"Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to kill us all."
That's the thought that races through my head as I hold as tight as humanly possible to the top of an armored tank, currently speeding its way through the desert terrain of the Santa Clarita Valley. Schwarzenegger, its owner and driver, lets loose a series of chuckles that can be heard over the tremendous roar of the wind and the engine, steering the vehicle straight into overhanging branches, seemingly intent on sweeping myself and a few other terrified journalists off into the dust or, worse still, to meet our fates beneath the monstrous treads below.
If there's a better way to start off 2013, I haven't heard it and, frankly, I doubt I'd survive it.
Welcome, then, to the debut of "Imaginary Stories," a new column I'll be providing on a regular basis from here on out. This year marks my third working as a full-time reporter for ComingSoon.net and, while I couldn't be more pleased and proud of the approach we bring to news, it is my hope to also use this space for more personal pieces that let me step back and share just how strange and wonderful this job gets and how truly lucky I am to get to do it.
In late 2011, I had my first meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the Albuquerque set of The Last Stand
(you can read about the full visit by clicking here
) and was genuinely impressed by the man's incredible good nature and sense of humor. Now, with the film hitting theaters on January 18, Schwarzenegger invited a small group of journalists to the Melody Ranch in Newhall, California for rides in his private tank.
The tank in question, an M47 Patton, was built in the early 1950s (now featuring a new engine) and is the very same vehicle that the star drove when he served in the Austrian army at age 18. He even traveled with free weights stored in the side compartments so that he could prep for the Mister Universe competition. These days, the star primarily uses the tank for special volunteer work with inner-city youths. You can watch his whole introduction to the vehicle in the player below:
The tank is housed at Melody Ranch, a special Western-themed movie studio that's nearly a century old. Right around the corner from the tank range is a full-scale Old West town that has been used for everything from John Ford's Stagecoach and Fred Zinnemann's High Noon to, more recently, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and the HBO series "Deadwood."
After a few trips around and a couple of different passenger swaps, journalists climbed off the tank just as whispers began about Arnold demonstrating the vehicle's full abilities by taking the whole thing right over an old car. Sure enough, the massive machine looped around, straight into the path of an old Mercedes. I'm not sure if the irony was intentional or not, but the car's back window was covered in bumper stickers that featured slogans like "FOOD NOT BOMBS" and "GO VEGETARIAN."
Climbing out of the tank, Arnold took the time to personally thank each and every visitor, shaking hands and posing for photos (Check out our full gallery of the event by clicking here). As you can tell from the ridiculous grin on my face, I'm very, very glad to have this guy back in Hollywood.
We'll be running exclusive video interviews with Arnold and the cast of The Last Stand next week in advance of the film's release on January 18. "Imaginary Stories" will be back soon as well and if there's anything you'd like to see covered in a future column, please let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @silaslesnick.