Jardine: Taking spins around Modesto, positively

The vehicle with lights on has actors and a camera as it films while traveling under the arch and surrounding area as HBO was in Modesto filming the TV show “Looking.”
The vehicle with lights on has actors and a camera as it films while traveling under the arch and surrounding area as HBO was in Modesto filming the TV show “Looking.” dnoda@modbee.com

Whenever Modesto shows up in the news or is depicted in television shows, it usually involves one of the following:

▪ Those lists no cities ever want to make such as auto theft, least educated, etc.

▪ Poverty levels, meth and other social problems.

▪ Shows mentioning Modesto but never actually filming here (see “Sons of Anarchy,” “Jericho”).

Which makes this a good week for our fair burg: two events scheduled, both of which ultimately should show the city in a relatively flattering light.

Wednesday and today, a crew came to shoot scenes for an episode of HBO’s “Looking” that will air in the spring of 2015. The show stars Jonathan Groff (formerly of “Glee”), Murray Bartlett (played Cyrus Riley on the soap “Guiding Light”) and Lauren Weeden (“Hung”). It’s about a group of largely gay male friends living in San Francisco.

Two of the characters, Doris and Dom, were born and raised in Modesto, producer Kat Landsberg said. The Modesto connection got a mention last year during the show’s first season. This time, she said, “they’ve come back to visit, to reminisce that ‘maybe (their hometown) isn’t as bad as we’ve thought.’”

Staging in the parking lot at 11th and H streets, some of the cast and crew bided their time in Gervasoni’s restaurant while others assembled the cameras on the mobile truck. The crew filmed scenes involving the Modesto Arch on I Street, at a fruit stand on north McHenry Avenue, and a pool scene at the Clarion Hotel in north Modesto, where the cast and crew spent Wednesday night.

That scene involves a dip in the hotel’s swimming pool, which had to be heated to at least 75 degrees per the actors’ contracts.

Officials from Mission Street Productions, which developed the show, came to Modesto months ago to scout locations, meeting with Jennifer Mullen of the city’s visitor and convention bureau.

“When it’s physically possible, we try to go to the real location,” Landsberg said.

Which brings us to the second event, and one that also values locations. Saturday, more than 100 people will converge upon the city to play a geocaching-type game called Ingress.

The short explanation of this game, only a couple of years old, is that players use their Android smartphones or iPhones to find specific points of interest in an effort to help their team “conquer the world.” Players download the game and side with one of two teams worldwide: Enlightened or Resistance.

A writer in IT World tried to describe the game:

Ingress, Google’s science-fiction-ish, location-based, augmented-reality-style game for Android, became publicly available on Dec. 17. Ingress is not a game that your friends can easily explain to you, if they’re even playing it. Nor is it a game that any two people might ‘play’ the same way. That’s in large part because you don’t really ‘play’ Ingress.

“The basic gist: Your side is trying to control as much of the area around you as possible. In the game’s story, you are trying to control minds in your area and either advance or keep away a mysterious extra-dimensional energy, but in day-to-day playing, you are simply warring to control an area.

“You start by capturing and maintaining a Portal. You find Portals by opening up Ingress while you’re walking around, or perhaps on trains or buses, and surveying the map around you, looking for glowing points of energy. Or simply scan the Intel map on your desktop browser.”

My take, never having played it: Think of Ingress as a global version of the Cruise route kiosks downtown, where tourists can use a QR Reader at each to access more information about George Lucas, the history and legends of the Cruise Era, etc.

Modesto residents Eddie Dobson of Resistance and Fred Espino of Enlightened joined forces to submit an entry for Modesto to be one of the 24 Ingress cities chosen worldwide. The only other city in California is Irvine. They worked with Mullen as well.

“We beat out cities like San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles,” Dobson said.

“I’ve been in Modesto about a year,” Dobson said. “The game has helped me get to know Modesto – that ‘Graffiti’ started here, the significance of the McHenry Mansion and other landmarks.”

The downtown in gamespeak will be known as the “Modesto Loop.”

Dobson said many of the players will come from the Bay Area and at least one from Texas. They’ll meet at the Commonwealth Pub on 11th Street around 10 a.m. to unveil the day’s game plan.

Mostly, they’ll look like a bunch of techsters walking around town looking at their smartphones while trying to find the places we hold dear.

And that, Modesto, is a good thing.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.