This Guy Owns the Pizza Planet Toyota from “Toy Story”

Not even the 30th movie car we’d remember, but still damn near perfect.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


It’s the 20th anniversary of Toy Story, and for some Disney acolytes, a yellow Toyota pickup truck that appears in one quick scene is the most exciting part of the entire series.

Don’t remember? After squabbling over who is Andy’s favorite toy, Buzz and Woody tumble out of the family car on their way to Pizza Planet. Stranded, they find a rusty, yellow Pizza Planet delivery truck en route, which becomes an impromptu chariot that carries the duo on to one of many adventures.

101915_toystorytruck_art_1

Four years ago, Marco Bongiorno was a college student working as a Disneyland photographer in Anaheim, Calif. He bought a blue 1988 Toyota pickup to create the most realistic Pizza Planet tribute truck the world had ever seen. Like many car fans, Bongiorno believes that his truck’s glory hinges on the minor details.

“We aren’t the first Pizza Planet truck out there,” he told The Drive. “But when we see others, we can’t help but nitpick about colors and things that aren’t true to the film.”

The primerless Maaco paint job marked the start of the truck’s journey. Then came the rocket sign, the identical white bed cap, intentional rust, the exact drink cup spotted in the cab—and an overheating issue. The truck was featured at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, a convention hosted by the official Disney fan club. There, the crew handed out their “YO” buttons, each clad with the truck’s iconic tailgate nomenclature.

Like the pickup itself, Bongiorno didn’t make the buttons for any reason other than he liked the idea. “Originally, it was built as a disposable spectacle,” he says of the truck. “But now we just like to inspire nostalgia. People really short circuit when they see it.”

101915_toystorytruck_art_2

Apparently, so does Pixar—Toy Story’s creator and, since 2006, a subsidiary of Disney. Look carefully in nearly every Pixar film since 1995, and you’ll see the animated truck pop up randomly—not just for Toy Story sequels, but even inFinding Nemo and Wall-E.

Bongiorno’s dirt-clad Toyota makes rounds at southern California car shows, where it’s frequently mistaken for a food truck. Once parked, Bongiorno tells people not to lean on the show car, but it’s not informed by the typical garage-queen logic. “We’ll get back from the event and think, we’ve gotta put more dirt on because people wiped it all off,” he says.

Bongiorno hopes to drive his truck cross-country by the time Toy Story 4premieres in 2017, although he needs a new carburetor, muffler, hoses and must “weld the catalytic converter back into place,” according to his GoFundMe page. (To date, the old yellow pickup hasn’t smitten anyone to donate.)

But to answer the obvious, most important question: “We still haven’t delivered a pizza yet.”

101915_toystorytruck_art_3

Advertisements

In New Hampshire, Meter Feeders Are Getting Harshed

The “Park Free or Die” movement has few fans in uniform.

Sean McFarland

This article was originally posted on The Drive, a Time Inc. publication.


parkingmeters_100615_hero

Few of life’s everyday curveballs deliver as much frustration as a parking ticket slapped to a windshield. Local authorities versus street parkers: Isn’t it obvious who always loses?

But in New Hampshire, this joust is actually favoring drivers who forget to feed their meters. Robin Hood of Keene, an activist group based in Keene, N.H., has been combatting meter maids since 2009. The methods are simple enough: Trot a few paces ahead of parking enforcement, add time to expiring meters and leave a business card alerting the vehicle’s owner that the group’s efforts have spared them a citation.

However, parking enforcement officers are not amused, and the city has brought harassment charges against the group, claiming the crusaders have been less than cordial, even aggressive. Some officers even claim to have sought counseling for their encounters.

The Robin Hooders maintain their innocence, claiming that their intentions are merely to save people a hassle.

“It’s ridiculous,” Ian Freeman, a Robin Hooder who told us that his group’s amiable rapport with the meter maids only turned sour when the city filed a suit in 2013. “The demeanor of the parking enforcers has changed dramatically since. Essentially, they’re doing it because they’ve been told to.”

According to the Keene Sentinel, city officials are fighting the Robin Hooders in court, requesting a 10-foot “buffer zone” from the activists—a move that, as the group points out, would effectively kill the practice.

“But I suspect there will be at least one person who’s willing to violate the order and just continue on as normal,” Freeman said. “This is Keene. We’ve got a bunch of activists here and a number have been arrested for civil disobedience in the past.”

Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. of Cheshire County Superior Court previously rejected the city’s injunction request and civil suit against the group, noting that the First Amendment protected the Robin Hooders’ actions. The city’s appeal to the New Hampshire Supreme Court was also denied on similar grounds.

Not to show our hand too much, but we’d welcome the Robin Hooders in New York, specifically along the perimeter streets of The Drive’s bunker. Plenty of work for them here.

The Pride of the Ocean State

Lil’ Rhody is no Hollywood—just don’t tell Ben Hague that.

Sean McFarland

On the surface, Ben Hague looks like just another comedian trying to make it big in Manhattan—and it looks like he just might. He presents topical comedy effortlessly, stands before massive audiences with ease, and is confident in a way that almost makes you jealous. Although the RI-based comedian is beginning to make his mark in New York City, he’s not quite through with his work back home.

In Rhode Island, Hague leapfrogged from morning television, to drive-time radio, to headlining on the state’s comedy scene before taking his talents to the big city. Many in the Ocean State wondered if they’d ever see him again. But Ben made sure not to let his comedy career get in the way of his latest Rhode Island-based project. Getting Home is Hague’s first film, one that he not only wrote, but also starred in.

(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)
(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)

Because the short film follows a pair of soldiers on their last few days of service in Afghanistan as they fight to return to their base, Hague took the opportunity to extend the movie’s scope beyond the big screen. Operation Stand Down, a RI-based charity committed to supplying veterans with local housing, will see a portion of the Getting Home’s proceeds. So far, the movie has a bright future, debuting before a sold-out crowd in Newport in late September—all of which makes Hague question swapping his future in comedy for a future in filmmaking.

You’ve been a standup comedian for a while. What sparked the transition from that to executive producer and actor?

As a comic, you’re technically a writer, and I’ve always been fascinated with the drama side of stuff, and I went to school for that. But I honestly, personally, just needed a break from comedy. I was not in a really good place with my comedy at the time. I was sick of writing jokes every day and was just frustrated a little bit and needed something totally the opposite.

So you wrote a drama.

It opened up a part of my brain that I don’t use very often doing comedy. It was a challenge and it was just exciting—I was really excited to get up everyday and work on it.

What was the inspiration for the film?

Well I’m a big supporter of the military and both my grandfathers served, my cousins and uncles have served and to be honest, I always said to myself if I do a movie, I’d love to do a war movie.

Did you want the audience to leave the theater with a certain mentality?

I wanted them to leave with a thought of, “Wow, there are so many untold stories about our soldiers that are probably similar to this one that happen every single day.” Not every story is a Black Hawk Down or a Saving Private Ryan, sometimes it’s just like what I wrote: these two guys are just these young kids who talk about war and also the people that they left behind: the parents, their wives, their kids. The soldiers aren’t the only ones who go to war.

I agree. My father served in Desert Storm.

Yeah, so you know how it is, man. There are so many aspects of what happens when a soldier goes away. I really wanted to capture the isolation that these guys go through a story that’s truly believable.

When you were playing SGT Justin Carrier, did you learn anything from your character that took you by surprise?

No matter how tough these guys are, these guys are vulnerable. These guys have feelings. They do open up to their buddies. They do talk about their hopes and their dreams and seeing where they want to be when they get home, as opposed to just being these robots that are stuck out there to do their job. These are human beings.

Getting Home pairs up with Rhode Island’s own Operation Stand Down. How did that pairing come to fruition?

When I started writing the movie, I said we’d do some sort of premiere or something like that, and I wanted to team up with a charity. I decided to go with Operation Stand Down because it directly benefits soldiers from Rhode Island. 90% of the movie was shot in Rhode Island, a lot of the funds that we raised came from Rhode Island, and so I kind of wanted to keep it there.

You mentioned that you’d be pitching the film to festivals. Which ones exactly?

All the big ones. We’re going to send it to Sundance, Tribeca and see what happens. I think we’re going to do really well in some smaller ones, local festivals, whether it’s Newport, or Cape Cod, or smaller ones across the country. What we were able to do on our budget, you just don’t see in independent films. You watch any short and it’s two people sitting around chatting and it cost them $20,000 whereas for about $9,000-10,000, maybe $12,000 max, our film has helicopters in our movie, explosions, a cast and crew of twenty people—you just don’t see that.

I had ten or fifteen friends who came out to Quonset Air Base on a Sunday morning in the cold to put on shorts and a t-shirt to run army drills to be guys in the background. If they all said, “Eh screw this, I’m hungover, I’m staying in bed,” guess what? None of those scenes look as spectacular or as real or as believable.

(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)
(Courtesy: Getting Home-The Film)

On Facebook, you reached out to your followers to help find props, filming locations, even various crew positions. What was it like having that support?

People knew from the beginning, they could just tell how passionate I was about this project. People wanted to be involved. Rhode Island is unique like that where it’s so beyond supportive. If I were born anywhere else, this film would never have been made. That’s the bottom line.

What’s next for Ben Hague?

Standup will always be my first love and I will always use my standup to pay the bills and make a living. I took so much time away from that because this movie was just so time consuming, so I’m looking forward to getting out and writing a new hour of material.

But that being said, this film opened my eyes to what I want to college for, which was acting and writing. As much as I love doing standup, and I’ll always do standup, this opened my eyes to like, “Man, this is what you should be doing.” Every day was so exciting on set—I loved every minute of it.

The Price of Fandom

Sean McFarland

The Union Square Barnes & Noble has long been the main stage for the larger names in New York City book signings. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and Stephen Colbert have all headlined at the four-story reading/Nook/knick-knack/Starbucks mecca to autograph their texts before eager fans who’ve waited hours for a fifteen second interaction with their favorite celebrity. Even the upcoming set list of book authors is noteworthy, highlighting acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Nye, and James Franco.

This isn’t at all similar to the midtown location of B&N, which is less like the main stage at a music festival and more like the one closest to the parking lot with the bands that you forgot about. Far be it to call Mick Fleetwood a B-tier act, but his bookstore audience of less than 100 was hardly smashing through the entrance for an autograph.

“This is just another day at the office,” said Mike Knight as he reached down and inched forward his two green bags brimmed with Fleetwood’s autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography. “I’ve got 15. There aren’t many people here, so I’d be pretty happy if I could get $85 a piece for them.” Mike, who makes his living off of such signings, was poised to earn a handsome profit from the $25.50 copies. Several of Mike’s neighbors in line exhaled disapprovingly at the thought of such exploitation.

A hardcore, but muted handful arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure their spot in line. Mike, 33rd in line, arrived 45 minutes before 1 p.m. event.

“I’m getting these signed for my family,” said #34 as he smiled upward at Mike who was busy playing with his phone. Once he notices the eager grin, Mike smirks in return upon the shorter, older man. Bill is his name. “My son couldn’t be here and we’re all big fans. I’m just happy to be here.” Bill eagerly clutched three books at chest level, front covers folded open for signing, ready for the strokes of Fleetwood’s Sharpie.

“Bill Clinton I met a few times,” said Mike as he thumbed through photo albums of book signings on his silver HTC. The middle aged man poked at his silver hair and picked at his orange oxford shirt. Mike’s voice was deep and, like his appearance, was eerily similar to that of Anthony Bourdain—who he’s also met. “These signings never get crazy, but some are busier than others. The Clintons, KISS, Muhammad Ali were all nuts.”

The sleepy line barely wrapped around the corner onto 46th street. Swap Fleetwood Mac’s formerly explosive fan base for one with aching knees, a bedtime south of 9 p.m., and a fancy for Reader’s Digest, and you’ve nailed 80% of the attendees. Most of the patrons under 40 sought autographs for their parents. A man named William sat first in line and was the lone fan that brought a folding canvas chair for the event. The second man in line stood awkwardly close to the seated William. Perhaps an appearance by Lindsey Buckingham would have gathered more lawn furniture.

Half asleep and embittered ushers in cheap, black suits herded the line into the store and up the escalator, and instructed them to wrap around the fiction section in a cramped, but orderly line. The Michael Buble store soundtrack was abruptly stopped and “Go Your Own Way” began to play. The three men behind Mike yawned in unison.

At 1:14 p.m., an employee announced that Fleetwood wouldn’t be personalizing his signatures. The lone woman in line, #31, humphed and muttered something about her father’s name in Mick’s handwriting. A few others rolled their eyes.

“If he’s not doing that, I wonder how he’ll feel about signing fifteen books for one person,” Mike whispered as he flipped his investments to their cover pages. “It said this was an unlimited book signing, but you never really know what these guys will do or how high maintenance they’re going to be.”

The line lurched forward and Mike began to crane over the line to catch a glimpse of the Fleetwood Mac drummer. He fidgeted with a point and shoot camera and hurriedly ushered his books forward, hitting the heels of the ponytailed man in front of him.

“Sorry.”

Mick Fleetwood’s appearance is exactly what you’d expect from a rocker now past his heyday. His black jeans, white button down, and plaid red vest were hardly indicative of a rock star. Even though Fleetwood was balding, his remaining white hair was tied into a short ponytail. Couple this with a paper white beard and Fleetwood looked less like a rock star and more like Santa Claus before the Christmas rush—although Santa never had a polite British accent and flirted with readers about his home in Maui.

Mike snapped rapid-fire pictures on his small camera and almost completely missed his turn. Fleetwood’s publicist cheered and nodded at the sight of Mike deadlifting his bags of books toward the drummer. He pointed from across the small space and smiled, “Now that’s what we’re talking about.” Mike breathed a sigh of relief as he was ushered in front of Mick.

Fleetwood, sharpie in hand, mouthed, “wow” and began tackling the first book.

Mike glanced at Fleetwood’s matching red sport coat on the back of the chair. “That’s one hell of a jacket.” Fleetwood looked back, temporarily pausing his signatures. The three metal wristbands on his signing hand jingled loudly.

“Oh thank you,” said Mick, “It’s a hand-me-down from Rod Stewart.”

A long awkward pause ensued. Mick puckered his lips and moved swiftly through the pile. Mike fiddled nervously with his jean pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. Eye contact wasn’t necessary. Mike and Mick both understood what was happening. This was a business transaction. Nothing more. Nothing less. Mike did his best to distract Mick.

“Is there anyone else from the era that you’d like to play with anytime soon?”

Fleetwood finished signing the fourteenth copy. “Hmm, I think it would be pretty cool to get Rod and Ronnie Wood together to play a show.”

“That would be cool!” said Mike as he grinned uncomfortably.

Fleetwood signed the fifteenth copy. “It’s all about getting the guys together to do something pure. It’s not always about the money.”

*Some names in this story have been altered to protect their interests.

The horseless carriage, electrified in New York

Sean McFarland

This article was originally published on BBC Autos.

Horseless eCarriage

With animal rights activists calling for the end of the horse-drawn carriage era, several companies have begun fielding equine-friendly alternatives. One proposal put forth by a Florida company at the 2014 New York auto show attempts to preserve the romance of a cruise through Manhattan’s most famous park, without the horsepower.

The horse-drawn carriages of Central Park have been a staple of New York City tourism since the early 1900s. But while these chariots carry thousands of awe-struck visitors through New York City’s largest park every year, they have recently come under attack, with critics – including Mayor Bill de Blasio – citing what they call inhumane treatment and boarding of the animals at the front.

Horseless eCarriage

Jason Wenig, owner of a high-end coachwork and fabrication business, The Creative Workshop, proposes the Horseless eCarriage. This electric leviathan is a homage to the classic cars of the “brass era”. However, unlike the polished vehicles of the early 20th century, Wenig’s creation is electric.

With a claimed 100-mile range, the front-engine, rear-drive coach generates the equivalent of 84 horsepower and a top speed of 30 mph. Charging its lithium iron phosphate battery from a 220-volt outlet should take six hours, according to the company. For a vehicle that weighs about 7,500lbs when filled to its eight-passenger capacity, this carriage is no dainty surrey with a fringe on top.

Horseless eCarriage

The green and black carriage is awash in clever details, such as LED turning signals housed in oil lamps, three-abreast rear seating and even historical New York guidebooks on the seatback. For all this, Wenig argues that his creation is cheap to build and maintain – at least relative to keeping a team of horses in hay.

The eCarriage, however, is no shoe-in. It must secure political backing, both from elected officials and in the form of grant money to offset vehicle costs to carriage operators – who work privately. Regardless of whether this creation ends up seeing Center Drive,  its nostalgia-baiting design and sheer girth are enough to overshadow many cars at the auto show.

(Photo credit: Sean McFarland)

Eye Wall of Relief

Sean McFarland

This article is also published on New York Magazine‘s Bedford & Bowery website.

IMG_2942

Despite the flip-flops, Chris Miles had clearly come to his restaurant to work. He wore a pair of frayed camouflage shorts and a white “Connelly’s Rockaway Beach 2013” t-shirt that was peppered with holes, slightly exposing his tan skin. As he sat in a dining room full of unwrapped furniture, contractors worked diligently, installing new lights and booths in the bar area. The room was electric with determination.

On Oct. 17, nearly a year to the day that Sandy wiped out his seafood restaurant on Beach 129th Street, Miles and his business partner Bill Keating reopened the business as Pico, a Mexican eatery. It’s been a long time coming. A year ago, Sandy took dead aim at the neighborhood of Belle Harbor, and filled Rockaway Seafood Co. with three feet of ocean. The storm’s massive tidal swells caused an electrical short and sparked a fire around 130th Street. While the fire didn’t consume the entirety of Miles’s business, it did kiss the rear of the building, burning out a storage room and a 15 by 20 foot section of the roof. The next morning, tables and chairs were strewn about, the building smelled of smoke, and there was a three-foot-high stripe on every wall. “Basically the only equipment that was above water were the compressors and the walk-in boxes, and those got burnt out by flames,” Miles chuckled and shook his head.  “So if the water didn’t get you, the fire did.” After starting as a general manager there, he had just bought the restaurant in April.

Like so many others in Rockaway, Miles had to navigate through a tangled web of insurance forms and government programs to receive any money for the destruction. “It took like eight months before we got any money,” he said. Though he wouldn’t get into specifics regarding repair costs, he noted that the majority of the restoration was paid out of his own pocket. His case was especially complicated because Rockaway Seafood Co. had fire and water damage.

photo 1

While the restaurant was in limbo, Miles spent a great deal of free time volunteering with a friend who created Friends of Rockaway, a non-profit organization to help rebuild the waterlogged homes in Rockaway.

Megan Corley, volunteer coordinator for Friends of Rockaway, organizes the vigilante group of rebuilders and described how the non-profit was formed. “Two Rockaway natives came back after the storm to help their own families and work on their homes,” Megan explained. “They quickly started helping neighbors and people in the community, and it just grew from there.”

Today, Friends of Rockaway operates out of a donated house and is composed entirely of volunteers, working like carpenter ants to methodically rebuild homes in the area. Typical services include digging out and cleaning basements, drywall installation, and interior painting. The organization has fully rebuilt 18 homes and has dug out over 600 others.

As a volunteer with the group, Miles took it upon himself to help other local companies with their paperwork. “I kind of handled the small business initiative where I went around to all the businesses and taught them about loans.” Miles said. “A lot of these people had no clue.”

Miles mentioned one woman named Sunny who struggled with English and owned a nail salon on 116th Street. Like many others in Rockaway, Sunny had no idea about the recovery programs available. With Miles’s help, the language barrier between her and the government became a non-issue. “She ended up getting a nice loan and a real nice grant, like an $8,000 grant, which she never would have known about.”

photo 3

As Miles continued to rattle off names of people he and the organization have helped, mentioning each by their first name and even diving into their backstories and personal lives, it became apparent that this community, though battered by a natural disaster, was keen on recovering as a group.

And recover they did. The neighborhood looks far removed from the nautical graveyard depicted on cable news just a year ago. It will still be a while until Rockaway Beach is back to being the tourist hot spot of yesteryear. Until then, Miles will continue to personify the friendly “chip on the shoulder” attitude shared by many of Rockaway’s residents — down but not out. Bruised but not broken.

“We’ve been closed for eleven months. This is my income. I haven’t really worked. I have two small mortgages,” he said. “Am I pretty deep in debt right now? Yeah. Does it stink? Yeah.” And then he knocked twice on the oak table. “It’s going to come back.”

Miles describes Pico as a “local place,” but with its freshly unwrapped image, it seems destined to lure more diners from Queens, Brooklyn, and even Manhattan. “The word Pico on its own translates to something positive — peak, as in peak performance, peak of the mountain,” Miles explained. “And it’s easy to say and it’s not cheesy.”