beer + couches + movies = happy

June 19, 2009

i am so, so pleased to read today’s news, that the Cerrito and Parkway theaters may soon be reopening, and largely unchanged at that.

in case you’re not from the bay area, the Parkway (the original) and the Cerrito (the later sister theater) are old school two-screen movie theaters that show second-run films and are known for their special events – weekly showings that allow parents to bring their babies, oscar and election screenings, community benefits, midnight movies, RHPS performances, film festivals of all kinds. the other thing they’re known for: cheap tickets, comfortable seating, and serving alcohol.

now i happen to live about 2 blocks from the parkway, in a slightly dodgy part of Oakland. it’s a funky neighborhood, full of recent college grads and immigrant families. there’s a 2 block commercial district of sorts, which features 2 banks, a grocery store, a drug store, a restaurant that used to be open all night (and had some hilarious local commercials), a couple random take out joints, several bars and liquor stores, and the Parkway. 

the Parkway is a singularly oakland-ish institution, something that becomes rather obvious when compared to the Cerrito, which opened a couple years back in the more suburban El Cerrito. The Cerrito is nicely restored, cleaner, and full of yuppies. the Parkway looks a bit crappy from the outside, and the building regularly has problems (one of my favorite Parkway memories: the winter the heater broke and they issued everyone a blanket and free tea or hot chocolate with admission; it was like going to a giant sleepover in someone’s basement). the Parkway crowd tends to be more relaxed and chill than the Cerrito’s (also more full of hipsters). 

on election night last fall, the Parkway had a special election-night program where you could watch the results come in on the big screen. i did not go; i was far too anxious to be out in public. i sat at home and watched the results on PBS (i don’t have cable). and at 8 p.m., when California was called for Obama and the results were pretty much settled, my whole neighborhood erupted in noise. in my apartment building, up and down the street, everyone was screaming and hollering like it was New Year’s Eve. anxiety gone, i called up shaggy (he lives across the street from me) and suggested we go out and celebrate. we rolled down the street to our favorite neighborhood dive bar. i have never seen it so packed; wall to wall with really, really excited people. we got some drinks and watched the concession and acceptance speeches. generally i’m a fairly cynical person (especially about politics), and it’s not like i thought Obama was the second coming or anything, and i’ve certainly been disappointed by him since he’s taken office, but right then, in that moment, there was this fabulous feeling of elation and accomplishment and community. here i was with a bunch of people i didn’t know, everyone just absolutely thrilled at the way this had turned out, hopeful in that moment that things could change.

but this is a story about the Parkway, right? so the bar is right there in the middle of the little business district. the Parkway is a block over. and as shaggy and i trekked back up to our places, the whole neighborhood was out and about. people were spilling out of the bars, out of the theater, screaming and yelling. people were driving up and down the street, honking and yelling. i remember standing at the top of the little hill on 4th avenue, looking down the road at the Parkway, at the light spilling out and the brightness of the marquee and the people running amok (in a good way, not in a riot-y sort of way, which is an important distinction in Oakland), and it seemed that the Parkway was really anchoring the neighborhood somehow.

when the announcement came down in march that the parkway was closing, i was devastated. not only did i love going to movies there, it really was a community theater, and with it gone it felt like a big part of our neighborhood was gone too. along with tons of other people, i stood in line for hours on the closing day to get tickets to the final show (pictures here, if you’re curious).

in the months since it’s been closed, nothing has changed, externally. the marquee still says “we love you oakland.” the big green sign still lights up every night. but it seems dead and cold. no action. no lines. and so i greet this news of a potential return with utter delight and the hope that it really pans out. i look forward to once again rolling down to the theater 5 minutes before show time, getting a beer, and kicking back for a movie. although i’ll really, really miss kyle and will’s homemade Parkway news trailers.


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