March 22, 2009 was a sadly historic day, locally, professionally and personally: it was the final day of operation for the iconic Parkway Speakeasy Theater in Oakland, CA. The place where Thrillville was born in April 1997. The place where I met my wife, Monica Tiki Goddess, at a midnight screening of Jailhouse Rock, on May 31, 1997. The place where I hosted legendary Thrillville shows with special guests Bob Wilkins, Ray Dennis Steckler, Yvonne Craig and others. Bands, burlesque, B movies and beer. This tradition lives on at the newer Cerrito Speakeasy in nearby El Cerrito, where I intuitively moved Thrillville a year ago, but the funky grindhouse vibe of the Parkway still resonates in my memory, ironically now more so than ever.
With only four days notice, the community organized an incredible Save the Parkway rally and literally mobbed the joint, all the way up till the last piece of pizza had been served. There has been a lot of public speculation on why this happened, especially so suddenly. I only found out myself when I was asked to send out the press release, though as someone on the inside - I've been Speakeasy programmer for over ten years - I can't say I was completely surprised. Due to long-time litigation with the landlord, the details of which I am not privy to, combined with simultaneous overwhelming start-up costs for the Cerrito, this tragic closure seemed inevitable. I had a feeling it would happen, just not so soon.
The Main event was a screening of the Mexican wrestler doc Que Viva La Lucha, with local latin rock-surf-jazz band Carne Cruda live on stage, performing their signature tune, a jumpin' ode to Oaktown called "Oakland's Tight," the unofficial Parkway theme song, now it's ironic swansong. It was also my mother in law's birthday! The band played "Happy Birthday" and the crowd cheered. There was even a conga line at one point. What a crazy day, now just a bittersweet memory.
It is indeed the end of an era. But I also feel that, despite the economic and cultural blow to the Parkway community, the Best is Yet to Come. The love expressed for the Parkway actually inspired me to believe all is not lost. Meantime, hope to see you at the Cerrito, where Thrillville - and the unique Speakeasy experience - lives on. Cheers.
"Guillermo el Thrillermo" dances with his mother in law, Liz Cortes