What an Interesting Day

Story time. My son and I are in the middle of the desert filming our space invaders movie. We've driven our Mazda 5 out onto this huge badlands area; one of the locations where they filmed John Carter of Mars. (I'm still bitter they didn't make sequels) We had driven out a mile or so, found some terrain that our modest mini-mini-van couldn't handle and turned around to find a sensible place to park and shoot our scenes with the awesome backgrounds. It was about 1 or 2pm. On our way to the location where we had decided to shoot, a bright red Jeep pulls up and stops. So we stop, roll down the window and a middle aged male Chinese tourist greets us and asks if there's more area to explore the direction we were coming from. I said: "Sure, with your big Jeep you should have a blast." So he goes the direction we came from, we drive around some more trying to find places our near-low-rider can get to and finally find a spot about a mile from the main highway.
We shoot our scenes for about an hour or so, and then over the ridge comes the Chinese tourist on foot. AHA! You thought I was making assumptions about him earlier, DIDN'T YOU?! Turns out he got his Jeep stuck and needed help. This was super annoying because we were right in the middle of our scene, and the daylight is finite, but I'm not going to make the poor guy walk a mile through the desert when it's a hundred degrees and then wait for someone to pick him up on the side of the road. (Of course we were WAY out of cell coverage.) So we pack up all our gear and crush Shane into the back seat with all the cameras and props and cooler and such, and drive about 15 minutes into a tiny town that has a gas station in a cave. That last part is true. They blasted a cave out of a cliff face back in the 80s when you didn't need permits for ANYTHING.
Anyway, I chatted the Chinese tourist up while we drove. Found out he had been to the US 4 times, but never to this region. He lives across the water from Hong Kong. Etc. After we drop him off he handed me a $20, insisting that because he doesn't know our culture well he really wanted me to take it. At first I refused, but that seemed to make him very uncomfortable. So I accepted and wished him luck.
Ok! Time to get back to work! Shane and I hop in the car and drive back to the badlands, but about half way there I see a place that looks VERY similar just off the road. I figure we'll make up for lost time by shooting the rest of our scene there. I pull off onto the gray dirt path, and about 100 yards in I get a sinking feeling. I mean our car literally sank into the gray dirt. And no Yoda in site to Force it out. We try digging it away for about half an hour in the 100 degree heat with no shade. I tried using a board I had painted blue for a blue screen as a ramp. No luck.
So we go back to the highway and try to hitchhike back the cave gas station. No luck for a while, but there was a car pulled over fairly close to us. I did not approach it because it was two women and a child, and I'm wearing a black tank top and a hat with a skull and crossbones, and, you know... I look like me. I just didn't want to scare them. But after 10 minutes and 5 or 6 vehicles ignoring us I asked Shane to go ask. Just as he approaches them another car comes along and looks like it's pulling over to pick me up, but no, they were just part of a caravan with the car that was already pulled over. Turned out the little boy had been puking. This car had two men in it so I felt better about approaching them. I told them our situation. And even though they had a little girl in the back seat they agreed to give me a ride. They didn't have two seats so Shane stayed behind with the car. (It had plenty of gas and AC, and several gallons of water.)
So these guys take me back to cave gas station. I ask the owner if he knows anyone who can give me a little tug out of our predicament. He said the only guy he knows is busy helping the Chinese guy. So I spend the next hour approaching every truck I see. Most of them had boats in tow, and said it was too hard to detach them. Holy crap there were a LOT of super rich people out here with massive trucks and boats who won't help. Granted, I look like someone who would be leading them into a trap or something so I can't really be THAT upset about it. Boy was that an embarrassing hour. I HATE making people uncomfortable, but I was getting more and more desperate with my son in the desert with our car.
When no trucks were fueling up I talked to the owner of the station and got the history of the place. He told me a story about when they were filming John Carter and a Hopi man who had been hired to watch the area they were filming (to keep all the ATVs off the hills) had come driving back at night with half his car ripped up. The Hopi man said that he had been attacked by a skin walker. Well the deputy of the little cave gas station town, who was related to cave gas station owner, went to check it out. He said he went to the reported location and found a dark shape and two red eyes about 10 feet from the ground. He shouted a warning and the thing didn't stop so he unloaded into it, accomplishing nothing, so he ran.
Anyway, eventually the tow guy who had been helping our Chinese friend got back into town. I had been calling him every 5 minutes or so. He was a friendly older Air Force vet. He had worked on the original stealth jets. On the drive to our car I asked him what broke down on them the most often. He said the hardest part of working on them was that there was a coating that went over the whole plane, and special filler for every tiny seam, (to make it completely smooth) so every time they had to fix anything they had to peel off chunks of this asbestos-filled material to do the work, then re-coat it.
After we got our car out, and the sun was fast setting I decided I was pretty frustrated about the day, but I'd actually get downright pissed if we failed to get our scene finished after all that. So we rushed back, but apparently something about getting stuck did something bad to our engine. It was making a very scary growling grinding sound! I opened the hood and peered in the way a non-surgeon would peer in gaping chest-wound and pretend to know how to fix it. I had Shane start and stop it over and over. Stuff was shaking around in there, so I did my best to duct-tape and tie things down, but to know avail. We were miles from the highway and there was no way we could walk back before dark. So I just tried to very carefully drive back. After we had gone a ways I decided to turn off the AC and the terrifying sound stopped. Yay! Ok. We were there. We're going to finish this thing if it kills us. In the dying light we finish our lines and then head back to cave gas station town where we found the oldest most decrepit motel yet. At about 9, they unfolded a stage in the parking lot and an octogenarian (I think it was the same lady who checked us in), started playing some country western music on a keyboard to an audience of no one. Very surreal. So... after all this. After losing 3/4 of a day from our trip, after losing money for the tow truck and whatever it's going to cost to fix the AC and whatever else may have busted... the moral of the story is... Let the Chinese tourist die in the desert.


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