Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Pier Pressure"

One of my hometown Santa Monica’s most enduring tourist attractions is the Santa Monica Pier.  The pier features an old-time carousel (visible in, among other films, Forrest Gump and The Sting), a game-filled arcade, a “hotdog-on-a-stick” stand, a Ferris Wheel and a handful of stomach-churning rides that I stay away from, for fear of emitting unmanly squeals traversing the more precipitous grades. 

People also fish off the Santa Monica Pier, but I am not certain how fortuitously.  I have seen no restaurant menu touting “Santa Monica Pier Sea Bass.”  I imagine there’s a reason for that.   

For years, the Santa Monica pier served as the venue for our city’s Fourth of July fireworks celebrations.  But then, L.A. gangs began showing up, making the other visitors to the pier uncomfortable. The first gang-avoidance strategy was to continue using the pier for holiday fireworks displays, but to change the starting time of the event to five-thirty in the morning, when, it was imagined, the gang members would still be sleeping. 

The problem was, the people in the neighborhood – including us – forgot about the time change, so when the pre-dawn explosions began, we sat bolt upright in our beds, fearing that the Japanese bombers, continually fretted over during World War II, had finally arrived. 

There are no longer fireworks activities on the pier.

For me, the pier has always been a much-favored destination.  In my early days here, I was a frequent visitor, reveling in the pier’s panoramic ocean view, and the coupon accumulating activities.

On my 35th birthday, I passed out rolls of quarters to my guests and sent them off to the arcade.

An iconic bonding experience with Anna involved our taking a shortcut to the carousel, which wound up requiring us to race – screaming out heads off – across the Pacific Coast Highway.

When I made the show Family Man in the mid eighties, I chose the Santa Monica Pier location as the background for the Opening Credits. 

Before my heart surgery, Anna and I enjoyed a (possibly) “farewell” ascent on the Ferris Wheel. 

The venue for Anna’s wedding’s “Rehearsal Dinner”?  The carousel at the Santa Monica Pier.

Have I successfully established my credentials as a person with a strong attachment to the Santa Monica Pier?  Three examples fewer, and my case would still have been made.  I just thought I’d pile it on.

The place mattered.

And so, when, in 1983, it was reported that, due to a powerful storm and substandard maintenance, the Santa Monica Pier was about to collapse into the ocean, I felt moved to make my way over there (about a half-dozen blocks away), to say good-bye.  On a blustery, rain-spattered evening, I stepped out of my house and headed down to the beach. 

To render an appreciative farewell to a beloved old friend.

I would not be alone.  When I arrived, I found hundreds of likeminded well-wishers, all drawn there to bid a tearful adieu to the venerable landmark.  Word from the news media was that the recent El Nino storms were too strong for the rickety structure to withstand. 

The predictions for the pier’s survival were dismal.  According to the experts, the Santa Monica Pier was destined to disappear. 

Any minute.

Local “anchors” were dutifully dispatched.  News vans encircled the doomed venue, their stations' logos emblazoned flashily on the side.  Their camera crews were at the ready, poised to shoot the footage that would enshrine them  in the "Pier Collapse Hall of Fame."  

No one was permitted on the pier.  Too dangerous, we were told.  As with televised car chases, dispatches from the pier were frequent and urgent.  (You know a news event is important when they’re introduced by original – and intentionally ominous – musical scoring.  And an attention-grabbing title, such as, “Heartbreak At the Beach.”) 

Snippets from the broadcasts float ominously through the air.  Phrases like “imminent demise” and “It is only a matter of time.”  There is no question of “if.”  It is only a matter of “when.”      

There I stood, warmly bundled up against the beachside chill.  It was hardly comfortable down there, but if the pier was destined to disappear, I felt a visceral need to bear personal witness.  “I was there when the pier went down.”  A heart-rending moment, but I was compelled to be present at the end.

As time went on, however, I had an inkling building to a suspicion that, perhaps, nothing, or at least nothing as serious as had been predicted, was going to happen. 

The “on the spot” bulletins became repetitive and uncertain.  There were no updates to report.  The pier’s “imminent demise” was continually postponed. 

It was starting to become uncomfortable, the embarrassed anchorpeople muttering surreptitiously to their “Home Base”, “Don’t come to me.  There is nothing happening!” 

Finally – and, for me, the light bulb takes a long time to go on – I decided to abandon this faux news event and return to my home.  I felt furious about being misled.  Though simultaneously gloriously relieved.  Confounding the experts, it appeared that the Santa Monica Pier would overcome its travails.

And so it did.  Or at least most of it.  Belying the bleakest predictions, there would be more rides on the Ferris Wheel, more visits to the arcade, and, most memorably, a pre-nuptial celebration at the carousel. 

With their tails between their legs, the local news pratitioners packed up their equipment and rolled ignominiously away.

It was back to the station.  Waiting for the next “crisis” they could overhype to the hilt.

1 comment:

Mac said...

A very fine pier. I had the good fortune to work down the road from it one glorious spring, (they're all glorious springs in Santa Monica) and every so often I'd treat myself to an ice-cream and a walk along the pier. I could watch those breakers coming in all day - hypnotic - and the view is good for the soul.