“Seinfeld,” the iconic TV sitcom from a generation ago, influenced myriad progressive and often-hilarious shows such as “Arrested Development,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Broad City.” The series created by legendary comic Jerry Seinfeld and brilliant humorist Larry David broke sitcom conventions.
Seinfeld’s latest vehicle, if you will, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” is another seminal program. The entertaining Netflix series features the observational comic and another comedic figure in an automobile, often a classic car, tooling around discussing comedy.
The impact of “Comedians in Cars” is evident in “Chuck King’s Guide to Spokane History,” an educational and entertaining program on the history of the Lilac City, which can be seen via kingsguidespokane.com, YouTube and Facebook.
“There is no doubt ‘Seinfeld’ had an effect on our show,” producer, director and editor Garrin Hertel said. “It’s an easy concept Seinfeld came up with, and I wanted to make something outside the normal documentary.”
Chuck King, a longtime warehouse employee with US Foods by night and local historian, is the titular host. The folksy Spokane Valley resident is perfect for the role because not only does he love history, he also is surrounded by it.
Signs from long-gone drive-ins and sconces from the old Monroe Street Bridge add character to King’s backyard. King is so connected with the past that he only retired his flip phone last week. “I’m still trying to get used to this (Android),” King said.
King, 62, who co-founded the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum in 2003, has worked with Hertel, the publisher and editor of Nostalgia Magazine, on projects over the years. When Hertel was pondering who could host a show on local history, King immediately came to mind.
“I don’t know why Garrin asked me, of all people, to do this,” King said while calling from his Spokane Valley home.
Hertel has his reasons for selecting King. “Chuck is one of the most gifted and dedicated researchers in Spokane history,” Hertel said while calling from his Spokane home. “When he’s not working on history, he’s dedicated as a collector. He’s great on camera.”
While witnessing King hold court during the initial episode, which focuses on short-lived cable cars, which ran from downtown to across the Spokane River via the Monroe Street Bridge, it’s evident why he was selected. As opposed to a stereotypical talking head, the classic car collector is sincere and enthusiastic about his love of his hometown, which he never left.
“There are a lot of great untold stories here that either people forgot about or don’t know about here in Spokane,” King said. “A lot of the stories are fascinating.”
The pilot episode, in which King tools around Spokane in a 1940 Packard 120 Sedan driven by Henry Johnson, focuses on the cable cars, which were obtained from San Francisco shortly after the “Great Fire of Spokane” that destroyed most of the town in 1889. The premiere is edifying.
“The goal for the trolley was to spark development to sell houses,” Hertel said. “Back then, 14th and Bernard was quite a ways out of town, but then there was transport. The cable car drove right by The Spokesman-Review building, which is the only building still standing from that period other than a house on Boone that was built in 1888, the Flint House.
“… Unfortunately for the cable cars, the houses just didn’t sell fast enough, and the cars weren’t around that long.”
“King’s Guide” doesn’t just provide history but educates in an entertaining manner. An array of locals is asked how a cable car functions. After most tried and failed to explain the cable car system, King details how the motor-less vehicles are propelled.
“I really enjoy explaining the history,” King said. “But it is odd to hear yourself on camera. I’m always self-critiquing myself.”
King will have to get used to his hosting gig since the plan is for at least a dozen more episodes to hit the internet. The tentative plan is for an episode – each about 22 minutes, but the completed pilot will clock in around 30 minutes – to run each month.
“There is so much we can do with shows about Spokane history,” Hertel said.
E.J. Brickell, one of Spokane’s founders, will be the focal point of the next “King’s Guide” episode. It’ll be a labor of love for King, who co-wrote the book “The Lion in the Shadows: E.J. Brickell of Illinoistown, Truckee and Spokane” with James E. Brickell, the millionaire’s great-great-grandson.
Brickell is a fascinating figure considering all that he did for Spokane, but few know much about him since he eschewed the limelight. Unlike his wealthy peers, Brickell opted for a more austere life in an apartment over a bank as opposed to life in a mansion.
“There’s no doubt that E.J. Brickell brought Spokane to life,” Hertel said. “When other people ran out of money, he used his wealth as Spokane’s first millionaire and energy to jump-start this town. However, he’s lost in history. There’s no school, park or road named after him.”
Also, expect a show about Coeur d’Alene vocalist Mildred Bailey, who has something in common with Brickell. Bailey was a massive star in the ‘20s in the jazz scene, but the musician known as “The Queen of Swing” also somehow fell between the cracks of history while those she influenced, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, became icons.
Episodes about Spokane during the Prohibition and saloons from yesteryear, as well as a vintage pub episode, are in the works.
“Our goal is give people a sense of what Spokane was like back in the day,” Hertel said. “We would like to show people Spokane was as wild as Tombstone (South Dakota) and Dodge (City, Kansas) 130 years ago. I think people here, particularly those who grew up here and are lifers, have become kind of complacent about what Spokane is.
“Our show will celebrate how cool this place was in history. I think ‘King’s Guide’ will help people gain a new appreciation of Spokane and love their town more because they know the history of it.”
When Hertel – who is also a jazz musician and part of local acts such as the Rockabilly Space Force, the Zonky Jazz Band and the Hot Club of Spokane – flew back from New Orleans a few years ago, he became depressed.
“When I returned to Spokane, I was a little blue since I was thinking about how I was walking the streets in New Orleans where Louis Armstrong once walked,” Hertel said. “But I was reminded that some amazing people walked our streets of Spokane. We have our own amazing history, and we’re going to present slices of that history with ‘King’s Guide.’ ”
However, “King’s Guide” is costly. Hertel is hoping folks will kick in to help the cause with a contribution to the GoFundMe at kingsguidespokane.com.
“It’s a full-time job doing this, and Chuck and I have to work real jobs to make a living,” Hertel said. “It would be great if we could get some support. When people see what we’re presenting about Spokane, I believe they’ll get it and want to see more – and more of their city, which is like no other place.”
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