It is a humble ask. “Do you think they’d let me watch as they shoot some of the San Francisco scenes?” After all, who am I to expect to be included in all this?
My daughter’s assistant has just picked me up from Burbank airport and is taking me to her company’s corporate offices in downtown LA. I am about to be her guest on the #Girlboss Radio podcast, and because I do some customer service work for her company in my spare time, I have a meeting to attend there as well. What I am asking about, however, has to do with the 2017 Netflix series that bears the same name as my daughter’s popular self-help manifesto/memoir, #Girlboss. Hearing an “I’ll arrange it for you” from her delightful assistant sends my brain into warp speed about what it will be like to see my only child’s persona depicted by someone else. What I don’t realize, however, is that what I am about to experience, is about so much more.
The following week I begin exchanging emails with one of the show’s assistant producers – an articulate and responsive guy named Adam. I am aware that a Girlboss episode will be shot all over the city – from the Haight to Pacific Heights, on steep city hilltops and on grungy South-of-Market streets. In successive emails, Adam begins telling me when and where scenes are being shot during daytimes and at night. I choose the daytime Saturday shoot – one where there is a cable car, extras, and views of the Bay in the mix. The call time for actors and producers is mid-morning, so I can leave my house by 8 am or so and get there in plenty of time to leave my car downtown and Uber it over to their “home base” along the Embarcadero.
Thinking this will be one of those memorable (albeit short) car trips of a lifetime, I leave the top down on my car, thinking I have sufficiently lacquered my hair for the open-air adventure. When my bangs begin flying straight up I am sure I look like the mascot for a Bob’s Big Boy. So I pull over at an exit to take shelter under the ragtop and then get back on the freeway. Experiencing the many micro-climates of northern California, I drive from sunshine to overcast, hit fog on the Golden Gate Bridge, and into chilly sunshine as I speed down Van Ness Avenue, turn onto Broadway Street, and gingerly avoid hitting tiny people with huge parcels in their hands as I roll through China Town, through the Stockton Street tunnel and into the garage I use on almost every trip downtown.
Finding an Uber car in San Francisco means a wait time of 4 minutes or less, and distances simply aren’t very far in this tiny city. Soon I find myself at the staging area I am supposed to use to get a shuttle to the location. I look around the gate area and all I see are a few cars parked around me. No people. Nothing. So I call Adam’s cell phone. “Walk back toward the Bay, deeper into the lot,” he tells me. Soon I see a mini community of gigantic semis in the distance with huge trailers and elaborate equipment and I begin traversing the expanse of empty asphalt.
Peering between the trucks, I spy someone waving at me in the distance. “You need a ride?” says a friendly face as I get closer. We chat as the shuttle driver learns more about why I am there, driving through parts of downtown and up hills into the Pacific Heights area. It’s funny. All day long I am to experience people doing jobs on behalf of a story they really have no clue about because their function is simply to shuttle, provide equipment, or keep people safe – important ones at that. Story lines, my daughter, the book she wrote – none of it has been explained to them, and because they do what they do every day, they may have stopped asking about the nature of the show they are working on along ago. I am to find out later that 130 souls had driven or flown up from the LA area for this, including caterers. Local shuttle bus drivers take the various players everywhere; local security guards keep people at bay, and cast and crew are being housed at two different hotels.
We arrive at the intersection whose streets have been blocked off in each direction and I see a crappy old red car and a cable car on wheels in the midst of it all. Microphones are on mobile booms and worker bees are everywhere. Being ushered into this microcosm of people and equipment feels both special and a tad intimidating at the same time. I had agonized over what to wear; too fancy and fashionable and I would feel silly around people in jeans and sweatshirts doing their jobs. Too casual and I would not look like the mother of someone who owns a fashion company and wrote a bestselling book. So I had opted for a lightweight trench with a sleeveless black turtleneck and leggings underneath and my trusty high-heeled black boots and a bit of bling on my ears just to jazz things up a bit. I left the 100-degree heat of Sacramento behind and now I am cold. In reality, Mark Twain never said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” But those of us who are natives hear it said by almost every Bermuda shorts-clad tourist thinking they can stroll across the Golden Gate Bridge with a light windbreaker on in the middle of August.
“Are you Sophia’s mom?” Kay Cannon, a 30-something who has already collected awards for her writing for 30-Rock as well as two Pitch Perfect movies, greets me as though I am a celebrity. She is petite, adorable and looks like she can even play my daughter. Aren’t people that successful supposed to be older and a tad more wrinkled? Life can be so unfair. We become chatty as I am introduced to LaVerne McKinnon, one of the producers. Being treated like the Queen mother is not something I am prepared for, so now I am in full denial this is all happening. They walk me to the intersection where only one scene is to be shot throughout the day. We plebes who watch these shows don’t realize that camera angles, dialogue, extras – everything and everyone gets tweaked for hour upon hour so they can have footage to cut from and create the final product. In the middle of all this, my daughter messages me to snap smart phone photos and send them her way, regretting not having made plans to be there with me. Her uncles have even parked nearby, watching everything going on incognito but enjoying every second of feeling part of all this.
As Kay and I become better acquainted, I begin telling her why this is all so meaningful to me. Sophia’s maternal great grandparents came to this city from northern Greece exactly 90 years before, as did immigrants of every other ethnicity you can think of. My infant mother (her yiayia) can be seen in a passport photo, sitting atop her mother’s lap, having been processed through New York’s Ellis Island before taking the long train ride to the left coast. My grandfather had sent for them after having established a small mom-and-pop grocery store on McAllister Street, subsequently moving it to Guerrero and 16th, where he eventually acquired the entire apartment building that sat atop his tiny store. Through mutual relatives, my mom, a bobbi-soxed 17-year old, was introduced at a family gathering to a visiting Indiana-born Greek-American, a 25-year old Army officer who was recovering from a back injury in a Santa Barbara military hospital. And the rest is history. To me, San Francisco represents not only a breathtaking place, but a family legacy. And now my own daughter, who began her business by scrounging for vintage clothing in the mothball-aroma-laden used clothing stores of the Haight, is being depicted in a TV series about her crazy young life. And I am on hand to see this.
My day is spent outside, chatting with people who work around the set, as well as sitting in a van with Kay, Laverne and a handful of others, watching two video monitors as they repeat the scene as changes are being made. By 2 pm, it’s time for lunch. The ravenous crew piles into huge vans to take them (and me) several blocks away, where the caterers’ trucks are parked. An elaborate buffet is served up on long tables along a sidewalk and the workers and executives seem to know what food they already enjoy from this selection – prime rib, grilled chicken, ahi tuna steaks, huge cheese-filled ravioli with paprika cream sauce, marinated tofu, three different varieties of salads – and the list goes on and on.
We take our plates into an emptied old restaurant and we spread all over the place — some socializing in small groups and others off to themselves, preferring to bury their faces in their cell phones to get caught up on missed emails and messages. If you ever saw the 1997 movie, The Game, with Michael Douglas, and recall a huge cafeteria scene where all the people who had put him through his “experience” were sitting in one place, that’s what this feels like to me, even though I know few of these faces. Actors and extras are still in costume, such as the cable car conductor. Britt Robertson, the tiny actress who plays my daughter, has donned sweats, since the shorts and platform knee-high boots she wears in the scene are simply not enough to keep the chill out. The effect is something strange, fun and (I suddenly realize) a world few of us will ever be privy to. It is then I realize that I have had my dollop of fantasy and would not be able to absorb much more.
I thank and hug my hosts as they invite me to visit their LA shoots any time I am down there visiting my daughter, I graciously accept that plan, and I tell them I am honored to have spent time with them. My heart is full, and I know I would have endured even more than the agonizing commute I experienced that time of day on my way back to my lazy Sacramento suburb — just to be on hand for this very special moment in time. My grandparents, my parents, and all who came before my baby girl would have as well.
Life takes its turns and shows us new realities – and even a few fantasies. This one is one I shall not soon forget.