Wholly Musical Night

I love Christmas music. Nearly a third of my iTunes library is Christmas related. I’ve got all kinds: classic, traditional, folk, pop, rock, jazz, rap, blues, country, reggae, disco, outsider… and others I’m sure I’m forgetting right now.

So when Erin Zindle, lead of The Ragbirds, announced that they would be putting on their 7th annual Christmas concert with friends ‚ÄĒ well, I made sure to get tickets.

The concert was last Saturday, and even though I’d worn myself out with being social and learning a new JavaScript package I felt restored just waiting in my seat.

The music was an eclectic mix, which suited me perfectly. There were new arrangements of traditional songs, faithful covers of rock classics like “Run, Run Rudolph” (with George Bedard delivering a blistering rendition of its signature riff) and “Father Christmas, a string quartet, original songs, soul classics, Irish reels, and a spectacular version of the Charlie Brown Christmas theme, featuring banjo. Not quite everything and the kitchen sink, but an enjoyable stew of great music.

Of course, they had me at “Christmas music”, but fiddles, a brass section, and a banjo sealed the deal. Plus, the bongo-fueled “Little Drummer Boy” is one of two arrangements of the song I’ve ever truly liked.

If only they’d had a surf version of “We Three Kings”, it would have been a perfect night. Maybe if I start getting famous for electric uke I’ll get an invite some year. ūüėČ

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Let’s Have a Concert

I don’t go out much. I go to work, and there are a few gatherings I attend as a matter of habit, but just going out to a show or something isn’t a thing I do lightly. It used to be my anxiety that held me back, but since getting that more under control I found that I really just prefer to sit and let the cats crawl over me to doing much of anything else.

When I heard that Cake was going to play in Ann Arbor, I had a momentary notion of going to see them. Then I remembered that would involve getting tickets, asking for a day off work to recover from a late night, and cramming myself for hours into a seat designed for use by a species that apparently lacks knees. But before I could entirely dismiss the thought I noticed that Wanda Jackson was going to open the show.

Wanda Jackson!

Jackson was a young country singer when she toured with Elvis Presley, who encouraged her to switch over to his kind of music. She became known as the Queen of Rockabilly with such hits as “Fujiyama Mama” and “Let’s Have a Party”. She’s one of the only original generation rockabillies still recording and touring.

I wrestled with the ticket purchasing site, put in for a day off to recover, and bid adieu to my knees. It was a terrific pair of shows that I’m damn glad to have caught!

So How Were the Movies?

I wrote last time about the 2nd annual April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama, and many readers (1) expressed amazement that I wrote about a movie event without talking about the movies! This wasn’t so much an oversight as a choice to allow that post to flow a little better, focussing on how we exhibited Garamon-like indifference to the slings and arrows of probably predictable annoyances.

Now I’d like to go over the 7 movies I watched, as well as why I bailed on the 8th.

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No Plan Survives a Road Trip

If there were a contest for Most Pathetic Giant Monster then Garamon would be a serious contender. Appearing twice in the Japanese mid-1960s show “Ultra Q”, Garamon is a gigantic robot that looks like a cross between Big Bird, a gollywog, and a bucket of orange paint. It shuffles a little and flaps its big goofy hands futilely. When its guiding transmission signal is cut off, it falls over and drools.

I feel a great deal of empathy for the stupid thing, being little more than a drooling giant myself. That’s why he sits on top of my cube wall, reminding me that at the end of the day I’m pretty much just a disposable (and not very respected) tool.

So when I faced a drive to Monroeville on my own, I decided that it was time that Garamon went on vacation.

Garamon needed a vacation before it got fed up and fell on someone.

Garamon needed a vacation before it got fed up and fell on someone.

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Our Traveler Returns from SPACE

It’s been several years since I last sold comics at a convention, but this month found me once again behind the table. The Plastic Farm table, to be precise, at the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) in Columbus, Ohio. Plastic Farm is an ongoing series chronicling the deepening insanity of a man who can alter reality, and it’s the brainchild of Rafer Roberts.

The reason I was at Rafer’s table is that he had drawn the comic I was there to sell, Wild Women of the Kitty-Kat Galaxy. Rafer graciously agreed to help me ease back into the game, and I found it very calming to talk comics with him during the slow periods of the show.

Slow periods have always been my 2nd biggest fear about conventions. When left with my own thoughts, I tend to become overwhelmed with doubts and depression. This in turn keeps costumers away and leaves me in the abusive grip of my brain.

There were stretches of time where I was alone at the table; what’s the point of being surrounded by indie creators and not checking out their work? Having several years of perspective behind me, I realized that I could beat my bad brain. Low traffic means only less opportunity, and I let that get to me I can miss those people who do come within range. Like a trap-door spider, I just need to be patient until prey presents itself.

But less killy-eaty than that.

Besides, I found that I had missed the camaraderie of like-minded story-tellers. Everything from mini-comics to graphic novels were on display, ranging in narrative structure from image-dreams to biographies to continuing adventures. It’s like stepping into the fire bath of She-who-must-be-obeyed; it makes you immortal, or it returns you to your actual age.

On second thought, it’s more like something else. Go ahead and pretend I had a clever allusion for getting a power-up.

My biggest fear about conventions, by the way, is being trapped by a skeevy fellow describing his liberated, nearly-naked heroine to me in excruciating (and panting) detail. This happens, though thankfully not so often at small press shows.

So, it looks like I’ll be going back next year. Maybe I’ll even have another new comic!

And Then We Ate Cheeseburgers and Sat in the Cold to Watch Movies

I watched 7 movies at Riverside Drive-In over the two days of April Ghouls “Drive-In” Monster-Rama”. (8 scheduled, but …well, I’ll get to that.) It would be entirely unlike me to not at least comment on them. Here, then, is my account of seeing horror films in their natural habitat — the drive-in!

NIGHT ONE – FRIDAY, APRIL 5

It was absurdly cold, and it only got worse as the night wore on. Jessica brought cookies, Tim brought cake, and I kept getting cheeseburgers and hot chocolate to warm up. I also got an ice cream bar before the show started, which made me hardcore according to Mike.

Friday the 13th

Say what you will about the sequels, “Friday the 13th” is still a pretty neat movie. Coming before the establishment of the slasher genre in American horror, it drew heavily from the giallo films of Italy. These were largely spree/serial murder movies in which typically only the gloved hands of the killer were seen by audience until the final reveal (much as in the old Killer in the Mansion flicks). The focus was on gory death scenes and detection.

Similarly, Sean Cunningham’s killer remained largely hidden, with the camera aimed at the victims. The reveal is a bit clumsy, but I always preferred this identification of the audience with the killer to the spectacle of indestructible ghouls on a rampage.

It was a good solid movie with which to start the event, and it prepared us for the camper killing to come.

The Burning

Released around the same time as “Friday the 13th”, “The Burning” is (I found out later) based on a camp story from the New York area. In it, a maintenance man named Cropsey is accidentally burned by campers who were trying to play a trick on him in revenge for his being a bit mean.

The movie starts with this incident, then fast forwards about a decade to Cropsey killing the shit out of a bunch of campers. It’s an interesting early slasher, as the victims actually behave pretty sensibly once they notice the killings. It’s also strange because the “final girl” is an asthmatic dweeb who seems to be a budding sexual predator.

A flawed movie in a lot of respects, it was still well worth seeing. I enjoy watching the formation of genres, while the rules are still malleable and the edges are rough.

Return of the Living Dead

When gratuitous nudity is not the highlight in your zombie movie, you’ve done something very right. Dan O’Bannon’s “Return of the Living Dead” is a masterpiece of dark comedy, with all the social commentary and inevitability of breakdown of George Romero’s work.

In the legal kerfuffle over the rights to Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”, co-writer John Russo wound up with the rights to use the “Living Dead” name. Having lost all rights to the original movie, Romero continued make sequels, dropping out the word “Living”. Russo’s script was finally attached to O’Bannon (co-writer of “Alien”), who worked it over and directed it.

The result was spectacular. The zombie designs (by artist William Stout) are gruesome, the peril escalates every time our heroes act, and the dialog is eminently quotable. The acting is sporadic, but anchored by experienced pros Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Kalfa.

This is one of my favorite movies, and it was a treat to see it with an appreciative audience — even if by then we were beginning to feel like the cadaver in the warehouse freezer.

Day of the Dead

The lesser entry in Romero’s first three Living Dead movie, I’m still quite fond of “Day of the Dead”. Bub is a joy, and his very existence raises serious questions about just how dead the zombies really are. I had been looking forward to seeing this again.

However, by this last movie of the night (morning?) there was frost forming on my boots. The very fact that I had seen it before made it easier to decide to crawl into a warm bed and save my strength for the following night.

Vampires, zombies, depravity, and a slumming Oscar winner!

Vampires, zombies, depravity, and a slumming Oscar winner!

NIGHT TWO – SATURDAY, APRIL 6

It was still cold this night, but never so much as the night before. We sat quite comfortably and let the images play over us.

Scream, Blacula, Scream

I think that the success of ¬†“Blacula” had surprised everyone. What could have been a forgettable (and regrettable) exploitation film had been granted unexpected gravitas by the performance of William Marshall as the diplomatic prince, cursed by Dracula himself.

This sequel is a brazen attempt to recapture the magic (and box office) of the original. What saves it is the inclusion of Pam Grier as the voodoo priestess attempting to restore Blacula’s soul before his “children” get out of control. There are problems, to be sure, but the combination of Marshall and Grier is killer.

I just wish the projectionist had fixed the framing earlier. There was a lot of ceiling for a reel there.

Sugar Hill

There was a lot to love in this line-up, but “Sugar Hill” is what made me decide that I had to attend April Ghouls. It’s not that I hadn’t seen it before — I had, several times — but that I had to support anybody who was showing such a remarkable film.

On the surface, it’s a movie attempting to cash in on the brief fad for blaxpo horror. The astonishing thing ¬†about the film is it’s constantly empowering plot. Strength always comes through weakness in this story. Sugar herself continues to use her nickname, although it could be seen as diminishing. Dead slaves, dumped in the swamps of New Orleans, provide the muscle. Baron Samedi, master of the dead, often assumes guises of service (taxi driver, gardener, etc.) to get close to the targets. Plus, it’s just a fun movie!

The highlight of the entire trip, for me, was hearing first-time viewers exclaim their enjoyment of this gem.

Blood and Lace

I can’t say that “Blood and Lace” failed to deliver shocks. In actuality, there’s an escalation of outrageousness throughout the runtime that leads to an inevitable and hilariously depraved revelation in the final seconds. It was as though every few minutes the filmmakers asked “How can we make this more twisted?” I can readily think of at least three friends who should probably see this (if they haven’t already).

My problem with the movie is two-fold: there’s nothing to the movie outside of the efforts to shock, and the time between shocks feels interminable. A movie this packed with strangeness shouldn’t be so dull. Coming directly after “Sugar Hill”, this did not fare well with us.

Still, I’m glad to have seen it. I’d never even heard of the thing, and now I can make jokes about pulling corpses out of the freezer for head counts.

The Thing with Two Heads

Speaking of heads…

I’m a big fan of Ray Milland and of cheesy movies, and “The Thing with Two Heads” is a big part of why. It wasn’t the first Ray Milland movie I ever saw (that was probably “Escape to Witch Mountain”), and it wasn’t the first movie I loved for not being any good (“Caveman”, maybe?), but it was one of the first bad movies I loved to talk about and the first movie in which I consciously noticed Milland.

It’s hard to miss him in this; he’s the cranky, white-dude head on Rosey Grier’s shoulder.

That’s about it, really. There isn’t much else to it, except for a two-headed ape (that disappears after a brief escape), a motorcycle race, and… nope, that’s pretty much it.

Cranky, white head on Rosey Grier’s shoulder. Probably muttering about his Oscar between takes.

Revisiting that turkey made a perfect end to two nights of drive-in movies.

They’re talking about adding a fifth movie each night for the fall show, specifically so the first night can be all of the original Planet of the Apes series. It may just be more awesomeness than I can handle!

We Are in the Quantum State of Possibly Being in Pittsburgh

Some people go fishing or hunting. Others follow bands from venue to venue or travel to support sport teams.

My friends and I gather to watch horror movies in their native environment — a drive-in!

I’ve written at length about last fall’s trip to DriveIn Super MonsterRama 2012 in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania (~30 minutes from Pittsburgh). This year, George Reis and Riverside Drive-In added a horror marathon for the spring. April Ghouls “Drive-In” Monster-Rama 2013 was a 2-night/8-movie festival, featuring movies from the 1980s on the first night and from the 1970s on the second.

I’ll get to the films in a later post, but for now I want to write about the social aspect of the event. Spending time with friends who share our affection for these movies is a good part of what keeps us going back to sit outside of our cars in the cold and rain.

Tim, Scott, and I attended our first Drive-In Super Monster-Rama in 2010. Our mutual friend Chad had found a blurb about it online and told us all about it. He was unable to make it out to Vandergrift that year, but we went as advance scouts. We all knew each other from a B-movie forum and had met several times at Northwestern’s 24-hour film festival, B-Fest.

For April Ghouls, our group’s body count had grown to 9 — our original trio plus veterans Jessica, Chad, and Mike and newcomers Dave, Hilary, and Rob — (10 if you count the 3-legged dog). That’s a good number of folks to get moving in any particular direction, and for the most part we didn’t try. Outside of Riverside Drive-In itself, the only time all of us were together was for dinner at the roadhouse just before the second night of movies.

The rest of the time, we bounced around in smaller groups. On Friday several of us went to the Monroeville Mall (the mall featured in George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”) to check out the zombie museum. For unexplored reasons, it shares space with a 9-hole mini-golf course. Tim had brought along his Telstar putter, so Chad, Mike, and I joined him in a round while Scott and Jessica browsed the museum and small store. By the 9th hole I could even keep the ball on the green. (Tim won, but only 2 strokes separated first and last place. I thereby claim moral victory as the chronicler of the game.)

When Hell is full, the dead will play 9 holes.

When Hell is full, the dead will play 9 holes.

Saturday saw six of us descend on Reads Ink, a house in Vandergrift converted into a 3-story used book store. It’s a neat shop, but we were all feeling frugal and the dog couldn’t come in so we only stayed about a half an hour.

Oh yeah. I keep teasing you with the dog.

His name is Bandit, and he is missing a back leg because of reasons. Dave told me, but there was an adorable 3-legged Pomeranian in front of me so I didn’t really hear the explanation. It sounded like “Well, his previous owner–“, at which point my brain replaced everything with “D’awwwww, puppy!” Bandit spent time with Hilary in the car, seeking refuge from the cold, and he spent time in Dave’s lap, contentedly ignoring the movies.

It wasn’t until I was home that I realized we were all just like that dog. We might not be like others, but we’re happy just to be ourselves in the company of friends.

Until it’s too cold, at which point we hide under blankets.

A Blaze of Cholesterol

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part six of my trip diary, in which I limp toward a conclusion.

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Tim and I finally got up around 2 PM on Sunday. We headed back to the Yakkitty Yak for some sort of meal. Then we went to Monroeville and scavenged at the Half-Price Books. I can’t satisfactorily explain why we always wind up at a Half-Price Books, but it’s not a Fiasco Brothers trip until we’ve filled our luggage with books, movies, and tunes from one of their many fine locations.

We’d thought of going to the Monroeville mall (location for much of the filming on Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”). We’d gone on our previous two Monster-Rama trips, but there was supposed to be a new zombie museum that we wanted to check out. Not this year, alas.

Tim got a call from Scott while we were wrapping things up at the Half-Price. He and Jessica were going to have dinner at Cuban restaurant before heading home. They wondered if we’d like to join them. Well, yeah!

We drove to Pittsburgh and met up with them at a place called the Black Bean. It was pretty tasty, and we enjoyed talking over the weekend’s events and about kinds of things. It’s nice to be able to relax with similarly minded people and only have to censor myself a little.

Afterwards we walked down the street for dessert at Dave and Andy’s ice cream parlor. Then we went to the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning, which does have a rather imposing lobby. We rode the elevators up to an observation floor, where we looked out over Pittsburgh while discussing trashy films by the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin. It seemed right.

We said our farewells, and Tim and I headed back to Vandergrift and a peaceful night’s sleep. What we got was a couple of men next door arguing drunkenly over the price for some hunting equipment. I slept fitfully, dreaming of banjo fights.

Nonetheless I awoke Monday morning feeling almost human again. Tim fussed with the GPS settings and gave it to understand that we would prefer a direct route even if there would be tolls. This stern approach seemed to work as there were no confusing turnouts on the way to Michigan.

We stopped for food at a chain restaurant, and I had burger and a pumpkin shake. I expressed a touch of remorse over this decidedly unhealthy option, but Tim waved it off.

“It’s the last day of your vacation,” he said. “It’s okay to go out in a blaze of glory. Or cholesterol.”

I mused on this wisdom as burger grease ran down my chin into my goatee. The rest of the meal passed in cholesterol-laden glory.

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Bonus Entry

The place where we ate on Monday had cookies called smileys. For me, this at last provided context for that mysterious icon, the frownie. I concocted the following story to explain my entirely baseless understanding of the situation.

Emotional Dining Icons: a fable

Once upon a time in western Pennsylvania, there was a chain of family restaurants. All family restaurants being more or less the same, the plucky restaurant chain needed a way to distinguish itself from the other chains of family restaurants.

One day while making sugar cookies for the restaurant chain, a baker was struck by whimsy and decorated the sugar cookies with smiley faces. An icon was born! From then on the little chain of family restaurants branded itself with the Smiley, and lo! did t-shirts get sold.

Seeing the success that the Smiley had brought to the chain of family restaurants, a rival chain worried that they could no longer compete. The power of the Smiley was strong, for how can anyone counter a smile? Grins were considered but ultimately rejected due to the dangers of unchecked escalation of happiness. So to were leers discarded, as this was after all a chain of family restaurants.

At last one baker, perhaps driven mad by the attempts to create edible emotions, suggested putting frowns on brownies. “We’ll call them Frownies!” he proclaimed before retreating under a table to giggle at nothing in particular. The other bakers stared at each other in shock, and at the first baker to check for knives. Then one cleared her throat.

“It’s… It’s not a bad idea, really.”

And so it came to pass that the two chains of family restaurants competed fairly for the family dining business of western Pennsylvania.

And some say that on moonlit nights in the woods surrounding Pittsburgh you can still hear that baker giggling at nothing in particular.

Vampires and Bikers and Cops, Oh My!

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part five of my trip diary, in which British horror saved us all.

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The second night was a lot colder. I’d left my jacket in the room and borrowed an extra coat from Tim. (He had three because of reasons.) ¬†Along with my hoodie, it kept me warm enough. Scott wound up asking for a blanket, and Chad offered him one that he’d gotten from the company that cleaned his gutters. This seemed an utterly unreasonable source, but Scott was cold.

He spent the better part of a movie attempting to discern the proper usage of this suspicious article, but he finally had to admit defeat. The thing was some advanced gutter-centric manner of blanket far beyond our ability to wrap around a cold body. I maintain it was actually a tarp, but the prevailing opinion favored a Soviet military origin.

Fortunately, Tim also had a quite sensible blanket in his trunk. He likes to be prepared, and I’m afraid to ask if he keeps a shovel and an axe in his car. Better to be grateful when he has our backs and not ask too many questions that might have answers.

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Twins of Evil

“Quintuplets of Evil!”

“…I think you meant quadruplets.”

Peter Cushing is a witch hunter who condemns innocent women to the stake, and he’s not the villain. He’s not the hero either, but he steals the show as the rectitudinous zealot out of his depth when a vampire claims one of his twin nieces. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s pretty engaging. We had a lot of fun with it far beyond the obvious and obligatory twin/cleavage jokes.

It was after this movie that one of the people manning the Creepy Classics table asked me how many movies I’d bought from them so far. When I advised him not to give me cause to reflect on that, he laughed and took more of my money.

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Countess Dracula

“Just a maiden a day keeps the wrinkles away!”

This one was pretty much the platonic ideal of a sleazy drive-in flick. Totally-not-Countess-Bathory murders the crap out of lovely young maidens to rejuvenate herself with their blood. There’s romance, treachery, screaming, ripped bodices, murder, and retribution. What more do you want?

We had a great time watching this, but I fear that our humor dropped into the gutter, fell through the gate, washed out to sea, and stunned an innocent barnacle. I’m saying that two late nights of horror movies made us irretrievably foul. I’m deeply ashamed of us, although of course I’m still giggling over some of the choicest remarks.

Is it even possible to be unrepentantly remorseful?

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Raw Meat

“Too bad he ate the maid…”

Billed as “Raw Meat” (the US release name) we were treated to the UK print, known as “Death Line”. I’m not sure what differences there are in the cuts, as it’s been a few years since I saw the US version.

By any name, this is a great blend of the mystery/suspense genre with survival horror. The actual premise is rather silly (that cannibals live in abandoned subway tunnels), but you become so absorbed by the action that you willingly shrug and enjoy the ride.

Of particularly captivating interest is Donald Pleasance as the decidedly unpleasant Inspector Calhoun. He hurls darts at his door, barks at witnesses, and gets blisteringly drunk. Personally I like to imagine that nobody told Pleasance there was a movie going on. They just set up cameras and brought him in.

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Psychomania

“They’re such nice young zombies!”

This was another UK print. I’d never seen it under any name, so all I can tell you is that it’s “The Death Wheelers”. This isn’t a bad name for the only known entry of the polite-druidic-zombie-biker-death-cultists genre.

There’s this toad, see, and… Well, so the leader goes into this strange room, and… There’s a toad…

It’s kind of hard to describe, really. Bikers start killing themselves in increasingly flamboyant ways in order to become deathless, and there’s this toad…

Whatever the hell was going on, it was pretty cool. We loved it.

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We said our goodbyes to Chad and Mike, who’d be leaving for Nebraska long before we expected to be conscious. Then we packed up our drive-in gear and went to bed. Tim and I planned to spend one more night at Lake’s Roadhouse before heading home.

Highway 66 Revisited

On September 6th Tim and I headed for Vandergrift, Pennsylvania to attend Drive-In Super Monster-Rama, an event that features 8 classic drive-in horror movies over two nights. This would be our 3rd Monster-Rama, and we’d be meeting up with friends from Maryland and Nebraska to enjoy these excellent film prints.

This is part four of my trip diary, in which we rested a bit between Monster-Rama nights.

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The thing about western Pennsylvania is that a straight road is as rare as a steak still on the cow. The reason for this is that two tectonic plates met there, and one threw up its metaphorical hands. Bits of ground jut up all over the place, and it’s easier to wrap roads around them than to make things level.

Perhaps this is why it felt like we spent considerable time on PA-66. Certainly much of Saturday was spent on this highway, driving around Vandergrift and North Apollo.

We started with an early afternoon brunch at the Yakkitty Yak diner in North Apollo. This is a 1950s-style aluminum diner that serves up filling meals with a no-nonsense directness. A help wanted sign flatly states that the ideal candidate has grey hair and no life. When we entered, a customer declared that the rest of us needed to teach Mike how to grow a beard. I haven’t satisfactorily completed that curriculum myself, and nobody else stepped up, so Mike’s on his own I reckon. Sorry, complete stranger!

Tim, Mike, Chad, and I ate heartily and planned our day. All of us agreed that we wanted a lazy afternoon to lead quietly into the second late night of films, especially as the afternoon had already begun. We drove back to Vandergrift (on PA-66, of course) and went book shopping.

Reads, Ink is a lovely used book store that took up residence in a house. The walls are all covered in books, which leaves a lot of nice open spaces through which customers may wander. There are comfy chairs everywhere, and you can buy coffee. It’s a very welcoming store, even if the pulp novels are relegated to the basement.

While there, we ran into George Reis. He put together the Monster-Rama, so it was neat to meet him. It’s unfortunate that we bluntly voiced our displeasure with “Son of Blob”, but we made up for it with our enthusiasm for the experience in general. I hope.

Feet firmly planted in mouths, we went back to the motel (which, along with the drive-in, is on PA-66). We had some time before dinner, but not enough that we felt comfortable heading to Pittsburgh for anything. Mike set up his movie player, and we all watched “The Raid: Redemption” while chatting aimlessly.

Then we strolled over to the attached bar for dinner. We were the only customers at the time, and Wanda came over with the waitress and talked with us while we ate. This is the sort of thing that I don’t really know how to deal with, but everyone in the area had been extremely friendly to us so I was almost used to it by then. I tried out my small talk, and if I was terrible at it nobody seemed to mind.

Maybe it was easier for me to interact since it would be a year before I came back. Whatever, it was a simple but good experience in behaving like a sane person. I’ll have to try it out closer to home.

But the hour was late, and we had four more movies to watch. It was time to get back on PA-66.