By on April 19, 2013

Within 50 feet of getting out of my old 74 Chevy C10 I hear a familiar voice.

“Hey Steve. How are ya?”

A 6 foot 7 inch monstrosity of a man pats me hard on the back and dislodges the few cobwebs that remained from a 5 AM wake-up call.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the series. The first can be found here.

Mike Thies is a retired warden from upstate New York. He is also a member of the local auto media association and spends his ample pension on a web site that specializes in publicizing local car shows and regional get-togethers.

We make the usual car related small talk while viewing a long line of vehicles. At least 50 or so. The line of rolling iron in front of us ranges from the sublime to the “They brought that!”. With plenty of the later to overcome the former.

This would be the time where I would normally share pictures with the TTAC faithful of all the wondrous rides. From the pristine to the junkyard ready. But instead, you’ll just have to imagine it.

For every 1966 Rambler American wagon, there are three tired early-80’s Oldsmobiles that look like they are too ratted out for the rats.  One of these, almost on cue, starts smoking and leaking coolant as soon as it arrives on the lot. That one gets sandwiched between two trucks at the parking lot so that the leaks don’t spread.

In our first meeting of ‘extras’ we are quickly given the ground rules.

No wandering.

No pictures or video cameras.

No commiserating with actors or personnel.

When we say, “Quiet on the set.” We mean it… so shut up!

The group is treated to a nice breakfast and, after an hour or so of moving cars, the set is ready.

For the next 45 minutes I get to see a bearded guy dressed in an earth tone suit get out of an orange 1976 Toyota Corolla.

He opens the door, grabs his satchel, closes the rickety door, looks at his watch, walks fifty feet, and spits. He gets to do this six times in a forty-five minute period.

We sit in the grass and do nothing. After that we spend two hours in a holding area and do nothing. We then have lunch, go back to the holding area, and do nothing.

By this time my wife and I have exhausted the 273 topics related to our kids and friends, and begin to branch out to the other folks who have decided to take a Monday off and enjoy an all too rare 70 degree day here in Atlanta.

Retirees, hipsters, blue collar folks who are light on construction work.  The gathering of personalities is a fun one and we begin to shoot the breeze on a long list of personal stories while the workers on the set walkie-talkie each other in a language that is riddled with acronyms and cliché.

“We need the MG at the RL with the blue crew on the ready for 49, Stat!”

It sounds like a football huddle. But in actuality it’s a bunch of people who seem to enjoy what appears to be low stress work.  Maybe it’s just that Southerners are a bit more laid back. Or it could be that the coffee I had earlier in the day is no longer able to keep me on an even keel. I start to break one of the commandments of the early morning and begin talking with the stage folk.

Within a few minutes, one of them recognizes that I’m wearing a Carmax Auctions emblem on my jacket. When I tell him that I write for TTAC he immediately blurts out…

“Wait, are you Steve Lang from The Truth About Cars?”

What follows is over an hour of “Can you help me?” and “Let me tell you about…” followed by a few stories about my car buying work.  One of the bigger wigs asks me if I can help him find a white on white 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 convertible. I flip through his Iphone and hook him up with a wholesale auction site that will automatically ping me if one comes up.

Another asks me if I can find him a “Really cheap, cheap, cheap car that is reliable. I only have $1000.” I tell him about the coolant hurling 1983 Oldsmobile that is right next to my Chevy… and a 20 year old Cadillac that I just got as a $500 trade-in with a landau roof and trombone case red interior.

“I don’t want a V8. They drink too much gas. Do you have any Toyotas or Hondas?”

I restrain myself from saying my favorite line from Caddyshack, “Shut up! You will get nothing and like it!”. In fact, I used to be ‘that guy’ who wanted a chosen brand. So I figure maybe this is the right time to encourage some delayed gratification.

I tell him to save his money and take his time, “$1000 cars are junk. Save your money for a while and buy something worth keeping.”

He internalizes this for seven seconds and then starts hammering away again about Toyotas and Hondas. I feel like I’m back at the car lot instead of a movie set.

The long day of shooting film and shooting the breeze finally finishes at 6 P.M. 12 hours of non-work for me. Not even a scene for us extras! But no matter, I had fun. Before I leave, the guy who wants the Porsche asks if I want to come by on Wednesday and do a fitting.

A free tan, beige or brown suit with loafers?  Sure! Why not! I have a wedding in a couple of months and my future sister-in-law is fond of dressing like an old hippie.

I walk back to my car, pass by the “$1000 Toyota” guy who is now eyeing the coolant spewing Oldsmobile, and my wife and I pick up the kids and take them to Dairy Queen. A perfect end to a day with great conversation and Soviet levels of productivity.

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17 Comments on “Hammer Time: The Second Set...”

  • avatar

    Is there an intro paragraph to this piece missing?

  • avatar

    Hah! Love that: “What follows is over an hour of “Can you help me?” and “Let me tell you about…”

    You will never escape the car biz, Steve!

  • avatar

    The eternal cheap-bastard-wants-something-for-nothing customer. People with no sense of reality whatsoever when it comes to market values.

    Ten dollars says that if you had a Honda or Toyota available for $1000.00, his spending limit would suddenly drop to $800.00.

  • avatar

    Great story. Twice, in dire financial straits, I’ve bought a Honda under $1000. But not at retail, and not with any expectation of it lasting more than a year.

  • avatar

    How funny that you posted this now, Steve. My wife and I recently brought our ’67 Dodge Monaco to a film set here in Boston. Similar experience, though not quite as laid-back: the production crew were pretty stressed out, though really nice folks (Californians!) when not on duty. One of the scenes was set at a used car lot, which was a spectacular collection of Malaise and pre-Malaise iron. We car guys had a blast. And my wife (who, it should be said, is learning to get along with the Monaco) got a close-up view of some big stars at work.

    The pay, of course, is a pittance, but it was worth it for us to have a totally different sort of experience.

    I’ve heard from some folks that these shoots can be hard on the cars–indeed, we had a mechanical problem related to 3 hours of low-speed driving and idling. But I highly recommend it, especially if your car isn’t a trailer queen.

  • avatar

    Love that truck.

    • 0 avatar

      Even though the color reminds me of babies on soy milk, the body condition is beautiful. Love 70’s trucks!

      • 0 avatar

        A friend of mine had an old Chevy that was that awful “Butterscotch” and white C10 pickup. the interior was almost the same color, but plaid, and it was just beyond ugly. We had a lot of fun in that truck. I never understood why he bought it, the lot was full of identical, but better colored trucks. He seemed to enjoy the hideousness of it.

        • 0 avatar

          “He seemed to enjoy the hideousness of it.”

          Start that sentence with “We” and that’s a perfect encapsulation of the disco decade.

          I thought the 70’s were vomitous when I lived them and now distance doesn’t make them any more attractive.

          But thank God for Top, Zappa, Daniels and pickup trucks.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    THE INFAMOUS STEVE LANG FROM TTAC? We gots a little celebrity here folks.

    Great article Steve. Over the years I’ve been a part of two movies shoots. OMG the clock runs backwards. But it does give great insight as to the talent needed to craft a good film, and how hard especially the lower-tier industry folks work.

  • avatar

    Could I humbly request a follow-up on the truck when you sell it?

  • avatar

    I wonder how you were able to drive anywhere in the South without getting constant offers on that old Chevy truck

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