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
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
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
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
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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