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This is the first of several stories I am writing of my years in Pensacola, Florida. I lived there from 1945 to 1983. The stories probably interest me more than anyone else, but maybe you will enjoy them as well. This is going to take a little time as I am lazy and still actually working for a living.

The Great Popcorn Riot at the Saenger Theater in Pensacola, circa 1963

One of my favorite memories of the Saenger theater in Pensacola is the night a Pensacola police officer in full uniform and I wound up hiding behind pillars in the lobby. It was the night of the great popcorn riot, and he and I had scampered to our hiding places like kids who had just broken a window while playing ball. I'm sure that nothing in his training had prepared him for this.

I was an usher at the Saenger in the early 60's while a senior at Pensacola Catholic High School. My sister had worked for the manager, Mr. Floyd Lyles, a few months earlier, and I had been seduced by the idea of getting paid to watch movies. After all, I had gotten three free passes from my sister to see "Psycho". Of course, "Psycho" had a small edge over movies like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"..."Psycho" had the infamous shower scene!

Well! Let me tell you how exciting it is to watch Liberty Valance get shot several times a night...night after night after night...! You get the picture, no pun intended. The bloom wore off the rose rather rapidly and I returned to my favorite activities of people watching and story telling.

All of which brings us to a Pensacola police officer and two teenage Saenger theater ushers cowering behind our respective pillars, hiding from an angry mob...all because of popcorn!

In those days, the Saenger offered a midnight movie on the weekends, and an off-duty police officer was hired to be with us teenage ushers who were the only Saenger employees still on duty. The occasional over imbiber might wander in, and the occasional fight might break out (I've got a story about that one too), so this brave officer was there to protect us.

Actually, the police officer who normally worked with us was a heck of a nice guy and a great role model for us...except for the night of the great popcorn riot! I heard that he later advanced within the Pensacola police department, and I sometimes saw him or read of him for years afterward until I eventually moved from the Pensacola area, compliments of obligations to Uncle Sam, who became my most permanent employer over the years.

When the box office closed each night, the concession stand would remain open for a few minutes after the movie started. Then the ladies who ran it would lock everything up except for any left over popcorn in the bin (we sometimes got them to run an extra batch if the bin was almost empty), and then leave. The manager would count the day's receipts and also depart, leaving the teenage ushers in charge of the Saenger.

During the early part of the evening, we would keep our eyes open for the biggest, cleanest popcorn box we could find and stash it in one of the closets. Once everyone else had gone, we would fill the box from the popcorn bin and munch away throughout the rest of the evening.

In those days, there was a small area between the lobby and the seats, and directly behind the last row of seats was a chest high wall. Since smoking was not allowed in the auditorium itself, people would sometimes come up to this area to smoke and watch the movie. We would set our popcorn box on the wall and grab handfuls of popcorn as we wanted. This normally worked well...except for one certain night!

You must picture in your mind that while we teenage ushers were uniformed in black bowties and red blazers and carried flashlights, the police officer (don't worry Bob, I won't use your name) was in full uniform with badge, gun, nightstick, and handcuffs...the very figure of authority.

However, police officers are only flesh and blood and there are not many of us humans who can resist the opportunity to sample free theater popcorn...by the handfuls! So you see, it was not surprising that Bob was dipping into the box as often as we did. In fact, he worked with us so often that it wasn't unusual for him to take the box back to the popcorn bin himself for refills.

As I said, this normally worked well except for this particular night when none of us could do anything right. It's a good thing that Bob wasn't engaged in a shootout that night. He wouldn't have been able to hit the broad side of a barn!

The first time I went to set the popcorn box on the wall, I hit the top of the wall with the bottom of the box and showered popcorn over the back rows. Some people looked around and muttered, but went back to watching the movie.

Every few minutes, Jim (the other usher), Bob, or I would reach into the box for a handful of popcorn and it seemed that almost every time we managed to clumsily sprinkle the back rows with popcorn. The mutterings were becoming louder and a few male patrons even stood up and looked around angrily, a couple even voicing their readiness to "take on" the jokers causing the trouble. Up until the fateful moment all they had seen was Jim or me, and sometimes not even that as we had already gotten accustomed to scooting towards the lobby each time the popcorn showered over the back rows.

Although he had fumbled a couple of times himself, Bob had not really created a stir, and he was having fun watching us scoot towards the lobby, and teased us unmercifully about how we were so clumsy and were fraidy-cats, running from the crowd like that!

Finally, Bob casually reached for the box and sent it flying out over the back rows, spraying popcorn everywhere. He managed to catch the box in midair, but the damage was done. I had been standing near the box and, as a teenager, I assumed I would be blamed (not to mention beaten to a bloody pulp), so I hotfooted it to the lobby and stopped with my back against one of the doorway pillars that divided the lobby from the auditorium, as I said earlier, looking for all the world like a kid who had hit a ball through someone's window and who was now hiding behind a tree!

Jim wasn't far behind me, but the funniest sight of all was Bob, the Pensacola police officer in full gear, holding on to the evidence, the popcorn box, as he ran just as fast as Jim and I and hid behind one of the pillars just the way we two teenage boys were hiding.

A couple of years later, when I was a student at Pensacola Junior College, I ran into Bob as he patrolled Palafox street on one of the three-wheeled traffic cycles they had at that time. I reminded him of that night and we both laughed at how funny it was for two teenage boys and a police officer to scatter when caught with our hands in the cookie jar...or in this case, the popcorn box.

May 9, 2005, Don Baldwin

About The Author -----------------------------

Donovan Baldwin is a and a Pensaola Junior College and University of West Florida alumnus. He is a member of Mensa and has held several managerial positions. After retiring from the U. S. Army in 1995, he became interested in internet marketing and developed various online businesses. He has been writing poetry, articles, and essays for over 40 years, and now frequently publishes articles on his own websites and for use by other webmasters. At this time, he has over 200 articles appearing on several hundred web pages.

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Don Baldwin
P. O. Box 380819
Duncanville, TX 75138

Original poetry by Donovan Baldwin

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