(Publication date: Sept. 12, 2003)


Home Again, Home Again


There’s nothing to do in Albany,” Allison announced a few months ago. I raised my eyebrows, but said
nothing. I suspect I’m not the first parent whose sixteen-year-old daughter felt that way about her home
town, but her comment reminded me, as if any of us need reminding, that what’s interesting to a
teenager’s parents is not necessarily interesting to the actual teenager.

That raging epiphany won’t snag me a Nobel Prize, but it got me to thinking that part of what makes the
town where you live interesting is the other people who live there. It’s also true that I didn’t necessarily
feel that way when I was Allison’s age. One summer in the Midwest farm town where I grew up, I did
some gardening for John Gunther. He wrote
Inside Latin America and a bunch of other Inside… travel
books and was pretty well known. But I didn’t care. I just wanted him to drop some cash into my dirt-
encrusted hands at the end of the week. Inexplicably, our small town was also home to another famous
guy, Chester Gould, the cartoonist who created Dick Tracy. I spotted him a few times around town
when I was a kid, but mostly all I cared about was that he started the original Dick Tracy Crimestoppers
Club at our local police department. This was important because at the club meetings on Saturday
mornings, we’d get loot from the police chief, a guy named Tiny Hansmann, who looked a little like one
of those giant balloon figures I’d seen on television floating over the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
After our lecture on preventing bicycle theft or accurately giving an eyewitness account of a robbery
over at the First National Bank on the other side of the Square, Tiny would hand out Honorary Police
Chief badges or plastic suction-cup dart guns, perfect for scaring away bad guys over at the First
National Bank.  

I don’t know if it means anything to Allison yet, but Albany is full of talented people, and some of them
are pretty famous. Take movie director Finn Taylor, for instance. He made
Dream with the Fishes in
1997 with David Arquette and Cathy Moriarity. Then, still an Albany guy, he made a big splash last year
with the well-regarded independent film
Cherish, with Robin Tunney, Tim Blake Nelson, Jason Priestley,
and my friend Ricardo Gil, another Albany resident, who lives across the street and is noted as a
photographer as well as an actor. Ric was singled out for his work in
Cherish by film critic Roger Ebert,
who is everywhere you look on television, the Internet, and in newspapers these days, with whom I
went to journalism school, and who’s never given me a thumbs up, although, of course, he’s never seen
me in a movie either. Anyway, among Ric’s steady appearances in front of the camera or footlights
these days, he was on stage at the Curran in San Francisco in Baz Luhrmann’s pre-Broadway
La
Boheme,
which was not set in Albany, although you could imagine certain parts of it taking place at the
Albany Bowl late on a Saturday night.

Despite the magnetic attraction of these indisputable celebrity-laden hometown facts, one weekend night
Allison announced that she couldn’t stand it any more and was heading into San Francisco with her
friends, in search of adventure. Less than two hours later, I walked into the kitchen and there she was,
clacking away on the computer. “You didn’t stay long in the City,” I observed.  

“Yeah,” she replied. “Nothing to do there.”


Life Is a Movie