Teri Orr: Riffs about riffs…
Gumpian. As in Forrest Gump-ian. Sometimes my life feels like the movie character who had remarkable coincidental connections with incredible fascinating people. I also think Park City acts as a kind of cosmic Velcro in the universe. Strange characters float in the galaxy and then stick here for a piece of time. And then detach again and float away.
There are no other earthly explanations for my good fortune in tripping over and into and intersecting in such odd ways with so many multi-textured humans.
This week the news pushed me to think back to a dinner on March 15, 1992. How can I be so certain about the date? It was my son’s 21st birthday. He was doing a semester abroad in France. I told him in our weekly call — the Sunday before — he needed to call home on that next Sunday night of his birthday for a very special surprise. He has rued the days since he blew off making that call home. Instead he took a train to Belgium to bike with some young women. Which sounds pretty fun for turning 21. But he forever missed having Eddie Van Halen sing
“Happy Birthday” to him from my dining room, here in Park Meadows.
I was still editor of the Park Record that year and I had hired a photographer, David with an Italian-sounding last name who was a great shooter and in no way a pretentious prima donna, as my former photog had been. He was handsome and tall and funny — so very dry funny. He showed up one day — as serendipity would have it — when I learned my current photog was leaving to run rivers in Southern Utah. He asked if I had an opening. I said yes.
Then he asked me what felt like a strange question before he took the job.
He asked what our policy was on photographing celebrities — it might have been when Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields were coming to town and having quiet dinners at the DownUnder of the Claimjumper. I said I felt pretty strongly about it. If a celebrity was in Park City to promote a charity event — ski races or golf tournaments or the fledging Sundance Film Festival — they were fair game at the events they attended in support of those charities. But if they were in town apart from that — just to ski or dine or walk on Main Street — they were “off season,” absolutely off-limits — no shots allowed. David seemed pleased with my answer. We ended up both passing the test.
I remember so clearly one day we were late to an event and taking the stairs two at time to a press conference at Sneakers (it was a bar on the second floor of what is now the Marc). We had been talking about a little house on Park Avenue in Old Town coming on the market for sale. He said he should tell his sister about it. She and her husband had been disappointed in how they had been treated in Aspen with paparazzi but really wanted a ski place. I asked what his sister did for a living. He said — “You know — she’s an actress.” I was dumbfounded. “She is?” “Yeah,” he said, “I thought you figured that out when I applied for the job. Isn’t that why you hired me?”
I hired you — I said — “because you could shoot.” And then I had an embarrassing epiphany. “Wait — David Bertinelli — is your sister Valerie? Married to Eddie Van Halen?” “Yep,” he said.
And we entered the press conference late and I knew enough to let that conversation stay on the stairs. And going forward I just always called him — Nelly.
Park City was growing characters by the minute back then and there was this guy from New York who rode into town one day on a motorcycle and played the piano for a couple of weeks at The Depot — which a decade or so later became Redford’s restaurant — Zoom. It was a rough place in the ’90s with uneven floors and snow that drifted in side boards in the winter. It is now an abandoned building on Main Street in the shadow of the Sky Lodge. Rich was like a younger version of Billy Joel — banging the keys and singing in a full-throated way — back then mostly other people’s songs. Eventually, he brought his girlfriend out to Park City and they got married at the Church of Dirt at the top of dirt road known as Guardsman Pass.
I don’t know if Kate Jackson (yes, the original Charlie’s Angel one) and her husband still owned The Depot then. They had a bought a little track home down the street from me on Meadows Drive. But there were so many other places in town the city had allowed to have the name, Meadows Drive — they decided to change the name of my street to Little Kate Road — in her honor. We did things like that then. It didn’t seem like a big deal and required no public meetings.
David, my photographer, and Rich, the piano man, became friends. Along with John Helton, who my friend used to call — the loudest artist in Park City. This winter — John sold one of his bronzes for six figures in New York City.
David arranged a ski trip for Valerie so she could come see the town. Her baby, Wolfie, was turning a year old and Eddie was just getting out of Betty Ford treatment center. David asked if I would have them over to my house for a dinner — it seemed safe. So we invited Rich Wyman and Lisa and our friend, who was a lawyer and later became a judge. It took some planning, which is why I knew they would be at my home on Randy’s birthday. David said he would get Eddie to sing “Happy Birthday.” Wolfie was going to be a year old the next day — March 16.
Back in those days I threw dinner parties all the time. Not like folks do today. I mean, I cooked some pasta and tossed a salad and put a bottle of red and white on the table. And I had berries for dessert with whipped cream. It wasn’t about the food then. It was always about the conversations.
By the time I served the dessert and the whipped cream came out somebody decided to squirt the whipped cream at somebody else. There were two cans and before long we all had whipped cream in our hair, which was so silly and strangely innocent. It wasn’t like a rock star trashing a hotel room — it was more like a spring break release for all of us. Rich and Lisa left to perform at Pop Jenks bar in the basement (now Flanagan’s) and they saved a table for Ed and Valerie. Wolfie and the nanny left from my upstairs bedroom where he had been sleeping. My son called the next day to tell me of his great adventure. I told him that sounded amazing and by the way — he had missed a birthday serenade by Eddie Van Halen. He was — in a word — bummed.
That night Eddie heard Rich play and the two struck up a friendship that resulted in Eddie producing Rich’s second album, “Fatherless Child.” David married and moved away. And Valarie and Eddie got divorced and sold the tiny house on Park Avenue.
I never was a rocker. My life was pretty tame. It just kept getting crossed with interesting characters. I’m gonna honor Eddie’s memory pretty simply — with an aerosol can of whipped cream shot in my mouth this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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It’s fitting in this fact-free world, writes columnist Tom Clyde, for Wasatch County officials to host a “grand opening” for a road that isn’t open yet.