Just this past Sunday, Nada front man Jason Walsmith and I were sitting around his Beaverdale, Iowa, living room recovering from the previous night's show and preparing for the next. We were watching TV when he said, "Lemme' show you this documentary."
He surfed around his Tivo menu until he found Iowa Public Television's "More Than A Game." The film, "a look back at girls' 6-on-6 basketball and what it meant to generations of young women who played it," features a new song from my Des Moines rock star friends, "Play Like A Girl."
Fast forward to Tuesday night. Chris and I are saddled up to the bar at The Dead Poet. We're well into our second pint, and nearly done with our cheeseburgers. I'm scribbling all over the film's outline, clarifying our respective assignments for the coming days ("Chris: Cut Davy. Ben: Script Pittsburgh").
"Excuse me," the gentleman next to us says. "Is that some sort of script?"
"Yeah it is," I say. "My brother and I are working on a documentary about Mister Rogers."
"Really!?!?" he says. "I work for PBS."
My eyes light up as we reach for our respective business cards."
"What!?!" I say. "I just got back from Iowa. I played a few shows with my pals in The Nadas who ..."
"Whose songs are in '"More Than A Game!'"
The pair, Wayne and Jerry, were in town to meet with The Metropolitan Opera. They'd stopped into The Poet (my favorite bar in New York City simply because it is anomylous in its authenticity) on the recommendation of a colleague. Which is where they found us.
In a city of 10 million people and 1000 bars, these two Iowans found two more.
In a city full of bankers, brokers, actors, dishwashers and directors, these two public television programmers found us: two documentary filmmakers aspiring to air their freshman effort on ... public television.
Once we got over our initial surprise -- including the additional revelation that we'd shared the same flight from Des Moines Monday morning -- we spent a few hours talking about the film, public television, and Iowa. We had a great time, until I looked down at my watch and realized that, for the fourth night in a row, I was out well past midnight.
Chris and I were still shocked, amazed, and thrilled at our collective serendipity as we stumbled towards Broadway.
"Mister Rogers always said to look for the helpers," I said as I hailed a cab. "Maybe the helpers are looking for us too."
* * *
By last night, the story had boomeranged from New York to Iowa and back. "More Than A Girl" director, Laurel Bower Burgmaier, emailed Jason (who is in Austin, Texas, at the SXSW Music Conference. He immediately forwarded her note with a one-liner, "Aren't you glad I made you watch that doc?"
Ms. Burgmaier wrote:
Hi Jason. I have a funny story to tell you. Two colleagues of mine at IPTV were in NY earlier this week and after scouting something, went to a bar called "Dead Poets". They were sitting by two guys who looked to be working on a script and asked them about it. When the two guys found out my colleagues were from IPTV, they said, "You're kidding! You mean the station that did 6 on 6?" They said they were from Waterloo and were friends of the Nadas, particularly you. One works for Sony and the other is from MTV News and said he just played this past Saturday with you guys in Des Moines. They are working on a doc about Mister Rogers. They exchanged cards with one of my colleagues who is the local production manager. What a small world in a city of 12 million, they'd run into these two guys!
What was once a cliche apparently bears repeating: it is a small world after all, especially when you have a guardian angel looking out for you.