On the Run From Johnny Law: Off to Hillsboro To Save a Motel and Watch Bottle Rocket

Andy Carl Valentin and Chris Durbin didn't expect this. Not this. Certainly not. When first they hatched their cockamamie scheme -- to rescue from fiscal despair a Days Inn off I-35 in Hillsboro -- the two reservoir geeks put out the word via Facebook and guesstimated a grand total of, oh, five participants. Them and a few friends and maybe, maybe, some random fans of the movie filmed at this motel 16 years ago: Bottle Rocket, the debut of writer-director Wes Anderson starring collaborator Owen Wilson, his brothers Luke and Andrew, and Bob Musgrave as the getaway driver.

"This exceeds my wildest dreams," Valentin said last night. He stood on the second floor of the former Windmill Inn in front of the room he and Durbin were sharing -- Room 212, the same one shared by Dignan, Anthony and Bob when they went on the run from Johnny Law after holding up the old Taylor's bookstore that once stood in the NorthPark parking lot.

Below were, oh, 200, 250 complete strangers wandering the lawn -- setting up seats, swimming, drinking beer bought from the 'cross-the-parking-lot 7-Eleven, buying movie posters, waiting for it to get dark. Some had never seen the film; others were out in the field, recreating scenes and posing for photos. "Amazing." Valentin said. "Just ... amazing."

Most nights, the motel's empty save for a few stragglers who'd pulled off the highway. Tonight, more than 60 rooms had been sold. "And there are four people staying in most of them," said the girl working behind the counter when she wasn't directing folks to the pool area. "It's crazy. And so cool."

There were a few familiar faces from Dallas, among them Barak Epstein of the Texas Theatre;. But many had come from faraway places -- Oklahoma City, said more than a few, and one man had flown in from Arizona. (He explained his circuitous route, courtesy Delta, involved myriad connecting flights and a last-leg drive down from Dallas.) The post-screening pool party that broke out 'round midnight-thirty, so I was told this morning by Friend of Unfair Park LaceyB, more than justified most travelers' plans.

I'd driven down with an old friend: Bob Musgrave, who I met years ago, during the shooting of Bottle Rocket, when Matt Zoller Seitz was working on this making-of for the Observer. Bob was reluctant when I first mentioned it back in May. I wasn't sure till 5:18 last night, when I picked him up at his Oak Lawn apartment, that he was really going. Bob's a writer of screenplays now, has been for a while; he's got a fast-approaching deadline on a pet project, and wasn't sure that driving 63 miles down Memory Lane was the best way to spend his time.

The crowd convinced him otherwise: They asked him to pose for pictures and sign their DVDs and posters and share some stories, and he was happy to oblige. "Must be weird to be back," they would say. "Yup," he would say. But truth be told, Bob only spent one night at the motel during the two weeks the cast and crew camped out in Hillsboro; he spent most of the movie's shoot holed up in the Stoneleigh.

Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse, who set up the movie screen and had the posters made and turned Valentin and Durbin's little thing into a Rather Big Deal, asked Bob to say a few words before the screening. "This is a very cool thing Andy and Chris have done," said Bob. "And this is a very hip thing the Alamo Drafthouse is doing, showing movies in spots that are significant to cult, milestone films." He said some other kind, warm things: Wes, Owen, Luke and he, said Bob, made the film at a time when they were just "innocent buddies." When he finished, someone shouted: "Idiocracy rules!"

League, sporting a piece of white tape across the bridge of his nose (exactly), called it "hands-down [my] favorite comedy of all time ... It was, in fact, the only movie in the history of movies that caused me physical pain from laughter. So cheers to Bottle Rocket."

During the screening, Bob heckled the screen, himself. When his character tells Owen's that "I think there's a real air of mystery about me," Bob grinned and said to himself -- and the couple sitting next to him -- "No there's not." He called the experience "bittersweet"; he was glad he went. We stayed for an hour, then headed back to Dallas -- Bob needs to finish his screenplay, after all. Still, one question remains: How does an asshole like Bob get such a great kitchen?

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