One Night at the Granada Part 1

Man, I thought, this had better be good... what the hell was I doing leaving a perfectly good party to trek up to the middle of nowhere to check out some stupid abandoned building? Come to think of it, might as well just ask:

“Hey, R.J., why are we leaving a perfectly good party to trek up to the middle of nowhere to check out some stupid abandoned building so we can sit around and drink and get high, which is what we WERE doing before we left the party?”

“Well, for starters, I hardly think that a 15 minute ride to the Loyola L stop is the 'middle of nowhere’. Doesn’t your mommy ever let you go outside to play?”

Well, I guess I had set myself up for that. Damn, he was on a roll now...

“And parties, I mean, come on-n-n-n-n, been there, done that, right? You worried you’ll never find another place where your 16-year-old ass can find cheap beer in a bathtub full of semi-cold water and a stale joint of brickweed that was trampled into a 1979 Ford Fairmont’s trunk and probably peed on a few times before you got it?”

Oh, the misery. What was I thinking? Oh hell, he wasn’t even done with the tirade, either...

“Besides, we’re doing something different. What was the big deal about yet another party at one of our soon-to-be-evicted friends in yet another run-down flat near Belmont & Clark? A girl that might look at you a few times so you’d get your hopes up? That it? Thought you might get some action? I keep telling you, ya gotta quit getting yourself sucked into the stupid arguments — always with a buncha dork guys — about whose favorite band has the best lyrics vs. the best guitar player vs. the best clothes. Basically, get off your ass and go talk to some girls or you’ll never get laid, jackass.”

I had put away a few too many beers to be playing chicken with the third rail.

“Hey,” I feebly protested, “I wasn’t arguing about clothes, man, I was in the middle of an important discussion about the musical evolution of worthy punk bands after the fall of the punk heyday, and there was a really cool chick that was definitely diggin’ the conversation and was giving me that look, and...”

R.J.’s eyes lit up and he cut me off, “Oh, right... you mean the look that says 'Why is this dumb-ass blocking the bathtub full of cheap beer?’”

And there was a roar of laughter behind me... crap. Not only had I just served up that watermelon, slow and right down the center of the plate, but I had completely forgotten that our friend Conor was walking right behind us. Not sure if the half dozen Black Label schwag beers I put away or Conor’s current stoned state of mind was to blame, but it was definitely time to change the conversation.

“All right Mr. Lover Boy, so tell us what kind of prospects this fantasy land holds to make it worth this trek at this hour? Are there really gonna be girls at this place?”

I knew I could count on moving the topic back over to a more traditional young male favorite: babes.

“Of course, dude. Please, would I be bothering otherwise? But this place is magic, man. You can find girls anywhere — er, well, most of us can, anyway,”

More laughter from His Stumblyness behind us. How the hell could Conor be so cognizant of R.J.’s seemingly never-ending supply of efficient barbs at my expense, yet be unable to walk in a straight line for more than 20 feet without hitting a parking meter, lamppost, or other immobile object?

Damn, gotta learn that trick...

But the humiliation wasn’t quite over. R.J. continued on:

“See, the deal is you have to stop looking so sadly available. But hey, don’t blame me, I’m just trying to help — you’re the one who’s gonna have to work at it, they aren’t going to just lie down at your feet. Girls like confident guys, guys that can have their pick of the chicks, because then it means something if you pick them over one of their friends, y’know?”

Well, I didn’t really know. I knew I needed more experience, but I figured that as I hadn’t been considered one of the Beautiful People up until this point in my life, I’d settle for some beer until I had figured out more of this girl business. I wasn’t really having problems talking to girls, but the ones I was seriously interested in were always taken, or they liked R.J., that bastard. I needed to keep talking though, because the conversation and the fast clip of our walk were all that were keeping me together upstairs - unlike Conor. I glanced behind me and simultaneously envied and pitied Conor’s trancelike stupor.

“Yeah, I know... so this place is cool, right? What exactly is it, again?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” said R.J., “I think it was some sort of old theater... yeah, maybe a movie theater that had been converted from some kinda fancy place, like a cross between Orchestra Hall and the Uptown Theater. All I know for sure is one of the dudes from Fleet’s Inn told me his buddy kicked in a door so you can get in the place right off the alley, the one next to the L tracks. Then you gotta kind of feel your way through a whole bunch of offices, wind through the actual theater, and that’s where the party is man. There’s like punks, hippie chicks, and runaways, and there’s beer, candles, music... it’s the shit.”

“That does sound cool.”

Conor finally piped in:

“Yeah, I was there last week. Everyone was hanging out in the lobby, and there’s all this stained glass in the front that faces the street so there’s this tripped-out light that comes in from the streetlights outside. There were like 30 or 40 people there, good tunes, weed everywhere... only thing is I wish I had brought a flashlight.”

“Hey”, I blurted, “do either of you guys have a flashlight?”

Heads shook sideways. Of course not, I realized... be prepared? A fine motto for the Boy Scouts, but definitely not for us. Flying by the seat of our pants... now that was more like it.

“We don’t need one,” said Conor. “I remember how to get around. It’s not that hard, and you get a little bit of light from the alley.”

Good man, that Conor. It occurred to me that Conor was the guy that had actually been to this place, so he’d be our legit ticket in. I was also sure that earlier in the evening the bugger had palmed away enough dope for a joint when some yahoo was passing around a bag to show it off. I made a mental note to not let him out of my sight once we got there.

We got to the Belmont L and considered trying to get on for free by climbing up one of the girders in the alley. The week before we had climbed up on the platform by squeezing through a space made by a giant wood plank that had been kicked out by one of the more macho nutbags in the neighborhood. But I remembered both the fact that we got covered with nastiness in the process, and that I had a few bus tokens anyway. So I volunteered the tokens for the three of us — I had put away a few too many beers to be playing chicken with the third rail, and a guy we all knew had bit it while he was spraying his name on the tracks just earlier that year. Not a good way to go, uh-uh...

The train came quickly, as it always seemed to when you weren’t in a hurry, and we got on. It was pretty deafening as it rumbled along, so we just kind of stared out the windows. Needling aside, I was still thinking about the girl back at the party. It’s possible she was talking to me just to kill time while getting a beer, but she seemed interested in more than that. Dammit, R.J. was right. I needed to get my act together, and I was gonna kick myself if I found out later on that I wasted a good opportunity — although how I would ever know whether or not I had a chance seemed impossible, so my mind wandered back to the train.

I hated thinking about failures in the girl department. They had become an occupying force in my brain recently and I wanted to shake them off and just have some fun. Thankfully there was nothing like the Howard train to just hypnotize you and make your problems melt away. The rhythms of the train’s crashing racket as it sped along the tracks, combined with the rising and falling crescendos of screeching brakes, just sucked me right in. The train passed through Lake View’s stops like a ghost, but once we started to get near Uptown the night creatures starting popping out of the woodwork. Some people on the platforms at Sheridan, Wilson, and Berwyn were so wasted they couldn’t even get their shit together enough to get on the train, much to the annoyance of the conductor, who seemed convinced that they were doing it just to fuck with him. The only couple on the train lived completely in their own world, laughing quietly as they not-too-discreetly fondled each other, much to the chagrin of the remaining few people riding solo. These folks were scattered throughout the train, looking miserable. I knew the feeling... the buzz from earlier in the evening would be wearing off and you’d be left with a growing hangover, compounded by the unpleasant reality that you’d be sleeping alone.

The train passed through Lake View’s stops like a ghost, but once we started to get near Uptown the night creatures starting popping out of the woodwork.

Far better to be hanging out with my buddies than to look like those folks, I thought, wondering how many people had looked at me thinking the exact same thing. Besides, I felt isolated enough in the world at age 16 even in the best of situations, no need to make it worse by feeling all sorry for myself...

Finally the conductor screamed “Loyola! Loyola!” We got off and I took a quick account of the surroundings. The platform was at ground level as opposed to being elevated, like at Belmont, so I didn’t have the eagle’s-eye view, but the looming building right across the alley was obviously the theater.

We walked across the alley just to take a quick look around the theater before we went in. We wanted to scope for cops, or better yet, friends who might have beer, a flashlight, or available friends of the female variety.

Nothing. We walked back in front of the theater. It looked proud in its disrepair. The name “Granada Theater” was carved into the facade and the building had a spooky, imposing presence on the street. It took up the entire block from the L stop to Devon Avenue, and it was a good three or four stories tall — surely in its heyday it must have been something to see. I heard later that the reason young people were getting away with squatting there was because it was due to be torn down, and no one wanted to bother spending the money to secure it.

After a stressful few minutes getting a feel for the street, we decided the coast was as clear as it was gonna get, so we backtracked to the alley, stopping underneath one of those bizarre fire escapes that swings down when you step out on it. Unfortunately that is a lot more useful when you’re headed down the fire escape, as opposed to trying to climb up it from the alley.

Conor broke the silence: “Don’t freak, this isn’t as bad as it looks. Someone give me a boost, all you have to do is grab the bottom and your weight brings it down.”

This was true. The train must have sobered us all up a bit, as in a minute we were at the top of the escape, and there in front of us was the door, resting in place but without hinges. From the outside it looked closed, but to our hopeful eyes it was a portal to possibilities and an alternate universe inhabited solely by people OUR age, people too old to just stay home but too young to get into bars or clubs or anywhere cool that was still open at a late hour. What turkey decided teen clubs like Medusa’s needed to close at 11:00 anyway? (Not that we went to these clubs much due to the cover charge, but at least they were an option.) What did cops think we were supposed to do after they closed, just get in a single file line and march home?

Stupid city. It didn’t want to admit teens even existed... but then before I could pontificate further, we were in.

To be continued...

© 2003, Carter O’Brien
Image: pubclub.com

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