After more than twelve years of serving the great cultural crossroad of Oakland, the Parkway Speakeasy Theater will be closing at the end of business day, Sunday March 22, 2009.I love the Parkway, you guys. I celebrated my damn birthday there! They have couches and food and cheap movies. I can't even remember what all I've seen there. Pineapple Express, The Departed, Babel, episodes of Firefly and Buffy (including an OMWF Singalong). It's one of my favorite things about Oakland.
From African Diaspora to Thrillville to lesbian fashion shows and educational porn, the Parkway has offered an eclectic array of movies and events. It was the first theater in California to offer food, beer and wine service in a lounge style movie theater. With a nudge or a push from the community, there was little programming the Parkway theater would not try in order to better be a community center and a safe haven for diverse ideas. The Parkway brought Baby Brigade for the shuttered and abandoned parents of newborns, the first international black gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender film festival and Sunday Salon, a free event for cultural and community enhancement. We, at the Parkway Speakeasy Theater, are deeply proud of the Parkway and will profoundly miss serving its community. Thank you for your patronage.
So yesterday, I got in line at around 6:00 to see a movie one last time. The line was not as ridiculous as I expected, as it was just around the corner. Someone told me it had been much crazier a couple hours earlier, when the box office had opened. A cute woman from KALW 91.7 public radio asked me to talk about the Parkway and the community and all that; she kept asking me questions even after I thought I was done, so I got to say a lot of things. I have no idea whether any of it was usable or whether it's aired.
Passing cars honked in support. A petition was being passed around. One driver stopped to ask what the line was all about, and one of the petitioners told him what was going on and asked if he wanted to sign, and he did!
As I moved ever closer to the box office, I hoped they didn't sell out. Waiting in line on principle was fun and all, but I did want to see a movie! Luckily, I made it. The girl in front of me wanted to buy tickets for her friends, but they were only selling four per person, so I offered to buy the extra for her. She handed me a twenty and I handed it to the ticket girl and she gave me change and then I gave the other girl change and it was all very confusing, but I think the math worked out. What is notable about this is that I felt comfortable doing this at the Parkway. As I told the cute reporter woman, the Parkway feels like a theatre for us rather than the big corporate Hollywood conglomerate. It fosters a sense of community. Hell, the movie I wanted to see, Let the Right One In, had been held over for weeks and weeks because of audience demand. They played what we wanted to see.
After buying my ticket, I proceeded to get into the Will Call line. It was close to 7, and the movie wasn't until 8:45. There were only a few people in line, though, which meant I would still be in prime couch-grabbing position. I had nowhere else to go anyway. I was soon joined by a leatherclad, pierced couple, the girl with dyed-pink streaks and the guy with a shaved head and dreadlocked ponytails. The sort of people I would never approach to talk. But the guy was very interested in the book I was reading, Born Confused, so I let him read the blurb and talked to him about it. He said he'd been reading a lot of Arundhati Roy, so I recommended Jhumpa Lahiri to him. And then we talked for quite a while about India and Indians and ABCDs. He taught a class on teen lit (that may or may not have been focused on other cultures). I told him I'd been born in San Francisco, and he shook my hand, as there were so few Bay Area "natives." We talked about art installations that killed people and his plan to recreate the Kennedy assassination with the Easter Bunny on Easter by Dolores Park. The couple on my right also joined the conversation. And that is how we made ninety minutes in the cold much more palatable than it otherwise would have been. The Parkway brings all sorts of people together.
Once they finally let us in, I ordered dinner for my grumbly stomach. I wanted to try one of their famous pizzas, so I ordered one with anchovies and jalapeños. Since I'd never had anchovies on pizza before, and that was a Thing. I took my number to the upstairs theatre, where nearly all the couches had been taken! Goddammit, this was the last movie the Parkway would ever show, and I wanted to see it on a couch. I found one empty seat, and I sat down, and Jesus God, was it comfy after standing in line for three hours.
While we waited for everyone to get seated, they played us an old Looney Tunes short, "Rabbit Romeo." Then it was time for Kyle's final message. (Every week, the owner of the theatre records a message to advertise the various goings-on. They're always fun and entertaining and make the experience something special. And seeing a movie at the Parkway is a totally different experience from seeing a movie anywhere else.) A waiter brought me my food: "That's a nasty pizza, man." I kind of had to agree with him once I started eating. Anchovies really are supersalty and gross and I cannot imagine why anyone would eat them. At least the jalapeños were there to make up for it.
Let the Right One In, a.k.a. the Swedish vampire movie, is very, very slow. And I was very, very tired. This was not a good combination, and I think I might have lost consciousness every now and then and missed key plot points like, uh, people dying. But it was very fucked-up and not your typical vampire movie: it's a love story between a twelve-year-old bullied boy who wants to be a killer and a twelve-year-old vampire girl who wants a friend. And, you know, to kill people and suck their blood. There are a lot of neat vampire moments (and some unintentionally funny ones, at least to our audience), but there wasn't a very strong narrative. It may be worth watching again while more awake. Or, well, I can watch the American remake, which will probably suck but have more crazy vampire action?
When the movie was over, people were still sticking around during the credits as others were leaving. My single-serving friend from line shouted, "If we never leave, they can't shut it down!" Sadly, it does not work that way.
And now we wait to see what happens. Will Kyle reopen it? Will someone else buy it and reopen it? Will it be turned into a bookstore? Will it be turned into something stupid? All I have to say is the limerick I wrote that was burned as an offering to the gods:
There once was a theatre called the Parkway.
The night that it closed was a dark day.
Pizza and couches
Would comfort most grouches.
Without it, Park St. will be Stark Way.