The Bus Stopped Here

Along for the ride on the Silver City Express.

The theater is so crowded that there's no room for the actors to stay for the movie, which they have yet to see.

8:45 a.m. Thursday, Santa Fe

The "Silver City Express," the bus that will take Sayles, Renzi and the cast members to Denver (after a stop in Colorado Springs) pulls away from the Hotel Santa Fe. Kristofferson's three children settle down for what will turn into a solid day of homework. In the front, where Sayles and Murphy are sitting, the talk is of movies and politics, politics and movies. The Bush twins. Sylvester Stallone and Kirk Douglas, fighting over the size of their trailers. White House strategist Karl Rove, who once lived in Kokomo, a town outside of Leadville that was buried by mine tailings. Richard Dreyfuss plays a Rove-like character in Silver City; Leadville plays Silver City. Danny Huston, the movie's lead, is barely visible in a New York Times photo taken the day before at the Venice Film Festival, where he's touting a movie he made with Nicole Kidman. The Silver City crew will meet up with Huston this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival; from there, Sayles and Renzi move on to Los Angeles (where September 14 is "John Sayles Day"), Atlanta, the San Sebastian Film Festival.

In the back, Earle -- fresh from the protests outside the Republican National Convention -- is singing, with Kristofferson occasionally joining in. He'll keep singing most of the day, although at mile marker 427, he pauses to ask, "Are we there yet?"

Not quite. The bus stops at the rest stop just north of Trinidad for lunch. A few union and town officials are waiting there to meet Sayles -- Matewan, which dealt with the West Virginia coal strikes of the early '20s, made him a hero to the labor movement -- and talk about the Ludlow Massacre. Sayles studied that tragedy when he made Matewan and thought about writing it into Silver City, a movie already packed with many -- perhaps too many -- Colorado references. So there was just no room for the sorry chapter when Colorado's "little cowboy governor," as one of John D. Rockefeller's managers called him, brought in the National Guard to break the strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. On April 20, 1914, Colorado's own militia slaughtered twenty striking miners and their families. It would have been worse, but the engineer of a passing freight -- the man whose name Chris Cooper bears in Matewan -- sped up and put the train between the fleeing miners and the guns. To this day, when a train passes the site of the slaughter, the engineer blows its whistle.

While Sal Lopez reads an account of the Ludlow Massacre from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, a woman leaves her RV to snap a picture of Kristofferson.

At mile marker 88, the bus passes a billboard that says "Welcome to Colorado. We'll treat you like family. Please treat us like home." Earle launches into "Condi, Condi," his calypso-like love song for University of Denver grad Condoleezza Rice. At mile marker 116, I-25 becomes the Ronald Reagan Highway.

7 p.m. Thursday, Colorado Springs

"We're in the heart of darkness, the belly of the beast," says Dan Perkins, kicking off another sold-out evening, this one at Kimball's Twin Peaks Theatre in downtown Colorado Springs. Earle won't play now -- he'll do that later, at a benefit for the El Paso County Democratic Party -- but he does tell the audience that this town was the only place to ever cancel one of his concerts, because tickets just weren't selling. Here he's singing to the converted -- "every liberal within a hundred-mile radius," Perkins jokes -- including Michael Merrifield, the only El Paso Democrat in the Colorado Statehouse. (Chairman Ed Raye later points out that El Paso's 72,000 registered Democrats make up the fifth-largest blue bloc in a Colorado county.)

Renzi thanks Newmarket Films, the distributor that's giving the movie a big push -- perhaps, she suggests, as "an act of contrition" after its success with The Passion of the Christ. But they'll take help wherever they can get it. "Democracy is a conversation," says Sayles. "We were only hearing a one-sided conversation."

Once again, there's no room for the actors and crew; they'll see the movie in Denver.

9:15 a.m. Friday, Colorado Springs

Even before the bus starts moving, the passengers are clamoring for coffee. Starbucks, preferably.

But there's no time: Sayles must be in Denver by noon for an event at the Denver Press Club. Then there's another signing at the Tattered Cover, while Earle makes an in-house appearance at Twist & Shout -- a declaration of independence at Denver's two most renowned independent businesses. So the bus continues north, right past the exit for Focus on the Family. Materials from Reverend James Dobson's organization provided hilarious fodder for Dickie Pilager's position papers on the movie's bogus political website (www.dickiepilager2004.com). "Dickie Pilager believes in the family...;"

The Colorado Springs Gazette's coverage of the previous night doesn't distract anyone for long -- "This isn't exactly the New York Times," Michael Murphy says -- but it could be worse. After all, Kristofferson told a reporter with the CBS affiliate that his character was modeled on Adolph Coors, great-grandfather of the U.S. Senate candidate whose ad ran right before the Dickie Pilager commercial this morning.

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