My Fourth DaveCon!
This was my fifth Late Show taping, and my fourth DaveCon. I was in San Francisco for my first taping on May 8, 1996.
DaveCon is an annual gathering of expert David Letterman fans (about 20 of us) in New York, New York for the purpose of making fun of each other, partaking of Italian cuisine, pestering Rupert Jee, paying homage to Dave and the CBS Orchestra, etc.
I believe that this was the 12th occurrence of DaveCon, based on the fact that I possess a customized kazoo with the inscription, "DaveCon 10 - 2008."
Our acquaintances developed from hundreds (sometimes thousands) of visits and posts to the Usenet group alt.fan.letterman, back to the early 1990s. Some of these AFL regulars began to attend tapings together. They're more fun than human beings should be allowed to have, so we keep going back. And we'll keep going back, over and over, until each and every one of us is in possession of one of David Letterman's ties. So far, I do have a quality pencil.
I'm so excited to be able to make this annual pilgrimage. It's my favorite event of the year, thanks in no small part to how nice the staff at the Late Show have been to our group over the years. I hope they know how much we appreciate the fun times they give us.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 19
Travel to New York
Word came in from Traci Gilland on March 15 that DaveCon 2010 would be on Thursday, May 20. Uncertain if I had time for a three-night trip as in 2009, I monkeyed around and missed a $180 round trip on Midwest Airlines.
Manhattan, Kansas is precisely 1,200 miles from someplace in New York City. It's an 1,102-mile flight from Kansas City to LaGuardia, and it takes 2 hours and 23 minutes. My trip on I-70 from Manhattan to Kansas City International takes 2 hours and 10 minutes. It's not a bad day of travel, and almost exactly the same time's spent on interstate highways as in the air.
This year's journey was on a Brazilian Embraer 170 that screams along at about 550 MPH. It's a fine aircraft, but it could use larger overhead storage areas. I always take a window seat on the left side, so on the final approach I get an awesome view of the Statue of Liberty, Citi Field, Midtown Manhattan, Regis Philbin State Park and rats large enough to saddle up and ride. It's tremendously exciting to think about all the crimes in progress below as we descend to LaGuardia's Runway 04-22. At 7,001 feet long, it's one foot longer than Runway 03-21 at Manhattan Regional Airport. Regardless, it's long enough for a heavy jet with functional brakes and reverse thrust.
New York City is 115 miles farther north than Manhattan. As we were flying mostly east, I noticed that for quite a while we were following a long body of water. Eventually I concluded that this was no farm pond. It had to be one of the Great Lakes. We'd been following the south shore of Lake Erie, which forms part of the northern borders of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Allow me to demonstrate...
Life in the Big City
Super Shuttle dropped me off at the Best Western President at 234 W. 48th St. around 9 P.M. The hotel's a one-minute walk from Broadway, and a six-minute walk from the Ed Sullivan Theater, five blocks north. The Best Western President has gone through major remodeling in the past two years. Everything you see has a presidential theme. Do I really need a George Washington lamp in my room? I'm not certain I'd want a Shannon Elizabeth lamp. Oh, that would be OK, I think.
I wasted no time getting to the Jamba Juice on Broadway at 47th Street, to get a Peach Pleasure. The official address is 712 7th Ave., but it's at a point on the map where Broadway comes diagonally across 7th Avenue, so the east side of Jamba Juice opens on Broadway, and the west entrance is on 7th Avenue. I would make three or four Jamba Juice runs. Their other store I visit is in the 1700 Broadway Building, across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater.
Times Square and My New York Neighborhood
I love the location of my hotel. I wish I had more time to explore my neighborhood. Two doors west of the hotel is the famous Hurley's Bar (est. 1892) at 232 West 48th Street. In the Late Night days, Dave was a couple of blocks north of there (on Sixth Avenue between 49th and 50th streets), and he liked to send a camera crew down to Hurley's to talk to John Boyle, their long-time bartender, who was reliably a loose cannon. Hurley's has moved from its original location at 30 Rock.
Next door to Hurley's is the Longacre Theatre at 220 West 48th Street, currently the home of La Cage Aux Folles, featuring Kelsey Grammer. It opened there in April. Right across the street from the hotel, at 219 West 48th, is A Little Night Music in the Walter Kerr Theater, featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. It opened in late 2009, and will close soon.
I make the three-block trip south on Broadway to Times Square every day, a couple of times. It's at the intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue, more or less in the area of 42nd to 47th Streets. Here's a link to a Times Square Cam. I love to walk around there aimlessly and see what's going on. It must be one of the top tourist attractions in the world, along with the Eiffel Tower, K-State Coach Bill Snyder's birthplace in St. Joseph, Missouri and Donald Trump's hair.
Probably related to the incompetent car bomber who set off a string of firecrackers and a can of Sterno on May 1, there were police officers everywhere. If someone sneezed, one of them would have heard it, I can assure you. Now, here's something that really cracked me up. The NYPD had these tiny little squad cars, about the size of riding mowers, that I hadn't seen before. Most of them say "INTERCEPTOR" on the back bumper. Here are two awesome pictures of their law enforcement vehicles. Photo 1 Photo 2 (photos courtesy of me)
I was messing around down there after midnight on my first night, and everywhere you look are Chinese guys who want to draw a portrait of you. Their work is awesome. I didn't want a picture of me. I have a mirror. That's embarrassing enough, and it's free. I wanted the drawing of Avril R. Lavigne that one guy had. It had a $20 price tag on it, but he wouldn't sell it to me. He wanted to draw me. No thanks.
Dave preaches the idea of cheating death, so I've taken to buying stuff from sidewalk vendors. A couple of times this trip I got some kind of sugary, roasted peanuts for $2. I liked them, but they gave me a tummy ache one night. Maybe that should be a sign.
I landed in time for the new tradition of a late evening at Junior's Cheesecake on 45th Street... right next to Times Square, between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Traci Gilland and Helen Read had tickets for Lend Me a Tenor, playing at the Music Box Theater at 239 West 45th Street. Traci and Helen seemed to love the play, featuring Tony Shaloub and Anthony LaPaglia. We joined Dave Sikula of Jeopardy fame, Dr. Rod Fernandez, Kate Crenshaw and, once the New York Times cut her loose from editing all the news that's fit to print, Cheryl Levenbrown.
This time I got raspberry swirl cheesecake. Outstanding. You can order this cheesecake via their Web site for a measly $31.95 + shipping. If I lived in the vicinity of Junior's, I would be tubby.
The Ed Sullivan Theater
On March 5, Dave announced that "Featuring Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra" had been added to the Late Show marquee. I went down to 1697 Broadway just before midnight, to take several photos of the updated marquee. I have some of them in the gallery below, including some daytime shots taken the next day.
THURSDAY, MAY 20
First on the agenda was a morning trip to the CBS Store, at the corner of Broadway and 53rd Street. It was scheduled to close in August, so I picked up some extra Late Show T-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. They were kind enough to ship the stuff to me, as I couldn't carry it onto the plane. I don't know why CBS decided to close the store. Their online store is down to four Late Show items, and they don't even sell T-shirts anymore. It's disappointing.
The Ed Sullivan Theater
The Ed Sullivan Theater has quite a history. It's had several names over the years. It was built by Arthur Hammerstein between 1925 and 1927, according to Wikipedia, so it's 83 years old. Converted by CBS for television broadcasts in 1950, over the years it's been home to such well-known shows as What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth, Password, The Honeymooners, The Merv Griffin Show and of course, The Ed Sullivan Show. CBS bought the theatre in February 1993 for a reported $4 million, when the deal for David Letterman to switch networks was finalized. As is well known, the first Late Show was broadcast from the Ed on August 30, 1993. It's an interesting feeling to stand on the stage where the Beatles played their first American performance, which I clearly remember watching on TV. Every second season, the theater takes a break from Dave long enough to host the Survivor finale on a Sunday evening. I have a bit more information on the Ed in my 2008 Trip Report.
Lunch at Angelo's
Our first full group activity was lunch at the great Italian restaurant, Angelo's. I love this restaurant. Its entrance is next to the Ed Sullivan Theater's front doors. Our lunch is upstairs. If you look out the second-floor windows to Broadway, the main thing you'll see is the top side of the Late Show with David Letterman marquee. If you look up, you'll see the 42-story 1700 Broadway building, the home of a Jamba Juice on the ground level, DC Comics and the main offices of Mad magazine. Alfred E. Neuman lives right across the street from Dave, but I've never seen any sign of him in the windows of the multi-story building. When I was young, Mad magazine's home office was at 485 Madison Avenue.
What? Me worry?
At Angelo's you get real New York pizza, and you won't find it better anywhere.
This lunch is one of our best times to catch up, take pictures, etc. We're all dressed warmer than we should be for late May, because the next stop is the Late Show studio, where it's about 55° F. I've been to five tapings, and I've always done fine with a long-sleeved shirt. I'm always so excited to be in the theater that I don't notice the temperature, and I usually like a room in the high 70s. I've noticed that the pages always wear Worldwide Pants letter jackets.
Bob Shriver brought Catherine's Chocolates from Great Barrington, Massachusetts for an after-lunch treat. They're out of this world. He drives almost three hours each way to get them for us. You can order some of the yummy treats on the Internet. They're simply the best. Thanks, Bob!
We were all sad because Renee Stravitz couldn't be with us. It was a real disappointment, because she's been such a fun member of the group, and has played a major part in making DaveCon go. Shirlee DiBacco put her artistic talents to work and made an awesome get well card for Renee. She chose the legendary Donz5, Don Giller, as our messenger on the card. Here are some photos of the finished product. Click on the thumbnails for a better look.
The DaveCon group was told to be ready to line up at 2 P.M. for the 4:30 P.M. taping. I don't recall that anyone left the area. We hung around on 53rd Street, hoping to visit with each and every unsuspecting Late Show staffer who happened by. Alas, there was no Sarah Billington sighting in 2010.
Don Giller is acquainted with lots of the show's staff. He was visiting with various members of the CBS Orchestra before the show. Do you have your copy of Red Horizon, which I have been relentlessly promoting on this site for several years? Get it from CD Baby for a mere $12.98. I just "accidentally" happened to amble by while he was visiting with Sid McGinnis, and I was introduced to him. Don caught Paul Shaffer earlier, when I wasn't nearby. Now, as I'm writing this trip report in September, I see from a picture I took that Don was talking to Anton Fig outside, as well. Anton had a cap on, and sunglasses, and from a distance I didn't recognize him. I guess the black beret goes on just before showtime. So far, of the CBS Orchestra, I've gotten to talk to Will Lee, Al Chez, Felicia Collins and Sid McGinnis. They have all been really nice to meet. Al Chez has always been very friendly, and makes a point to shake hands with everyone in our group after the show. I had a nice talk with Will Lee a couple of years ago. Last year I didn't talk to him much, because Kate Crenshaw had me busy taking their picture, but he did promise to play Basket Case before the show. Unfortunately, Basket Case has now been phased out of the pre-show line-up.
As usual, Late Show staffers were outside distributing questionnaires to recruit civilians for future segments. Suggested entries were for Stupid Human Tricks, Stupid Pet Tricks, Stump the Band, etc.
As the hour drew close, Marilyn Sargent distributed complimentary Altoids. It's a DaveCon tradition. Thanks to Marilyn, we all enter the facility halitosis-free.
The Half-Hour Before Tape Rolls...
Into the Real Home Office
When you go inside, you enter a zigzag pattern of crowd control ropes, as the lobby of the theater is small. The afternoon begins with the ceremonial checking of the driver's licenses. Once we're packed into the lobby of the theater, nice and cozy, we receive a warm-up session from a page standing on a folding chair. I presume the chair will be preserved in the Museum of Broadcast Communications some day. Anyway, the warm-up briefing lasts about 10 minutes. They want us to understand that Dave feeds off the energy of the audience and, when in doubt, laugh. The Late Show doesn't want audience members engaging in attention-getting behaviors, and those are outlined for us. You're not supposed to have gum, sunglasses or buttons, or the show may not stick to the tape. Actually, there are two lobby areas, and the warm-up speech is delivered twice, because we can't all fit in one or the other. Guests of CBS are placed front and center in the balcony so they don't have anything blocking their view, but I'm perfectly happy to sit in the lower level.
The pages line you up in pairs to enter the theater, and you're directed to one of two aisles to be loaded into your seats. This time I was paired with Rocco Andrews. We were sent over to the left side of the theater, in row three. There are advantages to various seats. We were able to watch the band at work, and had a good line of sight to Dave at his desk. If you're sitting front and center, you won't see as well, unless you came to see Dave Dorsett's camera.
As soon as we sat down, I saw the image of Japanese-American actor Ken Kensei on a tiny monitor next to the band, and was delighted that another visit from "Akio Toyoda" was in store for us. No doubt Kensei's appearances take some extra coordination, as he delivers his tirades in Japanese. (Todd Seda handles his cue cards.) I think the Toyoda visits, along with the stories from Bob "B.B." Boberson, are some of the funniest material the show has cooked up in the last couple of years.
Talent Coordinator Eddie Brill comes out first, to warm us up some more after the folding-chair guy in the lobby. Eddie did stand-up comedy on the Jan. 15 Late Show, and I thought he did a great job. Eddie's other main job for the show is evaluating comedians who hope to get booked on the show.
The CBS Orchestra gave us a mini-concert of two songs. The band played The Rolling Stones' Brown Sugar, as usual. I can't compliment the CBSO enough. They cover a lot of other groups' music. Rest assured that by the time Paul Shaffer has arranged it, and the amazing musicians in the band are playing it, the song will sound better than the original. Getting to hear the CBSO in person always makes your trip to Letterman worthwhile. They have been the house band for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction show for 25 years now!
Next on the agenda, David Letterman, the legendary broadcaster and Larry King fan, appears onstage in his white shirt to visit with the audience. This officially begins 2½ minutes before tape rolls, but I think he spends more time than that. Dave's already set up with his wireless microphone, but he comes out with a hand microphone on a cord, so he can have fun pounding on Dave Dorsett's pricey high-definition camera with said microphone. Dave will come out with a topic, but he almost always takes at least one audience question. This time Cheryl Levenbrown got chosen, as she was front and center.
When it's time to go to work, Dave says he'll see us in a few minutes. When the home viewers see the Statue of Liberty and hear the theme song beginning, Dave is just turning around to walk backstage. He'll have about 33 seconds to get his suit jacket on, and get ready to sprint across the backdrop and re-emerge two or three seconds later, to entertain the North American viewing public.
Late Show with David Letterman, #3314
If you'd like a professional report of the happenings of the May 20 episode, read Mike McIntee's Wahoo Gazette.
First on the agenda is making fun of America's beloved geezer, Regis Philbin, with a clip from a horror movie.
Out of commercial, we're shown a clip from the creators of Law & Order. Much to our delight, Dave has a guest role in an early episode of Law & Order: Missing Monkey Unit. There's drama in store as Dave frantically searches for his missing monkey, Ronnie. Coming this fall on NBC.
As mentioned earlier, it was great to be there for Ken Kensei's next-to-last appearance as Akio Toyoda. I could barely see him from my seat at the side of the theater, but I love this bit, and hope they'll find a reason to use him again.
Akio Toyoda comes onstage to address recent issues with his beleaguered company.
(Toyoda, dignified): "Arigato, Cocosan. I would like to apologize to America for recent problems."
Next up was Top Things Overheard at the White House State Dinner.
Magician Steve Cohen had some good close-up magic tricks. I learned after the show how he did the trick with Paul's ring, but I'm not going to blab it here.
Katherine Heigl was in as our celebrity guest. She was an agreeable guest, but it's impossible to top last year's appearance by Teri Hatcher and an installment of Kid Scientists.
Interruption: Our new friend, Todd Seda, shows up with his mother for the meet and greet with Dave. (Todd had done cue cards for "Akio Toyoda" a few minutes earlier. Todd told us afterward that he gets pretty nervous over these appearances, but we all agreed that he does a fine job on air.)
Band of Horses was the musical act. I'm writing this report four months later, and I don't remember anything about them.
Onstage, After the Show
We weren't sure whether we'd be cast in a Tony Mendez Show this time, as our friends, Walter Kim and Jay Johnson, are no longer producing the show. If we do a TMS, it isn't long until we move to the lobby to begin taping. This time, with no TMS planned, we were allowed to hang onstage with various producers, staff and members of the CBS Orchestra after the audience had exited. It was awesome, and all of us in for DaveCon really enjoyed it. Felicia Collins hung around for a while, as did Al Chez. Will Lee was in Belgium. Wahoo Gazette publisher Michael Z. McIntee was on hand. Todd Seda and Tony Mendez visited with a number of us.
The whole crew was real patient with us as we took turns sitting at Dave's desk for action photos, inspected the incredible details of the amazing set, took a group photo, etc. (I got the business for not smiling in the photo, but I was in the back corner, and didn't know when it was time.) In fact, I was far enough back and to the side that I didn't realize that a DaveCon participant who obviously must not be named, Dave Sikula, dropped his pants for the photo. He didn't drop his pants when he was on Jeopardy, did he? See how much fun it is at the Late Show?!
I brought my camera in, as usual. While taking pictures before or during the show would mean a quick trip to Broadway during the next commercial, we were allowed to poke around and take pictures as much as we wanted afterward. I tried to get good pictures of the backdrop, created 17 years ago by the late Kathleen Ankers. All the pictures that came out well are in the gallery below. The details were so impressive. The backdrop and set are an incredible combination of painting, actual materials with texture, and 3-D miniatures. For example, look at photo #12 below. There are little 1 1/2" trash cans outside an apartment, with tiny little sticks of wood in them, and actual black plastic liners! Also in one of those trash cans is a tiny little newspaper, that you can actually read.
Now look at photo #14, and you'll see how the hundreds of city lights are done. The individual lights come from fiber optics cables... hundreds and hundreds of them, routed from light sources below. That way, you've got no bulbs to change, and you've got no heat or fire hazard. (Notice the little birdie somebody stuck to one of the cables.) There are a few electrical wires, too, and I wonder if some of the lights are light bulbs that are rigged to blink.
Can you begin to imagine how much thought and work went into this set? Kathleen had to think about it being seen in various levels of studio lighting, from various angles, sometimes fairly close up, but also from a distance, and needing to look good to the audience, too. The backdrop to the stage area is quite elaborate, too.
Look at photo #7 in the gallery, and compare it to a screen capture from "Will It Float?" below. I assume there must be a curtain that comes down to hide the miscellaneous equipment, cables and ropes behind the 3-D set.
Since the staff didn't object to our looking around, I went farther backstage, in search of the Will It Float? tank. It's still in excellent repair, but is suspended high above the stage, until it's needed for further experiments. (See photo #6.) (Here's the link to my Will It Float? page.) The tank is suspended behind where Dave's desk is located. Also notice in photo #6 the souvenir New York license tag, BIG SHOE, a tip of the hat to Ed Sullivan, of course.
Before going farther, I want to give a shout-out to a number of staffers at the Late Show who have made DaveCons possible over the years, and who have been so welcoming to us by arranging for tickets, visiting with us before and after the taping, going to dinner with us, putting us in the Tony Mendez Show, posing for countless pictures, helping with Shirlee's birthday video, not calling the police when some pages thought we were soliciting, letting us play onstage, giving tours of the studio, etc. etc. You can't imagine how much we've appreciated and enjoyed it!
Post-Show Dinner and Whoop-Tee-Do
Days before DaveCon, Shirlee DiBacco was in town, and noticed that the fine Italian restaurant, Cascina Ristorante, was closed for remodeling. Keith Rose got busy and set us up with its associated restaurant, Trattoria Dopo Teatro, at 125 West 44th Street in the Theater District. It didn't allow us as much room as Cascina, but it was fine, and we all appreciated the management accommodating us on short notice.
I was outside the front door, posting to Facebook that I had just been sitting at David Letterman's desk a few minutes earlier, when Tony Mendez appeared, and had me take him downstairs to visit with the rest of the group, before he was off to the ballet. I got to sit at the children's table with the legendary Don Giller, and it's always most excellent to visit with him.
Dr. Rod Fernandez had been busy prior to DaveCon, designing Dave cookies. Check photo #19 below to see what a great job Dr. Rod does in the kitchen.
The West Bank Cafe
It has become customary that after the post-show dinner, many of us convene at another venue to evaluate the day's events, and continue our mischief to the degree that local statutes permit. Traci Gilland recommended the West Bank Cafe at 207 West 42nd Street (42nd and 9th Ave.), and we moseyed on down there, just two blocks south, to have a look.
The owner, Steve Olsen, has gone to great lengths to have a fine selection of California wines available. I had a glass of very nice Bordeaux. You can get a current list of available wines on their Web site, like this.
A small number of us, including me, stayed a wee bit longer than the others, and a nice time was had by all. We adjourned to the bar, visiting with David, the very cool bartender. The restaurant wasn't terribly busy at that late hour, and we had a great visit with him, and each other. At some point it was determined that I needed a refill of some sort. What to do? Well, Traci thought it best that I have Brandy and Benedictine. (link) Now, that was some good stuff! I took it easy, however, and didn't end up with a lampshade on my head or anything. Still, Traci and Brady decided that he'd walk back to the hotel with me, so I wouldn't get lost or be sent to prison. Thanks, Brady!
FRIDAY, MAY 21
My shortened trip hadn't allowed me the chance to get anything to eat at Hello Deli, 213 West 53rd St., until my last day. I went in at around 11 A.M. to get an Inky. (menu) (That's a sandwich, named for Tony Mendez, of course.) Anyway, the lunch crowd wasn't coming in yet, and I had a real nice visit with Rupert Jee for a few minutes, and after I polished off the sandwich. Rupert had just gotten to see Nadine Hennelly and her young son, Winston, in April. Nadine is in Canada now, so it had been quite a while since my favorite Late Show model had gotten to New York.
Rupert has always been great to us DaveCon crazies, and I always look forward to checking in with him. Here's my picture with him in 2007.
I Like Pie.
A bunch of us went way down south to Tribeca, to Bubby's Pie Company, at 120 Hudson Street. We took the 1 Train down to the Franklin Street Station. They specialize in home-grown and home-cooked food. I got banana cream pie, if I recall. That was unfortunately our last scheduled DaveCon activity. I had to get back to the hotel for a 4:20 P.M. Super Shuttle pick-up.
Back to Kansas
I booked a 7:54 P.M. flight to Kansas City, so I'd not worry about waking up too late, be able to go for pie, etc. Last year I got delayed 3½ hours leaving LaGuardia because of severe weather in Kansas City. This year I got delayed because of heavy flight activity on a Friday night. We left the gate on time, but we were #32 in line to depart LaGuardia. We spent about 45 minutes on the taxiway before the takeoff roll. The place was hopping. When I got home, I looked it up. Between 7 and 9 P.M. at LaGuardia that night, there were 81 departures and 79 arrivals, for 160 flights in two hours... 1 1/3 flights per minute. It was an airplane parade!
My work took full attention all through the summer, and the next thing I know, I'm finishing this trip report after Labor Day. It was a great trip. Thanks so much to Traci and Renee for including me. Again, thanks to all our wonderful friends at Worldwide Pants, Inc. for thousands of episodes of our favorite show, and their kindness to us.
DAVECON IN REVIEW
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