This Alan Jackson song sets the opening scene for this story…Mercury Blues was originally recorded and written by K.C. Douglas in 1949 as Mercury Boogie. It has been covered by many artists (including James Dean fan, Meatloaf), but Jackson’s 1993 version seems a perfect fit with Fairmount Indiana’s car show and tribute to James Dean’s ’49 Merc from Rebel Without a Cause.
Recipes for Rebels traveled to America last week, and we had a blast! Still a little jet-lagged… here’s some of the great memories we brought home. This story is being written in a “burst” (Thanks Miss Pamela) with no edits or rewrites…just a stream of consciousness telling of our adventure.
The week leading up to our departure was crazy busy. We wisely decided to split our big travel day into 2…flying first to Athens (Greece) and pampering ourselves with an evening at the airport Sofitel. At daybreak we fueled up at the hotel’s very lush breakfast buffet and dragged our luggage across the street to the airport check-in for the start of our journey. The flight is long (10 hours from Athens to Philadelphia) and the discomfort of owning legs which are longer than the seats were built to hold, was only compounded by a sickly man four rows ahead who suffered a heart attack and had to be treated with IV’s, pills, oxygen tanks, and medical volunteers (confining all passengers to their assigned seats for the entire flight). He survived (just in case you were worried). My one saving grace was that Giant was being shown as an inflight movie (a welcome 3 1/2 hour distraction which Alex watched with me…he proceeded to watch Gone With the Wind for another 4+ hours, my video player broke)!
The hours passed, the food was not so bad, and we finally arrived in Philadelphia. The airport was packed due to the Pope arriving in 2 days and we made a hurried dash for the outdoors…for the open space, the fresh air, and a desperate need to feed my cigarette addiction! While checking our messages, we learned from David Loehr that the trucker I had hired to transport the 1000 copies of Recipes for Rebels to Fairmount couldn’t deliver…the books had not arrived! What? Panic! We only had an hour of our layover left… We hopped the plane for the Philadelphia-Indianapolis leg of our journey and went immediately to Delta Cargo where the book shipment was supposed to arrive. International was closed…they would reopen at 8am, so we found the nearest hotel, frustrated that we had traveled half-way around the world and now had no books to sell! (The short-version of the back story is that we had contracted DHL to ship the 2 pallets of books a month before. DHL subcontracted the shipment to Delta who flew them to New York where they sat for a time, then decided to send them to Atlanta where they sat in a warehouse until 2 days past the deadline, then they decided to stick them on an untrackable truck headed for Indianapolis! Booooo Delta! My official complaints have still not been responded to!) Up at the crack of dawn again and at Delta Cargo’s international receiving office only to be told that they have no way of knowing if and when my shipment would arrive…a truck was coming at 9, but not to get our hopes up…it could still be 2 or 3 days (that would mean missing the entire festival)! A truck pulled in at 9 and through it’s 1/2-open rear door we spotted 2 pallets…2 PALLETS OF BOOKS! HURRAY!
Too late to hire a transport service…the Fairmount James Dean Festival was already ongoing. We made a mad dash for the nearest U-Haul location and rushed back to load up. The radio was pre-tuned to an oldies station and I gripped the wheel and headed north on 465, Fairmount bound. All my senses were on “high alert” since I hadn’t driven in over 3 years, much less a rattly 10-foot box truck filled with 1500 lbs of books (Alex does all the driving here in Greece, but his Greek drivers license was of no use in the States)! Turning onto 69N, we were both filled with excitement! That hour flew…passing field after field of flat, golden checkerboards and clusters of trees starting to hint of the glorious colors yet to come. This was James Dean country, every mile was familiar. It had been 3 years since we last visited Fairmount and more than 5 since our last festival. All that stress and hard work finally felt worth it and you couldn’t have wiped the smiles from our faces. A left at the stop sign and we made a bee line for the James Dean Gallery. David greeted us (as he always does) with a big smile and huge warm hug that makes you feel like you never want to leave.
Quickly, we tore open the shrink-wrapped pallet and pulled books for David’s gift shop. He handed me the bags and postcards we’d had printed up weeks before and shipped in anticipation of the big festival weekend.
Back in the truck, this time sneaking up the back streets and pulling through the alley just near where Lenny’s booth was on Main Street (Lenny’s booth is ALWAYS in the same place). Grab books, bags, and cards and skate through the catwalk to be greeted with more big smiles and heart warming hugs. “Get to the park, you’re missing sales!” Lenny ordered with a big cheesy grin…and so we did. All the stars seemed to be aligning just right, as we were escorted to the perfect spot for our booth at the corner of James Dean Blvd and Mercury Ln in Playacres Park, right by the grand pavillion…shaded by century old trees and a perfect view of all the old Mercs. Set-up went fast and soon we were sitting back with a rootbeer float, admiring each and every classic car that paraded through (we can’t get rootbeer in Greece, so this is bliss). They had over 1500 classic cars attend the James Dean Run this year! Sales were light that first day, but plenty of friendly faces and people to chat with while we relaxed from the excitement of the morning.
Saturday started with cloudy skies, followed by drizzle and then rain (seemingly, there is always rain on one day of the festival)…but the heavens turned blue and the crowds filled the park. Alex and I had 2 special groups of visitors, one who traveled all the way from nearly Kansas, and the other all the way from St. Louis, JUST TO SEE US! We saw many friends that day, old and new. It was incredibly nice and the book sales were fast and furious! David Garry interviewed me for his Deaners documentary and a couple of other interviews as well. We were exhausted by nightfall, and as the park crowds thinned, we managed to get uptown to see the carnival and last bit of the James Dean look-alike contest.
Sunday came, the preacher at the pavillion had just concluded a song about “a blue bird in every tree…” and the crowds began to return. Some stopped to chat and others headed straight for the food booths, seeking out what I termed “the balanced meal”…a breaded pork tenderloin as big as you head in one hand, and a sugar-coated elephant ear in the other! More friends came to visits us, all the way from Paxton, IL where I was born and raised. It was another great day and the festival came to a slow close, no one really wanting it to be over so soon.
The following days were filled with fun and relaxation as we finally got a chance to talk with the many people gathered for the weekend and staying over for the the 60th anniversary memorial of James Dean’s death. I finally got to meet the charming Lew Bracker who was Jim’s best friend in California, wrote a book about it called Jimmy and Me, and with whom I corresponded for months over the recipe he contributed to my book. Lew gave me the recipe for his mother’s “Jewish Meatballs” which Jimmy loved and Lew’s daughters confirmed was still a family favorite.
He’s a Rebel was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962. It is credited to The Crystals (but in reality, they were on tour at the time of it’s recording…Phil Spector had used a Los Angeles group called The Blossoms, lead by Darlene Love for the actual recording. The Crystals had to hire 15-year old LaLa Brooks as new lead singer to handle the vocals for their live tours).
We had the priv
ilege of being taken by David Loehr to the nearby town of Marion for a preview of his 9 month labor of love, the James Dean Birth Site Memorial…a gleaming black granite monument, etched with images of Jim and the house that had long since disappeared, placed in the center of a 24′ circle (representing his 24 years), surrounded by 7 thick Cypress trees (for the 7-gabled house), and a lush green lawn. The 3 benches (representing each of his 3 big films) had not yet arrived, but the space brought an air of dignity to the once abandoned lot.
Upon returning to Fairmount we prepared ourselves for our evening plans…a writing workshop with the legendary Pamela Des Barres ( famous groupie and author of I’m With the Band). I was nervous, but Pamela (whom I’ve known and loved for many years) put the whole room at ease and set us to our writing tasks. It was a small group of about a dozen of us and I was astounded by the amount of talent gathered around that table. We laughed…we cried (a lot)…and we shared our innermost thoughts. We left feeling a close bond with our fellow writers.
My next day was filled with lots more book signings (the whole experience was still totally surreal to me) and the reviews and accolades of my book were overwhelmingly wonderful (some of which I’ll get up on the “Testimonials” page of this blog soon). Maxwell Caulfield (James Dean fan and star of Grease 2, The Colby’s, Dynasty, and much more…) arrived at the Gallery. He was scheduled to speak at the annual memorial service at the Back Creek Friends church the next day and speak at the Birth Site dedication. He was warm and genuine (and LOVED my book). We all went to Fairmount’s great new restaurant Grains ‘N Grill that night for a wonderful dinner.
September 30th is always a somber day for me. Even though we’re surrounded by friends we’ve known for years (some I’ve known for nearly 30), the anniversary of Jim’s death is always a sad day (and my last day in Fairmount, as we had to get on the road Thursday). After tearful goodbyes, we embarked on the next leg of our journey.
I spent the next day visiting my mother in Champaign-Urbana, IL (she bought a ton of books for everyone she knows, I think). It was short but sweet and we rushed off to get ready for our St. Louis, MO event. Both Alex and I had spent many years in St. Louis and have many close friends and family we wanted to see. The 10-foot U-Haul rattled down the highway and we hit the ground running…a fast run (literally) through the
cemetary and then on to see Pat at Sugaree Bakery. Pat makes the most beautiful wedding cakes in town (and the most delicious…she uses only real butter and cream in her recipes). She also makes the best pies (and I had corresponded with her a few weeks before to make 15 of Elizabeth Taylor’s White Chocolate Banana Cream Pies for our event)! We pulled the 10-foot box up to her Dogtown storefront and started loading pies. Turns out she had actually made me 17 pies and a few extra for her store, which seemed to be quite popular as we saw several boxed-up and head out the front door. I then (carefully) maneuvered the behemoth of a vehicle through the pot-holed streets of St. Louis to the site of our event, hoping to store pies in their refrigerator (we had rented the place over the internet and with the help of our friend Chris…we hadn’t actually ever been to the Old Orchard Gallery) only to find an under-the-counter mini fridge that could barely take 1 pie! “Trust the universe! We’ll figure it out.” I told myself, and we drove the few blocks to Chris’ house…finally glad to see her friendly face. Fortunately Chris and Steve are fervent outdoors people…pulled 3 jumbo coolers from their basement and emptied every bit of food from the ‘fridge. The pies were safe! A quick run to the Wine Merchant in Clayton for the last of our supplies and the day was done. With exhausted brains, we finally relaxed and discussed for nearly an hour about the math of how much coffee do you use in a 110-cup percolator.
Sunday arrived, the day of our big St. Louis event. The morning was filled with last minute errands and then off to the venue. The doors were locked! The delay wasn’t too long, but we were still percolating coffee and hauling in books as guests started to arrive. It was an amazing day with nearly 150 familiar faces…all talking at the same time. The pies were DELICIOUS!!! The coffee was strong and good, the wine was flowing and everyone had a smile. It was great seeing everyone! (And I sold another ton of books. Bonus!) We nearly collapsed that night, but slept well. Up again before the break of dawn to repack our overstuffed suitcases and drive our rustic chariot, that had carried us (and the books) across the Midwest to it’s final resting place near the airport (can you believe there was no sign at the U-Haul return center?) Back to Philadelphia (for a fast smoke break and a decent meal) and then on to Greece. The food was bad, but the flight only 8 hours. We landed in Athens, but still had to wait another day and a half for the plane that takes us home to Zakynthos. We filled the time with good friends and delicious Greek food. The cat was VERY happy to see us and hadn’t lost too much weight this time. 5 days later he still won’t let us out of his sight.
It was a wonderful trip full of magical moments. Really great to see everyone, lets do it again soon!