Nearly every Saturday afternoon during the 1950s we were spread throughout the three sections of seats in the Roxy Theater in Pacific Beach, California, broken into groups of friends and co-conspirators as we waited for the curtains to part and the Matinee to begin. We all had made a preemptory pass by the snack bar and were busy feasting on sweets and we recounted the best of last Saturdays matinee. We made bets as how the star of the current serial had somehow dodged doom and was once more feisty and fresh for the upcoming battles with evil, as we then defined it.
I was a freckle-faced bowling ball boy, eager to roll down the alley towards the candy pins of the Saturday Matinee. I rolled a strike every time, though I was spinning furiously.
I had a pocket full of change from my paper route, destined to be spent on popcorn, sodas, salted nuts, Bon-Bons, Good and Plentys, candy bars, Jujubees, taffy, red and black licorice, Milk Duds, Red Hots, Jujyfruits, Sugar Babies, and, in general, a tsunami of all things tasty, including hot dogs. A 3-Musketeers candy bar was always accommodated.
The afternoon engulfed us in cartoons, serials, B movies, newsreels, snack bar ads and the omniscient request that we all stay in our seats and resist the urge to shoot spit wads, make loud comments, park bubble gum under our seats, mumble incessantly or cause disruptions for little or no reason. Ushers with flashlights prowled in the darkness to ferret out the incorrigibles, which, when discovered were always given a chance to be quiet before being ejected outside and into the bright sun of the afternoon.
Such a fate almost never befell me, as I cherished the dark redoubt where friends and fun kept the realities of the world at bay.
As soon as the first cartoon hit the screen everything more or less calmed down as all eyes were riveted to the framed humor at hand. Hours passed in a flash, though our parents thought our absence both extended and refreshing. Newsreels gave us an adult perspective, series like Flash Gordon, Commando Cody, Radar Men from the Moon, Undersea Kingdom, Zorros Fighting Legion and a host of others ended every Saturday with an impossible cliffhanger that strongly suggested sure death for our heroes. Yet, when we came back the following Saturday we saw a slightly different version of the supposed demise and our faith was rewarded by a close call that turned the tide, if only for a few minutes, in favor of the protagonists while those who would trap and torture us were themselves dealt a smart slap, at least until the end of the chapter, where another cliffhanger was engineered to trap us in disbelief.
At the end of the double feature matinee we begrudgingly exited the Roxy, to be picked up by our parents or headed home on foot or by bicycle in packs of sugar laden kids, anxious to recount our many hours in the dark to our waiting families, who were lathered with incomplete sentences, canned fright, B movie madness and newsreels to times unknown. It would take hours for us to settle into some sense of calm, at which point our parents sighed in relief at the price paid for a few hours of our delirious transport at the Saturday matinee.
For a plethora of reasons the moment I got my drivers license I began to prefer going to the local Drive-In theater. The snack bar there included hamburgers that seem to have been cooked days before and a greater collection of ice cream. I slowly weaned myself from sweets, but popcorn and a soda was mandatory. During the intermission and rush to the snack bar and bathrooms it was normal to have a countdown sequence on the screen to help get us all back to the cars on time.
The drive-ins offered an evening experience and the audience was broken up into cars. Some of us were on dates, others grouped more openly with friends. It was common to see a couple of kids pop out of a trunk once the car had been admitted, though this was best done were the lights were low and before the car was parked and hooked up to a speaker, which had to be put back in its cradle at the end of the evening, as leaving with a cord flapping in the nights breeze was not unknown.
Drive-ins were a combination of Matinees linked to a right of passage: Obtaining a drivers license. We were young, free to drive at night and always on the prowl for a little fun. We seemed to find it almost every weekend under the stars, hooked up to a speaker while viewing the world, as during the day, through the windshields of our cars.
I was fortunate enough to frolic in the fun of matinees and drive-ins. I lament the passing of both of these institutions, yet, to this day, Im still a sucker for an afternoon of entertainment while sitting in the dark and munching on popcorn laden with nutritional yeast, a combination I first experienced in 1972 at Ashlands Varsity Theater. At that time there was only one large screen. It had the look and feel of the Roxy and whispered to me often to come and enjoy some movie magic.
(Lance was last seen sitting in a recliner while wearing a tin foil hat, apparently reliving his days at the Roxy and Varsity. You may contact his cartoon world through firstname.lastname@example.org).
(See this reinactment of the septic snake on the loose.. Check out his new book, Essentially Ashland...The Missing Years...It's loaded with humor and history. If you are a fan of B movies of the 30's, 40's and 50's, like classic cartoons, newreels, serials just shake it on down to: http://www.matineeatthebijou.blogspot.com/ and watch some Mini-Matinees on the Web).