The sun was nearing the horizon over Highway 110 between Pasadena and Hollywood. Traffic on the thoroughfare was dense, but it was slowly moving along. Dr. Alan Harper was just barely creeping along through the overused highway while three cars behind him struggling realtor Michael Bluth stuck his head out of his rental car. It didn't have an air conditioner, something of a necessity in these unforgiving Los Angeles summers. A few car lengths behind him, physician Dr. Gregory Brady was sitting in his air conditioned car and talking on his cell phone with his wife as he moved all of twenty feet in ten minutes. As Brady moved up alongside Bluth, he looked left to Bluth in his car then right to the blonde beauty to his right. Retired detective and owner of Munroe Security, Kris Munroe turned up her radio and watched the cars moving ahead and took her turn. The sun was to her right and casting a sun-burning glow over the skyline next to her, but as she rolled up further, she passed Steve Sloan, another local detective she had known in years pass. The struggling traffic was moving as if it were a giant video game; one car departing to make room for ten more as somewhere in the line ten more joined the insanity. Driving her shining new silver Dodge Neon, musical columnist Lily Truscott glanced ahead and pulled into the right lane in front of Charlie, who pounded his steering wheel and called her a word he'd never use in person. Meanwhile, coming up from behind was a red 1980s Cabriolet Volkswagen coming from Pasadena. Changing lanes right in front of Janet Wood-Dawson, the wife of local lawyer Philip Dawson, its blonde driver hurried to get ahead of Lily and squeezed ahead of Sloan trying to break the hold on the traffic.
"Come on! Come on, get out of my way!" She could see her exit in the distance.
"What the hell is she in a hurry for?" Michael was watching her coming up pounding her horn in his rear view mirror.
"Oh-god, not another lady driver…" Harper also talked to himself in his car, but the Cabriolet driver was stuck in traffic and still pounding her horn. It was not making the traffic go faster no matter how hard she hit it.
"Why is she in a hurry?" Lily asked herself.
"How can that little car take that abuse?" Sloan wondered.
"Come on!" The blonde hit her horn hard and tried rolling her window down to scream out of it, but the handle came off in her hand. Putting it back in its hole to continue wheeling her window down, she stuck her head out and screamed at the world for compassion.
"Speed it up!"
Michael Bluth came up beside her in his car with his passenger side window rolling down.
"What the hell is your problem?" He called to her.
"Right now?" The young beauty responded. "It's you!" She looked forward. The cars were rolling forward and she still had to get in front of Charlie to get off the 110 and on to the Hollywood Parkway. Hitting her turn signal only after she started cutting Charlie off, she watched him give him a dirty look as she struggled to get past him, off the freeway and into Los Angeles. A hand checking her cell phone directions, the young woman was hopeful she had reached her last hurdle, but one red light and another slowed her down. Another left and another right, and her chugging little car kept her speeding along making turns not seen since two taxi cabs chased after a black sedan in 1960s Santa Rosita. Right from Pershing Square, left from Sixth Street, she suddenly weaved off the road into the parking lot for Trident Entertainment. Finding a parking spot almost immediately near the front entrance, the driver swung her car into the spot as if she were a race car driver pulling into the pits. Exhaust coming out from the rear, the car's engine chugged a bit even after she shut it off. Grabbing her photo and resume, the driver jumped out Penny Parker, struggling actress, and raced into the building without locking her car, after all, who would steal it? However, her appointment was at four o'clock, and she was almost thirty minutes late. Racing through the former insurance company looking for Room 103, she charged past open offices, employees and even a UPS guy. Passing a corner, she found her destination, and stumbled to a stop right before a tall balding guy in a plaid shirt and blue jeans who looked up at her, to his watch and back again.
"Princess… You've got the worst timing on the planet…" David Bostwick, the assistant casting director of Tombstone Pictures, looked up with a mixture of sad curiosity ad mild annoyance.
"I know I'm late…." Penny was still trying to catch her breath. "But I just got off work an hour ago…." She was still breathing heavily. "And the traffic from Pasadena was horrible…." She tried catching her breath again. "Please, please, please…."
Standing in the waiting room outside his office, Bostwick groaned under his breath, locked his office and groaned under his breath. Maybe it was because Penny looked like his daughter or because he felt sorry for all of these struggling young actresses, but he took her photo and scanned her resume on the back. She was born December 2, 1985 in Omaha, Nebraska and was a graduate of Marcie Harker High School in the suburb of Hastings. Her credits included the horror indie flick "Serial Ape-ist," the direct to video dud "The Crutcherville Horror," a one-night production of "Rent," productions of ''The Diary of Anne Frank" and "A Street Car Named Desire" and a hemorrhoid commercial for "Stay Away." Above the resume, she was looking like a hopeful girl at Christmas, but Bostwick just rolled his eyes sideways.
"I'm really sorry…." He tried letting her down easy. "But you're the wrong type. We're kind of looking more for a short quirky kind of girl with an hourglass figure."
Penny briefly flashed back on her friend Bernadette at work. She was short quirky kind of girl with an hourglass figure.
"Oh, please, there has to be some role open for me?"
"I'm really sorry." Bostwick handed her resume back and moved outside his office. "You can drop off your resume upstairs… Room 310."
"I have nothing available."
"Please, I've been out here for over five years." Penny was pleading for a big break. "I'm getting nowhere."
"Yeah…" Bostwick looked at her tragic face. "Along with over 50,000 other hopefuls fighting for less than fifty to seventy-five acting roles at any given time. It's a crowded field with not enough roles…. Like a club for recognition with a power mad bouncer at the door." He locked his office. "I'm sorry there aren't enough acting jobs for every struggling starry-eyed would-be actor…." He paused a minute. "…Or former actor trying to stay in the business." He tapped her resume. "Room 310..."
Watching him turn away, Penny felt the tears forming in her eyes and the distraught thoughts entering her mind. Five years… She had been in Pasadena five years trying to become an actress, and this was how far she was. She had come to the Los Angeles with two friends; Brittany Featherstone who quit trying to get married, and Billie Hedison, who got homesick and went back home. In their absence, she lost the apartment and lived with her boyfriend, Kurt Caldwell, but after a year of him cheating and lying about other girls, she moved out ad into a rent-controlled building on Los Robles Avenue across from two geeky scientists. Over time, she had become fond and romantic with Leonard, but his roommate, Sheldon, was likely to be bludgeoned in his sleep someday. Three years later, she was no further than she was now…. A mediocre to lousy waitress for the Cheesecake Factory on Colorado Boulevard. Tears streaming down her face, she braced briefly against the wall and recalled telling her parents she would be coming back a big celebrity, but she couldn't go back home a failure. Her future uncertain, he desires going unfulfilled, she sniffed and rubbed her nose, casting her resume into a waste receptacle in the wall before staggering away in deep depression. She only made it twelve feet back to the entrance before she recalled Room 310, retraced her steps and stuck her hand into the slot in the wall, pulling her photo back out of it.
Standing at the elevator doors, she was about to push the button when the doors opened and two assistants carrying stacks of scripts came strolling out in deep conversation. Her self-worth at zero, her mind wondering if it would hurt to walk off a roof, her finger somehow made its way to press the button for the third floor. When they doors closed, her tear-strewn eyes peered up emotionally distant to the floors of the ascending elevator. A light ringing sound and she again strolled on counting room numbers from 318 with five guys in a meeting laughing and partying past 314 with three assistants talking around a water cooler. Her destination was at the far end, another empty waiting room with orange seats, walls adorned in obscure and forgotten DVD releases like "The Haunting at Chaney Manor" and "Circus of Werewolves" and another unattended receptionist desk. From the adjacent office, she heard a man's voice. Unsure if she should leave her resume and leave, she poked her head into the room.
"Five feet long? Come on, Scott…." He had thinning dark hair and a stocky build, sitting back in his seat with his feet up on the table. Noticing Penny's head, he gestured her to enter while continuing his conversation on his phone. "Catfish don't get that big. Not in Laguna Lake…."
Penny came sauntering in hesitantly unsure what to do.
"Sure, sure, Scott…." Her host was more indebted to his call. "Look, why don't you show me this magic fishing spot next time Meredith and I visit. We'll bring the kids…." He gestured to Penny to sit down. As she sat, she noticed the nameplate on his desk surrounded by "Peanuts" characters. It read "James A. Sarandon – Assistant Casting Director" on a faded gold plate slowly loosening from his wood base.
"Look, I gotta go…" He looked up at Penny. "Meryl Streep is in my office…. No, really!" He laughed and reached out for Penny's resume. "See you in Long Beach!" He hung up his phone and glanced over Penny's acting career. He drew very quiet, too quiet for the despondent young lady before him. His fingers took a mint chocolate from a bowl on his desk, unwrapped it and slipped the chocolate past his lips.
"Omaha, huh…." Sarandon spoke up. "I once shot a Western there… Beautiful town."
"Thank you…." Penny responded wiping her eyes.
"Do horror movies bother you?"
Penny flashed back on doing "Serial Ape-ist." She was topless in a shower with flesh-colored briefs and pretending to wash herself as a guy in a gorilla costume whipped back the curtain, cuing her to scream her most blood-curdling scream.
"As long if it's done tastefully…."
"I'm casting a flick to start shooting this…." Sarandon checked a paper on his cluttered desk with paper and files scattered before a computer. "November…. We're looking for young attractive girls with photogenic appeal. The auditions are next month…"
"Wait a minute, excuse me?" Penny was confused. "The guy downstairs said there wasn't anything."
"David?" Sarandon responded scoffingly over his colleague. "He's in charge of short films. I cover feature films." He explained. "I'll put your resume with the others and pass it along to the production staff. If they like you, they'll call you for an audition…."
"Much of luck!" Sarandon rose with a hopeful grin to shake Penny's hand. "Now if you'll excuse me… I'm thirty minutes late for dinner with my wife." He paused. "Just kidding, she divorced my ass years ago." He kidded along with her and sat back down to straighten his desk, leaving Penny confused and disoriented. Rising from her seat, she turned out and glided out of the room in a partial daze. Was that it? Was she getting a role? Looking back once from the waiting room, she responded unsure, strolling into the hall trapped between an uncertain future and an ambiguous past.