Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Eve, 1974

1974. The year Richard Nixon resigned. The year Mohamed Ali regained the heavyweight boxing title by knocking out George Foreman during the "Rumble in the Jungle." The year Ellen Burstyn won the Oscar for Best Actress for her title role in Martin Scorsese's first major Hollywood film, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

In 1974, the country was in a recession and inflation was high, but E. and I were enjoying life in Los Gatos, California. We'd returned there after a year in Connecticut and had both gotten jobs at a music publication company, Guitar Player. We lived in a pleasant garden apartment complex and while we didn't have much money, we had enough for simple pleasures. We loved to stroll to Old Town in Los Gatos for ice cream at Mimi's Rooftop Cafe. A big spurge was dinner at Mountain Charley's.

Los Gatos was a backwater in those days. No one had yet heard of personal computers, let alone the notion of Silicon Valley. As New Year's Eve approached, E. and I didn't have any special plans—no big party or fancy dinner. Instead, we decided to see the latest disaster blockbuster film, Earthquake. We may have gone with friends or maybe we went alone. That detail has been lost in the mists of time, or at least in the fog of my memory. But I do recall the film experience vividly.

I was only 25, but I was already a world-class worrier. The fact that I lived in a major fault zone had hardly escaped my anxious attention. I became especially nervous in confined or crowded places—in an elevator or a crowded theater, for example.

When Earthquake came out, I felt some trepidation about seeing it. But I had read that the action was set in L.A., so I hoped it wouldn't hit too close to home. The film was playing at the Century 25 Theatre on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose, not far from Los Gatos. The theater itself was a marvel of sixties architecture, a domed structure with state-of-the-art seating and technology. New Year's Eve was the first and only time I saw a film there.

2005 photo of the Century 25 Theatre (by Kevin Collins)
The dome was impressive, but the real thrill was Sensurround, a sound system that utilized a series of large speakers and a 1,500-watt amplifier to pump in sub-audible "infra bass" sound waves at 120 decibels (equivalent to a jet airplane taking off). The idea was to simulate the sensation of a real earthquake. For me, it succeeded almost too well. As the on-screen destruction got underway, with Charlton Heston in the leading role, I couldn't help imagining that the Bay Area had actually been hit by a quake and that the enormous dome would soon crash in on the audience.

Sometimes the best antidote to fear is confronting it. Earthquake may have showcased Hollywood at its most melodramatic and over the top, but sitting in the darkened theater with all those decibels rumbling around me proved cathartic. I emerged from the theater exhilarated and delighted to be on solid ground. I didn't stop fearing earthquakes but as 1975 began, my concern faded into the background.

I never did experience an earthquake while I lived in California. Ironically, the only time I ever felt one was in Boston, when I was jolted by a small quake whose epicenter was in nearby New Hampshire.

Now that I spend time in Miami, I've got a great idea for a disaster film—Hurricane. If that film ever gets made, I'll be the first person in line for a ticket.


  1. Good to have you back, Barbara. bonnie

  2. So exciting that you'll be posting again. Now I'll have to be more diligent with my blog. Thanks!

  3. Actually - that movie was made in 1979 - starring Mia Farrow and Timothy Bottoms - and set safely somewhere in the South Pacific.

  4. I should have known there was already a hurricane disaster movie out there!

  5. Barbara - you are a very, very gifted writer and Pril and I were having lunch in NH last week, and we noted that we had not received any blogs from you recently. If you enjoy writing, keep it up. You are really good. Kathy D. R.