Friday, December 25, 2009

Attack Of The Christmas Tree

My 2009 Christmas Tree: Holla!!!

It's been a few years since a Christmas tree has entered my abode. You know, I didn't really know why it's been so long until this holiday season.

Do you ever have memories which are so dire, so embarrassing, so bad that they bury themselves deep within the oceans of your mind to hopefully never see the light of the sun again (i.e. too many awkward first dates to count, a piggy back ride which turned into a bloody muddy mess, considering to actually vote Republican, etc.).

Well, this year when I thought of getting a Christmas tree (actually it was Roz who inspired me to get one), I had one of those flashbacks to one of those deep dark memories: my first "job".

It was the winter of 1987. I was 15 (10th Grade). One of my best friends in the world (Jay Yoon Lee) and I were in Mr. Roehler's Biology class. I can't remember how it came up, but I remember the topic of Mr. Roehler's Christmas Tree Farm came up. In fact, he had job openings! Now I was boyish 15 verging on manhood, and one of those coming-of-age acts is to get a J-O-B! (C'mon, you need money for that Intellivision video game you just have to have, tickets to a movie, or the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. Ummm, yeah, girls weren't exactly in the picture at this point. Let's be honest. I was too much of a skinny little nerd, so people of the female persuasion just saw me as "Mr. Help-For-Homework".)

Going International! (Yup, those are postcards!)

The thought of work was truly alien to me. I must admit I was a little trepidatious about the whole endeavor. Jay was all excited about it and was already scheming what he was going to do with his riches. I had to go along for the ride.

So on one winter eve after school, Jay and I drove all the way to Highland from Rialto and found Mr. Roehler's tree farm. We were given our saws & our orders, "When you see a customer eyeing a tree, ask to help 'em, cut their tree, lug it to their car and load it for 'em. Simple as that. Have 'em pay at the office, and if you get a tip, that's yours to keep."

Jay and I teamed up. I was glad for that. I was a shy & skinny (have I mentioned that before?!) little kid, and I was too scared to make small talk with strangers. Jay was a shmoozer and good with people even back then.

Within minutes, we had our FIRST customers. I remember following them to their tree. Now since I was the weakling of the duo, I was given the simple job: hold tree while Jay cut it. Simple enough, right? Jay started cutting down the tree....well, let's be real here, it was actually a redwood. This tree was a green skyscraper to my 15-yr old newly-employed eyes! I stood there and I held that tree with all my might.

My might wasn't enough.

Just before the tree was cut, I felt a *CRACK!* The once-solid tree shifted and then gravity began to pull the tree down towards me, of course. I blinked once. I held my breath. I blinked again. The tree was falling toward me, and I was powerless against it. Within 2-seconds, I was consumed by the tree. Pine needles cut into me. I imagine maybe a limb or two could be seen sticking out from underneath the tree...or maybe I appeared to have vanished to those who saw the tree fall.

At any rate, Jay picked up the tree with one hand--probably with one finger of one hand. "You ok?" he asked.

"Yeah," I replied. At about this point, I wanted to disappear. This was my job, and I just got squashed by it!

Jay carried the tree to the customer's car (I think I held on to the tip of the tree to look like I was helping, but I know I wasn't).

Jay received a tip, and I tried to hide in the shadows. Honestly, the rest of the evening was a blur. I don't remember any trees after that one. I don't know, maybe I went to hide in the car while Jay finished off the night.

The next day in Biology class was uncomfortable.

"Corey, can I speak to ya in the back?" Mr Roehler asked. "I heard ya had a tough night on the farm." (It wasn't a farm, it was just a lot in the city which somehow was able to produce trees--amongst the smog, and 100+degree summers!) "Well, some people just aren't cut out for certain type of work. I think you might be just a tad small for this job--maybe next year. No hard feelings?"

"Ummm....", what could I say.

"Ok, let's go cut some frogs open!" Mr. Roehler gave me something like $5-10, and that was that.

This memory floated above my head. Floated above Eisenhower High School in Rialto, CA. Floated above a cloud...wait, actually it's a cloud of smog. And disappeared into my subconscious. It would revisit me from time to time, but it had been years, until last week.

This Is How I Brought In Christmas At Work--H1 Locked With A Range Of 16Mpc (a nice shift)!

Last week, I wanted a tree. The dogs and I would be alone for Christmas (I was working 10 days straight over the holidays), but I still wanted a tree. I went to a local shop, and picked a tree. The tree was under four feet ($29).

This tree fit inside my MINI Cooper.

This tree I could handle.

And off to work I go.

"Merry Christmas!!!", says Gomez.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

El Casco Viejo 2008: Bond, Cowee Bond

I. Had. No. Idea.

After finally watching Quantum of Solace on DVD the other day, I was inspired to write something about the movie with regards to a trip I made in early 2008. One of my best friends (Ang) and I were finishing up a 2-week Panama y Colombia trip and were touring around Panama City's Casco Viejo neighborhood the day before returning to the States. While strolling around the old streets, a tour group walked by us. I was taking photos, when I heard the tour guide say, "the new James Bond movie will be filmed here."


Here are two Quantum of Solace locations in Panama City's Quantum of Solace (we were all over this area when sight-seeing Casco Viejo!)

So in the new James Bond, Panama City wasn't Panama City, but La Paz, Bolivia. So, I guess I can say I've also been to Bolivia, too! Everything's a masquerade in Hollywood. There were two major scenes filmed in locations I was familiar with: Grand Hotel (actually Panama's Institute of Culture) & the Green Party (previously an old haunt of Manuel Noriega's known as El Union Club).

First day of my trip abroad. Hung out alone in Panama City. Checked out a salsa band in Casco Viejo. It was an interesting night to say the least.

Last full day of my trip; Ang & I both hung out in Casco Viejo & this is when we heard about the movie.

Filming in Casco Viejo begins for Quantum of Solace

Film Release date in the US.

I am a total fan of the new James Bond and Casino Royale, so when I heard that the next Bond movie was being filmed right where we were--I was intrigued. It wasn't until much later that I found out that filming took place just days after we left (and right after Panama's Carnival celebration).

Needless to say when the movie came out, I was totally stoked to see if I recognized anything from the movie. A crew of us set out to watch the movie on opening night. I totally jumped in my seat when scenes flashed on the big screen of places where I walked the streets of Panama City...errr...La Paz!

The Scene: Checking In To The Grand Hotel

This is a popular tourist spot in Casco Viejo

For this scene, debonaire and sexy Corey Gray...errr...James Bond, and his fellow characters check into a fancy shmancy hotel as "teachers on sabbatical who just won the lottery". The scene is only a few seconds, but in this shot the camera is at the base of the Pablo Arosenena statue pointing skyward (the eagle from the statue is the first thing shown). The camera then sweeps down towards Bond's taxi as it pulls in front of the "Andean Grand Hotel". Then the characters exit the car to check in. It's a quick scene, but we were there.

This area is actually where the French Embassy is and now has a quaint square with some monuments, cool-looking trees, and vendors (I bought a mola-embroidered shirt here). Here you can see cool views of Panama Bay, the sky-scrapers of Panama City, and many other cool areas of Casco Viejo.

Movie Screenshot: Bond, Strawberry Fields and crew arriving at the "hotel". Notice building on the left. I took photos of its old doors

This is a photo I took (not knowing anything about the movie). I wanted to capture the old buildings sandwiching a skyscraper in the background.

Doors & Windows With Character

So the camera must have been at the very base of that statue, because the eagle at the base of it is in the scene.

The Scene: The Green Party
(formerly El Union Club)

For the scene when Bond and Stawberry Fields (*ahem*), attend a party hosted by the villain of the film, an old skeleton of a structure is used for the location. I was very familiar with this structure. It was directly across the street from the bar (La Platea) I spent hours at when checking out a salsa band during the Panama Jazz Festival.

On my first night in Panama, I took a taxi to the bar Platea. The drive over was a bit sketchy. Not all streets in Casco Viejo were cool--some were dark and scary. I was dropped off near the bar and then walked in to listen to some cool music. I distinctly remember looking at the dilapidated building across the street. There was a temporary fence up around it & a trailer in front of it. It looked really cool looking, but I guess I assumed it was getting renovated (it would be a shame to not restore many of the sad structures in this same state), or fixin' to have an encounter with a wrecking ball.

For those interested on the interior of Platea, here's a clip from a band playing around the time I was there:

In the film, it looks like they must have either "CGI-ed" Platea or gave it a quick paint job, because in the movie it looks a different color and the signs were removed. It's just a trip though to think Roger Craig was walking the steps we walked just days afterward.

Movie Screenshot: Notice the window & light fromthe building in the background.

This is one of my favorite photos. Looked a little different in the movie.

In the background, was where I took photos and heard the tourguide talk about the Bond film shoot.

Movie Screenshot: I remember standing out on the sidewalk (like folks on the right) cooling off between salsa songs.

Movie Screenshot: This looks like a cool party! The street and Platea are on the other side of this building.

I remember taking this photo because I thought the building looked cool. I had to angle the shot high because I didn't want to get the fence in the picture. If I only knew the fence was there to protect the area for the upcoming shoot!

Movie Screenshot: My cab dropped me off in the lot where those white-helmeted motor cops are coming from.