Blog: Our Reality Show

Choose a Category

Currently showing posts tagged Longview

  • The Bandit's Summer of '77

    As a 12-year-old overweight, socially awkward kid, I spent most of the summer of 1977 in a movie theater. My dad’s illness — spasmodic torticollis and dystonia — was at its peak four years in, and my parents continued to go from place to place looking for someone to help him.

    My parents spent a month that summer — the summer of “Star Wars” and Elvis’ death — in Los Angeles, where my dad was getting treatment. That meant that my sister and I went to Longview, where my parents were raised and where my grandparents still lived.

    Like many, I used movies as an opportunity to escape my woes, especially during those tumultuous middle school years. I saw “Star Wars” — who didn’t? — shortly after the movie was released at the end of May. But another film released that week captured, and kept, my attention, despite being shot in only 16 days on a $4.3 million budget.

    It was called “Smokey and the Bandit.”

    My dad was a big Burt Reynolds fan, as were a lot of people in those days. Reynolds was riding a streak of hits — albeit with the occasional flop — that made him the top actor at the box office for seven straight years. And he was a popular guest host on “The Tonight Show” that my dad — and mom, when she could stay awake — watched religiously.

    With shades of Three Stooges slapstick, “Smokey and the Bandit” is not art, but it hit my then-12-year-old self squarely in the demographic. Anyone could see the chemistry between Reynolds and Sally Field, my summer of 1977 crush. And it had other “classic” elements: Jackie Gleason’s “sumbitch”; Jerry Reed admonishing his basset hound, Fred, while providing the movie’s theme song (“East Bound and Down”); and the Trans-Am, which my dad was later inspired to buy in his first non-Cadillac move.

    I watched “Smokey and the Bandit” 15 times that summer, either at the Cargill Cinema in Longview or at the Tradewinds in Texas City, where it played on one of the theatre’s two screens for eons. For a long time, one of my prized possessions was an original one-sheet from the movie.

    Reynolds continued to do some interesting work after “Bandit,” which was the second highest grossing film of the year behind, well, you know. By the mid 1980s, though, the hits stopped coming. With minor exceptions — TV’s “Evening Shade,” the Oscar-nominated “Boogie Nights” — his career went on a slow fade to black.

    Today, Reynolds died of a heart attack at age 82, half a lifetime from the movie that made a 12-year-old boy laugh and laugh at a time when I really needed it. Thanks, and RIP.

  • Places #5: Box 344 & The WPA Post Office

    The Longview Post Office, built during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and open since 1939, holds a special place in my family’s history.

    The town, about 125 miles east of Dallas, is where my parents grew up. The post office at 201 E. Methvin Street opened in 1939, the year before my father was born, and my grandfather was the assistant postmaster there until 1964, the year before I was born.

    Like many families, my grandparents used a post office box rather than home delivery. Even after he retired, my grandfather would dutifully drive the two miles or so every day or two to get the mail from P.O. Box 344. After he became ill, my aunt or another family member would get the mail for my grandmother, who never learned to drive.

    Earlier this month, my mom and I started the long process of moving my aunt back to her hometown.

    I’ve been to Longview only once or twice since 1989, the year my grandmother died. Each time I’ve returned, I’ve wanted to see what has changed since my childhood. The older, south side section of town where my dad grew up has fallen into decay. The post-World War II era Pine Tree area where my mom grew up has changed as well, though not as much.

    Remarkably, the post office remains the same, a step back in time.

    In addition to the post office boxes, which are the same as I remember them from my youth, a massive oil on canvas mural titled “Rural East Texas” remains in the lobby. According to the website East Texas History (http://easttexashistory.org), Thomas M. Stell Jr. painted the mural in 1942 “to celebrate the history of farming in East Texas and demonstrate how mechanization changed the agricultural industry.”

    Stell, described by the website as “a master portraitist who strove to connect his work with the viewing public,” was the WPA’s state director of the American Index of Design and a professor at San Antonio’s Trinity University.

  • The Summer of Watergate

    In the summer of 1973, I split my time between my parents' house in Texas City and my grandparents' home in Longview. Most of that time was spent with my beloved grandmother, who sat glued to the television every day.

    These were the days before cable/satellite/streaming, so daytime viewing options were largely limited to soap operas, game shows, and reruns of old black and white sitcoms and Westerns on the UHF channels. My grandparents' Zenith TV was noteworthy because it had a remote control, so you didn't have to get up and down to turn the channel, although the unreliable antenna meant you sometimes had to stand on one leg and hold your arm at a certain angle to watch a show.

    Instead of the ubiquitous "I Love Lucy," "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Little Rascals" reruns, my 8-year-old self was decidedly bored watching a bunch of men in suits speaking into microphones. I asked my grandmother a bunch of questions about the presidents, which had become a fascination for me because my elementary school was named after not one, but two of our country's former leaders (FDR and Woodrow Wilson). She patiently answered and said we always have to respect the office, no matter whether we respect the person occupying the top seat at the time.

    As my interest grew in the presidents, I took a minute to write a letter that summer to the White House. Normally I don't write fan letters, and my timing likely could not have been worse. But hey, I was 8 after all.

    Soon after, I received a form letter and a black and white photograph of the White House. Not surprisingly, a photo of our then-president was not enclosed.

    I thought about those summer days again this morning and wondered whether it's a case of history repeating itself. One thing is for sure, there will be no fan letters sent from my address anytime soon.