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The Hitchhiker's Guide to Montecito

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Montecito

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It was noon, and this particular day I decided to remain in my office on the third floor of the infamous Disney "Hat Building" and continue working. Animator, Nancy Beiman was just down the hall from me, and she stopped by to tell me that British author, Douglas Adams had a question for me. As I returned to my work, I wondered what would Douglas Adams be doing at Disney, and what question could he possibly have for me?

Much to my surprise, a tall gentleman suddenly poked his head into my office, and inquired if he might have a word with me. It took me a moment to recover as I looked up from my computer. The charming gentleman with the English accent was none other than one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams. He could barely fit in the office chair, and his long legs were noticeably extended as he got down to business. Mr. Adams had heard from Nancy that I had a home in nearby Santa Barbara, and the clever humorist was keen on moving there while he continued work on his screenplay. Santa Barbara was just far enough away, and near enough to the Walt Disney studio to suit his needs. Besides, the beautiful city by the sea was a pacific paradise, and many well-heeled show business celebrities had chosen it as one of their homes. We talked about Montecito, a delightful little community just south of Santa Barbara that is graced with rolling hills and majestic seaside views. This area has attracted famous names such as Oprah Winfrey, who can sometimes be seen shopping in Montecito's stylish boutiques.

I really didn't need to ask Mr. Adams what brought him to the Disney studio. If he was working on a screenplay, I knew it had to be a project he had been trying to get off the ground for some years. A motion picture adaptation of his own, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." As we continue to talk, I couldn't help think to myself how fortunate it is to work in a movie studio, where almost anyone can come walking in your door. For years, I had been an admirer of Douglas Adams and his work. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever have imagined I would be sitting with him, having a conversation about books, movies, and the computer we both had a special fondness for -- the Apple Macintosh.

Suddenly, the gentleman glanced at his watch, and lifted his tall frame out of the chair. "I'm off," he said. "I've another meeting with film executives on the Disney lot. As we said our goodbyes, I thought about the importance of the meeting Mr. Adams was about to attend. I was well aware that Douglas Adams had been trying to bring "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" to the big screen for a long, long time. Those unfamiliar with Adams' work, should know that it all began with a radio program on the BBC back in 1978. Because of the program's popularity, it became a book the very next year, and later, a television series. Douglas Adams had been negotiating with Disney for years. If his popular series were to become a motion picture, he wanted it done right. Of course, getting concessions from "The Mouse" was not an easy task, not even for a writer as well known and respected as Adams. Yet, it appeared the film was finally on track, and fans of the popular novel waited with baited breath.

A few months passed before I was to see Douglas Adams again. It was January, and I joined the tech faithful at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco for another celebration of technology. Among the invited guests was none other than Douglas Adams who would be appearing for the launch of a new computer game based on his books. Mac gamers eagerly awaited their first look at "Starship Titanic," as well as seeing one of their favorite authors in person. I had not seen Douglas Adams for several months, so I thought I would stop by his booth and say hello. Was I ever in for a surprise. When Adams appeared in the exposition hall, he was suddenly surrounded by a legion of fans hoping for a handshake or an autograph. As the crowd pushed me aside, I realized I couldn't get anywhere near the famous author. I had to be content with a free copy of the software, and as I made my way out of the crowd I thought back to our conversation at Disney a few months ago. These eager fans of Douglas Adams would be content for a few moments with their favorite author. I was lucky enough to talk with Mr. Adams a good deal longer than that.

Things couldn't have been going better for Douglas Adams that year. His novel was finally headed for the big screen, his new computer game had successfully launched, there were new projects waiting to be started, and he and his family finally moved into their new home in Montecito near Santa Barbara, California. A television crew arrived in town to do a special on the famous author. It was fun to watch Douglas Adams wander the streets of my hometown chatting with the interviewer as the cameras followed him from the shady streets of State Street to the seashore on Cabrillio Boulevard. As always, he was funny and charming, and though he was a long way from the U.K., he seemed quite comfortable in his new California home. Of all the funny stories he told, I enjoyed the one about a field trip when he was still in school. At the conclusion of the excursion, the Headmaster instructed all the children to meet "under Adams." Apparently the very tall Brit made an excellent sign post. Stories like this kept us laughing throughout the interview. The laughter for all of us ended a few days later when Douglas Adams suffered a massive heart attack and passed away. He was forty-nine.

I'm pleased that "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was finally completed, even though the film has opened to mixed reviews. I'm sorry that Douglas Adams didn't get to enjoy his home in Montecito a good deal more. I'm grateful for his writing, his humor, and for the marvelous chat we had that afternoon at the Walt Disney studio. It's difficult to sum up Douglas Adams, but I think actor, Stephen Fry does it best:

He was a huge man: when he was in a house it rattled and you always knew he was there. He did the same to the Earth. It doesn't rattle anymore now that he's gone.

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