“I love the movie and no one I know loves it as much as the people here.”
From the outside, Fountain Bowl looked like any other nondescript bowling alley sitting in one of many endless strip malls in Orange County, California.
But this bowling alley had a long line of people waiting to get in one Saturday night. And almost all of them were dressed as characters from “The Big Lebowski.”
At the entrance was a man who looked so much like The Dude I’m still not sure it wasn’t Jeff Bridges in disguise as himself. As the attendees walked inside, a man in a wheelchair dressed as Mr. Lebowski greeted them, calling out, “Are you employed sir? You don't go out looking for a job dressed like that? On a weekday?”
“What day is this?” someone called back.
This was Lebowski Fest, a two-day party celebrating all things Lebowski. There have been more than 90 festivals in 30 cities over the past 15 years. And this time it was back in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, although no one at the festival seemed to find it to be that, exactly.
The party started on Friday at The Wiltern with a screening of the movie (and lots of audience interaction) and then a concert by the Kyle Gass Band. On Saturday, they moved to Fountain Valley for bowling, white russians, trivia and a costume contest. There were plenty of people rolling on shabbos, but no one took it too seriously (nothing was marked zero as far as I know, even if someone went over the line).
Lots of Lebowski Fest attendees, or achievers as they call themselves, didn’t travel far for the party, making them quite possibly the biggest fans in Los Angeles County, which would place them high in the running for biggest fans worldwide.
Liz Maldonado was there, dressed as Walter. She held her toddler son Ralphy, who was dressed as a dog, in her arms and explained he was Walter’s ex-wife’s Pomeranian (“You brought the fuckin' Pomeranian bowling?” Yes, she did).
They live in Long Beach, so the trip wasn’t far. It was Maldonado’s second Lebowski Fest and said she planned to go to every single one from then on.
“I love the movie and no one I know loves it as much as the people here,” she said.
Maldonado said the night felt like a break from the real world.
“I needed a break from the news, from everything that’s going on,” she said.
Lots of other attendees traveled long distances to get to the festival. The winner might have been Sendy Reid, who came all the way from Liverpool. He wasn’t wearing a costume, but sported a t-shirt with Jesus Quintana that read, “That Creep Can Roll.”
Reid said he came to L.A. just for the festival and was staying in Venice Beach only for the weekend before flying back home.
“It feels like being with my Lebowski family,” he said. “There’s just a very good spirit, a good atmosphere, no one takes things too seriously.”
While in L.A., he planned to take in a few places where scenes from the movie were filmed, and marveled at the 40-mile distance from night one of the party to the next.
“If I drove 40 miles in England, I’d be in the ocean,” he said.
Another couple, Brian Lambert and Audra Vair, traveled from Edmonton, Alberta. It was their first Lebowski Fest, and said they came specifically to an LA festival so they could see scenes and actors from the movie. On Friday they met Leon Russom, who played the real reactionary sheriff of Malibu, and walked past a diner where one of Walter’s freak out scenes was filmed (“I got buddies who died face down in the muck so that you and I could enjoy this family restaurant!”)
They also visited a Ralph’s, but not THE Ralph’s, “just to see what it was like,” Vair said. “It was open very late.”
Both Vair and Lambert transported impressive costumes from up north. Lambert sported a suede vest, cowboy hat and his own facial hair to dress as The Stranger, while Vair was wrapped in leaves with a leafy wreath to be The Dude’s landlord during his interpretive dance. (“I'd love it if you came and gave me notes.”)
Another achiever, Andy Urschel, traveled from Chicago and had been to five Lebowski Fests in the past, but always in Louisville, never Los Angeles. He said he’s made friends at the festivals and looks forward to seeing them at every event. Like camp friends, but dressed as bowlers, nihilists, vikings and porn stars.
The shared love of Lebowski, admiration of costumes and constant calling out of movie quotes — plus a steady flow of White Russians — makes it easy for achievers to meet new people, too. Urschel said he met new friends at the movie screening on Friday and hung out with them for the rest of the night.
“Everyone is really cool, there’s a total party vibe,” agreed Timm Taylor, who drove up from San Diego. He’s been to 10 Lebowski Fests and said he’s met people at festivals and stayed in touch with them after.
This particular party hosted lots of Dudes in very realistic costumes — several drapey pendleton sweaters, bowling shirts and a few stark white repairman outfits. There were also lots of Maudes in green robes and Walters in army vests and bandanas, a few with travel dog crates or Folgers cans.
At least one man made for a very convincing Jesus Quintana (“nobody fucks with the Jesus”), plus there was a Malibu sheriff and a few Mr. Lebowskis.
Originality points went to the woman dressed as the rug (“it really tied to room together”), a man dressed as a Creedence tape, and a man dressed as the Japanese baseball player referenced on one of The Dude’s shirts. I needed one costume explained to me: a woman dressed in lederhosen was “you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps,” the TV-censored version of what Walter says while trashing the Corvette.
By the end of the night, after lots of ins, lots of outs, lots of what-have-you's, no one was being very un-Dude. In fact, they all seemed to be taking it easy for all us sinners.
I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.