Monday, March 27, 2006

My Strand Theater

Save the Strand.

That is the name of the movement to, well, save the Strand Theater.

The Strand was owned by the Martin family, who owned movie theaters and drive-ins all over Georgia.

I don’t know but I think I think I probably averaged visiting the Strand at least once a week for about 19 years. It started when I was about 3 years old and pretty much lasted until I went into the Navy at age 22. That is about 988 times, give or take.

From age 7 to about 11 or 12 I went at least two times a week. On Saturday mornings I would ride my bike up, park it in the bike rack, buy my ticket at the unique ticket booth and go in for the first showing of the day. There would be a cartoon, then a newsreel, a serial segment that stopped on us the last Saturday just as our hero had a horrible fate happening to him, like one I remember he was shoved out of an airplane in midair. But this week you see it from a different angle and the hero grabbed a wheel bar, or a wing brace or something, and climbed back in…. but he would have another death-scare at the end of that segment.

Until about 1970 The Strand Theater was a magnificent gaudy theater with loud red and gold all over, a huge sparkling chandelier, a pretty stair case with beautiful rails, leading up to a balcony that overlooked the lobby where the concession area was. It all had a nice plush look, if you like “busy plush”. Think of The Majestic.

Before I was 6, when I was more mature, when my sister carried me to the show, I remember one serial that I was just plain scare of…. It had a fan that when it started whirling it would issue commands and somehow there was a bad guy that wore a skull mask. I would hide down between the seats scared shitless.

Usually the movie for the Saturday matinee was a cowboy movie with something like The Drango Kid, Red Ryder, Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, Gene Autry, Tarzan, or some that I forgot.

Someplace around my belongings or my late parents’ belongings is a picture of me sitting on Smiley “Frog” Burnett’s lap, taken in front of The Strand Theater. In the picture it game the image that it was just me and Old Frog. I had to pay a quarter for the picture and stand in a long line, and afterward the click, “move on kid!”. I’m still looking for that picture.

I think the admission fee for under 12 years old was 10 cents. Twelve and older was either 12 or 15 cents… either way, it was expensive. So, I slipped by with the under age ticket for as long as I could before one day I was caught. I think I got by almost a full year. But when the manager looked me straight in the eye and asked me wasn’t I 12 years old I nodded my head and almost cried. I was terribly embarrassed.

Then usually on a Sunday or Monday night we as a family went to the movies. And many times after school we few of us would go to the movies.

One time in the daytime, near the 4th of July, I was playing with a Roman cannon. I lit it and it was spewing off a flame jet and it fell over. I went over and lifted it up to point it upward again and when I did the flame jet shot hot flames on the skin of the palm of my hand. YIKES!!!! That was painful. I had a problem. I didn’t want to want to tell my parents because fireworks were against the law in Georgia, and since my father was a policeman, I was afraid he would take a dim view of me playing with something like that. So, I decided to ride the pain out.

I went to the movies. I bought a large coke and sat there with my hand submerged in the cup letting the cold ice and cool liquid comfort me. I think I sat through the same movie about 3 times. The girl at the concession stand told me to keep my cup and she would refill it with ice for me. Which I did. Whew!

The ticket taker for years was a little runt named Sharkey. He wore a red blazer and chewed gum in a confident way. After you got to know him you would soon realize he was dumb as a rock.

Sharkey’s work station was at the door in a kind of a foyer. The room also served smokers. If you couldn’t wait until the movie was over, you could come out to the foyer and smoke, shoot the breeze with Sharkey while he took up tickets and then snuff it out in the big cylinder shape thing with sand in it, then return to your seat. After high school sometimes we would drop by, walk in where Sharkey was (from the outside). Light up a cigarette, talk a while, include Sharkey in our conversation, and look like we concur with his opinions, snuff our cigarettes and go in (to the movie).

I think I started smoking because of our plan with Sharkey.

As teenagers we would cut up in the theater. It came to pass where a wise manager would post an usher near us, by the exit door. When we got too noise he would come over and tap his flashlight and shake his head. One time when we were too routie the usher kicked us out. One friend’s mother came up to defend her son, and when the usher tried telling her that her son was causing a disturbance she said, “Humbug!” That is the first time I heard Humbug used except when Ebenezer Scrooge used it.

I think because of a many shopping centers opening out in the country side that had movie theaters, people just didn’t have a reason to go into town for anything, not even movies. So, The Strand died of lack of interest.

Now as you walk by you see debris in the lobby and maybe fast food sacks and cups. It is closed with no lights, it is dark. For a few years it served as a church, that had primitive leanings. I used to like to go downtown and run on Sunday mornings. I could here the hymns being sung along with a piano and tambourines. It was enjoyable to listen to as I ran up and down the streets near by.

After the church got enough money they moved out and into a modern looking building.

Then The Strand became a place for concerts. Punk rock kind of music and clientele. Then, it got junky looking with graffiti and broken windows.

And now the group to save it has put up some money and it is empty and unused.

A couple of doors down was the Cobb Theater, also owned by the Martin family. It had no balcony for the blacks. It was an alternative kind of theater. It showed artsy kind of movies and a lot of foreign movies. I remember it showed a lot of black and white movies.

It dwindled in popularity like The Strand and became a discotheque about ten or twelve years ago. Now it is a upscale restaurant serving healthy food.

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