Commuting nightmare: Magician makes drive blindfolded
When I received an invitation to ride in a car across town with “double blindfolded” driver Jonathan Neal Brown, I thought I had figured out the premise of the stunt: Brown was leaving “TV’s Magic Stars” anyway, and since I don’t publish a press release for the show every single week, the producer also could get rid of me at the same time.
But we survived the trip from the Tahoe Keys Marina to the Horizon Casino Resort with nary a fender bender. Brown will continue to headline the six-days a week show with three other magicians in the Horizon’s Golden Cabaret. And my escape from the news desk appears to have lasted yet another week.
When I arrived at the marina last week I found a local television crew and South Lake Tahoe Police Community Service Officer Bob Albertazzi and Sgt. Shannon Laney, who were hired by the department to watch for drunk drivers. Apparently blindfolded drivers also are included in Laney’s job description.
“We’re here to ensure the safety of the community and stop it if it gets out of control,” Laney said with instinctively serious police-speak that would have made Leslie Nielsen proud.
Also at the scene was Tony Clark, the producer of the show, and Brown and his four-door Mercedes Benz. He said his wife refused to let him borrow her car that day.
Clark let me try on a metal blindfold. Then a black hooded mask. With each, darkness was all I could see.
Brown put them both on and sat behind the wheel. As he fumbled to find the steering wheel, I thought either he was overacting or we were all in trouble.
“Isn’t that the same hat that the Grim Reaper wears?” I joked, nervously.
With officers in front and behind us, Brown pushed the accelerator. The dryland flotilla of blindness was underway.
The only people who seemed to noticed us on the entire journey were a couple of pedestrians, who stopped in their tracks and watched the blindfolded driver motor on by. They were half-smiling as they turned their heads.
“The darkness helps me focus,” Brown said. “I hope we hit the lights right.”
Clark gave directions from the back seat, telling Brown when to stop and what directions to turn.
Brown tapped his right index finger upon the steering wheel while attempting to drive a consistent 30 mph, per Clark’s instructions. “Five goes into 30 six times, right?” Brown asked the TV reporter riding shotgun.
Brown, who learned to drive in Boston, has in recent years honed his skills on the freeways of Los Angeles.
He expertly made smooth stops at the lights, and somehow sensed the long, looping turns along Lake Tahoe Boulevard. He even noticed the smell of grease as we passed a fast-food eatery.
“I’ve been driving around parking lots to get my sense of timing and distance,” he said. “Taking the corners around the lake is harder than the 90 degree turns,” he said.
Brown’s final 90 degree turn was into the entrance of the Horizon, where dozens of employees applauded his arrival.
Albertazzi critiqued Brown’s performance. “It was typical of most motorists’ driving,” he said. “There were no unusual incidents or anything. He had no problems navigating the road.”
Feeling a bit hoodwinked I later decided to try the stunt myself. It actually isn’t too difficult if you just stay in the potholes.
TV’s Magic Stars runs nightly except Mondays in the Golden Cabaret Theater inside the Horizon Casino Resort. Show times are 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., with a special Kids Free matinee at 3 p.m. on Sundays (certain restrictions apply. Call for details). Adult tickets are $24.95, and children 12 and under are just $19.95. Tickets are available at the Horizon’s Box Office or purchase online at http://www.ticketmaster.com. For more information call the Horizon, (775) 588-6211 or visit http://www.tvsmagicstars.com.