Late last week I received a phone call from Sony.
"Hey, what're you doing next week?"
"Working," I told them. "You?"
"Well, we're putting together an event called 19 Hours In Bangor, and we'd like to invite you out. You'd fly to New York on Monday, then on Tuesday we've got a number of surprises planned in Bangor, Maine. We can't tell you what that will entail, exactly, but we can tell you it'll ultimately culminate in a screening of The Dark Tower, hosted by Stephen King."
I very nearly burst into tears. If you're a frequent reader of this site (or my Twitter feed) you know that I am a foaming-at-the-mouth, die-hard Stephen King nerd. I grew up reading King, hold the man in the highest possible regard, and as for The Dark Tower, well...as you know, The Dark Tower is very much my jam. I've read and re-read those books more times than I can count, and I've spent the past year and a half obsessively chronicling the production of that Nikolaj Arcel film. To be offered the opportunity to sit in a room and watch The Dark Tower movie with King himself? It almost took the wind out of me.
"I'm already packing," I told them.
Here's what happened.
Bright and early on Tuesday morning, we were shuttled out of the city and over to Teterboro Airport, where a private jet stood waiting. For me and most of the other writers who'd been invited on this adventure (there were about ten of us), this was our very first experience flying on a private jet. You'll never believe this, but it's just as baller as you've always heard it is.
Upon entering, we found roses waiting for us on each seat. Once we got settled in, the jet took off, and we began our hour-long flight to Bangor, Maine. By this point we'd received an itinerary telling us that we'd be spending the afternoon on a "Stephen King Tour of Maine", to be co-piloted by SK Tours' Stu Tinker and the great Robin Furth, who's long served as King's personal assistant (she also wrote The Dark Tower Concordance, which I highly recommend).
Parts of the TV miniseries The Langoliers were filmed in Bangor, which led to this unexpected Balki sighting in the Bangor airport.
Next stop: Dysart's truck stop, which served as the inspiration for King's short story, "Trucks" (later adapted into Maximum Overdrive, a most ill-advised movie King famously directed himself). Originally we were told this was the truck stop from the film, but quickly realized that couldn't possibly be the case: King filmed Maximum Overdrive in North Carolina.
I had that lobster roll for lunch, because #YOLO.
After lunch, we were all given fancy new business cards. I was delighted to learn that I am now under the employ of the evil Sombra corporation ("Making Shit Difficult For Gunslingers Since Basically Forever").
At this point, the tour began in earnest. First stop was this trailer park, where King wrote Carrie many, many years ago. According to legend (and reiterated by Stu), King actually tossed the Carrie manuscript in the trash, only to have it saved by his wife, Tabitha, who insisted it would get published.
We headed down the road towards Mt. Hope Cemetery, and on the way we stopped at this kitchen supply store, where I saw no choice but to use Flagg's bathroom.
Mt. Hope Cemetery is a sprawling, gorgeous plot of land, the second-largest cemetery of its kind in the country. It's also where King filmed his cameo in Pet Sematary (you can see a shot of that in this trailer). Stu told us that King used to spend a lot of time hanging around this place, and that he had a habit of stealing character names directly off the headstones ("You can't get sued by dead people," King is reported to have said).
Next stop: Stephen King's radio station. My man's committed to that rock and roll lifestyle.
At this point Stu announced we were headed to "the house", and sure enough, our next stop was King's home. We were told that this location was a popular tourist spot, and that King would often come down to the gate and chat with the people lurking outside. I ended up nerding out about Dark Tower stuff with Robin Furth on the sidewalk, which - again, speaking as a longtime King geek - was a truly surreal moment.
Right around the corner, we were shown the actual storm drain that inspired a certain scene in Stephen King's It. The Pennywise arm was Stu's idea. Apparently he keeps one on him at all times, which is just classic Stu.
The next location was also It-related: we were taken to the standpipe that served as the inspiration for Derry's famous standpipe. Across the road and underneath a tree was a small wooden bench, and Stu told us King sat there handwriting pages for It. Why there's not a plaque there commemorating this truth is beyond me.
We then headed downtown, to what we were told was an "all-Stephen King bookstore". Out front: a replica of the crate from Creepshow.
Inside: more Stephen King books than I have ever seen together in one location (many of which had foreign or alternate covers I'd never seen), along with various props and mementos notable to King history. That "Vote For Pennywise" sign was propped up on a row of airplane seats from The Langoliers.
Obviously, I had to snag a souvenir. Pennywise now sits on my desk, awaiting his very own Lil' Pipe Playset.
By this time it was time for dinner, which was scheduled to take place at the nearby Oriental Jade restaurant. This place served as the inspiration for It's Jade Of The Orient restaurant. If you're wondering, the answer is yes: I had the fortune cookies (the other answer is no, they did not contain eyeballs or blood...sadly).
After we finished eating, we were walked across the parking lot to a movie theater, where we were told the screening of The Dark Tower would be held. When we walked in, we discovered an empty auditorium with a long table set up near the front of the theater. On the table were about 10 copies of The Dark Tower, a Sharpie, and several bottles of water. We sat down, staring at the empty chair behind the table, knowing full-well what was about to happen:
Stephen King walked into the room.
King entered wearing jeans and a baseball cap, and announced his arrival with a casual, "Well, I'm here." The ten of us - seated in the front row, across from the table - were invited to ask him whatever we wanted, and he spent about 20 minutes shooting the shit and signing copies of the book for us.
I'm going to run a transcription of the conversation we had with King sometime tomorrow. For now, just be aware that one of the questions I asked was, "In terms of personal accomplishments, where would you rank getting blocked by Trump on Twitter?" He enjoyed that quite a bit.
Once all the books were signed and the screening was due to begin, King wrapped up, thanking us for our interest and telling us he hoped we liked the movie. At that point we moved to a different theater (which was already mostly full), watched King intro the film, and then...we saw The Dark Tower. You'll have to wait until later tonight for my response to that film, as we're embargoed until then. Stay tuned!
This was honestly one of the most incredible days I've ever experienced, and one of the more thoughtful "geek"-leaning adventures I've ever seen a studio put together. Meeting King is something I've always thought of in the abstract (maybe it'd happen at a book signing, I thought, or he'll be doing a reading in Austin and I'll be able to score tickets). It never occurred to me that I might actually have the opportunity to meet the guy, much less speak with him at length, and it's something I'm sure I'll never, ever forget. This was a career-highlight, a bucket-list-caliber day that I'm gonna be thinking about for a long, long time.
So: shout-out to the folks at Sony for putting this together, with extra special shout-outs to the lovely Robin Furth, the incredibly knowledgeable Stu Tinker (seriously: if you're anywhere near Maine, do not hesitate to sign up for that guy's tour, it's amazing) and of course to living legend Stephen King, who made my entire goddamn year by being as warm, good-humored and down to earth as I've always heard him to be. Never gonna forget that.