A film about the elderly may be an automatic cash magnet to some degree, but that wasn't the case for San Francisco filmmaker Susan Morosoli. Next month the Mill Valley Film Festival premieres Loners on Wheels, her new documentary about a singles-only RV club for octogenarians. Although she received grants to finish the project, she admits the funding process was not easy. Everybody thought a film about old people driving around in motor homes was a great idea, but nobody was very interested in financing it. Fortunately, a combination of small awards, including spare change from the San Francisco Arts Commission, allowed her to complete the film in time for the festival.
After discovering the Loners on Wheels club listed in a library reference guide about RVs, Morosoli called the group up and spent the next three years recording their antics on jaunts around the Southwest. In the film, Morosoli sticks close to the organization's fun-loving matriarch, 88-year-old Duchess Grubb, as she checks the oil in her camper, sings around the fire with pals, and describes her own pre-made tombstone, which features a photo of her beloved RV. Walking around in her vest covered with embroidered patches from places she's visited, Grubb seems to command silent respect; one might even consider her the Sonny Barger of the club.
But while the Hell's Angels are often spurned by the locals, the Loners on Wheels are embraced wherever they travel. As Morosoli trains her camera on other members, we watch them line-dancing and playing horseshoes, flushing out the septic systems in their RVs, watching the sun set with cocktails, or just chatting about the old days when they had to eat beans seven days a week.
Many of the women say they've sold their homes and hit the road because they're "tired of raising kids and husbands." One man says he's traveling in spite of his doctor's orders against it -- and he doesn't care. And all of them are glad as hell to be single. They don't have to wash dishes or make the bed if they don't want to; they are responsible only for their own debt; and they can take a shower whenever they please. "Why be double when you can be single?" says Grubb. "If you're double, you got double trouble. If you're single, you only got single trouble."
Like characters in a story in The New Yorker, the elders occasionally veer into the metaphysical. When asked what he's doing while working up on top of his RV, one guy replies, "Just switching this solar panel, so it gets the sun for the rest of the day." He pauses. "'Course I'm also on my way to heaven. This is the first step."
When Morosoli asks the seniors about sex, one lady answers, "I might have an affair, but I'll never get married." Another sniffs, "Sex? That's a dumb thing to think about."
"I wanted to focus on older women who were independent with a sense of humor," says Morosoli, who is 36. "Aging is really hard in general in our society, but it's harder for women because all the images we're supposed to portray. I know so many divorced single women. If they get divorced at a later age, sometimes they're outcasts. [The Loners on Wheels club] made me see that growing old, being with your peers and being on your own, is OK."
Has finishing this film made her think about what she's going to do when she gets old?
"Yeah," she laughs, "but I still feel depressed about it!"
Loners on Wheels screens Sunday, Oct. 5, at 11:30 a.m. at the Sequoia I theater in downtown Mill Valley. Duchess Grubb and other members of the Loners on Wheels will be in attendance. For more info call 383-5256.
No Shirt, No Customers
As the evening fog begins to creep through the Sunset District, the doors close for the night at the Minh Tri Thai restaurant, 534 Irving at Sixth Avenue. The man in charge sends the rest of the staff home, and then sits at a table in his now-empty establishment, enjoying a bowl of noodles. Another long day nearly over. He is stripped from the waist up.
Heavy Metal Retail
Those in the know report that the biggest customers of the San Francisco Guitar Center outlet are members of the band Metallica, who regularly drop thousands on amps and collectible axes.
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By Jack Boulware