Speed

Speed

My next vehicle after the Pontiac was a really sweet ride – a 1965 Chevy Malibu Super Sport. With a baby blue paint job and chrome accents it looked great too. It was my first car with bucket seats and a shift on the floor – not manual, but rather an automatic.

I went to a lot of places around town, Renton and beyond. My girl friend and I would drive in and around the little parks alongside of Lake Washington up on the Seattle side of the lake. We’d park and watch the nightly submarine races.

My brother went in for more muscular cars. He had a GTO  that he used to drive around the loop in downtown Renton, and frequented the local hang out burger joint, Herfy’s. It was very much American Graffitti. More so than I knew at the time.

I didn’t find out until years later that he was a local drag racer, competing each weekend on the local strip. (In 1973 he was crowned King of the Road at the SeaFair Nationals). I should have got a clue when he approached me one time about doing a favor for a friend of his. This friend was getting too many tickets with his car. And he wanted to trade me straight across for my Malibu. I was kind of skeptical, but my brother assured me it was great deal, that I would be coming out ahead value wise.

So, that is how I became the proud owner of a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. Dark green with two broad non-reflective black racing stripes on the hood. The 383 hemi engine had some extras, it had been blueprinted to  lighten the weight and bored out to receive a 440 racing cam. There was a whole lot of petal I didn’t use after reaching the speed limit. And with a bench seat it was much nicer to take to the submarine races.

It was great transportation. It saw me through 3 and a half years of college and we took it on our honeymoon.

Sadly, when it came time to sell it, it was stolen from in front of my folks’ house and taken on a joyride. The perps rolled it and it was adjudged totalled at the junk yard that retreived it. (I still wonder about complicity on the part of the junkyard).

All in all though, I only have one regret –  I sure wish I had kept the purple horn button.

Beep beep!

Speed2

The Parades Gone By the Stationery Store

the Parades Gone By the Stationery Store

My parents finally found a home for us in Renton. It was in the Kennydale area, up alongside of Lake Washington. We had no view of the lake, as we were well away from it, and only a couple of lots over from the I-405 freeway.
So, I now drove to work from the opposite direction (i.e. no longer from SeaTac Airport). I could literally go from a nearby on-ramp to a cloverleaf near the theater, which gave me access to Grady Way from the beginning of the Valley freeway, which if continued on would take you to Seattle via Rainier Avenue.
Sometimes, I would take the back way through Renton, especially if I were not in any hurry. I found a favorite stopping place, just off downtown – a stationery store. But besides paper, pens, pencils and other office supplies, it also carried books. Nowadays, my comics stayed in their boxes, as I more and more delved into the real books upon which my Classics Illustrated were based. I did still check out some from the library, but now that I had my own money (a whole 1.25 per hour) I looked to acquire certain titles for myself.
It may well have been on my first visit to this store that I found a book by Kevin Brownlow. It was an oversized paperback that caught my eye on one of those revolving racks. It wasn’t his name that grabbed my attention, for I’d never heard of Mr Brownlow. It was the title that intrigued me – The Parade’s Gone By. The blurb read “Recreates the earliest days of the Movies.” In short it was all about silents. Mr Brownlow had interviewed many of the pioneers of the “new” art form, and here retold their story.
It was a fantastic read, one of those volumes that you did not not want to end. When you came to the end of a section, as long as there was another, you rejoiced. He talked about the silent stars, of course, but also about the directors, the cameramen, the writers, the editors, the moguls and others that toiled behind the scenes. And there were tons of pictures, stills from the films themselves and candid shots from behind the scenes.
You really caught from Brownlow his love for this era and his concern for the preservation of these films. The read did come to an end, but not without birthing a desire in me to see some of these films someday. To date all I’d seen were a few Harold Lloyd titles (more were listed in this tome), and dim memories of Laurel and Hardy. Now I not only wanted to catch up on the other comedians such as Chaplin and Keaton, but also other Hollywood luminaries such as Fairbanks and Pickford and Valentino etc.
Most of all I wanted to see the films of D. W. Griffith, and above all else, his masterpiece Intolerance. The photos for its Babylon set captivated me. But that event would be a couple of years in the future. For now the parade for me had not even started.

The Renton Cinemas Open

The Renton Cinemas Open

As I stated previously, having my father on site was a real boon for his company GCC. He kept an eye on things (like wrestling the safe through the completed lobby and into his office), and headed off potential problems before they happened, or became costly errors.
The cinema was built on the property of a shopping mall area called Renton Village just off Grady Way. The shopping complex wasn’t as big as Brockton, but well attended none the less. Right down the sidewalk from the theater was the Sheraton Renton Inn, a high rise hotel. At the far extremity away from the theater was Schumsky’s restaurant, with which my father horse-traded passes for meals. A Tradewell grocery store and an Ernst hardware were the main anchors.
The big circuit in the Seattle area was the Sterling Recreation Organization, and as such had the film market pretty well sewn up. But GCC beng a national chain wasn’t without some influence. There were a few distributors that were very glad to see a new player in the area. In those days, Seattle had its own”Film Row.” The distributors kept offices down on Second Avenue. In the main we played Columbia, Universal, Buena Vista and MGM, which were headed up respectively by Al Boodman, Russ Brown, Homer Schmidt and Connie Carpou.
That being said, the two opening bills for the Renton Cinemas were not auspicious. On one side was the feature Duffy from Columbia and on the other Secret Ceremony from Universal. I suspect no else in the area wanted to play them. Between the doormen and us ushers the code word for the latter was “Secret Garbage.”
Duffy, which starred James Coburn in the title role, is noteworthy in my estimation only tangentially, through a couple of the people associated with it. One was Donald Cammell, a rather unusual avant garde type who worked on the screenplay and would later co-direct with Nicholas Roeg the Mick Jagger film Performance. He pushed the envelope so far he shot and killed himself some say on purpose. The other was the director Robert Parrish, at probably the extreme opposite end of the spectrum. He was Old Hollywood, having started there as a child actor in the thirties (City Lights and the Our Gang comedies), and graduating to film editor (Body and Soul) and later director.
Not a thing did I know of any of this. Of all I was blissfully ignorant. Such information came as my interest in film grew. For the time being I probably had a feeling akin to Parrish’s old boss at Columbia – Harry Cohn, whose talented butt was his barometer to taste in film – if it wiggled in the seat it was no good.

The Renton Cinemas Open 2

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!

Don’t Stop the World, I Don’t Want to Fall Off

Dont Stop the World

Dread was the word.

 

It best described my feelings whenever it was announced that we were going to drive up to my cousins’ house in Spokane.  But it wasn’t their fault. We liked our cousins. We just didn’t like what we had to go through to get there.

 

We lived on Maxwell Avenue and Cedar street on the north side of Spokane. The property was right at the edge of a ridge that looked over the downtown area.  And beyond downtown was the other hill upon which our cousins lived.

 

Come time to go, Dad loaded us up into the backseat of the 1953 Nash (which my father always cursed for having an inferior power plant). We made our way down to Monroe street and it was a straight shot from there. Straight down the hill to town and then up the other side.

 

The other side was our terror. The car made a “whump” as it hit the first incline and we were thrown back against the seat. And our father always made it worse as he would tease us with the exclamation that “hold on, we’re falling backwards.” As we looked forward out the front windshield, we could believe him for all we saw was sky.

 

The street leveled off at a cross street, but only momentarily, as another “whump” followed and the process repeated itself. And even then we weren’t out of the woods, a second cross street, a third incline and a third and final “whump.”

 

We arrived at my cousins with whitened knuckles.

 

Such are the fears of a child. Fears that were outgrown, then replaced by other more grown up fears.

 

Atop Lucky Lager

atop Lucky Lager

Back when we lived in Colville, I can remember times we spent at my grand parents.  They had a nice two story home on Third between Wynne and Washington streets. The home in which my mother’s family had owned since her teen years.
Two large weeping willow trees stood to the side of the front yard. We loved to run and grab a handful of hanging willow branches and swing out into space over the next door property, a la Tarzan swinging through the jungle.  However, we did not keep going from vine to vine like him, but rather swung backwards, completing the pendulum motion.
My grandfather was a large man and not a little intimidating. He owned a shop that set on that adjoining lot. He had been a mechanic with a specialty in automobile radiators. But now it was a beer distributorship for Lucky Lager, which he owned and operated.
One time I was in the warehouse area and for some reason all alone. Probably not a good idea for a three something. For someone of my then size it was like walking in canyons with high plateaus on every side. Cases of beer were piled six high on pallets. Somehow I climbed to the top of one of these islands. I think I utilized the flaps that could be punched in for the handholds on each individual case, as my footholds.
Of course, you can guess what happened once I got up there. A whole case precipitated from the top onto the concrete floor below. The sound of breaking glass startled me and a pool of beer spread out from the bottom of the case, bringing the aroma of hops with it and a sense of doom.
I broke out in tears.  This probably saved me as no apocalyptic spanking followed. I was examined for any hurts and sent out to the tune of mop and broom being applied to the mess.
My first experience of mercy.