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Retro Reading: Slide by Gerald A. Browne


Thanks to big budget disaster movies everyone wanted a piece of the pie and of course the stories would have to come from the writer. All types of disaster stories were being written and it was only a matter of time when ordinary people would be confronted with a mudslide while grocery shopping.

In southern California, it had been raining for fourteen consecutive days and the residents were going crazy. The crime rate for everything was up yet people still had to go on with their daily lives.

Frank Brydon was seeking treatment for lymphoma and after his treatment, decided that he needed some beer and headed toward the Seaside Supermarket, a modern grocery store on a private bluff just off the expressway.

Judith Ward and Marion Mercer after spending the afternoon together at a hotel pulled into the parking lot so that Judith could pick up her car and the two housewives also had to pick up some groceries so that their hard-working husbands would think that they were getting a complete from scratch homemade meal.

Eighteen-year-old Warren Stevens had one thing on his mind. To kill Lonnie "Spider" Leaks since he was secretly dating his sixteen-year-old sister Lois, much to his dismay. He was also certain that Spider was feeding her drugs.

Film producer Elliot Janick and movie star Marsha Hilbert stop in for some Maalox due to his heartburn acting up and Marsha thinks this is a good opportunity to give out autographs since she loves being in the public eye.

Fifty-one-year-old divorcee Gloria Rand (and plastic surgery junkie) decided a walk to the store would help clear her mind after talking to her daughter, while insurance executive Emory Swanson is forced to stop at the store to get his wife some toasted coconut chips and adjust his new underwear, which he finds somewhat erotic and pleasing.

On their way for a vacation in Mexico, Peter and Amy Javakian stop in to buy fixings for sandwiches. In the year and a half that they've been married, they've split up twice and now that Amy's pregnant, she realizes that she and Peter may be able to save the marriage, even though she wanted an abortion after finding out that she was pregnant.

And store manager Phil Kemp accepts a bribe from sales rep Dan Mandel with a new product and the best placement for the product.

Once all of the characters are introduced, the bluff on which the store is sitting on collapses in chapter eleven with two hundred thirty-eight people inside.

For some death comes quicky as the products fly through the air and store employee Spider survives being electrocuted at the front doors thanks to his wearing heavy boots. The ex-con is also spared a second time within three minutes.

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As the authorities begin their rescue efforts, neighbors Vern and Nadine Lufkin and Alan and Marcy Barnett are watching the events unfold from the Lufkin's backyard when they hear Nadine scream and the house tumbles down the side of the hill.

The mudslide also hits the store burying it.

With the above characters trapped inside the store, they now have to figure out how to get out as the mud slowly begins to rise while they perch on top of the aisle islands.

Since Brydon is a freelance architect, he becomes the leader of the survivors and tries to figure out a way for them to reach the ceiling. He is successful in building bridges between the islands and both he and Spider are somewhat successful in finding food for the survivors.

Brydon devises a crude marker and according to his calculations, the mud is rising at a rate of half an inch an hour and figures that they can survive for about thirty-six hours.

As the mud begins to claim victims, Marsha has a brief sexual encounter with Dan Mandel, while lover Elliot looks on. She doesn't care what he thinks, but in a moment of weakness, he tells Marsha the code and password to his bank account in Switzerland.

I'm not sure what's in the mud, but Gloria begins to fantasize about Brydon and the life that they'll have upon rescue (if they make it out) and while she knows that she's going to dump her young lover, she decides that she'll tell Brydon how old she really is, well, she's still going to shave off a few years.

When the action shifts outside the disaster, it does get a little boring as the authorities try to figure out if there are still people alive in the store and their plan of trying to rescue them.

Sometimes the story goes off the rails, but it does take quite a while to get to know the main characters, plus there are other minor characters that really don't move the story forward.

It's still a pretty good and fast read, and even though set in the mid-70's it's kind of funny when Spider gets caught a box of one hundred tablet Bufferin for an aching tooth and fears that he's going to wind up back in prison.

The box was only ninety-five cents and to think of how expensive a box today costs.

Well, that's if not hidden behind the pharmacy counter.

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