I pulled up to the gate at the Universal lot, trying to act like I did this sort of thing all the time. I gave the guard my name, and even though I had an appointment, I was still a little surprised that my name was on his list. The guard gave me a map, showed me where to park and how to find the building where my meeting was.
My meeting was with Penny Marshall’s story development person, who had taken a liking to one of my screenplays (she ended up getting downsized, leaving my script an orphan, but that’s a tragedy for another time). When it was over, on my way back to my car, I got lost. Conveniently.
I couldn’t help it. This was the backlot of Universal – filled with streets from various eras and cities, giant soundstages, hair and make-up trailers, star wagons, and film crews busily creating next year’s cinematic wonders.
I was in heaven. I’d been here before a few times, but only on the authorized tour provided by the Universal Studios theme park trams. But those don’t usually go where the real work is being done.
So I embarked on the unauthorized studio tour. I walked between the soundstages, trying to tread that fine line between peering inside like a giddy boy and acting like it was no big deal because I clearly belonged here and was on my way to some important meeting with Steven Spielberg.
At the end of one particular row of soundstages, I walked along an iron fence that separated the Universal backlot from the Universal Studios theme park. An employee of the theme park unlocked the gate and came through to my side. As he walked by me, I noticed the gate didn’t quite close behind him. I watched him walk away a moment, then looked back at the not-quite-closed gate. I confess the thought occurred to me that I could sneak into the theme park and spend the rest of my day there.
But then it hit me. What was I thinking? I was already on the cool side. The other side had the rides, the arcades, and the churros. But anybody with the price of an admission ticket could get into the other side. This side was special.
I pushed the gate until it locked.
I’ve recalled that experience from time to time in the years since it happened in 2003. I’ve referenced it with youth groups, where certain paths some people take may look exciting and fun, but can lead them to the other side with its own bundle of problems. At some point, it can leave them longing for the time when they were on this side.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that experience as it pertains to where we are with Liken.
There’s a place that Liken hasn’t been able to go, despite our best efforts. A market niche that is locked. We’ve been looking for any openings, and maybe we’ll eventually find one. But maybe we’re not meant to be on that side, as enticing as it seems.
Maybe this side, with all its limitations and challenges, is the cool side.