The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

The 1977 California Trip: We left a few things in San Francisco

Not our hearts.

It was the summer of 1977 and we had plans. Plans to hit the road again for a vacation down California way.

Instead of flying this time we took our orange Arrow. With me driving of course.

We made the trip in stages, stopping the first night at the Mallory Hotel in Portland OR. We didn’t see much of the city. It was dark out, and on our quest to find a place to eat, we settled on a familiar name – Benihana’s Japanese restaurant. So that section of Portland and whatever was viewable from the off ramp to the hotel and the streets to get back onto I-5 were all we saw of the city.

We made good time from Portland through the rest of Oregon and into Northern California. We reached Vacaville in time for lunch at a restaurant in an olive orchard. My wife remembered this particular restaurant/tourist spot from a family vacation when she was growing up. She carries with her the memory of her dad grimacing when sampling a rather green olive. This time around she was the one grimacing – over my choice from the menu – gazpacho. I guess the thought of cold tomato soup put her teeth on edge. I thought it wonderful (the soup, not the fact that it made her grimace).

From Vacaville we made our way down to San Pablo Bay, skirted around towards San Rafael, and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to our next destination – San Francisco. We checked into a motel somewhere along route 1, unloaded our luggage (except a couple of items) and went in search of dinner.

The Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center was only four years old at the time, and a prime night spot. It had a revolving restaurant, the Equinox, on the top of its tower. We parked the Arrow a few blocks away up on Market Street, and were mesmerized by the impressive lobby of the hotel (like being in the interior of a pyramid) which we passed through on the way to the restaurant. [My wife is a great disaster movie fan, and shots of this particular lobby were recognizable, as it had been used in The Towering Inferno, three years before.]

We had a enjoyable meal. I can tell you that much, but don’t ask what it was, for what happened next completely overshadowed all else.

We each had had an adult beveridge with our meal, so we were a little fuzzy as we walked up Market to our parked car. We were puzzled by the sight of a loaf of bread sitting on the sidewalk beside the Arrow. My wife wondered out loud why our groceries were outside the car. We didn’t notice the broken glass under the bread, and were slow to realize that our car had been broken into and robbed.

We found a phone and called the cops. After giving them the rundown on our plight, they informed us that they could not come out to the scene of the crime, but if we wanted to come in to fill out a report we were welcome to.

We followed their directions to a small precinct house further uptown and made our report. Besides our groceries we were missing a couple other items: an 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera and dirty laundry in a paper sack. Sometime in the midst of this ordeal I asked urgently if they had a restroom. This sent me on another surreal sidetrack, as they had no public facility and referred me next door to a seedy bar/nightclub. I felt I was sleep walking through the rest of our time there. It was real “trippy.”

The next day was a Sunday and the memory of what transpired is all a hazy black cloud. Reality was settling in. Was our vacation over before it had begun? We needed a replacement for that backseat side window and where would we find one?

We had to wait until Monday. That’s when we raised a Chrysler dealorship, but they did not have that part in stock. Nor did any of the auto glass companies. Hope was offered, in that they could order it in – but it would take a couple of days. Desperate to save our vacation, I asked if there was something we could substitute, say something plastic. That set a light bulb off in the imagination of the auto glass specialist, and he referred us to a shop that dealt in plexiglass. On parting he suggested that we tell them to use the other window as a template to cut a replacement.

Which is exactly what we were able to do. And we were on the road again before lunch. With only an occasional whistling noise from our replacement “window.”

Swashbuckler

The long drawn out rasp of metal on metal accompanied the image of the sword being drawn from its scabbard. So began Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Throughout the title sequence a series of stop action multiple images of two figures locked in combat beautifully set the tone for the next hour and an half.

I was standing on the stairs of one of the exits, checking something behind the screen, when a customer who had recently entered came bounding up these stairs to bump the exit door open and let his pals in. I stepped forward and told the “doorman” that he could join his friends outside. Too bad, they missed out on what was going to happen next.

My friend Dave liked the film too. And it may have been the reason behind our seeking out a fencing club to join. We found one that met in the community center in the Green Lake area north of Seattle.

As for all beginners, there was no jumping into things the first day. Nor the second. Nor any time soon. Basics had to be learned first. How to stand. How to move. Forward and back. The stance at first was awkward, and self-conscious, but as you began to move, it became the most natural thing in the world. Your favored foot was pointed forward and your other heel in line with the front one and pointed at the perpendicular. And you sat into a crouch, with both knees bent, and with your weight balanced over the rear or anchor leg. The lower half of your body was changed into a giant spring, so it was explained. And you felt it, especially in rapid movement.

Then practice, practice, practice. Lunge and recover, lunge and recover. And then we were taught how to hold the foil. (Dave preferred the pistol grip; I preferred the regular). Lectures followed on the geometry of fencing. Everything comes down to two points: the point of your foil and that of your opponent, your line of attack or parrying of his.

I kept waiting for a reference to The Three Musketeers, but was surprised when the instructor mentioned a sequence from another film instead. He was demonstrating the balestra – a movement used to close distance quickly between yourself and an opponent. It is a fast hop, followed by a lunge at the other fencer. This was a movement that Basil Rathbone employed against Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood. I remembered seeing it, but it was all so fast – a blur really – that it took this extra knowledge of what the move was to understand what had taken place.

[Actually at the time I was more fixed on another realization. When I saw Robin Hood – at the Harvard Exit, of course – it was double billed with another Flynn flick, The Adventures of Don Juan. Watching them back to back you notice things. In Robin Hood, I saw a scene in which a drawbridge drops down and a number of riders charge out in pursuit. The exact same footage was repeated in Don Juan. It was my introduction to library footage. Say the director or the editor needs to fill a gap in his story, rather than setting up everything for another shoot, you just see what you can use from what the studio has in its “library.” In this instance the makers of Don Juan (1948) went back and borrowed this footage from the older film (1938).]

The Three Musketeers had a long run at the UA Cinemas, from the end of March 1974 through to September. And I was able to check in often and observe the swordplay. About the time it left, I was also leaving the UA (that story later) and moving on to the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. And you bet I was back when the sequel – The Four Musketeers – opened the next year. And I kept on fencing, even when we moved down to the Portland OR area. But that’s another story for another day – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.