In the late-1980s, I worked as a television writer for Cartrends on the Financial News Network (now defunct). The show offered automotive reviews, segments about classic cars and interviews with industry personalities. I was paired with a producer named Shane. He was a tall, former college football player from Michigan who’d come to Los Angeles to become an actor. He fell into producing after meeting the owner of FNN at a local bar.
Every morning, Shane drove to Gold’s Gym in Venice for a workout and then stopped at a local juice bar for a protein smoothie. Shane was smitten with Helen, owner of the juice bar. Throughout the day, he’d wax poetic about her flowing brown hair, deep green eyes and curvy figure. One morning, Shane asked me to join him at the juice bar. He introduced me to Helen saying, “This is the girl I’m going to marry.” She laughed then blended his concoction of bananas, spinach and apples. She was friendly and attractive in a news correspondent kind of way. I liked her immediately. Shane nudged me with his elbow.
“My friend wants me to ask why you won’t go out with him,” I said.
“Tell your friend I’m taking a break from boys,” she replied. “Too much heartache.”
Shane was undeterred. He asked her out every single day for the next month. Each time she smiled and said no. He became convinced she was his soul mate.
Shane was a workaholic. He toiled late into the night logging video footage and editing episodes. He survived on burgers and fries, ordering double-doubles from In-N-Out for lunch and dinner. He urged me to join him but I opted for turkey sandwiches I brought from home.
Every Friday, we recorded intros and celebrity interviews with the host and executive producer Jim Wilson. Jim was a likable guy from Indiana who’d worked in marketing for Ford and GM. Cartrends was his baby and he used his car industry contacts to procure interviews with celebrities like Carroll Shelby (designer of the AC Cobra), Bob Hall (designer of the Mazda Miata) and Jay Leno (classic car collector).
During the interviews, I was stuck in a cramped control room with Shane as he grilled guests hoping to yield usable anecdotes. Shane was a talented producer. But he suffered from horrible flatulence. At some point during each interview session, I’d hear a low rumble beneath his chair sounding like the vibration of a Harley engine. This was followed by an acrid stench. My eyes would tear and I’d run to the bathroom to douse my face with water. I’d return to the control room with a wet towel over my face to filter the putrid air.
For one episode, we traveled to Auburn, Indiana to tape a show about the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Shane and I had adjoining seats for the four-hour flight. I convinced an elderly woman to trade seats with me, telling her I had a phobia requiring me to sit in back. Midway through the flight, the woman passed me in the aisle en route to the rear bathrooms. She held her hand over her mouth as if about to be sick. I knew immediately she’d been subjected to Shane’s intestinal pestilence.
Stories of Shane’s gaseous emissions spread through the FNN offices. We had contests coming up with colorful descriptions. A receptionist coined the phrase “anal halitosis.” A cameraman used the term “Satan’s bunghole.” A night janitor said the control booth “smelled like the black plague.” I counseled Shane to cut back on the burgers. He said he needed the animal protein to make it through the rigors of production.
Each episode featured a five-minute segment on a new car model. We borrowed cars from manufacturers and taped promotional pieces at scenic locations. We shot segments on Jaguar, Corvette, Lexus, Cadillac and Sterling. We were allowed two days with each vehicle. Only authorized precision drivers were permitted to operate the cars.
Jim convinced Rolls-Royce to loan us a new Silver Spur. At $85,000, it was the most expensive car we ever reviewed. The car was delivered on a Saturday morning. It was a gleaming, two-tone black and silver sedan with a retractable “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament. The man delivering the car was dressed in a tuxedo with white gloves. He told us he’d return on Monday to retrieve the vehicle.
That day, we shot footage of the Rolls on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Normally, Shane demanded at least two hours of B-Roll for each car. On this day, we wrapped after a half-hour.
“You sure we have enough,” I asked.
“We’re fine,” he said.
When we returned to the studio, he told me the real reason he’d cut the shoot short.
“I’m taking Helen out tonight.”
“She finally agreed. We’re going to Inn of the Seventh Ray.”
I knew the spot well. Nestled in Topanga Canyon above Malibu, it was the most romantic restaurant in Los Angeles. The outdoor tables were surrounded by oak and sycamore trees and it was poised beside a rippling creek.
“I’m taking the Rolls,” Shane said.
“Jim gave you permission?”
“He doesn’t know.”
“Think that’s a good idea?”
“It’s the most important date of my life so yes I do.”
Shane left the offices early to prepare for his evening. I later pieced the story together after speaking with Shane and Helen.
Shane drove the Rolls to his Marina Del Rey apartment. While showering, he felt a bit of a stomach ache he attributed to nerves. He stopped for flowers on Main Street then drove to Helen’s apartment in Santa Monica. She didn’t know what to make of the Rolls.
“At first I thought he rented the car to impress me,” she said. “Then I wondered if he borrowed a rich friend’s car. I considered cancelling the date because, you know, who is this guy? When he told me how he got the car, I relaxed. We laughed about it like we were millionaires for a night.”
They drove alongside the ocean as the setting sun scattered into pinkish orange hues. Shane asked Helen to open the glove compartment. She reached inside and found a box of Godiva Chocolates. They each ate a sample.
“That was my big mistake,” Shane said. My chocolate had coconut in it. My body doesn’t do well with coconut. It’s my Kryptonite.”
Shane turned right on Topanga Canyon and drove up the incline through the mountains. The two-lane road was narrow with no shoulder on either side. It wasn’t long before Shane felt the first convulsion in his abdomen.
“I remember seeing a sign that read ‘Fire Danger High Today.’ Right at that moment there was this jolt in my intestines and I felt severe cramping. It was like two giant hands were squeezing me from the inside. I clenched my teeth and tried to ignore it but it was too intense. I knew if I didn’t pass gas it would get worse. But I couldn’t do that to Helen. I put the car in cruise control and massaged my stomach while I drove. This relieved the pressure but it meant I had to steer with my thighs. This totally freaked Helen out.”
“I thought he was trying to impress me with his driving skills,” she said. “When I saw that sheer drop into the canyon on the right, I panicked. I grabbed the steering wheel and screamed for him to pull over.”
“There was nowhere to pull over,” Shane said. “I strained to keep the gas inside me but it was futile. When that first fart came, it sounded like a cherry bomb. I looked at Helen just as her nostrils registered the danger.”
“I thought there must be a cattle ranch nearby or a dead animal in the road,” she said. “The stench was otherworldly. Then I heard this gurgling noise. Shane was grabbing his stomach and wincing.”
“It was the worst pain I ever felt,” he said, “like I’d been stabbed in the gut. Everything inside me wanted to be outside me. We rounded a corner and I saw this thin strip of dirt just off the road next to a guard rail. I screeched to a stop and jumped out. I ran behind the car, pulled down my pants and let loose. My ass was like a fire hose.”
“He was in the car and then he was gone,” Helen said. “I heard groaning but when I looked in the side view mirror I couldn’t see him. The passenger door was wedged against the guard rail so I climbed out the driver side. Shane yelled for me to stay back, to leave him alone. I thought he was having a heart attack.”
“I couldn’t let her see me that way,” Shane said. “My body was in total rebellion.”
“When I saw him kneeling in the road, I thought of my brother who had Chrohn’s Disease. Shane and I locked eyes and my heart completely opened to him. He was so vulnerable like a rabbit with his leg caught in a trap. He kept saying, ‘Don’t look at me.’ I felt so bad for him. I walked to the front of the car and waited. After about 10 minutes, he got back on his feet. He was pale and trembling. He was not doing well.”
“She just took over,” Shane said. “She helped me into the back seat then got behind the wheel. She found a place to turn around and sped back down the Canyon. I was in such pain. As soon as she made that left on PCH, I was hit by another wave of convulsions. There was poop everywhere, on my clothes, the seats, the floor.”
“He kept yelling, ‘Open the windows,’” she said. “He was really hurting. I drove like a crazy lady, cutting between cars, honking. I decided to head to the hospital on Santa Monica Boulevard near 20th Street.”
“She was swerving and I was getting knocked all over the back seat. Rolls-Royces have lousy shock absorbers. I remember thinking I had to include that in the car review.”
“I pulled in front of emergency ward and ran for help.”
“Everything was blurry and I was dizzy as hell,” Shane said. “I heard voices, then I was on a gurney being rolled through the hospital. That’s when I passed out.”
“The nurses had me fill out paperwork but I didn’t know Shane’s phone number, his address, whether he had a middle name. I barely knew him. I sat in the waiting room and prayed. Then a security guard came over and asked if I could move the Rolls-Royce since it was blocking the entrance. I told him the keys were in the car and asked if he could move it. He said, ‘I don’t know what happened in there, but I’m not driving that thing.’ I couldn’t drive it either. They ended up towing it away.”
“I woke a couple hours later in a hospital bed. There were IV tubes in my arms and I was connected to all kinds of machines. I had this awful headache and my stomach was like a war zone. Then I looked up and saw Helen in a chair, smiling. It was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen.”
“When he opened his eyes, I felt this wave of gratitude that he was okay. He smiled and I just started crying. We stared at each other for a few minutes, then he said, ‘Can I get a do-over on that date?’ I moved my chair next to his and we held hands until he fell asleep.”
“I was in the hospital for two days,” Shane said. “A doctor told me I was famous. He said I was the first patient in Los Angeles to be diagnosed with the ‘Burger Disease.’ He explained I had a bacterial infection caused by E. Coli. You get it from eating burgers made from unsanitary beef. They put me on hardcore antibiotics and said I’d recover in two weeks.”
“When they released him from the hospital,” Helen said, “the nurse gave me instructions on how to administer his medication. I told her I wasn’t his girlfriend but she said someone had to take care of him. So I took him to my apartment and nursed him back to health. I made vegetable juice concoctions and cooked soft noodles for his meals. My friends thought I was crazy bringing this stranger into my life.”
“She was like my guardian angel,” Shane said. “ I wanted to stay in her apartment forever. But I had to get back to work. I knew there was a big mess waiting for me.”
It was more than a mess. When I arrived at work on Monday morning, two cop cars were parked in front. When Jim noticed the Rolls-Royce and car keys were gone, he assumed it was stolen and called the police. Everyone who entered the building was questioned. I told Jim that Shane borrowed the Rolls to go on a date but that I didn’t know anything else.
Jim left numerous messages on Shane’s machine. The police drove to Shane’s apartment and summoned the landlord to unlock the door. The unit was empty. Around noon, the Rolls-Royce driver with the white gloves returned to pick up the vehicle. Jim turned bright red as he told the man the Rolls was missing. The police tracked the car to a tow yard in Lawndale. It was deemed a “toxic material hazard with potential risk to human health.” When I heard that I thought they were referring to blood and that Shane might be dead.
The staff was sent home for the day. I drove straight to Helen’s juice bar. She wasn’t there and her employees hadn’t heard from her. I panicked until Jim called later that day to say Shane was alive in the hospital. The story slowly came into focus. I tried to visit Shane but was told he was in intensive care and couldn’t see anyone.
I returned to work on Tuesday. Everyone was laughing and cracking poop jokes. Everyone except Jim. As producer of Cartrends, he was responsible for damages to an $85,000 car. He also fielded enraged calls from the Roll-Royce Corporation. A high-level executive told him, “You didn’t just damage our car, you stained the legacy of our brand.” (“Stain the Legacy” became our catch phrase.)
Everyone was shocked when Shane appeared at the offices on Friday morning. His face was gaunt and he looked like he’d shed 20 pounds. I hugged him and told him how worried I’d been. Others kept their distance. He was summoned to the executive offices and fired. Rolls-Royce wanted to prosecute him for grand theft auto and destruction of property, a felony punishable up to three years in prison.
Jim came up with a solution. He told Rolls-Royce he’d include two additional promo segments on their brand the following season and he’d air one free commercial per show. Rolls-Royce agreed to drop all charges.
I watched as security escorted Shane out of the building. We met later that day on the Venice Boardwalk. He was surprisingly ebullient.
“I know this is a stupid question,” I asked. “But other than the explosive diarrhea, how did the date go?”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s special, man. She stayed with me the whole time I was in the hospital. Then she brought me back to her apartment and took care of me. I think she’s the one.”
“I knew it when I met her.”
Shane recovered over several weeks and then found a new job as producer at the Health Television Network. He stopped eating burgers and became a pescetarian. We stayed in touch until our schedules got in the way.
I last spoke with Shane in the early-2000s. He was producing educational videos on healthy eating and using food as medicine. He and Helen were married and had a child. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, they moved to Medford, Oregon and ran an organic farm. He was her primary caregiver and was happy to say she’d been cancer-free for three years. I told him their first date story was the best I’d ever heard.
“I always tell people, just because you have a shitty first date doesn’t mean you can’t give it another try.”