It’s Tuesday, Feb. 4, and I’m sitting in my office at the Journal watching someone walk along 4th Street, strewing garbage as he goes: paper plates, empty milk cartons, a jar of honey, a mustard bottle. Normally I’d go out and say something to the scofflaw, who is doing all this in broad daylight, but I remain inside.
There are also several people walking past the office, more than I’d usually see on a typical Tuesday. The strange thing is that it’s the same people again and again, as if they’re caught in a version of the film Groundhog Day. Their pace never varies, and their route never alters. Again, this would usually strike me as suspicious, but again I stay silent.
I also resolve to stay quiet about the two industrial garbage bins which have sprung up beside the Mascon building and across the lane from the Journal building. Both are overflowing with large black garbage bags that are clearly filled with rubbish; old tires and wooden pallets are stacked nearby.
If you haven’t already guessed, it all means that after three weeks of prep work, filming has started on the episode of The Twilight Zone being shot in Ashcroft. The garbage spread over the sidewalks and streets is obviously part of the scene; at the end of the afternoon a crew member with a garbage bag picks it all up. The passers-by are extras, one of them my friend Jim Mertel, who says he’s having a lot of fun. The garbage containers and assorted rubbish are set dressing, designed to lend artistic verisimilitude to the scene.
The street has been humming with activity since early morning, and before filming starts I take the opportunity to brave the cold and see what they’ve done to the buildings on 4th. The Ashcroft Museum is an apartment building, which apparently has rooms to let. The Mascon building is an insurance agency which has clearly gone bust, as a large sign in the window reads “Price Reduced – FORECLOSURE – Bank Owned”. The Journal building has also obviously seen better days; a sign on the second storey identifies it as the Littleton Standard building, but signs in the windows read “Retail For Lease”. Is the Standard another victim of changing patterns in how people get their news?
Lawn signs urge people to vote “Conley for Mayor”. A rusted swing-set and two old bikes decorate the lawn of the blue building at the corner of 4th and Brink. Residential garbage cans are dented and dinged; a greenhouse on the lawn of the church has rust stains running down the glass panes. The “Diner” sign that has appeared beside the post office is badly faded and needs a coat or two of paint. A handful of 1970s-vintage cars, all of which could do with some TLC, are angle-parked on 4th.
The overall impression is that of a small town that has perhaps seen better days and is now going slightly to seed. Whether or not this is borne out by the script remains to be seen, but it all looks good on the ground, and when I have a chance to meet the set designer I congratulate him on the job he’s done setting the scene. “Good set design is like good editing,” I note. “If it’s done well, you shouldn’t notice it,” and he nods.
It all looks very impressive, and a far cry from the street’s usual appearance, which returns to something like normal at the end of the day as equipment is trundled away and the crew disperses. What it will look like on the screen remains to be seen, but it will be interesting comparing what I watch on my television with what I watched being filmed in real life, and even more interesting to see a part of Ashcroft I know particularly well preserved for posterity on film. It won’t be Ashcroft, of course, just a version of a small part of it, but I guess that’s what happens when you enter the Twilight Zone: almost nothing is as it seems.