Taking Comfort in a Pilgrimage to Dracula (or Drácula... Take Your Choice)

My life of the past few months has been one of redefining the borders of my personal comfort zone. Since losing my job in February, still battling a depressive state even while being weaned from the medication that was helping me through the darkest portion of it, and with my ego taking a very confused beating in searching for new employment, that comfort zone has been decidedly compromised.

Not finding employment in the areas in which I have experience now has me kicking through the doors of that comfort zone and applying for positions at places I never thought I would. Embarrassment has been swallowed through absolute necessity, and the longer this drought continues, I will likely have to become even more used to the taste of it.

The outside perimeter of that bubble of personal comfort may have been battered by recent events. It might have fluctuated greatly as I adjusted to whatever was confronting me at the time. But it has also proven to be a little too stalwart from the opposite direction: from the inside out. I sometimes rely on it too much to protect me from the outside world. Moving into a new home in a new town and into a living situation that I do not like much of the time has me withdrawing more and more inside myself. As I stated a few posts back, diving back into writing -- on whatever subject -- has allowed me to decrease the pressure and get some of my mojo back. But writing does not get me outside. It does not get me out in public, where I can meet people, shake hands, find employment, or just get comfortable again with society away from the small office in my home where I spend 90% of my time now in an effort to be away from the rest of the household as much as possible.

When I moved to California a decade ago, on my third day here, and not being a driver (nor ever having a license), I took a nine-mile walk. I was in a strange new town (Anaheim -- not so strange, pretty generic for the area, but completely unknown to me apart from that Mouse Park), and I took it upon myself to immediately attempt to gain my bearings and figure out what was up and what was down in the place. Four and a half miles down the road from where we lived, and four and a half miles back. I noted street names, businesses, restaurants, and bus stops. From the start, I established some knowledge of the environs and then took short bus excursions over the next couple of weeks to broaden that geographical "comfort zone".

Until yesterday, I hadn't done that in Eastvale. I am in a different county, and while I had learned the names of the surrounding towns (Corona, Mira Loma, Ontario, etc.) and the major roadways about us, I had done nothing to establish a base for myself. Apart from the shopping center exactly a mile down the road from us where I have taken in numerous mainstream movies, I knew nothing about the area. While I had stared intently at one of the local transit authority buses and told myself that I really should get on one of those and head to parts unfamiliar to get a better feel for the place, after six months living here, I had yet to ride the bus. And a large part of this was because of how withdrawn I have become since the move.

Enter Dracula. It's funny how it takes the undead to prompt myself to get out amongst the living again, but I will have to attribute it to Count Dracula. Over the last few weeks, my eye kept catching commercials and online adverts for upcoming Fathom Events theatrical showings of the original 1931 Universal Studios production of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. Even more enticing was the chance to watch the film in tandem with Universal's Spanish language version of the story, which used the same screenplay and was filmed on the same sets at night when the English version wrapped each day. I do like to take the opportunity to see older films on the big screen whenever I get a good chance, and here I could see one of my favorites. And right before Halloween.

There was one problem. How was I going to get there?

Jen had to work on both days on which the showings were to occur (the 25th and 28th), and even if she didn't, horror films (even fun, classic ones) are not in her wheelhouse. I couldn't go to the one on the 28th due to previous Halloween plans (which will be revealed later this week), and so the 25th was my one shot. It was showing locally at two relatively close theatrical complexes, but still 15-22 minute drives by car, and I don't enjoy asking others to drive me to places if there are alternate ways to get there, such as buses, trains, or walking. It had come to this... If I wanted to see Bela Lugosi on a big screen and disappear inside the Universal Monsters universe for a few hours (always a pleasurable experience for me), then I was going to have to kick the doors open on that comfort zone once more.

And so I caught a bus for the first time since moving to Riverside County. How weird it seemed to me, even though I have spent most of my life using public transport. My father even spent twenty-plus years driving buses around Anchorage, Alaska until his retirement, so they have been instrumental within our family as well. I have also employed them to great effect when visiting places such as Seattle, San Francisco, or Orlando. So, my six-month period of ignoring them here in Eastvale is definitely an aberration, especially considering I have been back in the Anaheim area several times since and just hopped onto buses without even thinking. Again, it is based on what and where you are comfortable, and how willing you are to push boundaries if you must.

I pushed those boundaries yesterday, that is for sure. I strode out from our house in the late morning air and marched straight to the bus stop, just down the street and around the corner, where I could have easily caught it many times before if I had only tried. My day-trip was going to take just under two hours to get from here to the Tyler Galleria in Riverside, with a transfer first to another route at the Corona Transit Center. I had previously seen the places to which I was traveling, but learning exactly which roads and side-streets to traverse in getting to them is a different matter. 

In the case of the smaller bus that was heading to the transfer point -- a very bouncy trip indeed -- while much of the trip went in linear fashion down the boulevard off of which our neighborhood lies, the route really uses that boulevard as a center point, and the bus veers off to the left and to the right for sideswipes into surrounding neighborhoods before finally settling back onto the boulevard for a final straight shot through Norco and into Corona. As I was intent on using the trip to get further accustomed to the area, I made mental notes of each street and the businesses upon them, and figured out which direction I would need to get home should I find myself stuck in each area. As I said before, I not only had seen my destination points before, but noticed a great many businesses along the way that we had frequented in the months in this area. Now, because of breaking free of the house, I figured out how I could easily access these places on my own with a simple bus trip.

The transit center in Corona was also not unknown to me. We had passed it numerous times when we were first in the area looking at homes. What I was not prepared for was just how uninhabited it could be on a Sunday morning. Just two other people were on the platform with me while I was there waiting for my connection, and one of those two came off the same bus as me. I only had to wait ten minutes before my next bus came, which turned out to be the normal size of bus to which I was accustomed, and good thing too because it was nearly two-thirds full when it arrived. The more crowded second route went through some much skeevier areas than the first, and I was certain I had never seen any of it before, and really had no intent of stopping anywhere else along the way but for my ultimate destination. After roughly 35 minutes we pulled up to the Tyler Galleria, and one of the first things I could see were the giant AMC letters atop the highest point of the complex, directing me to the movie theatres where I would be watching Dracula.

Pushing boundaries doesn't just include getting out where you have never been, but also learning to get accustomed to those places. Because I was unsure of the efficiency of the bus system in this area, or if I would make my connection in the first place, I left earlier than I normally would have for such an event. As a result, I had two hours to kill before my movies started. After picking up my movie ticket which I had bought in advance from the box office, I made to get acquainted with the mall, figure out if there were any stores worth revisiting in the future, and get the general lay of things in the area. The movie theatres are actually across the parking lot from the rest of the Galleria, and are connected to several other restaurants and a parking garage instead. So I took the opportunity to figure out where things were (with one major exception, which I shall get to later), and took a walk around the mall itself.

A Sunday morning farmer's market was just starting to close down in the parking area in front of the Barnes & Noble on one end of the lot. I strolled through to look over the produce for the tables that were still set up, though it looked like about 75% of the participants had already or were in the process of breaking down for the day. I then made a short visit to the bookstore to pick up the latest issue of Fangoria (with Elvira on the cover) and a couple of small Moleskine notebooks for future outings. Then I headed to the mall itself. While malls fascinated me in my youth (as they tend to do), I no longer get much out of being inside one. This one was pretty generic by today's standard, with the requisite mix of jewelry, fashion, children's, and shoe stores. The internet has pretty much killed my reasons for ever going to a mall, which were movies, music, and books. That the one store that contains all of these items existed in its own box-store outside and across the lot pretty much lessened my chances to ever step inside the actual mall itself again.

But I did stop by the food court long enough to convince the Philly cheesesteak place to lettuce-wrap one of their sandwiches for me. This proved to be a difficult accomplishment for them, and if I ever ate there again (the sandwich was serviceable enough), I would ask instead for a pile of their steak, peppers, onions, and cheese component along with a couple of leaves of lettuce so I could just make my own wraps. It would probably have worked a little better, and might have been a little less messy, not that I minded. Once you commit to the fact that most of your burgers and sandwiches in public places will likely be wrapped in lettuce from here on out, then you get used to making a mess of things. I hated being that messy at first, but have grown to accept and even sometimes enjoy it.

Finally, the time arrived for me to go to the theatre and get my seat (middle seat, row with the bar where you can rest your feet). I sat down (with a Lime Coke... yay, AMC, for those machines with a thousand choices) with twenty minutes to go before the film, and I was the only one in the theatre. Thirty seconds later, in walk two couples -- they were together in a group, so I could have said quartet, but they were definitely coupled off -- who proceeded to sit in the row directly behind me. I said to them, "And here I was wondering if I would be the only here for this," to which one of the ladies replied, "Oh no... you're not the only one with good taste." This said to me that if I wasn't in the presence of horror movie fans, they were at least classic movie ones. 

Eleven more people, including a family of five with a prodigiously oversized child (had to be a teenager) wearing half pajamas and carrying a very large, well-worn Pooh bear, took seats before the show began. So, while the theatre was not necessarily all that full, it was far more than I expected, and gave the viewing a cozy feeling. Though no separate entity talked to another group through the course of the showing, everyone was there outside of the normal bounds of moviegoing, and so it was like an unspoken bond of shared love of classic cinema (at least for the adults who made up the majority of the patrons).

This was my first experience with a theatrical Fathom Event produced in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies, and I must remark on how it appeared to me. I was anticipating an introduction from either Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz (though holding out hope it would be Alec Baldwin), and we ended up with Ben (which is not a bad thing). His introduction was fine if not generic, but it was clear to me that the introduction seemed to have been filmed with television in mind, and came out somewhat fuzzy on the bigger screen. I don't know if this were the actual case, but when matched against the sharpness of the first image of the Lugosi Dracula soon to follow, the difference in quality is remarkable.

However, while I was thrilled to see both of these movies on a bigger screen, I knew that I was really just paying to watch TCM inside a theatre, a network for which we are already paying through the nose on our cable bill at home. Knowing also that there was not a marvelous old print (or even a newly struck and remastered one) spinning its way through a projector back and above our heads took some of the thrill out of the endeavor. Even worse, knowing that a pimply teenager was probably just selecting the film with a remote control off a computer screen took some more off the cool factor. But it was still Dracula on a big screen, the remastered image was brilliant, and Lugosi was fantastic to watch as large as possible in front of our eyes.

Everything worked for this small audience and I: the hypnotic style employed by old Bela; the bat-on-a-string special effects; the cinematic sleight of hand in the scene when Dwight Frye's not yet crazed Renfield finds his path blocked by massive cobwebs where the Count walked just moments before; the humorous asides of sanitarium attendant Martin; Edward Van Sloan's committed explanations of vampirism and how to combat the dread disease ... everything. The film moved so swiftly and deftly on the screen that it was over just as we seemed to be settling in to it. And maybe there actually was one part that didn't sit well, but I only noticed it because someone made note of it out loud, and that was the sudden ending with the offscreen staking of Dracula. "Well, that was over quick," someone remarked behind me, and I had been thinking it too. I wasn't sure if their disapproval was over how suddenly everything gets righted in the film's world, or if they, like myself, were just disappointed that the fun of seeing that particular film onscreen was over too soon.

We shed half of our audience when the lights came up, which I didn't understand since the cost of the ticket was for both films. This happened when Grindhouse came out, and loads of people missed the Tarantino half. I think it is a combination of people not reading the fine print and of no longer being used to double features. (They were the standard when I was a kid.) After a merciful ten-minute intermission (with intermittent counter) for a much-needed bathroom break -- during which two ladies from the family unit in the audience were doing an impression of Dwight Frye's affected, maniacal laugh as they plopped their way down the stairs -- at last, TCM Ben came back to introduce the Spanish language version. He mentioned that some people consider this version to be more atmospheric and often better than the Tod Browning one we just saw. For me, it is debatable, but no contest. Yes, the Spanish one has some interesting camera placements that run parallel to what Browning did, and there are many moments where it does have more atmosphere.

But it is also laden with a less-than-Lugosi performance as Conde Drácula by Carlos Villarías, which means he is good, but has none of the menacing flair that Lugosi perfected on the stage for several years. For some of the audience, some of Villarías' campier mannerisms and movements made them laugh out loud; for me, some of the looks he gave reminded me of Jim Nabors playing Gomer Pyle, and while I restrained myself from chuckling openly, I couldn't help but imagine Nabors playing the role on the dinner theatre circuit in Florida somewhere. The performance I really liked in the Spanish version was that of Pablo Álvarez Rubio as Renfield. I thought his turn in the role was marked by a greater ease with the arc of the character, and a little more subtlety and range on the "crazy" end of the scale, where his Renfield seems to go from zero to sixty and back again in some scenes, as he reacts to the chaos around him. I had seen this version of the film on DVD three times previously, but this is the first time I really noticed how much I enjoyed his take on everyone's favorite madman.

One of the remaining audience members did create some open laughter from the rest of us, as a big guy with a trucker cap and a huge red beard fell asleep not long into the Spanish version (reading makes him tired, I guess). Tucked into his corner of the theatre, Big Guy snored long and loudly through about 45 minutes in the middle of the film. I treat movie snoozers like sleepwalkers. I feel it is more dangerous for them and us if you awakened, especially in the middle of a movie-wrought dream. And so no one shushed or bothered him through his nap time, and at a certain point, he quite noticeably snored himself awake, and when some of us turned to look at him, he acted very embarrassed and quickly took a slug on his soda, and cleared his throat. 

With both films over, it was time for the return trip to the transit center. I mentioned that I had made a big error when surveying this new playground when I arrived, and it almost saw me getting abandoned in the place. I forgot to ascertain where the bus stop for the return would be, and when I got out of the movies (I will admit that I worried about it through much of the second film), I panicked a bit. I assumed the bus would return down Magnolia across the street from where I jumped off at the mall, but when I went over there, there wasn't a bus stop in sight. 

Rather than being caught staring at my phone whilst the next bus that I needed came whipping by, I opted for the "just walk to the next bus stop you find" rule. For me, this is an exceedingly easy plan due to the speed at which I walk, and it wasn't long, near the end of the Galleria area, before I found that next bus stop. But it was covered by a bag on top of the pole, with a green sign reading "This bus stop closed until further notice." So, I flew to the next stop, where I was greeted by yet another bag and yet another sign. Finally, a third stop appeared, about three-quarters of a mile down from where I started, and it seemed to be live, a suspicion confirmed when another lady strode up to wait for the bus as well. I found it just in time, as the #1 bus pulled up to us about two minutes later, and we were on our way.

GoogleMaps may have its benefits, but I'll be damned if I recognized that on this return trip, because it failed me utterly. Sitting on the bus, I consulted the application because I wanted to find out the next #3 bus from the transit center in Corona to my home. The app told me 6:14, and so another panic grew inside me over whether we would make it in time. During a normal weekday, this would not have been a worry, as buses run much later. But this was a Sunday, with the buses cutting off in the 7:00-8:00 range, and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss the last one. Jen's mom texted me all along to see if she could pick me up instead, but I was determined to finish my crawl the trip the way I started it, or else all confidence would be lost. As we neared the transit center at 6:06 p.m., I was excited because clearly we were going to make it in time for me to transfer. Then we arrived, and I was disheartened to find out that there was no 6:14 #3 bus. The time didn't appear on the giant schedule mounted at the terminal, and in fact, it disappeared from my GoogleMaps app as well. Now it was telling me the same time that the bus schedule was: 6:53, more than 40 minutes away at that point.

Not a problem, except the bus stop on a Sunday evening was as devoid of life as it was that morning. And it was getting dark. Fast. Next to railroad tracks and overpasses. Gully cats and queen snakes were sure to be on the rise next. There was me and one other guy who got off my bus, and he left in five minutes on another route. And it was getting darker, and the transit center seemed more and more desolate with every passing minute. A speeding train came whipping by and would have made me jump out of my socks had I been wearing them. As I checked the schedule one more time (with a half hour to go), the sudden appearance of human voice sent a chill up my spine.

"What bus are you catching?" I backed up from the sign and hurriedly looked around it. It was a security officer making his rounds. He seemed bored but genuine in his attempt to make small talk as he told me at which bay I needed to wait for the #3 bus (which I knew, but I was the only one there and had been pacing relentlessly, so he probably was sincerely wondering). We chatted for a few minutes before he shoved off to the other end of the center, but it was good to know there was someone else down here in a very secluded area off the road, surrounded by shadows. As I said, I am not generally afraid of the dark, but in someplace where you have little knowledge, it can rev up the adrenaline to ridiculous levels.

The time passed as time does; a little slower if you pay too much attention to it, and a little quicker the more you ignore it. I found a happy medium that saw the #3 bus arriving on schedule and speeding me off on my way home. Then I found out the kicker from the bus driver: the bus would not return me all the way to the bus stop where I picked it up down the street from our house. The route officially ended for the driver at a stop about a mile from that point, at the same shopping area that we frequent. But it worked out perfectly, because Jen was off work and home by then, and was able to meet me at the last stop. Then we picked up Chipotle there for dinner as well. Win-win.

And so ended my pilgrimage to unknown lands to see an ancient undead friend of mine (and his not so carbon copy). I had broken out of my comfort zone just enough to get me out of the house and traveling someplace new, to try and figure out this new county in which I live, and to gain some measure of confidence moving about on my own once more. And except for a slight hiccup in returning, I came back none the worse for wear, and definitely wiser. 

Now, I just have to return from one of these trips with a new job in tow, and everyone will be happy.


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