Text & photos by Pete Takeda
I spent three weeks bouldering in Hueco Tanks over the holidays. Hueco needs neither introduction nor explanation. It’s regarded by those in-the-know as the best place to boulder in the States once the snow falls. It's got this spiritual vibe too, one that the Native Americans and today's climbers seemed to have tapped into. My visit was like spending time with an old friend. I'd spent my time there in the pre-crashpad days. The notion of going back was born on a recent--and very cold--Karakoram trip. Warming frozen digits in my crotch, I'd promised myself something warmer than an open bivy on my next trip.
Though the rock hadn't changed, the state-of-the-art had advanced astronomically. That was no surprise. Not surprising either was that my bouldering standard had hardly risen in the ensuing decade and neither had my general lifestyle habits improved. One night I vaguely recalled running the poker table, and garrulously lording my blind drunk luck over the other amused players. As usual, it ended poorly for me.
Just as in my dissolute youth, I found myself in a post-bourbon haze, waking up more than once in a pitch-black tent, wearing my street clothes, sleeping bag unzipped and freezing cold. The next morning I was reminded by more than one player that I owed money.
The climbing was great, groping vaguely remembered sequences, doing a few problems I'd failed on in the past, and being struck during flash attempts with the realization, "I've tried this before."
It was so good that I went back a few weeks later, this time immediately prior to a trip to Hollywood. By way of explanation, I'd had a book optioned--which basically means that someone or some entity has purchased rights to translate something written into a film. So the Hollywood thing was basically about going out to help shape the story. They call it development.
Like Hueco, Hollywood is a phenomenon, though unlike that bouldering Mecca, its character is less based on the geologic features than a geographic location.
Where Hueco is desiccated desert with complex mazes of spiny rock, Hollywood is manicured lawns, stucco hacienda-style dwellings and Lexus dealerships. I'm staying a friends house in Beverly Hills and every morning when we go for coffee I see someone crouched behind the wheel of a silver luxury something-or-another. He looks suspiciously like Danny DeVito. In a weird way, there's nothing actually IN Hollywood. There are office buildings, a lot of well-put-together people, and of course, the iconic self-referential Hollywood sign up on the hill. But all in all, its hard to pin down exactly what happens in the area (its not really a city or town, more like an area that's merged with the surrounding urbanization and delineated by some invisible barrier).
In a way, all clichés have at their root, a kernel of truth. The danger lies in mistaking the cliché for the actual thing itself. We as climbers are thought of by the world at large as risk-takers, hard-eyed nature-freaks--like Sierra Clubbers with a dark-aggro edge, or slangy, tanned, miscreant youth--surfers of dirt. Hollywood conjures up ruthless tycoons, star-mania, red carpets, and sex, drugs, and filmic spectacle (instead of the rock-and-roll). Thus, all the clichés are just that--a way to encapsulate a mass of impressions and stereotypes in some digestible caricature. And also thus, clichés, are a smug, self-satisfied delusion leading humans to believe we understand something we really don't.
I meet with my producers and the screenwriter in a conference room overlooking Wilshire Boulevard. The famous Hollywood sign perched on the horizon. At the meeting, there's the usual tiptoeing about--introductions, pleasantries, before diving into the script.
Worlds are not that different. Both Hueco and Hollywood operate on a system of currency--one is literally currency, the other is quantifiable graded difficulty--the V-grade. In both worlds, the concern with aesthetics can trump money or the number rating attached. In both worlds it is the artistic vision that sustains the creative engine. Both money and the graded tick-list--while important--cannot alone sustain.
I take comfort from that knowledge while my producers (one of whom is a avid sometime climber) who manage big-name talent deals and more in annual financing than the tax base of most mid-size towns, deftly retain an eye for the aesthetic and authentic while firmly grasping of the reality of budget, the market, and tides within entertainment. I feel like a bit of fraud sitting in the meeting. Though my ideas are welcomed and encouraged, I'm baked from the desert sun in sharp contrast from my white shirt. Some sand leaks from my ear as I ramble on about some notion of the post-modern climber as anti-hero.