It was a beautiful spring day in 1979 and perfect for a road trip to Calgary. Phil Callaway, Dave Adkins, Brent Austring and I got an early start so we could pack in a full day. Typically, we had a little "circuit" on these trips to Calgary and that day was no exception. We would check out Keencraft Music, the largest music store in town. There we would gaze longingly at the guitars, drums and recording equipment. We would wander the aisles of A&B records on the Eighth Avenue Mall and maybe buy the latest LP or a 45 single. We might take in a movie and for sure we would stop at Peter's Drive-In for their famous burgers and shakes. Checking the paper, we all agreed on a movie we should view. Being Clint Eastwood fans, it was natural for us to see his latest movie, Escape From Alcatraz. We decided on the afternoon matinee which would save us a few bucks. A few bucks, as it turned out, that we would need!
We headed off to the Palace Theatre on Eighth Avenue. The Palace Theatre was one of those grand old buildings with chandeliers, small stage, red velvet seats and curtains. It seemed so grand, so exciting, so forbidden! Movies or "attendance at the theatre" was strictly against the rules of PBI at that time. For that matter, so were televisions. Mom and Dad never owned a television until they had been married for over twenty five years. Consequently there is a whole era of TV culture that I missed. People sometimes talk about TV shows from those years. "Remember that scene in Bonanza", they will ask? When I reply, "Well, actually I don't", they look at me rather strangely.
Missing out on a life of television viewing wasn't all bad. It gave us more time to be creative. Some of that creativity was good and some not so much. Music, art, sports and hobbies were encouraged and promoted and those were good things. Of course, there were a few families that kept a television in the closet or attic for "special occasions". The Stanley Cup, the Canada Russia series or the first moon walk all seemed to be good reasons for those that owned the banned devices to fire them up. One of the effects of this rule is that we would impose on the fine folk in the town and community for our TV viewing. These people were incredibly gracious and hospitable and seemed to understand the dilemma.
Escape from Alcatraz chronicles the true story of Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who have the distinction of possibly being the only people to ever escape from the Alcatraz prison in California. Eastwood was in fine form and we enjoyed every second of the thriller as it unfolded. The closing credits rolled and we began our exit to the Eighth Avenue Mall. As we approached the front door, I looked out on the mall. As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I saw, to my horror, some very familiar faces. There, looking right towards the door of the theatre, was Prairie staff member Hector Hanna. Hector was standing with a group of other staff and students, crowded around an easel. It was part of a presentation that the Open Air Campaigners were making that day on the mall. The OAC, as they were known, would set up in large cities in high traffic areas and preach the gospel message. They used the easel to paint large colored squares on big sheets of paper and then filled them in, to make letters, as the presentation progressed. There was a large, eager group of Prairie folk standing there. We knew most of these people and they knew us. We were busted!... or so I thought. I took another quick look at Hector and realized that he had not seen us, at least I hoped he hadn't. I immediately turned around and motioned to Phil, Brent and Dave to follow me. We headed against the flow of patrons to the back of the theatre. Taking a cue from the movie, we made our exit through the fire escape doors and out into the alley. A few deep breaths later, we started back to our car.
Phil had another item on his "to do" list that day. That was to find the Calgary Police Department and pay a fine for a traffic violation from a previous trip. We decided that we would walk the several blocks to the station and started off. When we arrived at the station on sixth avenue we realized we were on the opposite side of the street. Finding a break in the traffic we dashed across the street.
Entering the front doors, we passed a gentleman making his way out of the building. This guy looked every bit like Popeye, or maybe Mr. Clean, and was as bald as a peanut with tattoos decorating his muscular arms. His t-shirt had a logo of a pig wearing a blue police hat. The slogan on it was not very flattering to the men in blue, or to the pig, as I recall. "Wow!", I thought to myself, "Does that guy ever have guts coming into a police station dressed like that!" A reference was made to this anomaly as we made our way to the front counter to pay Phil's ticket.
Unknown to us, Popeye had turned around and followed us back into the building. As we walked closer to the counter, he held out his arms. Motioning to us, he said to the officer on duty. "Sergeant Dixon, write these four boys up for jaywalking". He then turned around and left. We were shocked to say the least. The sergeant began to ask us for our names and ID's and wrote each of us a ticket. We learned later that Popeye was an undercover officer.
Some of the more cynical would say, "Serves you right for attending the theatre, boys". As for me, I always look for Popeye before I cross the street!
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.