At precisely 8 p.m. on Tuesday, at the official opening of the Hollywood Bowl, one tradition that has stood the test of time was celebrated: the annual burning of last year's program.
It's a ceremony done with much fanfare in a small office off to the side of the Bowl where current and past members of the house staff gather to ring in another year with champagne and fire.
"Let's make 1986 the best ever," house manager Raoul Pinno said as he whipped out a plastic lighter and held the flame to one corner of the program. Tradition maintains that he hold it as long as he can before depositing it into a trash can. It burned to ashes, a good sign, and all proclaimed this a successful year as the champagne cork popped.
Going to the Hollywood Bowl is as much a rite of summer here as muscle men gathering on Venice beach or surfers hitting the waves. From 6 o'clock on, crowds arrive, groaning under the strain of heavy picnic baskets (or coolers or Safeway shopping bags). The diners range from those who bring along their butlers to set out lavish fare on linen tablecloths to those who are content with paper napkins and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
'The Highlight of Summer'
"We've been doing this for 12 years," said Ruth Colman, who with her husband, Arnold, was sharing a box with their hosts, Dr. Burton Fink and his wife, Florence. A silver candelabra sat on the ledge behind them and Fink did his best to light the candles in a breeze. "We make a very big fuss every year. It's the highlight of summer. Every Tuesday we come and do a theme--like tonight it's Japanese," she added, gesturing toward a huge straw box of sushi.
It's the camaraderie, plus the food and music they all come for, Colman said. "And we've been coming for the music long before we could afford a box."
David Krausz and Dominique O'Reilly were celebrating on a smaller scale in another box, also with sushi (apparently a new favorite for Bowl diners) and a single candle. "I've never been here before," Krausz said as he nibbled on a piece of yellowtail dotted with bright orange caviar. "I had no idea what the traditions are. I thought maybe I'd start one."
Up on the very last bench, where no acrophobics dare to tread, there are traditions, too. John and Frieda Park and Frank and Stella Kishi have been coming to the Bowl for 20 years, almost always sitting up top in the $1 seats. And as far as they're concerned, you can keep your boxes.
"Sitting at the top you get some of the freeway noise, but you can hear the music," John Park said.
"And it's not crowded at all," Frieda Park added.
But would they really refuse a box if offered one?
"I don't think I'd like it," Frank Kishi said.
"I just hate the crowds," John Park said.
"Well, it might be nice for a change," Stella Kishi said.
A few rows away sat Lyn Mark, alone, eating a sandwich and intently reading her program.
"I usually sit on Aisle W, Row 1, Seat 1," she said in a clipped British accent, "but for some odd reason I came to get my ticket this year and someone else had gotten it. I didn't want to cause a scene, so I took this one."
Mark said she usually comes to the Bowl with friends, but this time the usual gang couldn't make it. "I stand when they play the National Anthem, but I don't sing because I don't know the lyric. But my American friends don't sing either. I can hit the high note because I'm a singer. But when I do the heads whip around to see who it is. Then I look the same way they do and say, 'My God, who is that?' "
The Culver City resident has been coming to the Bowl "off and on" since 1971 when she arrived in Los Angeles. The advantage of having such a high perch, "is the chance to view everyone better," she said with a gleam in her eyes as she produced a pair of binoculars from a bag. "And the breeze is better. It's stifling down there, and there's so much noise. I think the majority of people who sit up here come to enjoy the music."
Heading down the aisles again one couldn't help but notice Trina Herrmann and Erwin Boychenko, she dressed in a slinky black cocktail dress and he in a three-piece black suit and bow tie. "It's opening night" they said in unison when asked the reason for the fancy clothes.
"We used to work here," Boychenko explained; he was assistant house manager and she was a seating supervisor. "It was always like a family. And when you come out of college and retire (from here), this is part of the pension plan--getting comp tickets.
Tinged With Admiration
"We're visiting what's left of the old crew. There are people who have worked here for 18 years, starting as ushers and moving up to being guards and supervisors. There was one usher who worked here when the Beatles played," he added, his voice tinged with admiration.