Main streets across America have different names. Fifth Avenue in New York, Chicago has State Street (that great street), and Dallas has plain old Main Street. As for my hometown, Tyler has Broadway, which conjured up in my gay boy mind a more glamorous thoroughfare, even though it was technically—and ironically—U. S. 69.
The biggest and nicest movie theater in Tyler was on Broadway, less than a block south of the courthouse and next door to Sears Roebuck (as it was called). The Tyler theater was much more grand than its sisters, the Liberty and the Arcadia, having a sweeping curved staircase that led to a large balcony, a wall mural of which I have only vague memories, and plush red velvet curtains that were raised dramatically at the start of the program.
I remember seeing The Poseidon Adventure there—a star studded disaster movie, both immensely entertaining and hugely successful. Instead of an iceberg, this ship is hit by a tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake, causing it to capsize. (Surely most of you know this.) Many are killed in the process, but that is necessary to provide the best moments of the movie, which ultimately made it the biggest hit of 1973. Small price to pay, wouldn’t you say, offing some expendable extras and not a single star in the process, unless you count Leslie Nielsen. And who did, back then?
The survivors gathered in the huge dining room must now decide what to do in this upside down ship, choosing between the purser’s order to stay calm and stay put and Gene Hackman’s impassioned plea—“Nobody’s going to help us but ourselves”—to climb up the Christmas tree and head to the hull, which was down and is now up. Only the stars go with Gene, leaving a whole bunch of folks and Arthur O’Connell, who as a great character actor playing a priest is expected to die nobly with the remaining extras.
The rest of the movie is about explosions, flooded corridors, and steam leaking pipes that pick off movie stars all along the way. By the time it’s over, the only survivors are three of the five Oscar winners in the cast, the two children, and Carol Lynley who shouldn’t have made it if for no other reason than she lip synced to that cloying song “The Morning After” earlier in the picture.
Well, we’ve kind of capsized, too, in the last couple of months. We’re not movie stars, but then we’re not extras either. We don’t have the current reining Best Actor winner to lead us either, although I’d cast Gene Hackman over Joaquin Phoenix in that role any day.
Here in Texas, counties are governed by the 254 commissioners courts, made up of four commissioners and the County Judge, who is the chief administrator of the county. For Dallas County, Clay Jenkins is the County Judge and has been for the last nine years. It’s something of an understatement to say that there has been some tension between Judge Jenkins, a Democrat, and the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott.
Last week, Governor Abbott announced that some businesses could reopen, including restaurants, with certain restrictions. (This week, he further allowed for barbershops and salons to do the same.) Judge Jenkins remarked, “Now that we have the power to do things that science says aren’t safe in this environment, it is going to be up to us to make those good choices.”
That sounds a little bit like my friend Gene. I guess that leaves the role of the purser, played in the movie by Byron Webster, to Governor Abbott. Oh, well.
Regardless of where you might live in the United States, it seems very helpful these days to have at least one elected official at the state, county/parish, or municipal level who is thinking strategically and providing intelligent leadership, even when doing so is met with strong opposition. And just to be clear, that kind of leadership has nothing to do with party. Some actions taken in Texas counties by Republicans have been decisive and certainly in the best interests of their constituencies.
While watching the daily numbers of new cases and reported deaths in Texas for some indication that they are declining (spoiler: they aren’t), there is some comfort in our being free enough to figure out what the smart thing to do is for our families and to do it. Otherwise, we’re pronouncing freedom with the accent on the wrong syllable.