||Universal Studios Hollywood · Universal City, CA
So, finally, we arrive at the moment we've been anticipating the entire film. Marty hits the gas, pushes it to 88 MPH and as the clock reaches 10:04, lightning strikes that most important of all buildings, the Hill Valley courthouse.
Which brings us back to Universal and to the best and worst day I ever spent researching this tour. Let me tell you about it...
Every year, MTV picks a site for its Summer Beach House. You've seen it dozens of half-naked people dancing to overplayed music to fill in the space between shows with half-naked people lip-synching to overplayed music. Anyway, this year it was in Southern California, where they chose to film quite a number of other segments. Well, a friend of a friend (you know how these things go) invited me to visit a shoot at one of those other segments. I was told they were taping something called Rock 'n' Jock and that they had constructed a bowling alley in one of Universal's studios. I almost decided not to go, but I figured what the hell, it's an opportunity to visit a studio without being in an audience.
But, I discovered upon arrival that MTV wasn't taping in a studio at all. They were shooting on the backlot. We entered the appropriate rear entrance, parked, cleared ourselves with security, and I hadn't even turned the corner before I realized where I was. I was strolling in downtown Hill Valley! I felt as if I, like Marty McFly before me, had been transplanted to 1955 and had stumbled into a familiar, yet oddly foreign, town square. I could hear Mr. Sandman playing somewhere nearby.
The best I had hoped for up to this point was to view the courthouse from tram distance like a regular, mouth-breathing tourist, looking on at the VIPs roaming the lot and wishing I could be one of them. But, here I was. And with MTV pretty much having the run of that section of the lot, I took advantage of my opportunity and wandered around the blocks. I gazed at the myriad building fronts. I entered a brownstone and came out a coffee shop. I walked the streets like hundreds of actors before me. As trams passed nearby, circumventing the area that many of their passengers had hoped to see, sightseers peered around corners wondering who I was. I became one of those envious pedestrians treading sacred ground. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the losers who were missing out like I once had. I waved as if I were someone important.
But, of course, most of my time was spent at the courthouse. I strolled the lawn. I walked up and down the steps. As I became more comfortable that security wasn't going to nab me and interrogate me like the auslander that I was, I got bolder. I actually entered the courthouse. Sure, like I said, I had gone in and out of the other facades, but come on this was the courthouse! And get this: Climb a few stairs, roll back a makeshift hatch and you're on the roof! (Ahem...at least that's what I hear.)
I will now take a moment to bask in your envy...
OK, so that was the "best" part. Now the "worst." After burning plenty of film (and being extremely glad I had made a stop at Wal-Mart to stock up that morning), I made my way back to the MTV crowd. They were striking the set, trying to get out of there by dark, and we visitors were getting ready to leave. While saying a few goodbyes, I made a fatal error. I set my camera down. I can't remember why; I'm sure there was a reason. Regardless, I should have known better.
Just then, as if jealous that my yang was getting all the attention, my yin threw an adolescent fit. A grip knocked over the table on which my camera was resting. I might say that it all happened in slow motion, but I didn't even see it, which was perhaps for the best. My brand-new, eight-week-old, too-long-in-the-waiting, feature-packed, more-costly-than-I-could-afford camera flew to the pavement like a suicidal actress.
Fortunately, the less expensive lens took the brunt of the impact. But, the body didn't escape the bad mojo entirely. (FYI, the body's damage turned out to be superficial, but the cost to repair the lens was almost as much as it cost me to buy it in the first place. Thankfully, though, the roll of film still residing in the camera was unharmed, so I was able to come away with all of my photos intact.)
Needless to say, it was a horrible way to end such a great day. But in retrospect, it was a small price to pay. Just be sure to make the optical tragedy worth it and check out these bonus photos.
View More Photos of the Universal Backlot
Next: What's to Come