Let’s Go To The Movies!

The Parkside TheaterFor some reason this popped into my mind over the weekend and I had to see if I could dig anything up on this, but back in the late 60’s/early 70’s when I was a young pup the elementary schools at the end of the school year would sell matinee tickets to your local movie theater for a Tuesday or Wednesday showing and each movie ticket cost 15¢. You would buy enough to cover you for the summer and once a week your parents would cart you off to the local theater and dump you there for the day. Life was good back then.

I’d like to say 15¢ was worth more back then and I’m sure it was, but this wasn’t breaking anyone’s bank that I remember. A small box of candy, which would be considered large by today’s standards, at my local Parkside Theater was 16¢ [the extra penny was for tax], so getting rid of your kids for a day each week in the summer was worth the price of a candy bar. I don’t know about other theaters at the time, but the Parkside also served ice cream and sandwiches which was a bit odd for back then as they weren’t pre-packaged, but hand scooped and hand made.

As I remember the movies started at around 11am or so and ended around 4-4:30pm. They’d show a cartoon movie and then a live action movie, all kid oriented of course. You could go in and watch Jungle Book followed by Treasure Island and for a little kid having the big screen to share with his friends and not having your parents around was great. Before every movie they showed a few cartoon shorts for the kids with short attention spans to help hold them over through the movie. In between movies they had an intermission which meant time to buy more candy so you could properly fuel your sugar rush for when you came home. I would be sent off with a dollar in my pocket and always get candy, popcorn and a soda and come home with change.

While I only went to the Parkside, I think the summer movie thing was done all around the city. I seem to remember using my tickets at a theater in the Richmond District once or twice because my Mom’s best friend lived there and I’d sometimes go with her kids. It’s kind of hard thinking back to those times because today you’ve got entertainment available from so many different sources. Back then we didn’t have channels to change, I don’t even think we knew what movies they were going to show. I believe the tickets just had the day and the date and 15¢. Maybe the school name was on it because it was probably a way for the schools to add to their coffers.

Now here’s the funny thing, I found out that the Parkside Theater back in those days seated 1329 people, so on a sold out matinee they would make only $199.35 from ticket sales. You couldn’t buy them at the door, you had to get them from your school. Anything extra they got was from selling foods at the snack bar. I’m sure minimum wage was awful back then since the first real job I got was in 1977 and paid $2.20/hour and at that price I bet they could barely cover the cost of the staff if they weren’t selling lots at the snack bar. Working then wasn’t too much fun because if you did something incorrectly they could cut your pay for the day and I’m sure that was over used because in the mid 70’s they made it so you had to be paid for the hours you worked. No one seemed unhappy working at the theaters back then though, but I was only 7 so what did I know.

Those days are gone now with most of the small neighborhood theaters disappearing [the Parkside was a first run theater that got the movies as they came out] and I’m sure we’ll start to see some of the larger theaters disappear as the home screens keep getting bigger and people like to eat less over processed crap that they can make cheaper at home. It’s kind of sad though because it was a very memorable time for me. I haven’t been to a movie theater now in close to ten years, mostly because I can get close to the experience for a fraction of the price without having to walk across sticky floors to sit in an uncomfortable seat and eat junk food that everyone says today will take 10 years off your life, but when you’re a kid you don’t notice those things.

Remembering Playland

I got a surprise the other day when someone told me that the documentary Remembering Playland At The Beach was available on DVD and at the library. I thought I really didn’t have much to remember about Playland because the only time I got to go was the day it closed, September 7, 1972, which means it was a probably my parents giving in to me wanting to go that they finally agreed that I could go as a birthday present since my birthday was the day before.

Well, it turns out there was a lot to remember that I had forgotten. While I only got to go on the last day and most of the rides were closed by then, I did remember the Funhouse the most, but seeing actual video footage of it made it even more memorable. I loved the slide in there, but never realized that it was actually five stories high. Running through the spinning barrel was a piece of cake and the turntable my Dad and I did a few times just because the idea of sitting on a well polished spinning wooden disc and being flung at the padded wall at high speed just sounded like a lot of fun to a 10 year old kid. One of the people they interview mentioned that OSHA would  even let a place like that be built today which is probably true when you see the footage. The trick on the turntable was for everyone to lock arms so it would spin faster before you got thrown.

There were the dodger cars which would give you whiplash when the large metal cars would smash into each other while sparks from the pole leading up to the ceiling to power the car dropped down on your head. Yep, another OSHA cringe moment. It was so large that they could have 80 cars running at once.

I didn’t get to go on the Diving Bell which is what I had always wanted to do, but after seeing the footage and some pictures it probably was a good thing I didn’t. One of the people said that when the bell was yanked back up out of the water everyone felt like they were going to die and from the looks of it, I’m surprised no one did.

The Big Dipper was gone by then, but replaced by the Alpine Racer which was closed down by then. The urban legend that a sailor stood up on the Big Dipper to show off to the girl he was with and got hit by a cross beam getting his head torn off is actually kind of true. He did get hit in the head, but landed in the lap of his girlfriend dead with a crushed skull. Oh and there were no seat belts of any kind back then. Not on most of the rides. I can kind of see why my Mom never wanted me to go there.

Dark Mystery was the only other ride I got to go on that day and I jumped a few times with things popped up and the screams played. I do remember there was one box we passed where cheap aluminum figures of a boy and naked girl popped up which didn’t make me jump, but point and yell to my Dad, Did you see that! I told my Mother all about that when we got home and I can remember a glaring eye shot in my Dad’s direction.

What I had forgotten about were all the concession stands out front. As a kid I always remember stopping for It’s-its, but I had forgotten about the Hot House that sold enchiladas and tamales. I remembered that my Mom would send me and Dad out there on the weekends for enchiladas so she didn’t have to cook for one day.

The history of the place was what I found to be amazing. When you think of amusement parks you think of kids, but Playland at the Beach was different. It was mostly adults going on the rides then and there were plenty of pictures and footage of men in suits and fedoras with their women in dresses and white gloves. Something I never expected to see. There was also a place next to it called Fun Tier Town which was for the kids which had some pretty timid rides. It was a big spot for kids to have birthday parties, but I believe it closed down earlier because there was one birthday party I was supposed to go to there and they were already closed  and that was before Playland shut down.

It was the Whitney Bros who made the place the most popular, but after George Whitney died and his son George Whitney, Jr. took his place that there started to be family troubles and Playland was sold to it’s final owner in 1970. This person unfortunately didn’t really know how to run an amusement park, especially one that was fogged in with salt air constantly so the whole place fell apart quickly leading to it’s closure in 1972.

What amazed me in the footage was that they had footage from the early 60’s before the civil rights era started and yet you saw white kids, asian kids and black kids all playing together without a care. It really was just a little bizarre to see.

During it’s heyday Walt Disney was traveling around to all the amusement parks and talking to the owners to see what worked and what didn’t. Walt really liked a lot of what Playland was doing. So much so that Walt hired George Whitney, Jr. to help him build Disneyland. Several of the attractions at Playland were the inspiration for Disneyland rides.

Today, Playland at the Beach is no more, but luckily there were some fools who went in after the closure and stole as much as they could and put together Playland not at the Beach Museum in El Cerrito. Several of the people interviewed run the museum and from what I’ve seen they’ve saved a lot of the old arcade games and maybe added to them as well. I’ll have to put that on my list of places to visit now. The Carousel has been refurbished and is now at Zeum at Yerba Buena Gardens. One Laffing Sal is at the Musee Mecanique at Pier 41, the other is at Playland not at the Beach in El Cerrito.

If you remember Playland, you definitely need to see this video. If you have a love of amusement parks you should see this as well. It wasn’t like Disneyland, but it was definitely a San Francisco landmark.

Linden Labs: It’s just like flushing money down the toilet

So why you ask am I writing about a video game company when this is a blog about San Francisco? Well, Linden Labs who puts out the game Second Life is based in San Francisco. Phillip Rosedale [aka Phillip Linden] started the company in 1999 as a 3D way to interact with people online. You could play for free or get a premium membership for $9.95 a month. Not too bad by most MMORP games, but this isn’t really one of them. There’s nothing to do in Second Life except, well lead a second life. You can go to clubs click on a ball that makes your character dance. You can shop for clothes [which my “Armani Suit” I’m wearing in the picture cost me $1200L which is equal to about $4.61 by today’s exchange rates] or buy naughty bits and have sex with other characters.

Other than that, there isn’t much else to do. I’ve made many friends in the game in the 5 plus years I’ve played it on and off and many of them have tried to get something other than the dance, shop, sex going but haven’t been successful. This is probably because the game drains you of your finances.

To really get somewhere you have to buy land. Here’s where the tricky part comes in. To purchase an entire sim it’ll cost you $1200. Real dollars, not “lindens” as the currency is known in the game then you also have to pay an additional $295/month tier rate. Now call me a cynic, but through my sponsor you can get 480Gb’s of server space for a flat $119.99 [even less if you use my special code of LGN09]. Asking that much money for a chunk of a server that doesn’t come anywhere near the 480GB’s I’m talking about is ridiculous. Most of my friends who have bought sims have ended up selling them off. I only know one guy who has managed to keep his sim through renting out space to friends to cut his price down. Now that you have land, you’ve got a blank slate and you have to put stuff on on the land like, oh a house? That’s cost you anywhere between$5000L-$20000L. Then of course you have a house, but there’s nothing in it so you’ll have to buy furnishings. Figure on spending another $10000L to furnish the place or you can add another $3000L for a SexGen bed so you can have animated sex while you play, but to be realistic you’ll have to visit Xcite! to purchase the $1200L starter pack of naughty bits for your character.

Now renting is an interesting idea as well. That used to be easy. You wanted 2048m [that’s square meters] you’d pay between $500L-$1000L/week and you’d be done with it. Now it seems that the renters make you pay a fee like you’re purchasing the land then add on a weekly fee. Why does this matter? Well, owning land gives you lots of things like owning land in real life does. It lets you keep people out of your home like in real life, lets you set protective devices, etc. If you don’t own land then you could be walking around and someone pulls out and gun and shoots you. This isn’t so bad in Second Life as you only get sent to your home location, but say you’re working on building something and you get shot. Then you have to teleport back and start back up again only to get shot again. This is called griefing in the game and they do little to prevent it.

I’m not totally against the game altogether. There are some places like San Jose State University that conduct classes online and Nissan that will give you a free Nissan Altima you can drive around, but you have to remember that what you see there isn’t what you get. Nobody is ugly and when people start trading real life pics of themselves you might start to notice that it’s the year 2010, why are they wearing legwarmers and have overly permed hair? I’ve only met one character in Second Life who was ugly and he did that on purpose because he thought it was funny. Everyone in Second Life is sexy. Look at that pic there. That’s one of my characters we’ll call “Eddy” because most people can pronounce his real name correctly. Eddy is a chick magnet and looks nothing like me. I’m not saying I’m ugly, but when I walk into a club in Second Life people notice me. Girls flirt and the guys start to get jealous, not always, but most of the time. This is an aspect of the game that people in SL refer to as “drama”. There are petty fights all the time between couple. I even had one girl asking to have cybersex with me right after she got married in Second Life. Yes, there are marriages in Second Life. While there are a few people doing good stuff, most of the people don’t know what they’re doing and just end up creating “drama”.

When I first started I thought it was a cool idea and if there were people who were old and unable to get around as easily it would be good therapy for them. That’s not really what I’m seeing today. What I see is a lot of people acting like someone they aren’t and not doing a very good job of it. Now I think I’ll run off and check out Mouse World again, someone crazy people actually have rebuilt Disneyland in Second Life complete with the rides. I want to see if they’ve finished the Haunted Mansion. At least that is a lot cheaper than a real trip to Disneyland.