Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 |
…in which I talk about my time with Gordon and the Whale.
As some of you may have heard, Gordon and the Whale will be shutting down as of August 31st. My involvement with the plucky little movie site that could is an odd tale at best, but from what I understand, most everyone who worked for the site has a similar story of curious nature. So as the site winds itself down into the annals of internet history, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on my involvement therein.
I can honestly say, I don’t remember how I first stumbled upon Gordon and the Whale years ago. I know that it appealed to me, however, because it was a local site with national ambitions. I’ve always been a movie fan and I like to think I’m a supporter of local enterprise when I can, so when I found Gordon and the Whale, I was really excited to get all my news, contests, swag, and reviews from people who were right around the corner!
Of course the most humble thing I can say about my early days of reading Gordon and the Whale is that they were the first real review site I read, and still are to this day. I don’t put a lot of stock in reviews, and I rely on a more broad shotgun effect for news, but here was a site that spoke my language and was as excited about these things as I was, so it really did appeal to me. It didn’t hurt that I won a couple of contests from them right off the bat.
So I followed the site for about six months when I started communicating with Chase over Twitter about his WordPress woes. It turned out that the person who was responsible for developing the site was no longer responsive to his requests and Chase was trying to fix and patch the code to no avail. I admitted to him that I also ran a WordPress site and that I could give him some advice and insight as needed. After a few small fixes, Chase finally hit me with something that could not simply be explained away, it had to be investigated and researched for a real solution. I can’t even remember what it was now, but all I know is I get a instant message from Chase saying “don’t you have an account on the site?” To which I say “yes.” The next message I get is “okay, now you’re an admin, can you fix it?” And almost exactly two years ago, that’s how I became a member of Gordon and the Whale.
Officially, it was another couple of months before I was a full fledged member with my name on the site and an actual (digital) introduction to the rest of the staff, but from the very first, Chase was treating me like a part of the family. But, like with most families, there was good and bad. He never hesitated to express his love and appreciation for my work, but there was also no end to it; and, being a side gig that I did after hours and on weekends, it was pretty tough to squeeze it all in. And I realize that fact was true of all of the members of the site, but I didn’t really get the perks of being able to go to free screenings, or later, to festivals or anything like that. Fortunately, Chase did whatever he could, whenever he could, to show his appreciation.
Every few months, Chase would show up with a big box of swag. Now, of course, we’re not talking a sweet deal here. We’re talking about a whole bunch of small DRAG ME TO HELL t-shirts, or a sack of HALLOWEEN keychain fobs, or even an oppressively thick stack of TWILIGHT posters. Every now and then, there was a gem in the batch, though. Heather has a really nice WHIP IT t-shirt, and as sad as it is to admit, I own no t-shirt more comfortable than the BORAT shirt that showed up in one of Chase’s boxes.
Eventually, the swag line dried up, but Chase and I had become good friends by then, so he started inviting me out to GATW events. He first started inviting me out to several screenings and previews, but as the father of a small child, it’s tough to get away at a moment’s notice. He always promised me reserved seating, but there was always precious little time between the invitation and the event. Not nearly enough time to find a sitter. I did eventually make it out to a press screening of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS with Chase and Rusty Gordon, his founding companion. Upon watching the movie in a room full of writers, press, and retirees (I’m still not sure about that one), I felt impassioned enough to write my own review of it. I only ever attended a couple of screenings, but one GATW event really did create one of my most surreal and memorable experiences of the previous decade.
Gordon and the Whale put together an event for the release of the Broken Lizard movie THE SLAMMIN’ SALMON (which I still have not seen). They did an oyster eating contest down in Dallas and my best friend Craig and I decided we’d go, just for the heck of it. Also, for the heck of it, Craig suggested that I make up some badges that read “we’re with the whale” with a little GATW logo on it. We really did it for no other reason than to be goofy, but something strange happened because of it. The people at the oyster bar assumed that we were somehow involved in the event, so they gave us free beer all night. But then, things got weirder and even more surreal. A friend of Chase had been invited to a Christmas party after the event and for reasons unbeknownst to me, he invited us, too. Without giving it a second thought, and figuring it was the magic of the badges, we went along.
It was a weird winding drive deeper into Dallas to a gated apartment building. We climbed several floors of parking garage and then crept down a narrow hallway to enter into a twilight zone of holiday parties. The room was dim and lit only by candles and Christmas lights, there was a bartender in the kitchen mixing drinks at request, and to top it all off, there was an actual jazz trio in the corner playing Christmas tunes. One quick glance around at the nearly black tie attire and we realized there was no good reason why we should even be there. Admittedly, I was pretty cocky and confident in my thrift store blazer, though, so we proudly entered and engaged in the party. I will fondly remember that night, when I felt like a party crasher well above my status as we left that party drunk and euphoric, all because of “the whale.”
And that’s kind of how it went for the most part. Chase would support me as best as he could while I supported the site as best as I could. Every now and then he would issue a request that was far beyond my abilities, but his encouraging words always pushed me through and we made the site bigger and better for it. We migrated servers more than any site should ever do in a two year period. We also crashed more servers than a site should in a two year period. We never did figure out where all the memory leaks came from or why our load times were so bad. It could have been bad code that I never had the chance to clear out. It could have been bad plugins that I could never convince the team to abandon. There’s no telling, but what I do know is that it was bittersweet when Chase told me that he was closing up shop and moving on. I had a to do list. Not a short to do list either, but a pretty extensive one.
You see, things have been pretty busy at my day job, and Chase’s requests have definitely gone far beyond the mundane WordPress stuff we started with. Not to mention, that I still suspect there’s a memory leak somewhere in the site that has been eluding me the entire time. For the better part of a year, I’ve been telling myself “when I get the time, I’m going to take a week off and rewrite the code.” Unfortunately, that time never came, so the site is still an amalgam of old code that was handed down to me, and clean code that I’ve been infusing into it during my tenure. So, yes, when Chase told me that the site was reaching its expiration date, I both shed a tear and breathed a sigh of relief. I enjoyed being part of something bigger than I’ve ever done before, but at the same time, it was getting too big for me to manage anymore… and I am so very, very small.
So now, as we wind down the last few weeks of Gordon and the Whale, I think about the times I had with them. I didn’t really get in on the ground floor, but in their four-year run, I was there for, in my opinion, the two best years. I missed out on the awkward infancy stages and managed to stumble on board right around the rockstar days. Much like the party in Dallas, I often found myself asking how I got there, so out of place, so in over my head. Was it some thrift store magic that matched me up with Chase and Rusty, James and Kate, and all the other podlings that have passed through these waters? My only regret is that I never did enough, but I did as much as I could and more. I never met most of the team, but I feel like I know many of them through their exploits and online personas. And I say once again, while I will be relieved of my duties as “Code Ninja” and find a little more time for work and play, I will miss the site and everything it has meant to me, DFW, and movie news around the world.
Sail away, fair whale, sail away.