Wednesday, September 16, 2009

progress of destruction

Today is the last day of life at the old Alabama Theater, 1 of only 2 art deco theaters left in this squshed up, mangled, stinky oily swampy city of arid concrete and glass. It -- the Alabama -- is not currently the known target of a wrecking crew but it's only a matter of time since this entire place is just waiting for the next demo crew to come along.

The Alabama has not been used as a theater for a long time but was instead converted to a giant Bookstop. It was quite the store when it opened, way back when there was no Barnes & Noble hunkered down every few miles, their hulking boxes hammered onto the corners as though to keep the block from flying away. Like something out of a Harry Potter movie.

There wasn't any Amazon when the Alabama was turned into Bookstop and I'd never heard of Bookstop either. There weren't all these giant chains running -- growing? --consumerism yet. If you had money for books (usually I didn't) you went to Brazos Bookstore. Brazos was the way a bookstore "should" be -- it still is, right there in the same place selling the same sort of selection to the same sort of people ... maybe older, but it's hard to say if they're older cause I seem to have gotten just as old.
Brazos was for a serious book buyer who wanted just such a book, and they had (and still have) poetry readings and authors and such ... but I haven't been in a very long time.
The other place to go was Half Price Books which actually did use to sell books at "half" or some doable price, but that was a long time ago and now it's expensive like everything else ... there are still some quiet surprises every once in a while ... and it has what I think any decent bookstore needs in the smells, the feel of old loved books -- even books that were hated, despised and owned only because someone demanded and forced a purchase -- they're still books after all -- and no one cares if you sit on the floor for hours just leafing through whatever catches your eye ...
But books like everything have become expensive and I think I have a gene that makes it impossible for me to buy only one single book at a time so trips to bookstores must be curbed...especially when you quit a perfectly good job for no good reason and have no more income it is not wise to use your plastic make believe money.
Brazos is small, maybe 2000 sqaure feet? just a wild guess but it's small, parking is hard, too much traffic, takes too long to get there from here -- allow at least an hour for about 15 miles -- buying books should be an experience, yes, but a fun one so for all these reasons I just don't go to Brazos anymore. Not even when they have an author - traffic and people are even more and worse. It's become a trendy bookstore and I'd bet more than half the people there at any gven time are there to be seen in some "right place" pretending to soemthing they aren't.
In fairness I guess we all of us pretend to something we're not, maybe to many things we're not ... pretending too we're not what we know we are and hoping like heck no one finds out ... that's some other topic. But probably this sort of thing is a reason or one of many for lots of the writing people do that that turns into the books people buy but books are something else,, not the bookstore, or the theater cum bookstore cum rubble heap.

So anyway, when the Alabama was shuttered it was a bad thing, one of many such bad things that happen in this large pretended smart city we call home, where anything over 50 years is ancient.

We're like China this way. Chinese cities are always full of cranes. They call the crane the national bird of China and the official bird of Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and other cities. The bird has much importance in Chinese culture. For your wedding you get 100 cranes embroidered on silk for longetivity, love and all that -- we bought one at the Wall at Badaling and it's beautiful, the tapestry and the story, or it would be if it wasn't stuck on a closet shelf waiting for a mat, a frame, a wall for hanging ... so the bird the crane is very important to the more important things in life and the crane the piece of equipment is very important to the modernity of China as they build identical look-alike apartment towers stretching higher than the clouds, knowing even as they go up that these buildings will be obsolete in 20 years and then torn down to build bigger and more, though maybe not better. If you lived in one of those towers in Shanghai especially you should never come home drunk since all the buildings do look exactly the same, all bunched together.

Here as in China the prevailing mentality is to tear it down unless it's shiny new. The only operating art deco theater is the River Oaks. It is (or was) part of a planned (or at least it seemed kind of organized, as though there had been some plan at some point) of similar art deco buildings. Across the street from the River Oaks was a strip center -- matching art deco -- that was fully occupied by companies doing good business in an afflueunt part of town. So first they let them take half the (limited) parking to put a Starbucks because you can never have enough Starbucks, and it was too big for the space, plunked in the mniddle of what should have been and used to be parking for the strip, and what with the drive through and all, the Starbucks pretty much ran everyone else out of business since no one could park. Plus it was ugly - a squat, white irregularly shaped rectangualr sort of structure all ahrd lines and newness, with none of the grace or shapeliness of anything approximating art deco. Nothing decorative at all.
There was much opposition to all of this but money doesn't listen and so the Weingartens left standing the butt ugly Starbucks being so modern and necessary, and ripped out the entire beautiful strip of white stucco, back tile, curving fronts, shiny metal accents ... but they didn't take out the theater across the street just yet.

So there are two art deco theaters, the River Oaks Theater still shows films and the Alabama is still a standing building but it is no longer of use to anyone who matters in these things and if nothing happens it won't be there for long.
The first movie I saw at the Alabama was on some school field trip - I don't know what grade or how old I was or even the movie except it was a Mark Twain story, maybe Huckleberry Finn. I remember riding in a hot big yellow bus with black plastic sticky seats with all the jerks I had to go to school with. I wasn't much liked in school so being cooped up in that bus with girls mean as only girls can be -- especially cute and pupular girls, which was everyone else -- and nasty grade school boys was no fun. It was also the first bus I ever rode that I remember -- not the actual trip to the Alabama Theater but just the being in the bus.
The last movie I saw at the Alabama was the Rocky Horror Picture Show ... nad it was also the next to last, the second to last, the third to last ad so on. They had Rocky Horror at midnight every weekend it seemed, maybe it was just once a month but it was regular, fun and cheap. Some dressed the parts (never I) and this impromptu cast acted out the whole movie up on stage; the Alabama had an actual stage and curtains and they actually raised and opened all the curtains, one by one, at the start of every show. So they acted and did their thing on stage with the movie going on while the rest of there sat and did whatever it was we did. There was at least as much smoking in that movie as any concert I'd ever been to and people carried in beer and other things that made it a good thing no one was checking bags like they do now.

I couldn't say how often I went to Rocky Horror and I'm not even sure I could coherently tell you the whole story of the movie but I think I seem to remember that it was fun... it musta been fun cause we kept going over and over.
Now they show Rocky Horror about once a month at the River Oaks but I haven't been. Meg's 18th birthday last year was to be at the River Oaks to see Rocky but we had a hurricane instead, a week before her birthday, no one could get there, the theater wasn't open, and that was that. No Rocky Horror.
And maybe I'm too old ... Meg thinks so anyway and she's probably right. For sure it wouldn't be the same, not even nearly so.
We can be quiet or we can kick and scream but in the end, no one cares and none of this matters -- does it? -- and probably within a year there will be only one art deco theater building left here and I will probably never see Rocky Horror again.
Irony of irony ... they are putting the Bookstop over in the River Oaks strip they built after they tore down a string of art deco buildings that were fully occupied wiht long term tenants ...

1 comment:

brtom said...

Sorry to hear this. I enjoyed the Alabama as a theater ... and was intrigued by it as a bookstore.

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