The Mountain Blows its Top

Eruption of Mt St Helens

We moved from Renton down to Vancouver, Washington in February of 1980. Just in time to see a mountain go up in smoke.

My Mom and Dad were already living in the area. We’d been visiting them for a couple of years  – (more of an imperative from their perspective, as we now had a grandchild of theirs to bring on our visits).

My Dad worked with Tom Moyer Theaters in Portland OR, an up and coming theater circuit (my Dad had made a switch from General Cinema Corp back in 1977). He passed on the word to me that they were looking for a film booker to help in their film-buying department. Film booking was what I did at the Saffle Theater Service in Seattle, so I had the skills and experience. And thinking it would be a good move, I applied.

I got the job, and a whirlwind move ensued. In short order, we sold our home in Renton, packed up our household and ourselves, and trooped down I-5 to Vancouver.

(Aside – I think my book collection weighed more than all our furniture and our individual body weights combined. The moving company miscalculated on their estimate – which created a problem. Mr Moyer would only pay the estimated amount and refused to pay their final billing. I didn’t either).

We stayed with my folks while we were looking at homes, and were turned onto a property by my Mom who had a friend wanting to sell their almost brand new home in the Hazel Dell area. We put our signatures to the contract on March 15 (the day that a series of minor earthquakes began to shake things up below Mount St Helens, a snow-topped cone in the nearby mountains), and were safely nestled in our new house by the beginning of April.

Things really began to shake after that, or so they reported on the news. For we never heard a peep from within our home, or from my folks’ house – where we passed most Sundays for supper. And their house was one whole hill closer to the mountain than ours.

We didn’t hear it on the day Mount St Helens erupted either – Sunday, May 18, 1980. Again, we were alerted about the event on the news, and immediately went outside to look. And there right from their front yard we saw what looked like a column of smoke, belching forth from the top of the mountain, and rising up and up, out of our sight. It was drop jaw, awe inspiring.

And that was not the end of it. More eruptions followed in the next five months, including one that sent the ash our way (the original eruption had exclusively gone eastward).  I had to go up on our roof and scoop the ash out of the gutters by hand. It was surprisingly light-weight and silt like.

And it was getting everywhere. Advise was being offered to car owners to make sure extra precautions were taken to insure that carburetors were protected against its intake. (Imagine a full roll of toilet paper substituted for the regular air filter).

We missed the last big eruption in October of 1980. Our attention was focused elsewhere.

For on that day, our son moved the mountain off of our minds by his birth.

The 1977 California Trip: Seaworld, the Deep, and the San Diego Zoo

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Though I planned this post as part of the 1977 California Trip series, I put it aside. I just couldn’t remember the events well enough to write anything interesting about them.

But then in the process of combing through an old box of photos I came across some from that leg of our trip. They had been separated from the others I knew about.

They were all taken with a little Kodak 110 camera.

So I’ve put them into a slideshow, and will let them, for the most part, tell the story themselves.

We left Hollywood behind and pointed the Plymouth Arrow towards San Diego to take in its tourist hotspots.

Seaworld in Mission Park filled our first day. With no problems having manifested so far about our plexiglass window, I no longer had any anxiety leaving the car behind in parking lots. So I could enjoy exploring the park, its exhibits and shows.

We used the SkyRide to get the lay of the land to better plan our time in the park. We didn’t make it up into the Skytower but we didn’t need to.

The big attraction, of course was Shamu, the Killer Whale – (that detail I had to look up, for I wasn’t sure that it might not have been Namu). You can see him in one shot giving a damsel a smooch. He appeared in a little entertainment called ‘Shamu goes to College’ (as you will note from one of the sets, visible in the photo).

That evening we caught the opening of the film The Deep, based on the book by Peter Benchley – a hot property at the time because of his hit ‘Jaws’ of two years before.

The next day we spent at the San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park. Lions, turtles and bears. Oh my! Galapagos turtles that is.

Then it was back to Renton and home and work at the Saffle Theater Service. The next time we were down in the Southern Cal area – we had kids – three of them – which I will cover at a later date, so stay tuned and Watch This Space.

I Boil Water

I Boil Water

1n 1977 we left behind our little apartment on the Monorail in downtown Seattle and moved into our first home – a cinder block affair up in the Highlands area of Renton, WA. It was a simple rectangle comprised of – a living room, kitchen/dining room, bath, and two bedrooms. We’d been married only three years, and were expecting our first child (hence the need for a bigger place).

We were familiar with the area – down NE 8th St to Monroe Avenue NE, then west took us to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, where we were married. (And by a singular curiosity, going left on Monroe took us by Greenwood Memorial Park, and the gravesite of Jimi Hendrix).

I wasn’t much of a cook or a baker or even a bottle-washer. But I did pride myself that I could do breakfast – i. e. boil water.

I was going about this task one morning. The wife was out and I had the kitchen all to myself, and I had decided to make some oatmeal for my breakfast. So, I completed steps one through three –

1- put the water in a pot

2 – placed the pot on the stove, and

3 – turned the burner to high.

Something distracted my attention before step four, putting the oatmeal in. The exact detail escapes me. Newspaper delivery, perhaps. Something that needed my attention out in front of the house, anyway. That’s how I found myself out on the front yard, doing whatever it was – only come time to turn back and re-enter the house, I found a locked front door staring me in the face.

For some reason I pounded on the door – (maybe just to test if it really were locked, and not just stuck closed instead). Then panic sunk in as I realized that that pot of water was merrily bubbling away full blast on the stove. What could happen if I did not get back in, in time? And how much time would be too much time?

I waited too long under that particular sword of Damacles until I screwed up the resolve and broke a window in the back door and gained access to the kitchen.

But sadly, it was too late for the pot. The water had had enough time to boil completely off, destroying the pot (one of our wedding presents, of course). I had to explain the reason behind its demise and the state of the window to my wife upon her return.

I still make oatmeal for myself. It is still a favorite for breakfast. But these days, I always use the microwave.

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.

I Join the Army and Assault a House

I Join the Army and Assault a House

First day as a freshman at Seattle U was spent in one building, going from table to table, signing up for classes. But the image that sticks in my mind was a lot of waiting around in stairwells, which must have been the in between times. It was on this day that I met Dave who became a fast friend, throughout my college years and afterwards.

Dave had and has a scientific view on everything. His declared major was chemistry. I chose to study languages, majoring in French and minoring in Spanish. Thus we never had any classes together but one. That first quarter we were both in Army ROTC. The class was held first thing in the morning, it seems well before anyone was awake on campus. My Roadrunner and I would leave my house at an ungodly time of the morning, cross Renton and swing by his house on the way to downtown Seattle via I-5.

At first the class covered mundane things. Mundane Army things that is – care and wearing of uniforms, polishing boots and brass belt buckles, group organizations, saluting, manual of arms, etc.  The manual of arms led to being a part of the drill team, which meant more early mornings, including some weekends when we marched in local parades.

Eventually we settled into more ordinary classroom type activities – reading books and writing reports. I reaquainted myself with Lawrence of Arabia, reading his Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and writing about his guerilla tactics.

Then there was a weekend we spent at Fort Lewis. We had already learned to disassemble and reassemble an M-14 in class, and were promised we would soon be doing the same just by touch in a bag. Out at Fort Lewis we actually got to fire it on the range. It was just like in the war movies I’d seen, hold it in close to your shoulder (a hinged support on the butt of the weapon lent stablity, especially in the prone position), squeeze the trigger and watch the kick. There was a selection switch for single shot or fully automatic. Our instructor had us keep it on single shot, for when fully automatic, it was harder to control – the muzzle tending to climb with each shot.

The highlight of the “maneuveurs” was the tactical portion in which we assaulted a house-like structure. We were shown the structure, but not shown how to carry out the assault. I guess they just wanted to see what we would come up with on our own. Officers are supposed to come up with solutions to problems as they confront them. The structure had no roof on it, so we decided to come down through the “ceiling.” I don’t remember what they thought of our solution. And I would prefer getting instruction, and perhaps that would have come later.  But it was not to be.

When I received my grades for the first quarter, I was shocked. I am usually a straight A student, and although in this instance I did have two “A”s, there was also one B. And that B was in my major – French.

Dave had some trouble too. So we both went to the ROTC commandant and resigned.

Wild Assistant Managers I Have Known

Cinema 1 & 2 Renton Washington

Cinema 1 & 2 Renton Washington

Even though my Dad was the manager and was usually working when I was, I had more contact with his assistants when I was on the job.  As manager he had more important things to do than supervise the floor staff, i.e. the doormen and ushers. That chore fell to the assistant manager. The manager looked after the ticket and concession cashiers, the ones most responsible for the money coming in.

Many assistant managers passed through the Renton Cinemas. Some went on to become full managers, either for GCC as it expanded in the area (and elsewhere), or taking a position with the opposition. And some just couldn’t cut it, and moved on to other businesses, one with more humane hours.

Warren was an odd duck. Full of advice for younger people, though I don’t believe he was much older than thirty himself. He had a wife and a child, but he never brought them around the theater. In fact, in many ways he didn’t act married. He came by himself to company parties, sporting an eye-patch when it was a costume party, like the character from the Brenda Starr comic. He left employment under suspicion.

Mr Lambert wasn’t much older than a lot of us, and looked younger. He was a Marine vet, having done a tour in Vietnam. But what intrigued us most – he had been a member of a local rock band –  a one hit wonder, and as such had shared the stage with a big group as an opening act (I thought it was either the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, but have yet been unable to verify). We were glad for him when he moved on to a better job, but sad for ourselves, for he was fun to work with.

Then there was my Uncle Bud, married to my mom’s sister.  He came to show business after a twenty year career in the Air Force. Hailing from Rome, Georgia, my dad always called him Rebel. Of course in return he always referred to my dad as Yank. So there was a good-natured back and forth, as they bantered in the office during closing on weekends. To me he was more of a “Dutch uncle” who offered advice on life and did his best to push my girlfriend and me together – though he did tease her mercilessly at every opportunity.  He later became a theater owner himself down in Puyallup and then built a little twin cinema in Long Beach Washington. He’s gone now. I’ll always remember the missing man formation of C-130s that came in low and slow over his gravesite at his memorial service.

A few years later, I myself joined the ranks of wild assistant managers. But those stories are for another day.

The Seat Hopper

The Seat Hopper

As I’ve mentioned one of the jobs of an usher is to periodically check the auditoriums. Usually this would be some time after the feature started. You wanted to be sure that nothing was going on that shouldn’t be. You would enter one aisle, check the screen to make sure there was a picture up there, – that it was in focus etc., check the thermostat, spot any smokers and ask them either to go out to the lobby or to put it out. You then would exit out and go over to the other aisle, check the same things there (and to confirm that anyone you had had to talk to was complying with your request).
Once on one of these forays I ran into a little situation. I had just come in to the small side – Cinema II, and paused to get my bearings – sometimes you had to acclimate your eyes to the light, especially if the scene then on was a night time shot. It was a matinee and the auditorium was sparsely populated. A family had just entered, a mom and her kids. The mom chose to sit in the back, and her three kids raced down to the front of the auditorium and plunked down somewhere in the first five rows.
I was about to leave when I noticed someone sitting on the side section, get up and walk to a seat on the same side further down and across from the children. I had an uncomfortable feeling. I decided to stay.
He then got up and moved to the center section in the row behind them. We had a term for people that behaved in this manner – a seat hopper. They weren’t just trying to find a better view from which to watch the film, they wanted to offer a view of themselves, or worse. My father had told me about an incident with one back in Peabody, MA. Now it looked to me like we had one here in Renton, WA.
I strode down the aisle, and entered the row with the kids. I told them that they would need to move back with their mother. They didn’t want to leave, but reluctantly preceeded me up the aisle. I felt satified that any potential problem was nipped in the bud. The kids were out of harm’s way, and the “hopper” knew he was being watched.
However, the mother came out of her row and met me on the aisle. She upbraided me in a torrent of words, unintelligible to me – for you see, she could not speak a word of English. But I could tell, in her mind I was the villain that had chased her children away from where they had wanted to sit. I couldn’t explain my action. I could only stand there and take her villification.
Having said her piece, she gathered her brood around her and sat down.
I headed out with the words from that old saw nagging in my brain – “No good deed goes unpunished.”

You Say Potato I Say Desoto

You Say Potato I Say Desoto

Since Evergreen High School in White Center was so far away, there was no school bus service near us. My folks would drop me off in the morning, but they couldn’t always pick me up. I remember a couple of times having to walk home after classes. It soon became paramount that I get my driver’s license and a car.
There were no openings in the Driver’s Ed class at school, at least not soon enough to satisfy my necessity. So instead we found a private company down on 1st Avenue where I enrolled.
The classes met in the evening, and after covering the basics in a classroom situation we were ready to hit the road.
I admit to being nervous. Not on the side streets where there was little or no traffic, but on the busy thoroughfares with traffic lights and multiple lanes. Add to that the fact that it was night time, and you felt like you were on a tightrope. Come time to take my test, it was day time, and I just passed. Maybe if it had night time I would have done better.
Soon afterwards I got my first car for a couple hundred bucks – a DeSoto, which rolled off the assembly line the very same year that I was born. Though my Dad said it ran like a top, is was definitely not your sporty ride. To my mind it was a clawfoot bathtub, flipped upside down and outfitted with wheels and windows. It was a two tone brown, almost faded pink – but one of the hues showing through in spots may have been actually the primer coat, as if some sand-blasting had uncovered it. But it moved. And it gave me an introduction to a clutch, which had not been covered in my Driver’s Ed class. You used the clutch only to shift into first gear, it was automatic after that.
It got me to school, and to work at the Cinema, and home again. I liked the drive to work, especially the back way through Tukwila to Renton. There was a freeway alternative, but I think the car felt more comfortable with a 35 mph speed limit.
But the Tukwila back way was the site of my first accident. It all happened one day after school on the way to work. I had a friend with me as a passenger. We were approaching an intersection where a bridge connected on the right. The bridge spanned I-405, and came up from the South Center Shopping center to the street we were traveling on.
A car coming up across that bridge either misjudged their timing or did not stop. They collided with us – their front left bumper to our front right. The DeSoto was built like a tank. I watched as the other vehicle bounced off, spun 180 degrees and was propelled back down the bridge hitting the abutment. We came to a screeching halt, and I watched in horror as my friend was thrown forward against the dashboard. As we sat looking at one another my jaw dropped, for the bone of his forehead appeared to be caved in. (For his part he probably thought my jaw was unhinged). He raised his hands to feel his forehead and then spoke to reassure me that all was fine. He told me not to worry, because his forehead had always been like that.
It was all rather confusing after that. I think my father picked us up (he doesn’t remember for sure). Since we were ambulatory neither of us was sent off to the hospital. The insurance companies took over, both vehicles were totalled. The other driver was injured and taken to the hospital, but I never heard much after that.
Fortunately the previous owner of the Desoto had fitted it up with seatbelts. At least for the front seat. Bolted in by hand, they had been secured to the floor well of the back seat.
Thank God for seatbelts.