Friday, March 10, 2006


I made finalist! In two months, I hit San Diego Legoland and compete with 27 other people for the model building job. Yes, yes, yes. Yes.

You can see me and my entry here. (Not the best ever picture of me, but meh.)

My friend Andy (see his cool website) had alerted me to the add on Craigslist: an open spot for a Legoland Carlsbad model builder. It's a national search: seven cities, of which SF was the third. I took a look at the finalists before me in San Diego and LA, and figured out without too much head scratching that the theme was Pirates. Arrrrhhh.

I called in sick this morning, setting my alarm wicked early so I knew I'd get my boss's voicemail. The event ran from 3pm to 7, but I didn't want a day's work stress crowding my focus. I had an idea of what I was going to do -- a big parrot head, and at about 11:30 I sat down to do a practice run. Less than five minutes in, I realized there was nothing I could do to prepare myself further. I caught a whiff of that familiar zing I get when, in the small sphere of influence between my hands, I have to make something beautiful, and fast. But I could also feel that it would kick in when the time came.

The day itself wasn't very fun. Stage fright. You can't do anything about it but get through. I emerged from the train with 20 minutes to spare, determined to get myself a Mounds bar before I went in. I had a message. Was it Legoland, telling me I was late? Nope. "Kick ass, kick ass, kick ass" said JPX in my ear, telling me I could do this. A welcome boost. I settled for a pack of Rollos.

This happened at the Art Institute, an SF art school. The lobby had some beautiful, big models in it, and some tables with legos piled on them. This wasn't the competition room, these people are just entouraged by piles of loose legos. They gave me forms to fill out. I was still pretty nervous and wasn't feeling very chatty, but I overheard the pirate theme being discussed. Arrrrhhh.

I was paired with another guy who finished his forms about the same time, and up we went. They had prepared for more people than they'd got, at least at that point in the day. Thinking back, I'm pretty sure there was only one other pair of guys at work. The reason I'm a little fuzzy on the subject is that there were at least three people in there with big TV cameras on their shoulders. We got a brief rundown from Pat, introduced as the head of the model shop. Much younger guy than you'd think (if I'm remembering his title correctly).

There were seven big bins full of legos on tables at the edge of the room. Everybody got a bucket and a baseplate. You could go get legos from the bins at any time, as many times as you wanted. "I'm looking for a finished model, guys." We got one hour.

I went over and started grabbing red bricks, then thought I'd be better off using the giant metal scoop and dumping it back at my table. The camera guys were in real close as we scooped and dug, and as we built they got lots of close-ups of our busy hands and furrowed brows. I held up my model to get a good side-view look at it, figuring how many more layers before I worked on the upper beak. The camera guy, two feet away, said "wow, are you doing this all in your head?" I stammered out a yes of some sort. Ten minutes later all the cameras had left, and it was just me muttering to myself, hunting for pieces, hearing them bounce on the floor when I dropped them.

I'll save the technical talk for my fellow freaks, but suffice to say the zing did me right. The parrot head came out great, and I'd given him an eye patch. I'd finished the basic elements in just 45 minutes. I had time at the end to add a bunch of extra yellow "feathers" to the back, and I had time to find that one white piece I had subbed in as part of the beak and switch it to yellow. When the hour stuck, I was just taking out the camera for some pictures.

Right after they took my picture, they asked me if I'd talk with their documentary crew for a bit. Since the head was fragile in ways only I knew best, I carried it downstairs myself. With my other hand, I spent a second or two showing off pictures of my other lego creations on my iPod. I felt great, completely relieved. My reticence had reversed itself, and what better time to talk to a documentary crew than when you're feeling all Chatty Kathy. They shot this in a tiny room with a gorgeous rack of organized legos on a table behind me. I answered questions and rattled on about model building, toys, three-dimensional sketch pads and whatever. The room was so tiny the camera man was out in the hall, and sometimes I'd say things over again because a toilet had flushed nearby.

Then I was done. I shot some pictures in the lobby and left. The windy day had turned nasty rainy. I called Adam and he was just getting home, so I invited myself over. I told them about the day and we checked the website every few minutes (which now, hours later, is still not yet featuring my mug). At about 9:30 they called me. I was fairly composed on the phone but shrieked like a harpy the second I hung up. Julie, the PR person who called me, said I'd made a very good model. And get this...on Sunday, I'm in a spot they're doing on TV. Hee hee.

I hung with A&J for a while, drinking vodka and talking strategy (I've got some practicing to do). I made some phone calls, and my roommate Julian told me that the usual crew would be at Beckett's in Berkeley. I stopped there on the way home, got some more vodka and hugs. The support and good wishes I've gotten from everyone has been wonderful.

Now I'm home staying up late, hoping that looking tired tomorrow will seem like looking sick, and really hoping nobody saw me on TV today. Although that's probably the coolest way to get caught.

What a great day.


JPX said...

Yes indeed! I'm so happy that you decided to take the plunge and give this a shot. After reviewing some of the previous finalists, I knew that you'd be included because your stuff is SO MUCH BETTER! I know it's a large competition with lots of competitive people, but you'll be the one to beat I'm sure. Like I've said before, you've been practicing for 3 decades. No matter what happens the finals should be really fun. In the best case scenario, you'll be giving me free tickets to Legoland some day...

Octopunk said...

No, the best case scenario is I swarm over the border and take over Mexico with my plastic army. But yours is pretty good, too.

DCD said...

Pshaw - a skull?! I could do that...
So beyond psyched for you baby cakes!

lydia said...

I am so, so, SO happy for you. Did I say that already. Arrrrrrrrrrrrsome.

Did I ever give you the prints of the Lego photos I took? Even if I did, we should get together sometime soon. Celebration is calling!

pzung said...

i'm suprised you didn't bring your own legos in one of those roll out tool bags.