Posts Tagged ‘popcorn’

Your Paramount Theater

December 5, 2010

Last night I watched Clarence earn his wings and restore George Bailey’s greatest gift. Usually the movie plays on television sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I rarely miss it. My boys drift by the room and roll their eyes when they see me crying.

“It’s just a movie, Mom.”

Last night, Ryan pacified me by being my escort to the seven o’clock showing of It’s A Wonderful Life on the big screen at the Paramount, downtown.

The theater is one of those old Bijou-type movie houses from the thirties with its marquee surrounded and lit by rows of individual bulbs. The Paramount used to front Main Street in Charlottesville before the thoroughfare was turned into a pedestrian mall. Now, people park at one end or the other and make the trek four blocks to the box office. A brisk wind from the West pushed us toward the theater last night. I was wrapped in wool, and topped with a hat. Ryan wore shorts and his North Face Fleece. The forty foot evergreen in front of the theater was lit with white twinkle lights. Red, Silver, Blue and Gold Ornaments the size of grapefruit decorated the branches. It looked and felt like Christmas.

The original Paramount closed in 1974 when newer, smaller, multi-plex buildings opened further North on Rt. 29. Miller and Rhoads, Leggett, Downtown Athletic, and Keller and George Jewelers all abandoned Main Street for the suburbs, where stores were enclosed in a mall and parking was in one big lot without timed meters. The old theater sat for a long time with its doors boarded shut and its red velvet interior sagging into disrepair.

When I was in elementary school, the Paramount had summer movie specials. My mother bought a pass at the beginning of summer vacation and each week I rode the bus downtown. The theater back then was a rich, dark red, with soda-sticky floors and air that smelled of hot buttered popcorn. It seemed like every child in Charlottesville pushed and shoved down the aisle to get the best up-front seat to see Swiss Family Robinson, Sounder, The Love Bug, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

As families moved from the center of the city, downtown took a down turn. Workmen boarded up the storefronts and crime seeped in through the side streets toward Main. The City of Charlottesville planned revitalization and laid brick on Main Street in 1976, making it a pedestrian mall. The old Hardware Store with its ceiling-high wooden ladders, original adding machines and wooden tool bins became a restaurant by the same name, serving gourmet dishes with a “Nuts and Bolts” Ice Cream Sundae for ten. Large Department stores were carved into small specialty shops selling eclectic goods from foreign lands, high thread count sheets from France, Turkish rugs, Belgium Chocolates and English Teas.

In 1996 rumor wound through Charlottesville that the Paramount was on a demolition list. The children who enjoyed summer movies in the sixties were grown now, had jobs, and because they remembered, they had other ideas about their Paramount. A movement to renovate took root and the Paramount was given a reprieve. The Paramount became a not-for-profit, and donations saved it.

Eighteen million dollars later, gold and green replaced red, and movies disappeared in favor of live operas, Shakespearian plays, classical pianists, and lectures by famous people who drew sold-out audiences. My Aunt Carol bought me tickets to see Swan Lake. The two of us dressed up fine and were dazzled by the building’s new digs. Even though the Director took center stage before the production and proclaimed, “Welcome to Your Paramount Theater,” it didn’t feel like my Paramount. It felt too grown up, dressed in diamonds and furs, serving wine, and pausing for intermission.

If it weren’t for It’s A Wonderful Life, I’d have passed up the Paramount last night, but I wanted Ryan to slide down Main Street Bedford Falls in George Bailey’s shoes, feel the bite of snow as well as Mr. Potter’s wrath, and the warmth of human kindness in as big a way as one can. I wanted the tinkle of that bell when Clarence receives his wings to ring as clear and true in Ryan’s ears as it did in George’s.

This was a date for us, a son indulging his mother in one of her favorite treats. We stepped to the box office, bought our tickets for six dollars apiece and entered the doors of the theater.

I smelled popcorn. The Paramount was popping popcorn and scooping it into long paper bags just like when I was a little girl. Ryan and I bought two bags of popcorn and two Pepsi’s. We joined the multi-generation crowd making its way down the aisle to those new gold seats. Ryan found us two together five rows back from front in the center section.

The lights dimmed, the Director took center stage and said, “Welcome to Your Paramount Theater.” And, for the first time since the early seventies, it really did feel like my Paramount Theater.

The Corner of Angus and Emmet

March 27, 2010

The locals roll up their windows and stare straight ahead. Most ignore her presence. Some taunt or curse her. Catherine sits in a wheelchair on the corner of Angus and Emmet, on the same side of the street as the Kentucky Fried Chicken. She parks exactly fifteen feet from the bus stop, right there at the traffic light.  In summer, she wears a cotton duster. In winter, she wears a cotton duster.

Catherine  rolls out early on Tuesday morning, half a bucket of Saturday’s popcorn secured in her lap by a bungee cord stretched across the armrests of her wheelchair.  There’s a hill just at the end of Angus and she needs both hands to hold back the wheelchair from careening into southbound traffic.  Emmet is a busy highway.  She has mastered the incline that leads  to the sidewalk where she sits. Maneuvering is only difficult when someone at the beauty shop remembers to turn on the sprinklers the night before and the grass is wet. Even if she struggles, no one helps her.

Traffic picks up about 7:15.  Catherine  allows herself fifteen minutes to park and settle.  She adjusts her seating and the distance from the curb to the exact inch.  The 6:55 Blue Line bus heading downtown is on time.  Catherine smiles. She hates it when the bus is late and interrupts her start time.

Her schedule dictates she man her station Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7:00 a.m. sharp until 2:30 in the afternoon. She takes a break, but it’s never during lunch hour. The traffic is heavy then. She would miss opportunities.  The movie theater manager allows her to use the bathroom, because she buys an extra large tub of popcorn and sometimes a drink if it’s hot. She never buys a ticket, only refreshments. The cost is budgeted into her monthly expenses.  Her disability check comes a few days after the third of the month, because her birthday is on the third of October.

She watches and waits for the first red light after 7:00.  The light is green. She waits. It turns yellow and she counts the five seconds until red.  Bingo.  There sitting before her is a blue station wagon.  She reaches into the tub and takes out one piece of popcorn, holding it between her thumb and index finger. She lifts it,  closes one eye, aims, and throws the kernel at the passenger window of the car.  She repeats this action until she hits the center of the window or until the light turns green. Sometimes the window is open and she scores points.  When she misses her mark, she curses loudly starting with “Damn!”   If she misses again, “Double Damn!”  Again, “Triple Damn!”  Then, on to, “Son of a Bitch!”  And on those days when the wind is blowing, she sometimes  finishes with a resounding, “Fuck!”

The locals know her.  Tourists don’t.  At 10:35,  a red BMW is the target.  The passenger is a boy. His father is driving.  Catherine aims and hits her mark.  The electric window slides down.  “Stop that,” the man says.

Catherine aims again, for points this time.  She throws and misses.  “Damn!” she says.

“Hey,” the man yells, “what’s wrong with you?”

She aims again, throws, no points. “Double Damn!” She says.

“Lady, shut up and stop it,” the man yells, his face turning red. “Can’t you see a kid’s in here?”

The wind picks up.  Catherine aims again, throws and misses.  “Triple Damn!” She says.

The man turns on his flashers, puts the car in park, and gets out.  He stomps to the sidewalk and yells, “You crazy old bat. What kind of example are you setting for  children? Don’t you have anything better to do?”  He picks up her bucket of popcorn and dumps it on the sidewalk, slamming the empty tub back into Catherine’s lap.

“Son of a Bitch!”  Catherine says, as the man stomps back to his car and peels off.

She turns her wheelchair around and pulls the hill to the movie theater.  It opens every day at 11:00.  She enters the door with the empty bucket, a full bladder and $4.00 in crumpled bills.

If she hurries, she can make it back down the hill before the lunchtime rush.