“It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair.” -Joan Didion
I was certain that season 2 of EastSiders would be the last. It was a huge undertaking, from raising $153,000 on Kickstarter to wrangling dozens of successful actors together with an impossible set of scheduling conflicts to shooting and editing six half-hours of independently produced web TV; as much content as a half-season pickup of a cable show.
In case you don’t know, a show like Looking had more money to shoot five minutes as we had for our entire season. For all three seasons, actually. John, my husband and producing partner, and I were mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted when we finished, like we had just given birth to sextuplets. As much as we loved producing the series, we were ready to say goodbye. So how did we wind up hauling a vintage camper trailer across the country with a skeleton crew, shooting a third season on location in 16 states?
Well, sometimes art imitates life, and sometimes life imitates art. Season 2 ended with the central characters on the show, Cal (the Hannah Horvath to my Lena Dunham) and Thom (played by actual acting superhero Van Hansis) upending their lives by moving to New York for Cal’s photography career. Shortly after we wrapped season 2, my husband was offered an opportunity to work at an advertising agency, creating digital campaigns for Broadway shows. It was the perfect job for him; he’d recently learned the ropes of social media by running the accounts for EastSiders, and for as long as I’ve known him he’s read Playbill and Broadway World every morning over his coffee. Plus, neither of us had ever had a “real” job and it seemed like the first step towards a stable financial future. So like Thom and Cal we took a risk, closed our eyes and jumped.
Spoiler alert: Cal and Thom fucking hated New York, and so did John and Kit. Well, hated isn’t quite right. New York was my first great love, and my first heartbreak. I went to college in New York, and met John almost 11 years ago while he was bartending on the third floor bar of Angus McIndoe, a now-closed theatre district mainstay. We were excited to return to the city where we fell in love, the city where we both cut our teeth as actors on Broadway, and off-Broadway, and off-off-off Broadway; the city where we came to terms with the fact that we weren’t going to make a reliable living acting on stage and packed our bags for Los Angeles.
We were excited for the chance to re-inhabit our old lives, going so far as to sign a lease for an apartment at our old subway stop in Queens. But you can’t step in the same river twice, and we weren’t the same bright-eyed twenty-somethings that thought nothing of hauling groceries five blocks in the snow.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that L.A. made me soft. I’m used to packing my groceries in the trunk of my car, 77 degree winters, and picking up sunchokes or some other random shit at the Tuesday night Farmer’s Market in Silver Lake. L.A. isn’t perfect; an industry party in the hills is still my personal vision of hell and a lot of the people you meet are actual human garbage, but a huge number of the creative, passionate people that made me fall in love with New York fled for L.A. too, and Hell’s Kitchen and Fire Island is glutted with exactly the same kind of human garbage L.A. has such a reputation for. I spent most of my days in the winter commiserating with the cat in my bathrobe, trying to find the motivation to write. The place that once filled me with creative energy now seemed to sap all energy from me.
I also found myself flying back to L.A. for work at least once a month, and my bicoastal life was expensive and exhausting. I was running out of couches to crash on, and couldn’t afford to pay rent in two places. We had both accomplished most of what we had set out to achieve, but after two winters in New York we had to admit to ourselves that we just weren’t happy there.
Season 3 of EastSiders actually begins with Cal and Thom packing their car to leave New York, talking through a laundry list of grievances with the city. The episode is titled “Goodbye to All That Shit,” inspired by the incredible Joan Didion essay “Goodbye to All That” and the flood of bittersweet think pieces that have followed in its path, written by creative types fleeing the city’s sky-rocketing rents. I think of this episode as my contribution to that tradition, because as challenging as it was returning to New York I will always be grateful to the city for shaping who I am as a person.
I came up with the idea of following the characters on a road trip while brainstorming possible ways to finance the show through sponsorship, working with a now defunct streaming platform that was interested in distributing the second season and producing a third. Even though the deal fell through, the idea was stuck in my head. I needed to get Cal and Thom back to L.A. if the show was going to continue, and I also wanted to get John and Kit back to L.A. Like New York had the year before, the show was calling me back, but I wasn’t willing to write to my second cousin once removed and my high school girlfriend on Facebook to finance it.
But I wrote the damn thing anyway, mostly on airplanes flying across the country, and took a leap of faith that we would find sponsorship ourselves. It was easy to imagine a gay couple driving across the country together because John and I had already driven across the country twice, transporting our high school cars from Mississippi and Minnesota the first time we moved to L.A. Thankfully, sponsors came through for us in the eleventh hour.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Impulse Group came on board, and worked with us to incorporate safer- sex messaging (while maintaining the show’s irreverent edge, of course). AUDI signed on next, offering us an SUV to undertake the trip, followed by the clothing brand Parke and Ronen and Freixenet cava. We crunched some numbers and realized we were ready to hire a crew and get on the road.
So we packed up our tiny apartment in Queens, dropped the cat off at John’s sister’s place in Brooklyn, and closed the chapter on our lives in New York, possibly for good this time. We knew we were barreling towards uncertainty, but once again the possible rewards seemed too good to pass up.
As brave as it is to try and make it in New York, in some ways I think it’s braver to admit that you’re ready to leave. To take your accomplishments and your defeats with you and thank the city for all that it’s given you, including the scars and the defeats. I’ve never felt smaller and I’ve never felt so full of possibility as I did in that city. And I was so fucking relieved to see it in the rearview mirror, getting smaller and smaller until it faded into the horizon.