Friday, November 22, 2019

"Since our daughter is no longer with us..."

I have never hidden the fact that a good portion of my life has been wasted watching old cheesy films. Most of that time has, of course, been spent in front of the tv set, starting with a small b&w set that I had to sit close to ("Get back from the tv," Mom would say. "You'll ruin your eyes!"). Today, however, I have a large color set that allows me to sit across the room and watch in relative comfort. On the new set, I can also stream digital content, allowing me to watch more old films than ever, so, yes, still a lot of b&w cheese. In addition to the wandering wasteland of television, I also spent a fair amount of time in theaters.

The first theater I recall is the Bay Theater in National City. It was built in 1941 and had a distinctive tower with BAY written down it. It was neon-lit and visible from all the roads around. I recall many times seeing that tower from the back seat of my father's or grandfather's car and wishing I were there. It really didn't matter to me what was playing as long as I was there, preferably with a box of popcorn, a cup of soda and a tube of Flicks. We lived in the 1100 block of East 17th Street (unpaved then), a little over a mile from the theater. It was too far away for me to walk alone (so my mother claimed), but I frequently walked down to it with the Eleazar kids from across the street...yes, I know, but it was a different world back then and no one called CPS just because kids were being kids. In addition to the films of the time (e.g., Forbidden Planet and Earth vs The Flying Saucers), I also saw newsreels, cartoons and serials, such as Zombies of the Stratosphere ("Isn't that Leonard Nimoy as the Martian?" asks a dubbed voice in J-Men Forever; "I don't know," replies another dubbed voice, "I can't see his ears."). Then we moved to Chula Vista. The Bay Theater later came to an ignominious end -- first it became a Spanish church, then high winds blew the tower down. I don't know if one had anything to do with the other, but at least it was something that wasn't my fault...for once.

When we moved to Chula Vista, I discovered the local theater, the Vogue, was even father away than the Bay. But, it was still a different world, so off I went. I didn't have older kids to walk with me anymore, but I figured what my mother didn't know couldn't hurt me. Besides, I was nine by then, almost an adult. Yes, I lived dangerously...I even drank water straight out of the hose. You might say I grew up in Chula Vista, but I also grew up in the Vogue Theatre (note the classy English spelling) watching every film my parents wouldn't take me to see...they were never big movie goers, but I never held that against them, much.

The Vogue in better days
When the Wife and I had kids, I looked forward to not going to the cinema alone...the Wife would go from time to time, but she did not revel in the experience as I did. Too many people, she claimed. Especially too many unruly kids. I have to admit, she had a point there. When I went to the movies as a kid, I was never unruly. No, really! It would have been a shock to both my mother and my teachers had they seen how well behaved I was when the lights went down, the curtains parted and the film began. But I was there for the film, and once the film started, I was a part of it, totally absorbed.

Unfortunately, our son was never really a devoted film goer. Oh, he like going to the movies, all right, but it had to be a film he was interested in, such as Star Wars. Our daughter (the Kidette), however, had tastes that were as catholic as mine. Well, let's just say she didn't complain no matter what film I dragged her to. Likewise, I can't count the number of chick-flicks and teen-angst movies she took me to. And, please, don't ask me how many times I saw Center Stage. But it was all enjoyable, every single film. Mostly, though, because the Kidette was with me.

One of our traditions was to get a tub of popcorn and a large soda. The Vogue had a policy that if you brought back the receipt you got a free refill. Great. Whether it was a double feature or a triple, we had more than enough to last us to the final end credits of the final movie, and we always stayed for the last credit. Unfortunately, time passed and our daughter moved. I was back to solitary viewings. 

It should have occurred to me that I could not possibly eat two full tubs of buttered popcorn, but it didn't. The first time I went without the Kidette, I bought a tub and was more than stuffed by the time I got to the end of it. What to do? My Protestant ethic screamed at the prospect of that free refill going to waste. I then noticed a mom and her kids sitting in front of me. They had no popcorn.

Me: Pardon me ma'am, but would you and your kids like a free popcorn?
Her: Uh...
Me: I have a receipt for a tub of popcorn, and the theater gives free refills.
Her: Uh...well...
Me: My daughter and I used to share a tub at the movies, but she's no longer with us, and I can't eat the whole thing myself.
Her: Oh, you poor man. I am so sorry. Thank you very much.

After she took the receipt and scurried off to get the free popcorn, I realized how she must have interpreted what I said. I changed seats. "Dad!" my daughter scolded. "You made her think I was dead. I only moved out. I didn't die!" Well, really, is my fault she took it that way? I didn't say anything that wasn't true...that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The Vogue in badder days
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever, and just as that applies to little boys and dragons, so it also applies to movie theaters. The Vogue opened in the winter of 1945 and closed its doors in the summer of 2006, after showing a triple-feature of Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift, Over the Hedge and Poseidon. I really didn't want to tell the Kidette about the fate of our beloved theater. So when she came down for a visit I put her in the car and drove down Third Avenue. She didn't cry...well, not much.

The Vogue's Facebook page - link below

Sometimes the dead return, or so Stephen King and HP Lovecraft tell us, and that may be the fate of the Vogue. According to its Facebook page, the Vogue is being renovated as an entertainment, event and dining/drinking experience. They also claim they are going to maintain the historic exterior. I hope that's true, but, of course, it will never be the same. Still, if I look at the facade and see it restored to its former glory, I will fondly relive better days. If all that comes to pass, I will probably go to the proposed outdoor dining area, have a beer and raise a glass to toast my my movie memories.

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