Friday, May 23, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, my brother Craig sent me an e-mail with the subject line, “Let me know if this is a crazy idea.” He had included a series of links to sites about writer/director Kevin Smith and locations he used in some of his movies. Craig wanted to check out some of these places, including Kevin Smith’s comic store, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash, in Red Bank, NJ. Craig asked if I would be willing to play navigator on his little quest. Always up for a long road trip in search of places I’ve never been to before, I said sure.

In the fall of 1994, two movies came out that completely blew me away. One was Pulp Fiction; the other was Clerks. To me, both represented new visions from writer/directors who were of my generation. Pulp Fiction incorporated a visual style that reflected the comic books, low-budget exploitation films, and Hong Kong cinema that permeated the consciousness of many a geek who grew up in the 70s and 80s. Clerks was the stark, indie film showing what everyday life was like for middle-class young adults with no particular direction. The Look Back in Anger for the Gen-X crowd, only with a lot more dick jokes. I was really exhilarated to see both films, which to me were ushering in a new era of films aimed at my own sensibilities rather than my parents. For the rest of the 90s, I dutifully trudged out to see every Kevin Smith film, even finding Mallrats to have a certain charm.

By the 21st century, however, I have to say I cooled on Mr. Smith. My biggest issue with his movies was that, as he grew as a writer and attempted to tackle more challenging material, he was unwilling to let go of the sophomoric humor. Within the context of a Clerks or Mallrats, that sort of scatological and sexual material was hilarious, but in more serious films, it just got in the way. I would’ve loved Dogma so much more if Jay and Silent Bob had sat that one out, is all I’m saying.

Anyway, despite the fact that I’m am less of a Kevin Smith fan than Craig, I was still interested in joining his quest. So we set out from Baltimore on a long drive up the Jersey Turnpike. The day was one of those perfect spring days with temperatures in the low 60s, cool breezes, blue skies, and cotton-candy clouds. That is, except for the pop up storms that hit every half hour or so. You can see in the picture above how blue skies were in view even as we were getting pounded with rain.

After about three and a half hours of driving, we finally found our first stop: the Quik Stop Groceries store made famous in Clerks. Although the RST Video store is closed, the sign is still up and the videos sit neglected inside. My brother was downright giddy to see the place and hurried in while I took some pictures outside.

Shortly after taking this shot, some guy who looked like Jay came out of the store and got into that Camaro.

I took some shots inside to show how small the place is. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to film in those cramped confines. We asked the guy behind the counter if we could take these pictures and he said, “Sure. Fine.” He must get dopey tourists like us all the time.

After our quick stop at the Quik Stop, we took a short drive down to Red Bank. The town was actually more picturesque than it seemed in Chasing Amy. I took a shot of Jack’s Music Shop which was used in Chasing Amy not only as a music store, but as the entrance to the main characters’ studio and apartment.

Across the street is Smith’s comic store, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. I hadn’t set foot in a comic store in about three years, so it was fun to reconnect with my old passion and marvel (no pun intended) at how much the comic scene has changed. I bought a copy of The
Invincible Iron Man #1, which appears to be a reboot of the series in light of the new movie. This book was a much more sophisticated production than the old Iron Man comics I remember, and the story was quite good. To soothe my culture shock, I purchased a trade paperback collection of old Avengers stories and a World’s Finest Comic from 1979. Craig bought some Kevin Smith movie memorabilia and later said that he saw the manager and Smith cast regular, Walter Flanagan, behind the counter. Somehow
, I only saw the guy who rang me up.

Our next stop was at the Broadway Diner on Monmouth Street to grab a late lunch and visit the restrooms. This was a true, actual, old fashioned diner that the North East is well known for. Most of the diners in Baltimore are newly built with modern fixtures intended to remind you of the 30s, 40s, or 50s, but actually remind you of nothing in particular. They’re a mish-mash of chrome and formica. The Broadway Diner in Red Bank retains its original look, which was created with a carefully planned design. This is the real deal. The food is good, honest diner fare as well.

Happily sated, we continued to wander around town, and I was quickly drawn toward the Hobby Masters building (their sign apparently came off, but the Toy Masters sign next door is still intact). This was a huge, two-story space filled with all manner of hobby gear. Since my main interest is in plastic models, I had to check out their large selection. I was thrilled to discover a model I’ve been searching for: The Voyager by Moebius. I’ve waiting most of my life for someone to put out a model based on the aircraft from the Fantastic Voyage animated series, and now I have one in my stubby fingers.

The afternoon was fading when Craig and I set out for home. My poor navigational skills sent us on a meandering trip back to the Garden State Parkway and eventually to the New Jersey Turnpike, but it gave us plenty of time to talk and unwind. Craig even had time to educate me on the virtue of Kevin Smith’s movies. With my interest piqued, I plan to take a second look at the movies I’ve already seen and catch up on some of his later films.

We made it back to Baltimore around 8:30. Despite the hours of driving, both of us were pretty energized. I snatched one last photo of Craig excitedly displaying his Mooby the Golden Calf hat.

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