Sunday, August 14, 2016

Angle of Reprise

In your mind's eye, in the richest, most iconic memories of such things, it is a lustrous dark mahogany, a pair of forty-fives: forty-five feet long, set at a forty-five-degree angle. It is a banister. It is the banister, put there, no doubt, to make an architectural statement. You, suppose the statement was made, but to your Preteen awareness, the statement was not of architectural voice but rather of pure adventure.

You did not begin to notice the banister until you moved beyond the candy and soft drink stand at the Ritz Theater, just east of La Brea Avenue on L.A.'s Wilshire Boulevard Miracle Mile. The Ritz resided, a living presence, on the south side of Wilshire, such a commanding presence with its ingratiating smile of a marquis that you paid no heed to what was across the street.

The Ritz drew us with promises of transportation to the remote,secret places of adventure and romance that required a boy's impatient imagination for a passport. Like the retro grandeur of the El Rey, further north on Wilshire, the Ritz was fortified with the chandeliers, rococo nooks, and lavish carpeting of a world long past. 

Unlike the El Rey, the Ritz had a balcony--hence the banister--and weekly serials on Saturday. You only went to the El Rey when the double bill at the Ritz was the then unthinkable combination of two love stories.

If you were in luck, the Ritz's Saturday feature was a Western followed by either a mystery or an outdoor adventure, sandwiched around an episode of Batman or The Green Hornet. Although most of us thought Batman was cooler, we all tried our hand at the faux-Irish brogue of the rumpled reporter, Axford, with his emblematic, "Sufferin' snakes, the Green Haarnet!"

Of course the angle was not forty-five degrees, but age and retrospect have not dimmed the thought that the banister might easily have been forty-five feet long.

Ten cents to get in. Another five for a Peter Paul Mounds bar (with two almonds). And the ride began.

Ten or fifteen minutes into the main feature, there was usually the perfect opportunity--a love scene. Up to the second floor, and a for-show visit to the men's room which smelled better than the lavatory at the El Rey. 

You would have thought the ushers were on to our stratagem. Quickly out of the men's room and over to the banister, a brief check to see if the coast were clear. Some chose the side-saddle approach. Your approach, the full-on two-leg mount. Sliding down the polished slope, it was all you could do to keep the whoop of joy internalized. 

As matters stood those days, you'd already signed two promises not to slide down the banister. There was no three-strikes law on the books then, nevertheless you lived in fear that the third offense would sentence you to a lifetime of Saturdays at the El Rey.

With luck and careful planning, you could manage three rides a Saturday, three opportunities to ride out the excitement of the double feature and serial or ameliorate the disappointment of their being duds.

Fate has not been kind to the Ritz. The El Rey has been declared an historical site; it still has regular showings. The Ritz, its bodacious banister still polished, is leased for special performances, waiting, you like to think, for adventurers who relish the steep thrill of the grandest downhill ride in town.


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