Lake Tahoe, Lebowski Fest, Detroit

Questions asked, and answered


While I was in Lake Tahoe, I asked my host Shanna ( a fine Canadian gal now living in the Bay Area of California) countless questions about the lake itself. How big is it? Do people fish? What kind of fish? How clean is the lake? Are there currents? Does it have its own Loch Ness monster-esque being in its depths?

Shanna knew the answers to many of these questions – for instance, the Lake has 72 miles of shoreline and is the 12th deepest lake in the world. It’s also about 99% pure, making the water a deep, cerulean blue at its greatest depths and a light emerald in its shallow parts (such as in the aptly named Emerald Bay section).

The questions she couldn’t answer – largely because their answers hail from the bubbling fountain of useless knowledge into which I’m always throwing pennies – were soon addressed on the M.S. Dixie , a large paddle boat that cruises the lake and offers a sampling of factoids in addition to lunch and drink service.


It turns out that no, the lake doesn’t have any currents but does serve as home to sturgeon and bass, among other fish. And yes, apparently fishermen (and fisherwomen) have reported large objects moving along the lake’s floor, and with no currents, they surmise this must be some huge prehistoric fish.

Shanna and I nodded solemnly as a pre-recorded voice relayed these facts to us, and we munched our wrap sandwiches and sipped a couple of Sierra Nevada brews – when in Tahoe, I say.

“Guess that answers the currents question,” she said between bites.

“Indeed,” I replied. But I’m still curious to know more about that rumored creature of the deep. How many are there? Has it evolved? Can we go on an expedition to find one?

Does it ski?

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008

Dummies Do It at Diamond Peak

The Dummy Downhill at the Diamond Peak ski resort is proof that even while enjoying one of the Lake Tahoe region’s most common past-times — skiing — there is always something alternative to see.The Dummy Downhill calls on the talents of the pub

The Dummy Downhill at the Diamond Peak ski resort is proof that even while enjoying one of the Lake Tahoe region’s most common past-times — skiing — there is always something alternative to see.

dummy downhill
The Dummy Downhill calls on the talents of the public and the mountain’s staff, from ski patrol to Ski Wee, to create launchable, skiing dummies that can be pushed down the mountain and hurled over a massive jump. The event entertains skiers late in the season, incorporating live music (this year from the Drunken Neighbors), an outdoor BBQ, and prime seating on Diamond Peak’s deck for the main event.

This year, everything from an angry Pillsbury Doughboy (the Pillsbury Snowboy) to a six-foot skeleton dubbed ‘What Tree?’ glided down the main slope and over a formidable mogul. Sometimes, the dummies landed with success, and sometimes with crushing, hilarious consequences.

Awards are given for Best Jump, Most Creative, Best Crash, and other categories, and modest gift certificates and chotchkes are given for prizes.

After the merriment, skiing resumes … and it is proven that Tahoe isn’t just for slots and slopes. It’s also a great venue for Weird America.

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008

Enter the White Russians

It’s becoming evident that Lebowskifest is, in essence, a backyard party to which everyone in the world is invited.But still, it took a while to see the Lebowski effect begin to take hold in Louisville. The hotel was quiet yesterday afternoon,

boozseller lounge
It’s becoming evident that Lebowskifest is, in essence, a backyard party to which everyone in the world is invited.

But still, it took a while to see the Lebowski effect begin to take hold in Louisville. The hotel was quiet yesterday afternoon, as was the nearby bowling alley where many of the festivities are to be held.

My first glimpse into the Lebowski world came at about 5 p.m., when a dead ringer for The Dude walked by me in the hotel lobby, checkered shorts and blasé attitude in tact. I said hello; he nodded nonchalantly and continued to saunter into the hotel restaurant.

In the adjacent hotel bar, two ‘Achievers’ are sipping white Russians (Caucasians) and attempting to explain the Lebowski phenomenon to another group staying at the hotel this weekend – a reunion of World War II veterans. It’s painful to listen to the gaps in comprehension on both sides of the conversation, so I turn my attention to the ‘Welcome All Achievers’ banner hanging in the dark lounge … it announces that two of the sponsors of the event are Kalhua and Stoli, the two ingredients in the drinks made famous by the film.

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

Uncle Charlie Arrives at L-Fest

Yesterday, the bulk of the Lebowski-fans descended on Louisville, and were soon seeking each other out by spotting hotel guests sipping White Russians or wearing fan T-shirts, and asking each other ‘You an Achiever?’Friday’s festivi

uncle charlieYesterday, the bulk of the Lebowski-fans descended on Louisville, and were soon seeking each other out by spotting hotel guests sipping White Russians or wearing fan T-shirts, and asking each other ‘You an Achiever?’

Friday’s festivities were limited to a double screening of The Big Lebowski and another Coen brothers film, Raising Arizona, so there was ample time to meet and greet in the hotel lobby and bar.

One group in particular caught my interest — four men in their late twenties who drove eight hours from Kansas City to attend Lebowski Fest, after months of counting down the days on their ‘Gutterballs’ dry-erase board.

“We used to live together and we spent hours watching the movie over and over,” said one, Jeff Kinney. “We did a search for something Big Lebowski related once — I don’t even remember what it was — and that’s how we found out about Lebowskifest.”

He said he and his friends had waited three years to attend, but something always got in the way, until this year.

Their wait isn’t the most notable part of this group’s story, though. Traveling with them is a fifth Lebowski-fan – Jeff Kinney’s Uncle Charles, whose remains are carefully packed into an oversized Folgers coffee can — Donny-style.

“He was a great guy, he loved the movie, so we decided to bring him along,” he explained, noting that not only was Charlie along for the ride, but also in costume — the group entered the remains into the costume contest, to be held today. It’s the biggest thing that’s happened to Charlie since his death, Kinney said.

“We never could decide what to do with him,” he said. “We don’t plan on scattering the ashes here, or ever. He’s just along for the trip.”

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit

The following is entry # 1 in my on-the-road journal of a press tip to Louisville, Ky., to cover the infamous Lebowksi Fest. Thursday, Sept. 28“Gotta Get on the Dusty Trail” <>It’s day one of Lebowski

The following is entry # 1 in my on-the-road journal of a press tip to Louisville, Ky., to cover the infamous Lebowksi Fest.

Thursday, Sept. 28
“Gotta Get on the Dusty Trail”

It’s day one of Lebowski Fest , and the festivities have yet to begin. The day thus far has been spent traveling — from Hartford to Detroit, and Detroit to Louisville, Ky., where conveniently, nearly everything fest-related is just minutes away from the airport.
Incidentally, speaking of airports — who knew the Detroit Airport was such a hub of activity? I was expecting musty walkways and air-stairs, but I disembarked to make my connection in a state-of-the-art, green-built terminal that has a bright red tram running directly through the building. And on the way from concourse A to B, I took a walk through a psychedelic tube about the length of a football field, soothed by a rainbow of lights morphing from one shade to the next, accompanied by New Age music.
Nirvana in Detroit was only to last about a half hour, however, as it was soon on to Louisville, which also has a bright, airy airport — the ubiquitous, poster-size portraits of the city’s Mayor, Jerry Abramson, are a little disconcerting, though.

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: detroit lebowskifest

A Rushed Entry, Catchin’ the Plane on Two Hours Sleep

The Lebowskites were out until 7 a.m. partying at the hotel… I could tell it was them (us?) by the intermittent yelps of Big Lebowski lines. I guess that’s one of the biggest symptoms of this ‘kinship’ everyone mentions when

pope shit in the woodsThe Lebowskites were out until 7 a.m. partying at the hotel… I could tell it was them (us?) by the intermittent yelps of Big Lebowski lines.

I guess that’s one of the biggest symptoms of this ‘kinship’ everyone mentions when I ask the question ‘why.’ It starts with a great movie, and a handful of friends who enjoy it. They begin quoting lines to each other, a sort of inside joke among buddies. But in the case of The Big Lebowski, that ring of buddies is thousands strong, and quotable quotes become more than that … they become the most audible proof of a phenomenon that no one can quite explain, or quite understand. The only thing Achievers know is they’re in on the joke. the sadies at lebowskifest

Uncle Charlie, incidentally, took second place in the costume contest, losing only to the Pope, who, according to Walter, shits in the woods. The Sadies, Lucky Pineapple, and a few other great acts served as entertainment at Saturday’s ‘Garden Party,’ as well as games like Bob for the Severed Toe and of course, bowling at the Executive Strike n’ Spare Bowl.

I’m exhausted. But Lebowskifest is one part of Weird America that I think represents the niches in which anyone can fall — and sometimes, flourish.

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: sadies lebowskifest

Rain on the River Don’t Bother Me Much

Despite a steady stream of rain, hard-core fans bundled in ponchos and under beach umbrellas on the banks of the Ohio River Saturday night, quietly watching two films most have likely seen dozens of times – The Big Lebowski and another Coen Borthers

the dudemobileDespite a steady stream of rain, hard-core fans bundled in ponchos and under beach umbrellas on the banks of the Ohio River Saturday night, quietly watching two films most have likely seen dozens of times – The Big Lebowski and another Coen Borthers film Raising Arizona.

T-shirt sales were brisk, and many were snatching Lebowski Fest hoodies to help fend off the cold as well as this year’s limited edition Lebowskifest T-shirt, which each year features a different quotable line from the film. While last year’ shirt announced ‘I Can Get You a Toe,’ this year’s was more assuring, stating ‘At least I’m Housebroken.’

School buses bus shuttleshuttled fans to and from the hotel and the screening, stopping in front of the Dude-mobile, an avocado green Plymouth Fury outfitted with a bowling-trophy hood ornament, copious Lebowski-inspired stickers, and a ‘Dude’ license plate.

Will Russell popped the trunk to prove that the replica of the film’s signature automobile is authentic inside and out — inside are two bowling pins, a bowling ball, and a naugahyde bag filled with dirty laundry, representing ‘the ringer.’

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

You’re Entering a World of Pain

Getting to home base for Lebowski Fest was ridiculously easy. Just three minutes away from the airport, the Executive West hotel has hosted Lebowski Fest guests for the past three years, and is located adjacent to the Executive Bowl, where many of th
executive west
Getting to home base for Lebowski Fest was ridiculously easy. Just three minutes away from the airport, the Executive West hotel has hosted Lebowski Fest guests for the past three years, and is located adjacent to the Executive Bowl, where many of the weekend’s what-have-ya is held.
At the desk, Customer Service Supervisor Rene Sims presented me with a warm Kentucky smile and my official Lebowski-badge for the next three days — a paper Richard Nixon mask, designed by graphic artist Billy Green , who also designs the annual Lebowski Fest posters and T-shirts. It’s an esoteric reference to the film, in which Jeff Lebowski, more commonly known as The Dude, lives in a sparse bachelor pad with one notable piece of festoonery, a photo of the ex-President pitching a bowling ball with that trademark grin on his face.
nixon mask
True, it’s a reference that few outsiders will understand, including the videographer I’m traveling with, who had a stricken look of ‘dear-God-why-am-I-here’ on his face. But for the thousands of fans either on their way to Louisville to pay homage to The Dude or already here, paper Nixon masks are just as acceptable as toast and jam.
“We’ve definitely had some trippy times with these guys,” said Sims with a laugh, further piquing my interest in what is to come.
By ‘these guys,’ she meant the cult of Big Lebowski followers, most of which are expected to descend on Louisville tomorrow, but more specifically, she was referring to Will Russell and Scott Shuffitt, Lebowski Fest’s founders. The duo have headed-up the weekend-long festival for 5 years, staging the main event once a year in Kentucky (it’s their home town), and several ancillary fests, such as Lebowski Fest NYC and Lebowski Fest West, in L.A., where Big Lebowski star Jeff Bridges has been known to drop in. For now, it’s recuperating in the hotel room — the Executive West is not bad, though its 1970s-era hallways have a little bit of a Brady vibe — and reviewing the schedule of events, printed on the back of my Nixon mask.

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

An Actor, a Writer, and an Architect Walk into a Bar…

liam from big lebowski
“Me and Liam, man…”

I was lucky enough to grab a shuttle with a rowdy group from Minnesota and Jim Hoosier, who plays Liam in the The Big Lebowski. The movie is his only film credit, and he’s eager to soak up the adoration of his fans, as well as take part in the increasing weirdness that is this film festival.

Again, the question of ‘Why Lebowski Fest?’ comes up, as everyone has a theory, and everyone is ready to debate the subject. Chris Helms, a business writer from Dayton, Ohio, mused that Lebowski Fest resonates with a crowd that is constantly looking for something to validate being an outsider.

“People who like this movie, they were always the underdog, say in high school,” he said. “There’s a commonality among everyone who comes to Lebowski Fest, regardless of the reasons the originally became fans of the movie. It transcends age and societal status, and creates a common denominator that connects thousands of people.”

Similarly, John Back, an architect from Cincinnati, Ohio, said the film has a little bit of everything, from cowboys to young vixens to performance artists, and that is what pulls people toward the film. But he added that even with so many different characters to choose from and identify with, there’s also a little bit of one man — The Dude — in everyone.

“All of these characters influence his life and set this wild set of events in motion,” he said. “The Dude is a guy who’s almost out of control … but not quite. Everyone can identify with that feeling.”

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

The Art of the Dude Abides

bowling pins

As the dinner hour approaches, we hail a cab and travel due West to Frankfort Ave., Louisville’s artsy, earthy section. The street is peppered with tapas bars and sushi joints, as well as a number of antique shops, consignment stores, and art galleries — one of which is the scene of Lebowski Fest’s first event of the long weekend, an art show featuring works inspired by the film and an accompanying outdoor party and film screening.

While steeped in images of bowling, the art in the gallery, operated by independent artists who make up the Greenhouse Art Project in Louisville, is impressive.

There are oil paintings of The Dude, hand painted bowling pins, handmade clocks featuring Nixon’s bowling silhouette, and a silk-screened rug titled ‘It Ties the Room Together,’ among others. Local Louisville artists made many of the works, and nearly all are for sale, at bargain basement prices.

meon lights

Published: Saturday, 19 April 2008 Tags: lebowskifest

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