I can’t say my wife and I had a stormy courtship, but like all couples, there were times that tried the strongest of romances. They almost invariably start as something small. The night of the great trek to Hollywood, when we were living in California, was just such an instance.
Back then, first-run movies usually opened exclusively at one of the major movie houses in Hollywood. There was one of these playing exclusively at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre that I had no desire to see but had promised to take my future wife to.
However, on the night we were to go, I had to work late unexpectedly and was not terribly unhappy to find it was almost seven o’clock before I was able to pick her up. Back then, for a just-released movie in any theater in Hollywood, you had to arrive at least one hour before show time to buy a ticket while the line was still less than two blocks long.
It was a twenty-minute drive from where we were in Pasadena and the show began at eight. Surely, a reasonable person would see the futility of starting so late.
I said, reasonable person. My wife-to-be merely pointed out that since this particular movie had been out for a couple of weeks, the crowds had probably thinned out and, after all, I had promised. I reluctantly agreed to at least give it a try.
But I knew better to count on smaller crowds, so as we headed up the freeway I stepped on it to save some time. The red lights that almost immediately flashed in my rearview mirror announced my bad judgment.
I didn’t even try talking my way out of it. I simply took solace in the fact that this probably eliminated any remaining possibility of making the show.
Another miscalculation. I had underestimated the clocklike efficiency of the California Highway Patrol and we were on our way in under five minutes. We finally exited on Hollywood Blvd.
Saturday night traffic on Hollywood Blvd was exactly what you’d think it would be – jam-packed and moving at a slow idle. We made progress a bit slower than if we’d been walking.
Unfortunately, the reflexes of the driver behind us were even slower, and as I hit the brakes sharply for a red light, there was a jerk and a thud as he used the rear bumper of my near-new Volkswagon to bring his car to a stop.
I was careful not to glance at my future wife as I got out, knowing that I would lose control if I did. Fortunately, there was no damage and we both agreed to simply let it drop. I got back in the car with a withering remark ready to hurl, but she beat me to it.
“I think we can still make the movie”, she unbelievably said. I was speechless.
“We still have ten minutes,” she quickly continued, “and since we’re all the way up here and it’s only a few more blocks, we may as well try.” I resigned myself and we continued to inch up the street.
As we approached Graumans, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Only a few people were standing around the ticket booth.
“See!” she exclaimed, “I told you. No line!”
I begrudgingly conceded the point and let her out in front to buy the tickets while I parked the car. As I pulled into the parking lot next door, I noticed the hastily scrawled sign that said parking for this “limited engagement” was five dollars (a pretty steep sum at that time).
I had no choice, it was five minutes before ShowTime. I paid the parking scalper and quickly walked toward the ticket booth, only to meet my fiancé halfway, walking very slowly. Something was wrong.
“The line was so short,” she carefully said, “because the tickets are all sold out. They’re now selling tickets for tomorrow night.”
By now I was incoherent and the best I could manage was a squeak. As I slowly regained my composure and realized it was water under the bridge at this point, the only thing I said was that we had come to Hollywood to see a movie and that was just what we were going to do.
There was another first-run movie that I wanted to see. I wasn’t certain where it was playing, but I knew it was at one of the several theaters on Hollywood Blvd. The thought of leaving my five-dollar parking place after only ten minutes was unbearable, but I was determined to salvage something out of that night and that overrode all other considerations.
It was as we exited the parking lot, running over those pointy spikes that make leaving an irrevocable decision, that I saw where the other movie was playing: right across the street and half a block down from my now vacated parking spot. My reaction was unprintable.
The trip home began immediately and the closest I’ve been to Hollywood Blvd since then has been watching the Christmas Parade on television. And I still wince at that.