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.”

The Bouncer of the Coliseum

The Bouncer of the Coliseum

I have mentioned the Coliseum Theater in Seattle in two former posts, filed in the “Memories” category, but have not yet spilled any ink (nor emitted any electrons) describing it. When it opened in 1916, it had the distinction of being the first theater in Seattle (if not the entire country) specifically designed for showing film. The secret was in the floor. The design called for a curve to the floor of a sufficient pitch that one had a clear sight line over the people in the row in front of you – not unlike the theory behind the stadium type seating that revolutionized movie theater design in the 1990s.

Another strange detail about its design – was the lack of stage space – it was tall and wide, but had no depth. The screen was mounted on that shallow back wall. (I understand from my research that this was a choice by the owner at that time – Alexander Pantages, who, though his was a vaudeville circuit, intentionally cut down on the scale to save on the number of musicians and stagehands he had to hire).

By this time – the mid-70s, there were no muscians (except for those neon ones up on the revolving sign above the marquee), and there was one lone stagehand. Or half a stagehand, as they shared one with my theater the Fifth Avenue up the street. (Again this was the redoubtable Walt Coy).

Gone for the moment were the big Hollywood productions from the Coliseum’s screen. Instead the invasion of violent Hong Kong Kung Fu flicks and blaxploitation bombshells exploded daily in its auditorium. As a consequence the company thought it prudent to have a bouncer on hand to control any instances of patrons imitating the bad behavior of their favorites up on the screen. Into this latest incarnation of the Coliseum stepped my bride of just a few months.

[Aside – My uncle Bud was then the manager of the theater. She had worked for him when he was assistant to my Dad at the GCC Renton Village Cinemas. He knew what a great cashier she was, and hired her, no nepotism required.]

The box office in which my wife spent most of her time, was out in front of the entrance, situated at the corner of Fifth and Pike. It was literally all by itself – an island – cut off from the rest of the building. One gained entrance by stooping over and waddling through the low half door – the only way in or out.

All went well until the night the projector broke down. My uncle announced to the patrons inside that the problem could not be fixed and that they could repair to the box office and there receive passes for another day. They soon surrounded my wife, sitting in the glass fishbowl that was the box office. None of them wanted a pass. They all loudly demanded their money back. Strangely, to a man they all argued that they were from out of town and only in for the night, and would not be coming back any time soon. It felt to her like a riot was about to break out.

Before that could happen, the Coliseum bouncer stepped in. His name was Bobby, a black, ex-prizefighter from Chicago. (The rumor circulating the district had him on the lam from the Windy City, hiding out from a vindictive mobster). I had heard of the description “caulifower ear” before, but had had no concept of what that even meant – until I saw Bobby – and that vegetable like appendage attached to his head. Even then it was an afterthought to your consciousness, as he had an overwhelming presence. To call him “solid” is an understatement – more like a brick wall in motion. Yet for all his power and mass (and cauliflower ear), he had the sweetest and gentlest temperament.

He soon had things in hand, and when through, escorted my wife from the Coliseum to my theater.

My wife was shaken, understandably. And I did not object nor try to dissuade her when she decided to resign the next day. (She soon found a job at Virginia Mason Hospital, where she was the one weilding a knife when surrounded by carrots and celery).

We still paid an occasional call to the Coliseum. Shortly after this time, its bill of fare changed and a couple of back to back blockbusters settled in. That is where we caught The Towering Inferno, followed six months later by Jaws. The Coliseum was the only place to see them in the Seattle area.

And still under the protection of Bobby.