By Michael Miner
The incident at Roaring Hell Creek Road left survivors who can tell us what happened. Lots of survivors, come to think of it, as no one suffered bodily harm. But things got hairy.
Two Saturdays ago a van stopped on the narrow bridge where Roaring Hell Creek Road crosses the Salmon River, which winds through the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho. The driver got out and raised his hood, and the furious occupants of the rented Chevy Lumina stymied behind the van recognized a cynical ploy by devious men: the Lumina now had no way to cross the bridge and reach U.S. 75 just a quarter mile away. The Lumina boldly turned north and set off down a twisting country trail. "I'm convinced they were trying to disappear us in those mountains," says one of the passengers, Danny Goldring.
Goldring is a Chicago-based actor who makes commercials and was sent west to serve his union as a strike captain. He knew his mission would be arduous, but he didn't expect a brush with death. "The road got narrower and narrower," he says. "There were boulders and trees in the road. Big huge ruts." Luckily, at the wheel of the Lumina was an icy-nerved stunt driver out of Portland, Oregon, named Michael Hilow, and riding shotgun was Mary McDonald-Lewis, a gritty voice actor from Portland who'd brought a map of the back roads. "We drove 20 miles through Deliverance country and got out," says Goldring.
Never mind that Deliverance was set in Georgia. Goldring's saying what this adventure felt like to him--a plunge into godforsaken wilds from which he was lucky to emerge alive. Representing the law in those parts was Sheriff Micky Roskelley of Custer County, and the impression he made on Goldring will not soon subside.
"We had this union rep, Stuart Pemble-Belkin--he's a big heavy guy with allergies, he has trouble breathing. And we're up at 7,500 feet or so, I'm guessing. Stuart wears this little gold chain around his neck with a Jewish symbol on it--it looks like the pi sign--and a chain with the skyline of New York City. He's a self-proclaimed New York Jew. Officer Friendly, the sheriff, comes up to Stuart, gives him this little smile, and actually touches the guy without his permission. He touched the chain and looked into his eyes with that shit-eating grin and said, 'Oh, that's gold, huh?' I can't describe the creepiness."
Since May 1 the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) have been striking ad agencies and commercial producers over the advertisers' proposal to pay actors who make commercials for network television a flat rate, as they're now paid for cable TV. The actors want to retain the traditional "pay for play" residuals, and they want to extend this system to cable.
And because morning in the Sawtooth Mountains found a production crew signed up by Detroit's Campbell-Ewald agency shooting a commercial for next year's Chevy Blazer by the bank of the Salmon River just off Roaring Hell Creek Road, it also found Goldring, McDonald-Lewis, Hilow, and Pemble-Belkin holding pickets and Roskelley and a deputy keeping an eye on things. The lawmen exuded what the picketers would later conclude was false bonhomie; McDonald-Lewis even found herself swapping stories with Roskelley about old rodeo days. A reporter from the Idaho Mountain Express was on hand to scribble notes, and a photographer took pictures.
Goldring was new to the area, but McDonald-Lewis explains that "myself and several activists had been dogging the scab production for the Chevrolet 2001 auto launch for several weeks across the breadth of Oregon and into Idaho. By the time we got to Idaho the production-company crew was profoundly demoralized by our tenacity. We'd disrupted their shoot everywhere they went. They had me arrested in Tillamook, Oregon, and yet I kept coming back, and actor activists from across the nation kept coming back. Then we got to Idaho. By this time the production company was desperate. It had taken them two to three times as long to get what footage they have. It cost them time, it cost them money, and it cost them quality."
It's the custom in labor struggles for each side to think of the other as uniquely evil. When the reporter and photographer wrapped up their assignment and left, it occurred to Goldring that his party had lost the protection of neutral eyewitnesses. When Roskelley announced that he and his deputy were also pulling out, Goldring became seriously concerned. The production crew outnumbered the SAG protesters ten to one, and Goldring believed they were "very threatening." McDonald-Lewis believed the same. "We didn't feel safe with this production company. They convinced every hotel they stayed at to refuse us rooms based on our political affiliation with SAG, they shared confidential information having to do with my arrest, all so they could complete a scab shoot while keeping us at arm's length.
"So we expressed a fear for our safety to the sheriff, but he just smiled and told us he had things to do. We asked him how we could reach him if trouble arose. He said, 'I don't guess you can. You don't have a radio,' and drove off."
As soon as Roskelley and his deputy had left the scene, the production crew packed up for its next location. This was when the last van out halted on the Roaring Hell Creek Road bridge and the hood went up. Goldring, as strike captain, was faced with a hard decision. He'd been told there was no bail in Idaho, so "whatever you do, don't get arrested in Idaho. We can't get you out of jail and you'll rot," and with that warning in mind he knew better than to approach the van, even to offer a simple push. "They'd have gotten on their radio and said we assaulted them and to call the sheriff."
"That forced us to head north on primitive mountain roads," says McDonald-Lewis. "Fortunately, one of the actor activists is a stunt driver. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous and arduous journey. I was worried, but I was fueled by determination and every actor activist in that car as well. We weren't going to give up."
The doughty Lumina finally carried them back to the highway, and the SAG band pressed on to the next location, a quarry at the end of Nip and Tuck Road deep in the wilderness. McDonald-Lewis says, "That's where we discovered the reason they didn't want us there. They were putting union drivers behind the wheels of the Chevrolet cars on a scab shoot.
"That's the reason they were hiding. That's why when we arrived the sheriff was so agitated. Because one way or another, he was acting as the lapdog of this production company."
Says Goldring, "When we got to the quarry the sheriff seemed very surprised. That's where he and the deputy were, with the production company. That's when he came strutting toward us, in his left hand swinging a walkie-talkie." Goldring's eyes were also drawn to the gun on the sheriff's right hip. "You can see him boiling up. He didn't think he'd see us again. He said, 'I'm going to arrest you. There isn't any bail. The judge might be in Monday.' I said, 'OK, we're pulling out,' and they let us leave."
Says McDonald-Lewis, "When he saw us he became extremely agitated. He came over to us and got in my face and began screaming at me to back off and get out or I would take a ride. I tried to reason with him. I tried to reestablish the relationship that I felt we had built that morning. But he had been bought and paid for, and he had a job to do. He made it very clear that if we even paused on the way back to our car we would be arrested. I can tell you that because I did pause, and in that instant he was reaching for his walkie-talkie to ask for backup."
"Bought and paid for" is strong language. "I have to pay for cops anywhere I go," says Steve McRoberts, producer of the Chevy shoot. "What I'd do was I'd pull a county permit and request two policemen, and they'd show up." Whether any money wound its way into Roskelley's own pockets is something McRoberts doesn't know. When I reach Roskelley by phone I say I understand that the production crew paid for protection. "They can pay for it," the sheriff allows diffidently. And did they pay you? "Well, I don't know," he says. "We haven't got no money [yet]."
For a rustic, Roskelley has a respectable grasp of the animosities that arose in places like Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York and made their way to the middle of nowhere he oversees. "This is a pissing contest, to be really honest with you," he confides from Challis, the Custer County seat. "I understand where they're coming from. They want to stop the shoot." But, he says, the back roads the Lumina conquered don't even require a four-wheel drive to traverse. "This wasn't a life-threatening issue. I guess when you're an actor you can pump everything up. There's people's houses back there. There's a ranch back there."
Roskelley tells me that he pulled out of the Roaring Hell Creek Road shoot because another deputy had radioed him that "a whole bunch of hard-core bikers" were riding into nearby Stanley and he could use a hand. Before he left he told the SAG picketers, "I can't baby-sit everybody. There's nothing going on. If you're worried about something, then leave." Says the sheriff, "This is like children playing with each other using words and the whole nine yards trying to get the better of each other, and that's not how we do things here."
The trouble in Stanley didn't materialize, and Roskelley rejoined McRoberts's crew at the quarry. "These guys from SAG were good people," he says. "I enjoyed them. I wouldn't mind sitting down--I'd cook them a breakfast anytime. But my job is the safety of everybody. When it came to the first shooting they were great, but over at the other area we had cars coming and going everywhere, and I told them they could not be in that area. It was a gravel pit. They wanted to get out in the middle of the pit. They were bringing cars in, and it's a safety issue. It's totally nuts how they do these shoots. What I said was, 'If you're endangering people's lives I'll warn you one time, and the next time I'll arrest you. I don't know if it'll be a bondable offense--I don't know what I'll arrest you for.'"
So they do have bond in Idaho.
"Of course they do," he says. "We kind of have the constitution of the United States." The thing is, it was a Saturday, and the nearest judge was 60 miles north of Stanley and likes his weekends. If Roskelley had set bond, the SAG picketers would have cooled their heels in jail until Monday.
Back in Chicago, Danny Goldring hasn't found it easy to stir up interest in his eerie tale. "There's hardly any leverage," he muses, contemplating the media. "All the bills are paid by advertisers, so it's hard to get the word out."
"Everything that's been printed so far has been total lies," says McRoberts. He grants that SAG has the right to strike and picket. "But when it turns violent and dangerous, that's where I have a problem."
Which in his view wasn't when the Lumina headed into the back country. "It was what they did to us on the return trip home that night."
The matter's in the hands of the Campbell-Ewald legal department, he says. And he will say no more.
Neither will Campbell-Ewald, which can see beyond the strike to the day when advertising agencies and actors are friends again. So I ask Goldring what transpired that night out on U.S. 75 as the Chevy caravan of cars and trucks headed south to Ketchum.
Goldring thinks he knows what McRoberts might be referring to. He says the Lumina got out in front of the caravan on the two-lane highway. "We did the speed limit and slowed down a little. They tried to pass, and we did the speed limit. We took pictures of them behind us."
Roskelley adds to this. He heard that "they were using mirrors to flash them in the eyes. That created a danger."
Dealing with loose ends, I ask the sheriff if he actually touched Stuart Pemble-Belkin.
Did you finger his Jewish religious insignia?
"Oh, I said I liked it! That's a really nice guy. I said, 'I'd really like to have that. It's purty.' I had no idea what it was."
I ask Goldring if after everything he went through he's willing to give credit where it's due. He is. "You're not going to get me endorsing any Chevy trucks," he says. "But I'll speak up quietly for the Lumina."
An edict from New York head-
quarters has transformed the vestibules of Chicago's Barnes & Noble bookstores. The free newspapers that used to accumulate there have been cleaned out, and from now on these spaces will be reserved for Barnes & Noble's flyers, brochures, calendars, and discount-book racks.
There are exceptions to the new policy. And there seem to be exceptions to the exceptions. As with most edicts, this one has been received with more confusion than enthusiasm.
For example, Louis Weisberg, editor of the Chicago Free Press, got letters from the Barnes & Noble stores on Diversey and on State Street. Most of the language was identical boilerplate, but the Diversey store announced with regret that it would "no longer be displaying non-Barnes & Noble publications or periodicals in our vestibule." The State Street store announced with regret that it would "no longer display the Chicago Free Press publication in our store."
These announcements sound contradictory, but they aren't. The Diversey outlet will offer some free papers inside the store. So, for that matter, will the State Street store, which didn't have a vestibule in the first place. But the Free Press won't be one of them.
"It's understandable that the situation had become quite unwieldy for them," says Weisberg. "It was impossible for them to keep the mess to a minimum." He can live with ejection so long as Chicago's other gay papers are ejected too, but he's worried about colleagues downstate, where "Barnes & Noble is the only way to pick up gay papers."
Sure enough, I find Buff Carmichael, publisher of the monthly Prairie Flame--which he's been distributing in Barnes & Noble stores in Bloomington, Champaign, Springfield, Peoria, and De Kalb--in a quandary. "I have a very courteous and nice letter from the Champaign store telling us they would not be carrying free publications any longer, and we were not to bring any more papers there," he says. He's been putting 100 papers a month in each store, and if he loses all five of them he'll lose 10 percent of his distribution. "Like I said, I've only heard from one store. If I go to the other stores and ask them, I may create a problem where none exists. And if I let it ride, I may be surprised when I take them papers the next time and am told not to distribute them. I'm very concerned. What I'd like to do is tell readers to go to Barnes & Noble and ask for Prairie Flame. If enough people go up to the counter and ask for it, they may get real concerned."
Like the other Chicago stores, the Barnes & Noble in Webster Place sent its free papers a letter telling them times had changed. "What we didn't mention in that letter is that each store will carry two free papers," says community relations manager Katey Schwartz. "Those papers can now be found inside the store in the newsstand area."
Two free papers? In Chicago, two barely dents the industry. Each store gets to choose its lucky pair, and on the basis of public demand the Webster Place store chose the Reader and New City. So did the Diversey store, but for the time being at least, New City's been moved inside and the Reader remains in the vestibule. "We haven't had time to allocate a space for it in periodicals," says assistant manager Sarah Kane. "And it's here for so short of a time it's like they're here and they're gone."
But don't a lot of the people who open the outer door to snag a Reader on Thursday proceed into the store? They do, says Kane, but to Barnes & Noble the Reader's popularity is an argument for making everyone proceed into the store to find it.
Tony Peregrin, a senior writer for Windy City Times, says the chain's new policy is "understandable but disappointing. It makes the company look more standoffish and not as neighborhood friendly. I don't think the appearance overall is the message they want to send to the community."
The message to Chicago's gay papers and to almost every other alternative paper is, "We don't want you, and we don't want your mess." That isn't particularly friendly. There are worse things than a mess. But tell that to the honchos in New York.
A couple of weeks ago, writing
about the Sun-Times, I mentioned the pull newspapering continued to exert on Gil Jimenez, who last year left that paper after 24 years as a reporter to become spokesman for Chicago's Department of Aviation. Jimenez said he could imagine returning to the business, and it now seems that might happen sooner rather than later. The day I last spoke to him turned out to be his last day at his city job. It didn't fit. He resigned under fire and is looking for work.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Danny Goldring photo by Robert Drea; men with picket signs photo by Willy Cook-Idaho Mountain Express.