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"Saying hello and goodbye to Barstow"


November 18, 2008

By John Weeks, Staff Writer

Leaving Barstow is something I've done on many occasions. In fact, I've never gone to Barstow without it, sooner or later.

I never thought too much about it. But now there's a new movie on the subject, titled "Leaving Barstow," so I am giving the subject new thought.

"Leaving Barstow," directed by Peter Paige and starring Kevin Sheridan (who also wrote the screenplay), is a bittersweet rite-of-passage movie about a high school senior (Sheridan) who is beset by problems. He dreams of making a better life for himself, then he gives up on those dreams, then he finally reaches for them again.

Barstow, playing the thankless role of the remote town our hero must depart to achieve his quest, takes a couple of digs in the movie, but no more than a couple.

A sarcastic disc jockey, for example, bitter about his own stalled career, challenges a caller: "What's your problem? You live in Barstow. Therefore, you have a problem."

Personally, I have nothing but good feelings for Barstow. Barstow has been an important crossroads for centuries, first for American Indians trekking across the desert, then for the pioneers, then for the railroad builders, then the highway builders. It's still an important crossroads for travelers today.

I always enjoy arriving in Barstow when I'm on my way to Las Vegas or to St. George and points north or Flagstaff and points east. When I hit Barstow, I know my adventure truly is under way.

And I also enjoy arriving in Barstow on my return journey, because it means I am almost home.

I once dated a girl who lived in Barstow, so I have that connection as well. She was a fine young lady, but the commute was killing me.

I am only kidding. Barstow isn't that far away. Driving to Barstow from San Bernardino is no more daunting than driving to the beach.

Of course, Barstow doesn't have an ocean. Plenty of sand, though.

The movie "Leaving Barstow" isn't really about Barstow. It's about a teenager who has to make choices. His father, we are told, committed suicide. His mother (played by Michelle Clunie) is shacking up with a much younger man (Ryan Carnes). His favorite teacher (Steven Culp) dies unexpectedly in the course of the movie.

It's enough to discourage anyone. And our young hero definitely is discouraged. In fact, he decides to forsake his ambitions.

But he has a best friend (Marques Ray) who won't let him quit on himself. And then he falls for a girl (Ryan Michelle Bathe) who gives his life new purpose.

The actual leaving of Barstow doesn't take place until the final scene, when Andrew boards a bus bound for the university where he has been accepted. His girlfriend sends him off with a proud, knowing smile.

She knows he'll return, a better and wiser man. He knows it, too. We all know it.

Personally, I already am looking forward to the sequel, "Coming Back to Barstow."

"Leaving Barstow" (2008) is touring the film festival circuit. Among its wins so far: 2008 Breckenridge Festival of Film (best supporting actress for Michelle Clunie), Newport Beach Film Festival (Audience Award for feature film) and the Rhode Island International Film Festival (best actor for Kevin Sheridan). For more information, visit online at

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