Friday, June 22, 2012

The Case of The Fruity Iced Tea

We were sitting in the gate area of the Cincinnati airport, waiting for our flight when the 4 TSA agents came up. They were clearly there on business – it wasn’t quite as dramatic as, say, “The Wire” when the cops come into the courtyard at the low-rise apartments and everyone yells “five-oh” and scatters – but these four officers came in and “took positions”, definitely there on business.

One stood with his back to the wall by the door to the jetway, one moved somewhere behind me, one gave the lowdown to the gate agent and the fourth questioned “The Witness”. The Witness was a woman about my age, seated opposite me. She spoke to the agent as they both looked at someone somewhere behind me.

I turned around and there they were, obvious terrorists: bearded men, modestly dressed women wearing head coverings, clearly members of a fundamentalist religious sect.  Yes, Mennonites, presumably bearing weapons of mass consumption. Ultimately the Mennonites boarded unmolested but I kept my eye on them throughout the flight to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in a coffee shop in Santa Monica, California, a waitress took a few partially filled ketchup bottles and poured them together to make one, apparently just opened, “fresh” bottle.

My wife Karen and I were travelling to San Francisco to begin a 30th anniversary trip down the coast, visiting friends and family, and engaging in the seductive and salacious acts of gluttony. After eating our fill in the San Fran area, we drove to Carmel and stayed in the hotel we visited on our honeymoon. From there it was short trip to the Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, a boardwalk held together by a row of alternating gift shops and restaurants.

The restaurants must have had word that we were coming because they all tried to entice us into their establishment so that they could advertise that the Bunyans had eaten there What each restaurant had done was set up a table with samples of their clam chowder. At each table we’d get a coupon for a free appetizer or a discount at the Earring Barn. They acted like they did this every day for everyone who walked by, but I’m sure it was set up for us.

Cabo’s Cafe had really done their homework. As we downed the clam chowder sample, the young woman serving it up informed me that they had 2-dollar draft beer. Seeing that she had set the hook, she yanked the line and pulled me on board: “and we have deep fried cheesecake.”

 Karen was disappointed though. She prefers iced tea over beer – plain, brewed iced tea- but all they had was raspberry flavored.

Just then I saw a familiar figure: a bearded man with a blue shirt and pants held up by suspenders.  The Mennonites did not leave us in San Francisco; they followed us down the coast. Well, they might not be the same Mennonites; who can tell them apart? But I saw them again in Monterey and spotted them at various places we stopped throughout Big Sur. What would a peaceful religious sect want from us?

 While this was going on, the waitress in the Santa Monica coffee shop surreptitiously repeated the ketchup consolidation routine.

 Next we stopped in Santa Barbara and went to a restaurant on the beach where I could sit with my feet in the sand and eat fish tacos: a life-long dream realized. And had some sort of IPA beer and Karen was again disappointed; this place has only passionfruit flavored tea.

We also visited the winery where our niece worked to supplement her income while she completed her PhD in psychology. Wine and Psychology to me seems to be a good pairing.  Our niece is quite knowledgeable about wine and has gained a lot from personal experience with it. She told us "I almost never drink hard liquor anymore, except I have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, but only because I got it from a woman whose cat died." The subject changed before that whole sentence could be diagrammed and deconstructed.

Our last stop was in LA. I arrived with a massive headache. My secret headache remedy is a big hamburger, some fries and a large iced tea We went to a coffee shop in Santa Monica where I was sure I could get real iced tea. You would think that is something easy to find, but in California, it is not. All the way down the coast, at every restaurant we went to, Karen would ask for plain brewed iced tea. “Sorry we have only mango (or “paradise” or raspberry or passion fruit or avocado or salsa) flavored tea.” The Santa Monica coffee shop was the one with “paradise” iced tea.

 Regular, caffeinated tea being the key to the headache cure, we ordered hot tea and a glass of ice. The waitress paused, pen poised above her pad and then wrote it down. She brought over the tea, followed by our food, with a bottle of ketchup for the fries.

It appeared to be a just opened, full bottle of ketchup. But inside, the months old tainted portions from various bottles had the begun to ferment, building up renegade strains of botulism, e coli and assorted bio-hazard gasses. I don’t know which of us the assassination attempt was meant for, but it was Karen who picked up the bottle first, taking the bullet like James Bond’s girlfriend.

She twisted off the cap and the gasses exploded, propelling sour ketchup across her purse, her clothes and her lunch. The waitress quickly disappeared, probably to go into hiding and avoid telling her bosses that she had failed to stop us from drinking real iced tea.

As I munched my French fries and watched Karen clean herself up and get a new plate of food, I started to wonder: Why does California not want us to drink iced tea? Are the Mennonites who are following us actually agents of the state in disguise? If Karen gets sick, what are the net assets of this coffee shop worth and how would I change the menu after we own it (besides adding real iced tea.)?

It was then I began to formulate my idea for a screenplay. A couple, celebrating their 30th anniversary, drive down the coast of California searching for real iced tea, as creepy, albino, Mennonite, state secret agents attempt to stop them.

The story opens with a young woman saying, "I almost never drink hard liquor anymore, except I have a bottle of vodka in the freezer, but only because I got it from a woman whose cat died." That is my opening line to hook people in.

Mennonite secret agents, romance and an old woman with a dead cat and a bottle of vodka, exploding ketchup: my new movie will have it all. Oh, I'd throw in a subplot about “rekindling the magic” or some Nicholas Sparks crap like that, to bring in the female demographic. The lead characters would have some Harry-Met-Sally-romantic-comedy sort of repartee, like debates about whether it’s “iced tea” or “ice tea” and is it “exploding ketchup” or “exploding catsup”.

There would not be a lot of sex in the movie because, while we enjoyed it, the video aspect of 30-year anniversary sex is probably not a big box office draw.

 Who would play me? I’m thinking John Cusack, who, according to imdb “is, like most of his characters, an unconventional hero. Wary of fame and repelled by formulaic Hollywood fare, (he plays) underdogs and odd men out--all the while avoiding the media spotlight” which describes me to a “T” and he looks exactly like me.

My wife would be played probably by Andie McDowell, who could be her twin, though I could see Helen Hunt or Jodie Foster in the role. But I’d have to give a screen test to Penelope Cruz, Megan Fox and some other younger women just to be sure I had the right person.

 I won’t reveal the surprise ending where we find out what the state is up to, because I haven’t figured it out yet, but it involves a showdown with the Governator, Arnold Swartzeneger himself, and a mad car chase on the L.A. freeways.

But we will wind up, as in real life, at the tavern where we had dinner with my dad the last night of our trip. It’s in L.A. and he’s been eating there for at least 50 years. It's dark, with wood panelling and red leather booths. There is a wide selection of steaks and scotch.

 Back then the waitresses were all young buxom women showing plenty of leg and cleavage. We walked in and the place was still exactly the same. The waitresses were too, by which I mean they were the same exact women but with their cleavage 50 years lower.

 The best thing was that the menu was the same; they still served real food and real iced tea.

So, we wrap up this flick with something about returning to our roots and the basics of life and yada, yada, yada, we go home happy and headache free. I figure I can bankroll this feature with the settlement from the coffee shop, if only Karen would agree to fake near-death from food poisoning.

 (This is a true story from a couple years ago that I just rewrote for The Big Reveal storytelling show.)

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