‘My upside-down Kit Kat Birthday’
It’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t age, we just shrivel and sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky. But we do have birthdays, whether we like it or not.
By this point in my birthday-blessed life, I’ve had all kinds: dressed-up and dressed-down birthdays in restaurants (one was at our favorite Japanese place where the waiter, dressed in a bunny costume, presents you with some fruit with a candle stuck in it) and extremely-dressed-down birthdays in jammies.
I’ve celebrated birthdays at work, on vacation, at my Mom’s. I even spent part of one natal day waiting in line at Immigration. (Taciturn customs agent checking my passport: ‘Why, happy birthday, Alice Henry Whitmore.’)
Sunday’s was a drinking-champagne-in-sweatpants-while-watching-the-Mets-lose-the-World-Series kind of birthday. (Sorry Mets. Maybe you should have sent me a card.)
Incidentally, when the news of this series matchup made the news, I found The Dude looking rather puzzled. ‘Who are these Kansas City Royals?’ Now I must admit that when it comes to following sports I’m more of a Tennis Person. (I refer to baseball as The Sport Played With The Little White Ball With The Stitching.) But I do know who the heck the Royals are. Maybe it’s because I lived in Kansas City. But I like to think it’s more because I’m a reasonably-culturally-aware individual.
Anyway. I say to The Dude, sort of snippy-like, ‘What do you mean, who are these Kansas City Royals?’ Then he says — and I swear I kid you not — ‘Are they a new team? I’ve never heard of them.’
A ‘new team’? I pointed at the paper and asked him how the heck they could have won the title 30 years ago and be a new team. ‘Oh’, he says. ‘But I’ve never heard of them.’
I swear. If laughter keeps you young, then I’d better not ever leave The Dude. No doubt I’d instantly turn into a mummy like that poor woman who left Shangri-La in that old movie ‘Lost Horizon’.
But this story is not about yesterday’s birthday. This story is about the birthday I wound up hanging upside-down in a jeep on an icy road outside Flagstaff, Arizona.
See, this was one of those afore-mentioned ‘work birthdays’. (One of my former Ogilvy bosses, the beloved Vel Richey-Rankin, used to give you a bottle of champagne on your birthday. But you still had to be at work, if only to collect it.)
Anyway. I was with Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) at the time. We were shooting a bunch of Kit Kat commercials on location in various places Out West.
I honestly can’t remember why on earth we were shooting one of these in Flagstaff, Arizona, but there we were in late October, ensconced in some Best Westernish hotel, going over shot lists and casting tapes while ordering room service and trying not to get on each other’s nerves.
We had wrapped up our week of ‘prep’, during which we found time to hit some local attractions, like a meteor crater, some ruined pueblos, and our favorite, the Standing-on-the-corner-in-Winslow-Arizona Corner.
The first day of the actual shoot happened to coincide with Halloween, and I must say it was pretty kooky on set with Dracula fetching you a Diet Coke with ice and Lucy Ricardo finding you an apple box to sit on. (Speaking of Halloween, that was the year The Child was a ‘candle’. You can check out her costume, and a bunch of others I did and did not make myself in last week’s story ‘Be afraid. Be very afraid.’)
By the next day, All Saints Day and, more importantly, My Birthday, we’d gotten into Shoot Mode. We’re up at 4 and rounded up in the lobby at 5, where paper go-cups of coffee are thrust into our hands before we’re loaded into jeeps for the trip to the location. So glamorous, shooting on location.
Our jeep is tooling along at a modest rate of speed when, uh-oh, we hit a patch of black ice. Well. You know how people always say that when they’re in an accident time seems to sort of stop and everybody gets really really quiet? Yup. True.
Next thing I know, I’m dangling sort of upside-down in a sort-of-upside-down jeep in a ditch along the side of some blacktop road somewhere outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. Everybody’s okay, thank goodness (and seat belts). We go through a bit of gymnastics unbuckling, untangling, and extricating ourselves from said jeep. But soon we’re standing around on the side of the road trying to figure out what to do next. (These were the days before ubiquitous cellphones. But they were also the days before ubiquitous car electronics, so we were able to roll down the windows and get out of the jeep.)
As luck would have it, an off-duty sheriff was driving by putting up campaign posters for the upcoming presidential election. It was Clinton vs. Dole that year. And this guy was for Dole. But he did have a phone (a car phone, maybe?) that worked. So he was able to get the highway patrol over to help us. (Before he drove off, he gave us some campaign literature to disseminate, sort of as a return favor. We stuck one of the Dole/Kemp bumper stickers on the wrecked, upside-down jeep.)
We were starting to get cold (there was black ice, remember?) and hungry too. The art director had eaten a banana in the car, but the rest of us had only had (spilled now) coffee. But, sure enough, a highway patrol car pulls up, and this guy gets out who looks exactly like a state trooper. He’s got the hat, the gun belt, the whole nine yards.
Well. He hitches up his belt and starts strolling over to our little huddled group of citified shoot-goers. He pauses mid-stroll and bends to pick something up. It’s the banana peel from the afore-mentioned breakfast banana.
He looks at us, looks at the upturned jeep, holds the banana peel up so we can see it, and says: ‘Here’s your trouble’.
Footnote: The accident report asked for our names, addresses, and — for some crazy reason — our birthdays. After we handed it over to Mr. State Trooper, he glanced at it and said, in a somewhat warmer tone than Mr. Customs Agent, ‘Why, happy birthday, Alice Henry Whitmore!’
For more birthday fun, see ‘All Saints’ (Birth)day’ (which includes my fascinating Unbucket List), or just enter ‘birthday’ in the search field. I’ve got stories about my Mom and my sibs that you might enjoy.
Amagansett, New York. November 2015