Spokane, Expo ’74 and Henry Fonda

Spokane Fair

Sometime in the summer of 1974 we took a little roadtrip. My wife and I packed up the Roadrunner and headed east. We stopped down in Renton and borrowed her parents’ camper trailer and hitched it to our car with the black racing stripes.

Before hitting I-90, we picked up my sister and her fiance to take them along for the trip. Our destination was Spokane and Expo ’74 which had opened three months prior. We sped along at the 55 mph speed limit set after the fuel crisis precipitated by problems in the Middle East the year before. We did not go into Spokane the first day, but set up the tent at a wooded campground somewhere west of the city.

The next day we left the camper trailer set up on its site and took the Roadrunner into town unencumbered. The fair had been built right in the center of Spokane along the Spokane River, on land reclaimed from blighted industrial and railroad properties. One of the sights was a clock tower left standing when the rest of the Great Northern railroad station was taken down. We spent the day walking the grounds or in the skyrides, seeing the sights. One of the skyrides went over the river falls and underneath the Monroe Street bridge, the same street that was the bete noir of my childhood when my family lived in Spokane.

The US pavilion had an IMAX theater which ran a film entitled “Man Belongs to the Earth.” This was in keeping with the stated purpose of the Expo, a focus on the environment. Chief Dan George narrated and appeared in it.

Of all the exhibits, I was most intrigued by the one offered by the Czechs which, oddly enough, was housed within the Washington State pavilion. Called Kino-Automat, its small auditorium was rigged for audience participation. Each viewer had access to two buttons. At a half dozen points in the film “One Man and His World,” you were given the opportunity to decide between two options as to what would happen next. The vote was tallied live on the screen before it continued on its way. A good thing it was a comedy.

We returned to the tent camper for dinner and to prepare for the evening event. We had tickets for the Spokane opera house, the largest venue in the Washington State pavilion. On its stage that night we saw Henry Fonda in the one man show Clarence Darrow. Our seats were in the balcony; so we had a fine, but distant view of chairs, a rumpled suit, a necktie and suspenders. And a very recognizable voice. The fact that it was a monologue did not help my attention span. It had been a long and tiring day, so at points I nodded off. We were soon to get a closer view.

When the curtain dropped, we gathered together and picked up the Roadrunner in the adjoining parking garage. At the moment we emerged down the exit onto the street, we almost ran into a passing limousine. We realized at once that Henry Fonda was sitting in the back seat of the limo. He leaned forward and stared out at us. We returned the favor, sped up and took this shot.

Henry Fonda in his Limo

Thus ended our memorable day at the fair.

Just Trying to Help

Just Trying to Help

I worked with an interesting set of people at the Cinerama. Jack Hamacher was the manager, but I did not see him much after he hired me. He was more of a delegator and kept behind the scenes, (in stark contrast to my dad’s style of managing). Mr. Hamacher’s style was more of the older generation that came up in the forties and fifties. Corinne Strello worked the box office and had for years. She was a blonde fashion plate, and held aloof like her boss. I did what I could to help at every opportunity and kept a low profile.

My favorite on staff was the assistant manager, Mr. McKnight. He had direct supervision over me, the lowly doorman. His was a gentle command with a calming presence. His smile wreathed a cherubic face that matched the rest of his body. For he was barrel-chested, right down to his toes. I would harken to his Mr. Magoo like voice (which he matched in tone, if not cadence), and do my chores, often with him lending a hand beside me.  And he had a little buzz of a laugh as he would tell a joke to wile away the slow periods between crowds.  He saw to it that I was free to go after the last show was passed in, while he stayed until the last customer had left and the last light turned off. This usually got me off around 10pm. It was a blessing not to be there until after closing which in some cases could be well after midnight.

One night when Mr. McKnight sent me on my way, I got in my Roadrunner and pointed her homeward. By habit I wended my way over to I-90. I dropped down off of a hill and pulled in behind a car stopped at a traffic light. The car ahead of me was held back on the same incline that I was. Once the light would change we would each pull forward down off of this slope and level off onto a street that eventually fed into I-90.

The light changed and the vehicle ahead of me pulled forward and bounced a bit as it met the new level surface. Before I moved forward I was shocked to see a gush of gasoline push back that car’s licence plate and splash all over the road ahead of me. I drove forward and soon was on I-90, the car with the problem some distance ahead of me.

It was obvious that this person with the “leaking” car had just refueled, and somehow had failed to replace their gas cap, probably leaving it at the station. Soon we were through the tunnel and down on the pontoon bridge headed towards Mercer Island. My mind was a whirl as to what to do next. There were two lanes both directions, but they were narrow ones, and with the tricky to negotiate “bulge” up ahead I decided not to go alongside. Periodically more gasoline spurted out the back, due to some unseen circumstance or condition.

Passing over Mercer Island I was still pondering my options. It was night, and not being a cop, I really could not pull them over. I decided to wait to see if it continued the way I was going. If the person took I-405 South I would attempt to alert them to their dangerous situation. Visions of carelessly tossed matches plagued me.

At the I-405 exchange, the vehicle took the ramp for I-405 southbound. So it was decided. I sped up – easy to do in a Roadrunner – took to the passing lane and drove up beside the doomed auto.  I honked my horn and waved. It was a woman at the wheel, alone. She sped up. The fact of her sex made it worse. Should I try again and risk terrorizing her? This time, visions of discarded cigarette butts, glowing red.

I scrawled a quick sign on a piece of paper with a pen, and charged up beside her once again. I held up the sign to my passenger window and honked. We were beside an off ramp. She took it. Just to get away from me, I thought.

I kept on in the passing lane. In my rearview mirror, I could see her headlights stopped at the top of the ramp, poised for a turn onto the overpass. I could only imagine how scared she must be. She appeared to stay there. I hoped she was near her destination. And I hoped she soon would discover the problem with her gas tank, and perhaps know that the crazy guy in the Roadrunner was just trying to help.