to make new friends and connections and to have a new story in the arsenal.

Oh, and Al Roker gazed in my general direction. No one can ever take that away from me.

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