Dispatches from Dream Car Week: The Price is Right is Decadent and Depraved
We’re maybe a half-mile away from the car—an old Eldorado convertible that I paid $800 for and promptly slathered down with a mixture of coconut juice and isopropyl alcohol to ensure battle-readiness—when Gonzo reminds me that I’ve left the damn press passes in the glove compartment.
I was faced then and there with a decision: if we go back to the car, we don’t have to retrieve the passes. We can just get on with our miserable lives and plunge facelong into the next adventure, peeling out of this parking lot and disavowing our obligations as documentarians for The Price is Right over the next five days in favor of some more enriching, important work. But I am above all things a doctor of journalism, and I cannot simply walk away when Dream Car Week is afoot, even if there are bigger Fish to fry.
Or, alternatively, we could just disregard the passes altogether, barge our way in, and let the chips fall however they will; after all, I’m a doctor of journalism, not a position to be taken lightly, and my discourteousness could only be construed as an imperative to do my job properly.
That’s when Gonzo reminds me about something we’ve got in the case that should help make the decision-making all the less involved a process. I nod in agreement, we crack open the Halliburton and gaze inside, and get promptly to our merry work.
Forty minutes later, we have the press passes clutched eagerly in our hands and we’re approaching the door to Studio 33 in CBS Television City, staggering like knees and spines were just formalities that were lost to us sometime after birth. I tear open the door, and gravity betrays every inch of my being as I plummet face-first into the linoleum. I’m tasting blood and trying to get to my feet while Gonzo howls like some kind of Hyena-headed creature of myth when we’re met by black-shirted, walkie-talkie-carrying Musclescum. They demand to know who we are, why we are, what we are; they demand to know, because it is their right to know.
Still prone and feeling for the equilibrium I spilled out somewhere on this shiny floor, I hold up the press pass that absolves me and say my name and occupation name aloud. It sounds bizarre when it bounces off the walls and returns to me, but I swallow it all the same.
The clipboards come out. There is some nodding, and some judgmental looks that I am not particularly fond of but not at all surprised by. “Duke…yeah, you’re on here. You do know that the show started a half-hour ago, right?”
I tell them that this is of no concern, man, because the story of The Price is Right’s Dream Car Week is not necessarily about what happens on the stage. It’s about what happens around the seams, in between the lines, in the dark and shadowy corners where no one dares look. Punks, the lot of them, they scoff because they cannot understand what they do not hope to know.
I am here with my attorney, all 300 pounds of him, not simply to cover the Mystery and Depravity of The Price is Right. I am here to dig beyond the protective crust and to find that thing that I know is still red and blood-filled and beating beneath layers of Corruption and Greed. I seek a thing that I once could not name but now know to be The American Dream.
— The Price Is Right (@PriceIsRight) May 15, 2017
We are led to a green room where we are pointed into some rigid metal chairs and told to sit, which we do until the door closes behind the men, at which point we stand up defiantly and holler that we will not be made to bow by the likes of them. They do not issue a response, but I have the distinct impression that there will be one coming.
As the Musclescum promised, the show is half-way over when the television screen comes burning into focus—I could say that it has only half-started, but I have never been the sort to see the glass as being half full. The Big Wheel is being spun for the first Showcase Showdown, and someone has already earned $1,000 by landing on the $1 tile, that moment lost to the ages or at least until CBS uploads it to their website.
— The Price Is Right (@PriceIsRight) May 15, 2017
Parked beside the wheel is a bright red Mercedes—Gonzo says it’s a Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 Coupe—a prize for whosoever manages to get the wheel to spin the right way twice. No sooner have we sat down before a second contestant lands on $1, adding $1,000 to a prize pot that includes a Porsche that was won playing some game or another earlier. There is going to be a lot of money changing hands today, and about half of it is going to feeding some Beast or another.
At this point I start to wonder if I should even be here. My heart hasn’t been in this sort of frivolity for some time because I know that the world outside of this place is a roiling pisspot where fact, concrete fact, is questioned and debated by vicious, raving lunatics. People who march to the rhythms of drums that I cannot nor would ever hope to hear. Men who pride themselves as beings of belief but act in a manner more becoming of Ghouls.
I spend several minutes experiencing an existential crisis in the ether-soaked rags of my own brain before Gonzo mutters something that snaps me out of my stupor. I look over at him—his Gut brazenly spilling out over his belt—and he is pointing at the screen despite very possibly being asleep beneath his oversized Aviator sunglasses.
— The Price Is Right (@PriceIsRight) May 15, 2017
Here is Tod, who is wearing a shirt that reads “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted…For DC,” with DC presumably standing for Drew Carey and not Decorum and Civility. I push away more growing resentment for what the world has become, attempt to lock in on what is happening on the screen. Tod is looking to win a BMW i8, which strikes me as being beautiful despite my general distaste for German automobiles. You can see it in his eyes that winning this $140,000 sports car would probably be the highlight of his life, even if it means that someone would eventually compromise his toxic sense of masculinity in telling him that it’s a hybrid.
Tod, with one D, having possibly lost the second in a poker game as a poor bastard youth, is coaching himself through this game of 3 Strikes like he’s coaching his son or daughter’s youth team. He tells himself to choke up, and I barely manage to catch the bile in my throat before it can run up and over, tamping it down with something from the handsome fruit plate we’ve been provided. There’s a mention of the Cubs, perennial losers turned champions, and Tod, still D-less, loses his chance at the BMW after pulling out too many X’s. He is dejected, and I reach for my cup and take a long drink.
Eramus is our final new contestant for the day, getting on stage just in time to play Pick a Number for the chance to win a Nissan JUKE S, which not-Rod Roddy tells the audience features a continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive, and splash guards. I look over the JUKE and find myself overwhelmed by it. Everything is Warped and Bent and Twisted, it’s too weird to live and too weird to drive. Unfortunately for Eramus, he wins the JUKE in one shot and gets more excited about having the chance to drive a Nissan than any human being ever has in the history of this planet. Sell it for parts, kid.
At this point, Gonzo slurs in my direction that I should be taking photos. I tell him that I am not a photographer, that if he wants to take photos, he needs to do it himself and start pulling his weight—or at least some of it. He curses under his breath, belches, blows it in my direction, curses again, and passes out. He’s doomed to his Fog for the foreseeable future and will be of no use to me for the rest of the show. So I pull out my phone, one of the new ones with a good camera, and snap what I can.
We’re back over to the Big Wheel with the bright red Mercedes for the second Showcase Showdown and three eager, wide-smiling players. There’s Eramus, sailing from his JUKE high; Tod, still down one D and dejected like a softball player fresh off a bad at-bat; and Sophia, a positively manic woman who seems poised to do something with herself right here and now.
Sophia gets this little ball rolling by heaving the Wheel with her complete strength and thanking her mother. I know that her mother is somewhere, but she is probably not listening, not even near a television at all. Sophia racks up a $.05 and a $.90, putting her in prime position to come away with the win here.
Tod is back, thanking a bunch of names that float out into the universe and dissipate into sub-subatomic particles. He gibbers at himself incessantly, as though he can bend the Wheel and Time and Space itself to his whim by coaching it all with stern words and platitudes. He narrates everything; the passage of air across his face, the leaking of milky sweat from the pores in his armpits, the lives that he wished he could have led but never did. He fails a second time and shuffles off somewhere. Maybe he’ll be back here with us soon enough.
Eramus thanks god first and foremost before just narrowly missing the $1 tile and landing on $.15. He spins again, gets a $.95, and disappears, presumably driving his JUKE off into the sunset in the pursuit of some brighter, better calling.
Our Showcase, the ultimate event, pits Sophia against Victoria, one of the two to have won $1,000 on the Wheel the first go ‘round. I want good things for these women because they seem Pleasant and Sane or at least as Sane as one can be relative to Our Reality as we know it. Gonzo snores in the chair, and from the hall I can hear a confused murmur that I am almost positive has to do with our presences in this very room. Have I been making too much noise? Have I made a noise at all?
And here, at the height of the first day of Dream Car Week, at the apex of its excess and the peak of its limitless, euphoric potential, our two brave contestants are asked to bid on luxurious packages where the pieces de résistance are…a Ford Fusion SE and a MINI convertible.
At this point, I am sweating through my t-shirt in defiance of the loudly humming air conditioner, and I realize that blood is still dribbling from my mouth from when I slammed into the floor.
Be calm. This is not actually happening.
I laugh, bellowing, loud enough to startle Gonzo awake. He flails wildly, begins screaming, and I begin screaming too for reasons not entirely clear to me. The door is thrown open and in march a couple of the Musclescums, panicked and angry and feral. I shout that everything is okay, because I know that if I do not take steps to reassure them quickly then Gonzo and I are bound to end up in pieces in a dumpster outside of Carson City. I am not entirely sure that everything is okay, but I think I sound convincing enough, and the room expands once more.
A tweedy, thin woman sits down in front of us, all smiles and darting eyes. “Hello, Mr. Duke,” she glances over at my attorney and winces, “Mr. Gonzo. I am Yorba Linda, and I am the manager here at this studio. I am so sorry that we did not have the chance to meet before the start of today’s program, but it is my understanding that you gentlemen were a bit late getting in.”
Gonzo, now writhing on the floor, is silent. I explain, in as even a voice as I can possibly muster at this juncture, that we ran into some difficulties out of Barstow. I do not think that we were ever in Barstow or even in the vicinity thereof, but I can’t think of anyone who would be able to corroborate otherwise.
Oh, I think. Nobody knows we are here.
“That is a real shame,” her words come out from her like tendrils of smoke. “But I wanted to welcome you both to Dream Car Week all the same; it is our highest priority that this event goes off without a hitch and that our audience and fans are delighted by some of the finest fun that The Price is Right has to offer. You are being granted unprecedented access to Dream Car Week, and I hope that you respect and appreciate this as much as you enjoy your stays.”
If I were maybe just a bit more lucid, I would probably perceive this as a veiled threat.
“We do hope that you will enjoy your visit to the wonderful world of The Price is Right. Please, if you have any questions or need anything at all, do not hesitate to visit my office. It’s the one at the end of the hall that says BOSS on it. All capital letters.”
And just like that, Yorba Linda is out of our hair, sucking all the air out of the room with her. On the television screen, Sophia wins a South African safari and the most luxurious vehicle of all—a Lightning Blue Fusion SE—by placing her bid less than $150 closer to the actual retail price than Victoria.
She is enveloped by euphoria, and in that moment, in her, I see a glimmer of The American Dream. Though our world now seems all the more dangerous—both within and without—I know that it is my duty to stay here and document Dream Car Week even if I do so at great risk to my own safety.
Drew Carey tells me, looking me dead in the eyes I am quite sure, to spay and neuter my pets. This is going to be a Weird, Weird Week.