by Sam Hutchins
We wrapped things up at Majors Station with the promise of returning. I knew that we would. It was too great and weird a place not too. The owner had pointed us in the direction of Ely, a town further up the road. Apparently it featured the oldest full service hotel in Nevada as well as a few casinos. Sounded exactly like what we were searching for. Although still before nine in the morning, I had recovered enough to get behind the wheel again. The high elevation and cold mountain air proved a remarkable restorative. As we prepared to load up, Darius surprised us all.
“Eef you do not mind, I would like to drive now.”
How odd. Tens of thousands of miles into the trip he suddenly asked to drive for the first time. No one took issue with it, so he took a turn piloting the truck.
Majors Station sits at the far end of a broad basin high in the mountains. The road rises behind it, ascending sharply up and over the next ridge. Darius kicked up gravel getting out of the lot and muscled the truck up the road. We were halfway through second gear and starting to gain speed when Kar Wai commanded him to stop not 100 yards up the road so we could get additional shots of the location from above. I greatly enjoyed Darius frustration at this. Pictures taken, we set out again. The road was a series of sharp switchbacks and S-curves, blind turns and sheer cliffs often unprotected by guardrails. With no exaggeration, a wrong move could mean a fiery death for all of us. Darius reacted by driving like he was on the Autobahn and running late for dinner.
Adrenaline and sheer terror quickly elbowed the last remaining vestiges of my hangover aside. Glancing over quickly, I saw that even Stephane was not his typically oblivious self. We were both clutching the armrests and looking terrified. Only Kar Wai maintained his composure. As we burned around another corner with the tires squealing and narrowly missed sideswiping a truck loaded with hogs Kar Wai calmly spoke.
“Darius, we are in no hurry, you know.”
“Don’t worry, I am a good driver. Besides, you are supposed to accelerate through the turns. It gives you more control.”
Fortunately we topped the range and came out on a long straightaway running through another high desert plateau. A distant highway crossing was staked down by a very modern gas station/convenience store/taco shop combination. Approaching it, Kar Wai asked that we stop so he could make some tea. Exiting the car, he gently removed the keys from Darius’ hand and passed them off to Stephane. They tracked down some hot water and brewed tea while I scarfed down a giant extra-spicy breakfast burrito. If I’m going to stare down death I’m doing it on a stomach full of greasy, delicious food.
I attempted to look at the map with Stephane but he wasn’t interested.
“The lady said it ees these way, so these way is the way to go.”
Stephane is a great guy, but also quite stubborn at times. Something about Vegas really turned him ugly. Working in film situations can get pretty intense and heated, and it is not uncommon for tempers to flare. The key to being successful is learning how to forget. You yell at someone, they yell at you. You have to put the yelling behind you because in the next moment another problem will arise that requires collaboration to solve it. There’s no room for the holding of grudges. Seems he had not learned the lesson, though, as his anger held.
He was clearly upset as we continued up the road. Turning right where we should have gone left, I held my tongue. We passed a few recently built structures and soon were in the open desert again. Had we gone left we would be in Ely, but Stephane didn’t want to hear it so I wasn’t telling him again. Eventually Kar Wai spoke up.
“Stephane, you went the wrong way. Turn around.”
“This is the right way. I think Ely is just ahead.”
“No, it’s not. Turn around.”
Ignoring him, Stephane continued driving. We continued seeing nothing but wide-open spaces. It became increasingly obvious that we really were going the wrong direction. Kar Wai tried again
Stephane violently jerked the wheel over and screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. Springing from the driver’s seat, he stomped off down the roadside kicking at the dirt and cursing in French. We all exchanged glances before I volunteered to chase him down. Kar Wai insisted on doing it himself, though, and set out after him. They stopped twenty yards or so down the road and proceeded to have a loud and very ugly argument. I couldn’t make out most of it but it wasn’t pretty. No kid likes to hear his parents get upset. After a lengthy exchange Darius turned to me in the truck.
“I think Stephane might be angry about something.”
My God, what a beautiful thing, to go through life so blissfully unaware. I almost envied him. Eventually we all were back in the truck, and I turned us around and headed for Ely as Stephane quietly brooded in the back. It was still early and we’d already had an eventful day.
Passing the crossroads where we had made the wrong turn, we rounded a bend and saw a great looking combination liquor store and motel. There were a few defunct gas pumps out front, and the building’s structure suggested that it had begun life as a gas station many years ago. It was built exactly like the old one-pump structures we had seen on Rte. 66. The road we were on was called Old Highway 50 , which only reinforced my hunch. Stepping into the place we met a character none of us will ever forget.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.
Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.