Down in the Canyons of Seattle

Down in the Canyons of Seattle

We were canyon dwellers in Seattle, and spent the majority of our time in the one canyon called Fifth Avenue. Out where our apartment was located the canyon was a little more open, but as we trudged off to work the canyon walls grew steeper and the shadows lengthened. My wife’s place of work came first on the trek up the arroyo. She cashiered at the Coliseum theater, a gleaming white Roman-like structure at the corner of Fifth and Pike. (Bruce Lee was mixing it up with Chuck Norris in “Return of the Dragon”). My theater was farther up the avenue past our opposition, SRO’s Music Box theater, at this juncture running the first run hit, “Chinatown”, the Jack Nicholson starrer, directed by Roman Polanski.

[Aside – though I was gone from the UA Cinema, I remained in contact with the cinephile’s there. Pat and Wendy, Karl, Stephen and Billie caught the film at the Music Box, too. We all liked it. Except Billie. For some strange reason she took umbrage to the red and green Lucky Strike cigarette packages, an Art Director’s touch that lent an additional layer of authenticity for the rest of us.]

On the first day I walked under the marquee, it was lettered with the title “Uptown Saturday Night,” a comedy starring Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier. Oddly, it was double billed with “The Getaway” (the Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw version, directed by Sam Peckinpah and written by Walter Hill).

I have a lot of memories linked to the entrance of the Fifth Avenue theater. At break times I relieved the cashier in the octagonal box office, which sat smack dab in the center of the entrance. I took tickets at the ornate doors behind and in line with the box office. I changed the posters in the large shadow box frames lining the sides of the entrance. And I watched one building come down, and another go up.

By the time we changed our bill of fare (two thrillers – “The Black Windmill,” directed by Don Siegel; doubled with “The Day of the Jackal,” directed by Fred Zinneman) some big changes were underway across the street. The Fifth Avenue sat across from the White Henry Stuart Building. Both were within that section of Seattle known as the Metropolitan Tract. This valuable acreage of real estate is owned by the University of Washington, having been the former campus of the school (prior to 1895). The decision had been made to demolish the White Henry Stuart building in order to put up a newer and bigger structure. Now as the wrecking balls moved into place and began battering away at the canyon wall in front of us, we were introduced little by little to views of the setting sun on Puget Sound. The pounding continued throughout our run of “Airport 75” (directed by Jack Smight), and the pile drivers added their tune somewhere along the line to our Christmas film, “The Front Page” (directed by Billy Wilder, assisted by Howard Kazanjian). By the time John Cassavetes’ film “Woman Under the Influence”  moved in, we were treated to the spectacle of a non-ending convoy of cement trucks adding their contents to the continuous pour that resulted in that “golf-tee” like structure that is the base of the Rainier Tower. And two huge cranes worked in tandem as the new building sprouted up forty stories.

At one of these change of billings, I was almost seriously wounded by a falling plate glass window. No, it did not wing in from across the street. I was changing posters in that afore mentioned shadow box frame. The posters were enclosed behind two huge pieces of sliding plate glass. A cylindrical lock slid on and off a bayonet-type piece of metal that was attached to the plate glass that slid behind the other. I had just unlocked and removed the lock, and was gripping the plate glass in front to slide it open when that glass cracked in half. All the weight of the upper portion of the window came down on top of my right thumb, glanced off, and crashed back into the box frame, instead of falling towards me and chopping me off at the ankles.

The incident gave me pause to reflect. I had the smallest of wounds on the knuckle of my thumb, a mere quarter inch long (and a tiny scar that lasted a decade or so). It left me with a deep sense of gratitude. A thankfulness for God’s protection from injury. Something I will always remember.

Seeing the [Upper) USA in a Chevrolet

Seeing the Upper USA in a Chevrolet

It was early in 1968. We were still running the Sound of Music in Cinema 2 and my father was called to the box office to help the cashier with a difficult customer. It seems that he did not like “his” seats for the Julie Andrews movie. My dad gladly refunded his money, all the while the complainer continued to whine. After the disgruntled customer departed, a VP from GCC came in. He had been watching the whole encounter from the outside. He came up to my dad and told him that he could soon say goodbye to such treatment, for on the West Coast the customers were all a lot nicer. The company was offering him a new theater that was going to open in Renton, Washington that fall.
We were on the move again. Though not until summer. Dad didn’t want us to miss any school. Time to say goodbye to all my friends in Brockton – Dave D, John M, Jimmy S, and Joe G. I recently discovered the oversized card that they sent me off with. The envelope was decorated with unusual grafitti – song ditties or doggerel either in Russian or Latin – stuff we had gleaned from the classes we had taken together.
My dad bought a new car for the trip, a four door canary yellow 1968 Chevy Impala. And he made sure it had air conditioning. So come July we were all set to see the USA in a Chevrolet. Or the northern part anyway.
We must have travelled fairly fast. I can remember the NY Turnpike where it paralleled the old canal. But after that it was all a blur until we reached South Dakota. There we hit the Badlands. Why they call it the Badlands struck me as strange. It was beautiful, in an eerie sort of way. Though I suppose in the early days it would have been a terror to traverse. Those jagged hills and rocks, though pretty to look at, would have been daunting on horseback or in a horse drawn wagon or carriage.
Emerging from the Badlands, we made our way to the nearby monument, Mount Rushmore. I think that our expectations always suffer a set back when it meets reality, especially as regards visiting someplace you’ve only read about or seen pictures of. It’s a time like this when you realize that the writing or the picture was taken from a better perspective than what you experience at first sight. Old George, Tom, Teddy and Abe seemed small and distant. My Dad’s binoculars helped, but they also revealed the long grooves in the rock face, the “brush strokes” as it were of those that sculpted their visages from the rock.
The next memorable stop was at the site of Custer’s Last Stand in Montana. But probably most memorable because there wasn’t much to see – a small monument and a hill covered in sagebrush. We were all a little disappointed, and maybe us kids moreso. We had visions of marauding Indians dancing in our heads.
We were able to hasten on our way aided by the “reasonable and proper” [i.e. no] speed limit in Montana. We came into Washington through Spokane, crossed the state, traversed the Cascades and descended into the promised land of the Puget Sound area – the promised land of “nicer customers.”
Ha!