Searching for Playtronics
A quixotic attempt to re-create my favorite scene from Sneakers.
Once on the other side of the bridge, I pulled over and played back my tape. The road noise was at a higher, more nasal pitch than it is in the movie. (I wasn’t even driving very fast.) More importantly, the sound of the wheels hitting the seams was hardly noticeable, the metal teeth fitted too neatly to make much noise passing over, at least on the bridge’s front half. On the long sea-level stretch of the bridge, however, the seams changed, becoming more like metal rails, and these were close together and unmistakable:
Surely Bishop would have noted these; they would have jostled his cranium for several miles. (He was, after all, lying on his back the duration of the ride.) But for some reason they’re not what Bishop hears in the movie. When Whistler is trying to recreate the sound of the bumps, Bishop instructs him to make them “Further apart.” He should have said, “Closer together.”
OK, so my homebrew recording didn’t line up to the movie’s, but driving over the bridge, something I hadn’t done in years, had been fun, and I now knew its true sound—a lesson I will be thankful for if I am ever stuffed in a trunk and driven across the San Mateo.
But my journey wasn’t over. The Sneakers team, having reached the other side, asks Bishop what he heard next while captive.
BISHOP: Bumps. Rough ones.
CREASE: Railroad tracks.
CARL: Yeah, a right on Antrim and a left on 84.
I’d never heard of, nor could find a trace of, a road called “Antrim” or “Antrem” or “Anthram,” but I knew what 84 was. In these parts it’s a local road that cuts eastward through the city of Fremont, eventually threading a mountain canyon and pointing toward Sacramento. I followed it for a bit through the sleepy, residential center of town, crossing over a set of not-so-rough railroad tracks, until I had left behind the last stretch of single-family bungalows and was nearly among the moss-colored foothills.
I sensed I was close. I almost expected the Playtronics corporate park to show over the next hill. But there was still one more major step.
WHISTLER: And then what did you hear?
BISHOP: A cocktail party.
WHISTLER: Stay on Crescent, get off at the reservoir.
CREASE: There’s a cocktail party at the reservoir?
WHISTLER: [Shit-eating grin creeps across his face.] Uh, yeah. Yeah.
It’s one of the movie’s little coups, the discovery that hundreds of squawking geese can sound—with your eyes closed—not unlike a cocktail party. But according to my map, the nearest reservoir was half an hour away, meaning either this sizable chunk of time had been elided in the movie or, more likely, the reservoir had been relocated in the film’s fictional geography. Deciding now to drive to the real reservoir would have made me late for an appointment, and there was no assurance that a gaggle of white geese would have greeted me upon the shores anyway, let alone the Playtronics headquarters, rising like the mirage of a caravansary in the desert.
I turned the car around and began to head back. But first, I stopped to rest for a minute in the parking lot of one of Fremont’s public parks, one with a pond in the middle. A few dirty gray geese strolled near to the car, a measure of defiance in their posture as they waddled past. They would do.
Also in Slate's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the movie Sneakers: John Swansburg and Julia Turner discuss the film's enduring appeal; actor Stephen Tobolowsky fondly recalls his role as Werner Brandes; and Lowen Liu investigates how the movie's "Setec Astronomy" ended up on a black-ops uniform patch.
Lowen Liu is a Slate copy editor and edits the Dear Prudence column.