Took My First Decent Walk This Afternoon

The longest walks I’ve taken so far this year have been the hop-skip-and-a-jump trips to Kroger (10-15 minutes long) and back, and I’ve been using the cold weather as my reason to hold off on putting any serious pavement under my feet.  Hopefully, I’m snapping out of that, even though March and the vernal equinox are still a ways away.

I walked home from work this afternoon.  The temperature has hovered around freezing all day (according to The Weather Channel, it’s now 33º outside), and I don’t think I ever saw the sun all day, but when 5 p.m. rolled around, I began the northbound walk up High St.  I kept at a pretty good clip, and managed to cover 1.8 miles in 32 minutes–not quite 4 mph.  I didn’t feel as refreshed as I have in walks past, didn’t feel like I could go another 1.8 miles with no effort, but I’m glad to have done it.

My after-work walk is a good warm-up for what is becoming my last-Saturday-of-the-month tradition, the trek to Grandview for the monthly return of Nite Owl Theater.  This Saturday, the movie is House on Haunted Hill, a 1959 picture starring Vincent Price.  The walk is just over three miles, and I’ll be leaving the house around 11 in order to make the midnight showing.  Once the picture ends, I’ll be making the reverse journey home, which means I probably won’t be in bed until about 3 a.m. at the earliest.

One of the things I managed to do to shorten the walk was to stay on the opposite side of the street from Abbott’s Antique Paper and Emporium.  Even though I had little more than pocket lint on me, had I gone there, I would have fallen in love with their inventory, as I always do.  I’ve long gotten over drooling over the ’70s-era pinball machine, but the racks and racks of framed magazine covers, extant issues of Life, Collier’s, and Look, and framed ads for Coca-Cola and other artistically rendered products, have tempted me.  One Comfest I bought a complete New York Post of December 9, 1980 with the giant headline JOHN LENNON SHOT DEAD, and have considered framing it and hanging it up ever since.  I need to find glass that will slow down the yellowing process, since direct exposure to sunlight wreaks havoc on the cheap paper on which newspapers are printed.

My friend and O.U. classmate Ivan received some happy news from me earlier this month.  His former apartment building (at the corner of N. 4th St. and E. 8th Ave.) was demolished.  I got my digital camera and took some brief footage of some of the demolition.  The building was marginal to start with.  Ivan’s basement apartment had bars on the window, and there was often gang graffiti decorating both the interior and exterior of the place.  If the front door was locked, no one thought twice about just kicking it in.  Ivan said that he went into the utility room to do his laundry one day and two or three guys were sitting in there, nonchalantly loading guns.

Campus Partners and the city are going to put 10 houses on the site where the two apartments were located.  They’re going to be built pretty close together, five on N. 4th and five on Hamlet St.  (Ivan and I had christened his building “Charminel North,” named after Charminel Towers, the decrepit apartment building near the main library which was evacuated and eventually demolished in the 1990s.)

Above is the footage that I took of the destruction of Ivan’s erstwhile residence.

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I’d Walk a Mile…

Ever since I was a young teenager, I’ve wondered why “walking a mile” is supposed to represent walking a long distance.  I remember hearing about the slogan Camel used for decades to advertise its cigarettes, “I’d walk a mile for a Camel!”  And yet, 5280 feet (1.609 km) is not that far a distance to walk, really.  (It probably is a long, long way to run, especially for someone like me, who has never run long distances.  I don’t run because I don’t have the stamina.  Why don’t I have the stamina?  Because I don’t run.)

This subject comes to mind because the Owl flies tonight, which means I’m going to be pounding pavement in a little over an hour.  Tonight is the second return of Nite Owl Theater, and tonight Fritz the Nite Owl will be hosting Plan Nine from Outer Space, long considered the worst movie ever made.  The Grandview Theater is just over three miles from my house in Weinland Park, a straight westerly walk up W. 5th Ave.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t walk three miles in 27-degree weather to see that thing–I used to have a VHS copy of it, but erased it to record cartoons for Susie when she was a toddler.  But Fritz is hosting it, and that’s reason enough.  (Susie’s introduction to the legendary Mr. Peerenboom will be on Christmas night, when the show will be–surprise, surprise!–Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)

At least three of the items on my “bucket list” (a wish list of things I want to do before I “kick the bucket”) involve walking.  The three big walks I want to make in my lifetime are these:

  • John Wilkes Booth’s escape route.  It would start at the back door of Ford’s Theater in Washington and wind its way through Maryland and Virginia before ending in Port Royal, Va., where Booth was captured and was shot by a demented Union soldier, a born-again Christian and self-castrated eunuch named Boston Corbett.  It would also include pit stops at the Surratt family tavern in Clinton (then called Surrattsville) and Dr. Mudd’s farmhouse in Bryantown.
  • The National Road.  This inspiration came to me while I was living in Franklinton (“capital of West Virginia”) from 2002 until 2009.  The main drag through Franklinton is W. Broad St.  In fact, Broad St. is the major east-west thoroughfare in Columbus.  It is part of U.S. 40, which is the old National Road, beginning in Cumberland, Md. and terminating at the Kaskaskia River in Galesburg, Ill.  Much of it would be familiar terrain for me, since I went back and forth on W. Broad St. daily when I worked at Medco Health on Phillipi Rd.  In Wheeling, my dad’s hometown, the street is called “National Rd.”, and part of its route includes going over the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.  (I don’t remember if I’ve ever crossed the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, but my dad said it swayed so much that during a circus parade to Wheeling Island, one of the elephants was so petrified its handlers had to blindfold it and lead it across.  Sobering, especially if you’ve ever seen the footage of the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State.)
  • The Pony Express route.  This would be from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Calif. (known fondly to my friends in the Bay Area as “Excremento”).  Even though emails and text messaging are legion, I still love the feel of writing (or tape-recording) letters and cards and then dropping them in the blue mailboxes (when I can find them).  The only reason I never signed up to be a carrier during my stint at the main post office in Cincinnati was because carriers had to have driver’s licenses–I would have been happy to take my mail on the bus and deliver it that way, but that wasn’t permitted.  And mail call–although increasingly disappointing–is still my favorite part of the day.  (Amazon.com gave me a $1 subscription to Rolling Stone for recently buying a DVD, and my first issue arrived yesterday.  Two previous issues were in the mail today.)  So, walking the Pony Express route–all 1680 miles of it–would be a good way to combine my love of mail and my love of walking.  Ads for Pony Express riders targeted “young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen”, with the added notice “Orphans preferred.”  My walking the distance of the Pony Express route (Fort Collins, Provo, Salt Lake City) would be proof that you don’t need to be young, skinny, or wiry.  I was when I was a teen (“not over eighteen”), but I am an orphan now, so I meet one of the qualifications.

I keep reminding myself I need to be on my guard tonight.  The Ohio State Buckeyes were victorious over the University of Michigan Wolverines today (as they have been annually since 2004), 37-7.  The game was here in Columbus, so I am sure that there will be places along W. 5th Ave. where I will be running a gauntlet of drunken yahoos who are celebrating the victory aided by sustenance they’re carrying around in brown paper bags.  I am thankful that the old Roxy Theatre on N. High St. (just north of Lane Ave.) is no more.  If it still existed, I’m sure that’s where Fritz would be hosting this program tonight, and trying to get through High St. when the streets and sidewalks are clogged by inebriated football fans would truly be a hellish experience.  So, I’m glad to be making the trek to Grandview, west of where all the insanity is occurring.

The Owl Returns

Last night, I made my first decent walk (a total of almost 6½ miles) to the Grandview Theater and back, and this was a walk with a definite goal in mind.  I wanted to be front and center for the return of Nite Owl Theater to Columbus.  Unfortunately, it’s not returning to the airwaves, especially not to Channel 10 (WBNS-TV), but the Owl is among us once again.

For those of you not familiar with Columbus TV, I am speaking of longtime TV and radio icon Frederick C. (“Fritz the Nite Owl”) Peerenboom, aged 75.  This article fills in much of the biographical details, but you had to have been a nocturnally inclined person growing up in the late ’70s around in the Columbus, Ohio television market to fully appreciate Fritz.  His unmistakable trademark are the “owl glasses,” recycled from a pair of the big-lensed Christian Dior spectacles popular (especially with women) in the mid- to late 1970s.

I first discovered him when staying up all night with friends (or alone) when he would host double-featured Chiller Theater after the 11 o’clock news on Channel 10.  The more pedestrian movies appeared on The New Armchair Theater during the week, and Nite Owl Theater ran Saturday night from midnight until nearly 6 a.m.  (At that time, however, my weekend overnight loyalties were with Huntington’s WSAZ-TV, and its much blander All Night Theater, which showed scratchy B movies sandwiched in between reruns of Green Acres and The Saint.)

During my eighth-grade year, I took pride in my “clandestine” nocturnal activities.  My sleeping quarters were quite the afterthought after my dad married my stepmother in 1976, and we moved (with her three daughters) into the house behind Mound Cemetery.  I slept in a couch on the basement, with a small area cleared away for my living quarters.  It also housed the color TV, so after everyone else went to bed, it was me and Fritz the Nite Owl.  That fall, Channel 10 had changed the late-night format (this was pre-Arsenio Hall and -David Letterman, and they elected not to run The CBS Late Movie), so Nite Owl Theater was a weeknight show as well.

Last night, a cameraman put his lens and a boom microphone in my face and asked me about my first experience with Fritz.  I mentioned how I’d watch the show late into the night, even on school nights, and I surprised him by remembering the first film I watched.  It was Last Train from Gun Hill, with Kirk Douglas, Earl Holliman, and Carolyn Jones.  (I was never a big Western fan, but Fritz made me like them more than I had before.)  The interview is part of a documentary about Fritz’ career, which should be released sometime next year.  I’ll keep everyone posted–especially if my cameo appearance remains in the final cut!  (I even remember the first movie I watched on WSAZ’s All Night Theater.  It was a forgettable picture called Three Guns for Texas.)

My only disappointment was that the new Nite Owl Theater did not use the opening I best remembered.  That featured the 1976 Columbus skyline (back when the LeVeque Tower was the tallest building in Columbus) at sunset.  The sun set in rhythm with the song “South Philly Willy” by New York Mary, followed by a full moon rising over WBNS’ transmitter.  Fritz would host the show from a mock-up of Channel 10’s tower, complete with the warning light blinking behind him.

Since he was supposed to be hosting the show from the tower, this led to his nightly farewell: “See you tomorrow night, same time, same tower,” followed by a picture of Channel 10’s tower.  There would be a loud “click-click,” like someone turning off a light, and the moon would vanish.  Oftentimes, I would watch the show to catch his commercial-break commentaries, or his two-minute asides midway through the picture.

Last night was the first time I had ever seen him in person, although I had written him from Marietta, and received handwritten replies (one letter was written on the back of a TelePrompTer sheet) which answered my many obscure questions and commented on the movies I asked him to show.  (I specifically remember asking him to show Ice Station Zebra, the 1968 Cold War (no pun intended) thriller that Howard Hughes watched over 150 times during his years of complete seclusion, so many times that his aides could recite the entire soundtrack from memory by the time he died in 1976.  I said “I’m curious to see what Howard Hughes saw in it,” to which Fritz replied “Maybe he dug snow!”)

This being Hallowe’en Eve, the featured movie was Night of the Living Dead, George Romero’s classic low-budget film about hordes of zombies invading the Pittsburgh suburbs.  I had seen it quite a few times before–the first time being at the Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge, Mass., but the commercial break commentary from Fritz and the vintage commercials (Arrid Extra Dry, Polaroid’s SX-70 Land camera, Alka-Seltzer, and Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia) really made it fun to watch.  Fritz claimed he received his first standing ovation last night when he strolled out in front of the screen before the film actually rolled, although I find this hard to believe.  (Last night’s show was posted online at this site sometime during the night, so you can see the movie and all the ephemera associated with it–including Coca-Cola’s Bicentennial-era “Look up, America!  See what we’ve got!” commercials.)

Watching Night of the Living Dead last night made me aware of something that had slipped under my radar previously.  The phrase “those things” came up so frequently in the dialogue that I was waiting for its next occurrence more than enjoying the movie.  It was almost like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It’s like listening to records of Richard Pryor’s stand-up routines or watching Eddie Murphy’s Delirious, when after five minutes or so all you hear is “blah blah blah–motherfucker–blah blah blah–motherfucker” and nothing else.  The characters were constantly talking about escaping “those things,” or what “those things” would do next, or how to scare away “those things.”

Fritz signed autographs in the lobby after the show, and I got one for myself, and one for Susie.  He signed Susie’s “Ya shoulda been here!”, a situation I may rectify next month when he shows Plan Nine from Outer Space, and she definitely will be with me Christmas night, when the feature is (of course) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  (There will be free Nite Owl Theater shows the last Saturday of every month at the Grandview Theater, 1247 Grandview Ave., 12 midnight.)

Advertising his recently cancelled FM jazz
radio program with a vintage Nite Owl Theater
publicity shot from circa 1978.

Still nocturnal after all these years.  At last, I
meet Fritz the Nite Owl.

Grayer and older, but the baritone voice is the
same as ever, and the witticism and wisdom
hasn’t changed a bit.

I am now more sure than ever that a friend of mine erred one summer night when we were watching Nite Owl Theater in Marietta.  We were alone in my house–a common event that summer, since I was usually left alone while Dad slept at his wife-to-be’s apartment–watching the Saturday all-night edition of the show.  It was a war movie (I’d give you the title if my 1976 diary wasn’t long gone), and my friend kept saying, “We’re probably the only ones watching this.”
Definitely not true.  I am sure of that now.