Three hundred-plus people in bathrobes? That’s enough to cause an accident. (The people in the cars were fine.)
What happened Friday night was – if all goes well – the First Annual March of the Lebowskis, a shamblin’ processional from the southeast corner of Laurelhurst Park down SE 39th and Hawthorne to the Bagdad Theater for the now-annual early May screening of The Big Lebowski that KUFO’s Cort and Fatboy host. After the march had ended with those hundreds ensconced in the Bagdad’s lobby, I told Fatboy “Dude: next year, parade permit and police escort.” He replied “We’re talking ’bout that. We’re also talking ’bout a marching band.”
So what happened could happen again, and even more coolly.
With my near-burgundy bathrobe swingin’ open ’round me (I feel like easin’ my pronunciation; feels right when talkin’ about anything Lebowski-related), I began travelin’ to the park ’round 8:00 via buses. Didn’t notice untoward attention towards my robe; I did notice that damn, this is comfortable. Quite civilized. Hugh Hefner’s onto something. The weather was decent for it, too: not too cold, so that the body heat gathered by my robe kept me plenty comfortable all my time outside that night. Plus it wasn’t raining. Rt. 70 to Belmont Ave. to Rt. 15 to a few blocks away from the park was my path. I walked my usual power-walk-ish walk until near Laurelhurst; I then started slouching, plus letting my gut protrude, emphasizing my “Rock ‘n’ Roll Up Your Sleeves” blood drive T-shirt with a guitar on it. (Seemed like something The Dude would wear. Probably a shirt he’d get secondhand; I doubt he’s a blood donor.) Like John Belushi impersonating Joe Cocker, I couldn’t look like Jeff Bridges but I could imitate his body language.
At 8:30 there were already a couple dozen berobed brethren. Sistren, too; we had a good turnout of women. (And how fetching is the sight of many women in bathrobes? VERY fetching.) Soon after 9 o’clock, staffers from the radio station lined us up to check our IDs, to prove we were 21 and older, and give out wristbands that would let us walk straight into the lobby without paying. By then, we had well over one hundred people. When Cort and Fatboy arrived from the theater soon after, where they'd been broadcasting live, Cort and Aaron “Geek in the City” Duran broke that line in two and started the checks-and-handouts at the start of this new line, to speed the process, because the crowd kept growing.
(Fatboy said that during the pre-screening broadcast, one guy showed up at the theater, asked what was up, heard about how a bathrobe would get you in free and first, then showed up mere minutes later wearing a robe he’d just purchased from the Hawthorne Fred Meyer. That put him back much more than the $3 non-berobed patrons were about to pay for tickets! When I heard that, I thought, He could’ve gone to Buffalo Exchange…)
By then we were near full dark; that corner of Laurelhurst is not well-lit, except from 39th’s streetlights and the lights of the gas station across Stark. Still, the gathering felt comfortable, and safe, even in the darkness. I like safe darkness. This was a good moment: those of us already wrist-banded had spread out to form a mellow, joking, not-too-loud crowd. Being amongst Lebowski fans, I was not surprised to smell the thick smell of burnin’ herbal, either. Most of the big noise came from the traffic, both the usual traffic and the one or two people who rolled down their windows and yelled “The Dude abiiiiides!” Meanwhile, I took it upon myself to stand next to a puddle, and direct people away from it so they wouldn’t get a footfall in water. Seemed the neighborly thing to do. Seemed like somethin’ The Stranger would do. (The nihilists wouldn’t.)
Soon after 9:30, the mass of humans became a wave, flowing towards the 39th-Stark intersection and massing right next to it. At about 9:45, we got on our halting start: down the steps from the park to the intersection, across Stark, and on the way south on the sidewalk. A couple of boomboxes played music. Some of us chanted. Lots of us cheered; so did some bystanders. Two guys marching near me got the job of holding a KUFO banner towards the street, to show
I was a block south of Belmont when the accident happened. That deadening THWUMP I’ve heard before (a couple of times in accidents I’ve had, back in the Nineties) sounded. I looked back, and saw one car had run into another. Centerpunched. T-boned. Choose your nomenclature. (Ah, words like “nomenclature.” Think the Coen Brothers kept a thesaurus handy while writing this film?) Having already cringed at the sound, I cringed again at the sight, and hoped the people in both cars were OK. I was glad to hear later that they were fine. And with that bump past us, we marched on.
(One concern I had didn’t materialize. I started to worry we’d annoy the police. But reports are that the police were amused by our march. I heard second- or third-hand that a cop stopped, looked at us, shrugged his shoulders and drove away. I’m glad that cop didn’t see the guy I saw standing on a lawn, asking if anyone wanted to finish his joint…)
I diverted briefly from the pack to run over to an ATM – I wanted cash for food and possibly a cab home – and hustled back to the march. We entered to the stares and smiles of the Bagdad pub crowd. We held up our banded hands for ease of entrance, so the theater staff could identify the walkers. The staffers wore white T-shirts with lines from The Big Lebowski handwritten on them: “Obviously, you’re not a golfer” and “You want a toe, I can get you a toe” and “Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature” and “These are the fucking rules!” and so on. Two lines formed in the theater lobby, for the food-and-beer concession stand and the nothing-but-alcohol concession stand, for the mixing of the White Russians that The Dude favors. The ends of the lines got confused, due to how packed-in the crowd was, but I managed to stay in the food line. I saw one guy dressed as John Goodman’s character Walter, including the crewcut. No black-clad nihilists or Jesus Quintana impersonators, alas…
This showing sold out the fastest of any KUFO Cort and Fatboy late-night screening ever. Crammed to the gills, we were, and it was the most raucous crowd I’ve yet experienced at these screenings. Being by myself and not with an entourage, I waited to start seat-hunting, hoping correctly that it would be fairly easy to find a single seat. ’Twas found. I marked my seat with my bathrobe (useful, that bathrobe was), and wandered a bit, surveying the crowd. A tall, wobbly guy almost bowled me over as I headed back to my chair. He walked right into me; I reacted more “Whoa, you OK?” than “Hey! Don’t do that!,” partly from surprise but also partly because of his wobbliness. He muttered that he was OK and continued back to the lobby.
This showing, frustratingly, had technical difficulties and some bad behavior from some in the audience. Cort and Fatboy called out a guy from the stage because he was using a laser pointer on them while they introduced the film. Some people were drunk and belligerent. A DVD with trailers burned onto it didn’t play properly, so the images from the trailers – Machete (the non-existent, or rather not-yet-existent film that’s pimped in Grindhouse), The Lost Boys and Weird Science – would stop and restart with moments we’d missed. Smartly, the presenters skipped pulling a stunt on the crowd; they’d planned to Rickroll the audience during the Big Lebowski trailer. Sound didn’t come on immediately at the film’s start, either, so we missed the very start of The Stranger’s narration; we had the same problem later, and bizarrely at one point during the Malibu beach scene the sound from a different part of the film started playing instead. Ever more surreal. This would make the crowd louder. That, thank goodness, was the end of the technical difficulties, and we finished the film around 1 a.m. We exited in a behaved way, though plenty more of us were wobbly by then.
The bus and my legs turned out to be my transport home. Actually I’m kind of glad I was only on the street in a bus; I saw some bad driving by bad drivers (none of them from the screening). Someone drove north on the southbound SE 11th, which led me to jump into the empty street after that car had passed and wave my arms, yelling futilely “Dude! Wrong way!”; later another driver hit a curb at speed on SE Milwaukie, and as that car drove away I could hear a scraping sound, like something had been dislodged.
On the happier side, the robe still kept me warm, the rain held to the tiniest spritzing of drizzle, and someone knew why I was wearing the robe. “Dude!” said a guy loading a van with band equipment outside of Tennessee Red’s. “The Big Lebowski! I wanted to go, but [*exert, exert*] I had a gig.” I resisted asking him if he’d played The Eagles. Probably he didn’t.
Next month: Top Gun. Dressing up as a pilot will not get you in for free.