For Vegan MoFo, I’m doing a series called Back in Thyme, in which I travel to other periods of my life. Today I’m setting the date to the year 2003…
In 2003 my best friend, Michelle, and I were both single for the first time in years. She was living in Iowa, where we met in kindergarten, and I was living in Los Angeles. She started visiting me on extended weekends for several days at a time. We’d go to Toi on Sunset for Thai food, dance to live music at Hard Rock Café on Beverly, and without fail we’d go to Good Earth Restaurant in Studio City for breakfast, where we once had a Billy Bob Thornton sighting. Now, their breakfasts were fine as was Billy Bob, but neither were actually the draw. The real reason Michelle insisted on going was that they served freshly squeezed orange juice.
I realize that it sounds like no big deal now. Clearly with even just a standard manual juicer a person could make a glass of O.J. in a few minutes. But this was back when Diet Dr. Pepper was my beverage of choice and before the juice craze that is in full swing in Los Angeles now. (Now you can find kale/cucumber/lemon juice at any number of establishments.) So it seemed kind of magical to guzzle down a glass of juice and have it taste like the sweetest, juiciest orange but without the peel and pith.
Without a doubt, my most memorable Los Angeles visit with Michelle took a bit of planning. She was a big fan of the television show, Oblivious. It was a cable game show hosted by Regan Burns (who surprisingly enough used to work with my husband back before I knew him, giving out free movie passes). The show was marketed as the game show that people didn’t know they were on.
How it worked was that Regan Burns would be in normal everyday situations disguised as different characters. He might be a checkout clerk, working at a sandwich shop, or a loud guy talking on his cell phone at a coffee shop. Then he’d start a conversation with the people who happened to be in the area. He’d ask them five trivia questions, as if they were just things he was trying to figure out. For each question that the person got right, they’d win money. (But they wouldn’t find out until they’d answered all of the questions that they were on a television game show at all.) If they got all of the answers right, then they were sometimes asked to take a turn being the host. The person would get dressed up in a disguise, and then they would ask the questions to an unknowing bystander.
I knew Michelle loved the show, and so when I saw on Backstage West or Craigslist or something like that, that they were casting contestants I sent them a message. The contestant isn’t supposed to know she’s on the show, and so a friend is supposed to set her up to get her to the shooting location at the right time. I set up a time when Michelle would be in town and started nervously planning how I was going to get her there at the right time.
The episode that she would be on was shot at a golf course. Michelle isn’t even slightly interested in golf and neither am I, and so I had to think up a reason why I’d need her to go with me to a golf course for a lesson. At that point, Michelle had started dating a friend of mine in LA (who she later married), and so I doubted she’d be super excited by the prospect of spending an afternoon away from her love interest to take a golf lesson. I came up with the excuse that one of the guys I was dating, who happened to be into golf, wanted to go with us for a lesson. Since Michelle liked that guy, I figured she’d be too polite to say she wasn’t even mildly interested in a day of golfing.
When we got to the golf course, we were greeted by one of the P.A.’s working on the show. He had a golf cart and told Michelle that only one of us could fit on it, and so we’d each have to be taken over separately to meet with the golf pro. Now Michelle was really confused. The last thing she wanted was to go meet with some golf pro on her own, but before she could raise too much of a fuss, she was carted off (quite literally) to the area where the filming was happening.
I wasn’t able to watch it as it happened, but Michelle said that when she reached the golf pro (actually the disguised Regan Burns), she recognized him right away. She said it was like the whole world slowed down, the way that it does when you’re witnessing a car accident. As he started asking questions, she knew she was on TV, and was kind of freaking out in her mind, but it also was like a dream. It didn’t seem like she could be on TV, because there were no cameras in sight. It just looked like a golf course.
Regan asked all of the questions, and she got every one of them right. Then he “revealed” who he was, and she said she still felt surprised and ecstatic, because it was as if the thing that seemed like it couldn’t possibly be true was then revealed to be true. After a call of “Cut!” camera operators popped out from behind porto-potties, trash cans, and all over.
Then Regan asked Michelle if she’d like to stick around and be the one asking the questions. For each question the new contestant got right, Michelle would also get extra winnings too. She agreed, and they put her in a very stereotypical golfing outfit and took her to a trailer to put on her makeup. It was such a wonderful whirlwind sitting in the trailer with Michelle as she was getting her makeup done. They fitted her with an earpiece, so that Regan could feed the questions to her. They let me stay in the trailer and watch her from the feed being played inside.
I was so nervous watching her ask each question to the contestant, but she was doing a fabulous job. Regan would have her say the most ridiculous things that my friend would never say, and so I was dying laughing from inside the trailer. Then there was a plane overhead. It was loud and ruining the audio, and sadly, they had to stop shooting. Because game shows are highly regulated, they couldn’t re-do the questions Michelle had already asked the contestant, and that was the last contestant of the day. So they weren’t able to use that part.
Still, it was such a cool experience to see Michelle in that environment, excelling, and also to get to give her a unique experience that I knew she’d really love.
Over the course of our lives Michelle and I have known each other through so many formative years, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for those single Orange Juice days in Los Angeles.