Friday, March 06, 2015

Prelude . . .

Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1964:
Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug
Make you want to holler hi-de-ho
Burns your tummy, don't cha know?
Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug’

Written and performed by Roger Miller (This was his second pop hit; it made it to number 9 on the U.S. charts in 1964).

Gilliland, John (1969). Interview on the Pop Chronicles (Track 2). University of North Texas Digital Library:
Singer, songwriter, musician Roger Miller claimed that his song was based on the true story of a friend of his who could “drink a beer in three seconds.”

EIU Fall Quarter 1964
As part of the largest freshman class at EIU ever - that is, up until sixty five; the first year that Eastern’s total enrollment topped over four thousand students . . . we were the high school class of 64, ‘the best and the brightest’, at least that was what we heard a few years later - - we had the highest ACT scores ever. Temper that with eventually knowing that the ACT was first administered in the fall of 1959 (SATs are a much older academic measure). Later in 1972, David Halberstam used the phrase as the title of his best-selling book about the Vietnam War. For the record, ACT averages topped out much higher (And more seniors took the test) in 2009.

Thanks to Superintendent Alton Baker (Findlay IL Schools did not have a counselor, ‘Bake’ covered as best he could) for helping me get to EIU. Early in my Findlay High years, Bake called me into his office and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I replied that I hoped to go to college, and he said that he would see if he could help me get there. My ACT score and a financial need form led to the award of an Illinois State Scholarship. It paid for all of my tuition and University fees for four years. With Bake’s help (He had done much the same for my two-yr. older brother, Bob), I had worked as a student custodian for three years at the high school. My last two summers were spent mowing the lawn and athletic fields, cleaning and refinishing floors, and other maintenance tasks. I had saved up a few hundred dollars to get started at EIU, but my work earnings had also been used for clothes and class supplies.

That fall quarter, my first underlying concern was whether I could handle the academic rigor, pass the courses . . . brother Bob, a straight A student in high school, was a student employee on campus (Student manager of the University Union Snack Bar) and was struggling to maintain grades in pre-engineering while working 30 plus hours a week. I just had to find a way to cover my room and board; that was the big chunk. I didn’t have enough money for even the first year.

Many EIU students came from small towns and rural farm communities throughout Illinois; my central Illinois home was near Findlay, and college classmates and friends were from Beecher City, Cisne, Dupo, Clinton, Hillsboro, Effingham, Sullivan, Blue Mound, Shelbyville, Fairbury, Buffalo. Others were from cities like Belleville, Decatur, Champaign, Peoria, Springfield. A few were from inner city and suburbs of St. Louis and Chicago. On campus, there were new dorm buildings being planned and under construction. The late Sixties and Seventies saw Eastern expanding to near ten thousand students. Later enrollment was capped and the student body size plateaued.

In the fall of ’64, I lived one block off campus (East of Old Main) in a private home, owned and occupied by a retired couple, the three-story Long residence on 9th street (Building is no longer there today, fifty years later the space has been taken up by University expansion). Upstairs rooms were occupied by the nice, clean cut guys whom we barely recognized and hardly knew. They entered by the front door and and climbed up the stairway (I never ventured there). Mr. and Mrs. Long resided on the main floor. Several of the upstairs residents went with the Longs to church and sometimes joined them for Sunday dinner.

There were four rooms in the basement. Five students there, we entered on the side door and took the dimly lit stairs to the right. Somehow we quickly became the ‘hooligans.’ We had cooking privileges with vintage appliances (fridge and stove) in an open kitchen. The two Larrys, Findlay classmate Larry and I, made a weekly visit to the IGA grocery store about five blocks away; a laundromat was closer. I remember bologna on sale at forty-nine cents a pound; combine that with a loaf of bread and some cheap cheese, a few cans of vegetables, and you had most of the meals covered for a week - - back then, we weren’t thinking about nutrition or preservatives. And we certainly were not thinking about variety.

Sometimes we of the basement crew played nickel and dime poker games into the evening (Everyone except the one upperclassman, who had a steady girlfriend and was gone most of the time). If we got a little raucous (Quiet hours after 10 p.m.), the Long’s pounded on the floor with what sounded like the handle of a broom. One night Larry (My classmate with the same first name) pounded back.

My bed was located off to the right side of the kitchen, bathroom john and shower room area. There was a curtain draw that could be used to slide and block the bed view. The john and shower were on the left, adjacent to the fridge and sink. In heavy rains, water flowed down the outside wall next to my bed and on to a floor gutter that directed it to a drain. Basement rooms were only six or seven bucks a week, probably because they were not separate rooms with doors, locks, and that sort of thing; rather they were a bed and dresser located in different compartments. The one upperclassman, a junior was housed in a tiny area accessed by ducking under the large asbestos insulated furnace pipes, the furnace was near center. The other four of us were all freshman. Two guys, Glen and John from the Beecher City and Moccasin area, slept in the biggest room at the bottom of the stairs. Glenn had his ’57 Ford but the rest of us did not own a car. Larry Cross lived in a small middle room, on the north wall next to the furnace.

No televisions. A few of us had a radio. John and Glen listened mainly to country music. I listened to all types of pop tunes. Larry Cross was an avid sports fan, he tuned into the Cardinal’s games (He still does today). The basement colors were gray and more gray; concrete floor painted gray, walls gray. No doors on the rooms. Mrs. Long came to empty wastebaskets daily and on her schedule - - with little checking to see if anyone was still sleeping or dressed, or sitting on the john (Next to the shower stall, another draw curtain could be used for privacy).

As freshmen, we had our priorities in place. A cliché comes to mind: “Don’t neglect your studies while getting a college education.” Some of us ‘hooligans’ quickly focused on booze and girls, or girls and booze. Around 9 p.m. on more than one evening, we headed to the ‘snack bar’ on campus in the University Union building. At that time of night, the place was hopping with students drinking a coke or coffee, claiming that they were taking a break from their studies. That served as an excuse for our scoping of the tables and booths, checking on members of the opposite sex. It might take a few nights, but eventually you would strike up a conversation with a girl, and if things progressed in the right direction, you might walk them home to her dorm building or her off-campus house (A few girls also lived off-campus but there too, their hours were restricted - in by ten-thirty, midnight on weekends). Fifteen minutes before the curfew, when all girls had to be checked in and sequestered, you and your girl of the evening stood crammed together into the lobby area, talked and made out along with the roomful of other couples, as the guys waited to be hustled out and away. A few years later, I dated a girl whose roommate had a car, and couples ‘signed up’ for fifteen minute make-out sessions in the Dodge sedan. In that situation, we got there well before the dorm’s closing hour and had access to the parked car for two or three sessions on the same night. No one drove it, except for the owner.

A hookup at the snack bar occasionally led to a full-fledge date ‘down the road.’ And since I did not have a car (Except for those times that I could borrow my older brother’s junker), a weekend date usually meant walking half-a-dozen blocks downtown to the theatre or sticking to campus activities. Fall of ’64; the folk music revival led to a few hootenannies. Those did not last long. Dance bands took their place in the Union ballroom. Pick up your date from her dorm and walk a few blocks on campus.

Our first years away from the small town roots, we were also focused on booze. My limited experience with drinking led to an interest in illegal alcohol. Underage for most of my college years, I managed to still find ways to get booze. A friend looked older than his age and could get served at one drive-up liquor store. Another friend was a veteran or upperclassman and over twenty-one. They might buy your booze, usually with directions or restrictions; i.e., drink with them, never in your room. You could be in trouble if you came home drunk. A big societal change over the last fifty years is that today, drinking and driving is not appropriate, never to be tolerated. But in those times, getting a six-pack or a cold quart of beer and driving south of town to the Embarrass River (Pronounced Am-braw) bottoms was often standard practice. I was never the driver - - remember I didn’t own a car, could not often borrow a car. I was one of the riders and a diligent student of drinking, the classroom was on lonely back roads for a few hours while the booze was consumed. Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug.

As I gained experience with booze, I learned that I did not want to over-indulge. The few times I was with drinkers who hammered it down, got themselves ‘blotto’ and then sick was enough to cause me to limit my intake. Getting a nice buzz was the goal, but I also learned that ‘hangovers’ and throwing up were not fun. Along the way, I also learned that drinking was unlikely to be a personal problem for me. I adopted a practice of moderate drinking; a guideline that with few exceptions, I have followed in my adult life. A beer sometimes lasts me a long time; my wife is the ‘boozer’ in the family and she does not drink all that much either. But learning how to drink was part of the learning of my undergrad years.

So the fall months in ’64 sped along. I have a vivid memory of the smell of burning leaves as I walked to classes on a few cool and sometimes damp days. I remember playing football with high school classmates, Michael Cruit and Bob Younger, some of their dorm mates, and Larry Cross and I in the late afternoons outside their Douglas Hall rooms. By November, we had at least one significant snow. During that winter, a group of students went sledding one night on the hills south of town - drinking from small bottles of schnapps stuffed into snowdrifts. We slid down to the river bottoms on a rural road, six or more of us piled on to a junked car hood turned upside down.

Also by November, I noticed that my checking account was dwindling; I was going to have to get some kind of part-time job. My brother didn’t encourage me to apply where he worked, but I needed to find something. Perhaps I should look off-campus. I was getting down to my last few hundred bucks.

Years later in 1990, another drinking song came out. The first time that I heard ‘Friends in Low Places’, I was not very impressed. I didn’t know anything about Garth Brooks. I didn’t know of the family connection between his maternal grandmother and my former uncle, Joe Hedges, in my Reade-Johnson family. So much for my recognizing a soon-to-be pop hit too; much like back in ’64 when I first heard Roger Miller’s song. In a short time, I and a big section of America were singing along to the tune; it spent four weeks at the number one spot on the country music charts.

Cause I’ve got friends in low places
Where the whiskey drowns
And the beer chases my blues away
And I’ll be okay.
I’m not big on the social graces
Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I’ve got friends in low places.’

Lesson learned: a good drinking song comes along every few decades or so.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

What Charleston Was Like Way Back When . . .

Or at the very least, the way that I remember It?
It has been fifty years since I began working at the Ko-Op in the fall (November 1964) near the end of my first quarter of EIU classes. I lived about a block away in a basement on 9th street, and the day I applied to work at the Ko-Op was the first time I had been inside the campus hangout. I had walked by a few times, but had cooking privileges at the house I lived in and seldom ate out.

I graduated four years later (August 1968) and taught one year at Edwardsville High School (Joe Lucco of Illinois coaching fame was my principal; one of the finest administrators that I ever worked with in my career)*. I moved back to Charleston in the summer of 1969, took a teaching position with Urbana School District 216 and commuted to and from Urbana and later Champaign (Parkland College) for almost two decades.

Since moving away from Charleston in the fall of 1988, I’ve been back to visit several times. All three of my children grew up there and graduated from Charleston High. The two oldest completed their undergraduate degrees at Eastern; the youngest son chose Illinois State University in Bloomington. I was around town for several years and saw a lot of the changes that occurred over those five decades.

In my early college years, Charleston did not have many fast food chains. Dairy Queen was open in the warmer months (Located toward the northside of town at Division and State next to a miniature golf course); later another DQ opened near campus on Lincoln - at one time the Herb Brooks family operated both DQ businesses**.

After more than four decades doing business in Charleston, Dog and Suds located on the east end of Lincoln Avenue (Now the site of O'Brien Auto Parts) closed up in Dec. 2009 - it was out past the then site of the IGA Grocery. Eventually in the Seventies, several fast food restaurants came to ‘Chucktown’ including Hardees, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonalds, Subway and others.

The three original eating places close to campus were (1) Walt’s, (2) Ike’s Little Campus and (3) the Ko-Op (Followed by the opening of the Short-Stop in the mid-Sixties). A few months before I graduated, news was out that Ike Kennard had gotten a liquor license, and he and his son were changing Ike’s to a bar - good business decision and also great timing with the next few years bringing the IL drop of the drinking age to 18 years old (Vietnam War era - old enough to fight and die but not old enough to drink).

Pagliai’s Pizza (Pronounced Poly-eyes) had already opened by the Fall of 1964, and was located in the strip mall next to the Ford dealership, adjacent to the bowling alley (East end of Lincoln). Last time I checked, all were in the same location except the auto dealership has changed names and maybe models. Pagliai’s has expanded into a Midwest chain.

Was the locally-owned (Not part of the national franchise) Burger King open on Lincoln Avenue by the mid-Sixties? I believe so . . . it was operated by Dale Hoots of Mattoon. Dale's brother Gene and sister in-law, Betty, ran the Burger King in Mattoon.

Back in the day, another popular eating place for college students was the Little Italy (Correction: that was the Little Venice) restaurant (On one-way Sixth Street down near the town branch), where one could order an inexpensive pasta dinner and a bottle of cheap Chianti wine. It closed in the Seventies, and the owner moved on to building and running a gas station on west Lincoln Avenue (Near the site of the 17 Club Bar). Also during the early Seventies, another Mattoon restaurant opened a second business location (After Burger King) in Charleston: Little Mexico on the east side of the Square.

But jumping back to the fall of 1964, Schmidt’s Drive-In was still in operation - on the southeast side of town on Hway 130 as one headed out toward the Charleston Drive-In Theater. Schmidt’s had ‘car hops’ and they were still hanging trays on car door windows. After closing for the winter, Schmidt’s never reopened. The drive-in theater also closed a few decades ago . . . but not before some legendary Ko-Op car-load outings there (Have memories of double-features c1967 and have never been a huge fan of Mogen David Concord Wine since. But it will get you there!).

The Ko-Op closed at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoons, reopened Sat. morning and then closed at 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Friday was also payday, and some of us dined out those evenings. Green’s Restaurant was located just off the town square (A few buildings SW on Jackson Avenue). Friday’s evening menu featured fried chicken served with a baked or mashed potatoes and gravy, a salad, choice of vegetable (corn or green beans usually), a bread roll, and followed by Pie à la Mode (Green’s made their own ice cream?). I don’t remember when Green’s closed their doors, but they were still in business when I graduated. I believe that the last time I ate there was the night before I got married.

Nearby on the SW corner of the square was one of two Charleston locations for a Snappy Service Diner. Open twenty-four seven (A rarity in those days), Snappy’s was home to the fifteen-cent hamburger 
(In earlier days, they were a dime), but they also served breakfast any time of day. Nothing like being up late and sending someone for a bag of ten burger sliders for a buck-fifty. It was also interesting to spend a short-time inside the diner. Think of a small building with a counter down the center and half-a-dozen or more stools (Usually filled) and watching a one-person operation. At midnight you usually saw a few dozen patties on a smoking hot grill, right next to eggs cooking, and a pot of chile heating on the back. Grease from the burgers threatened to float other patties and the eggs right off the grill surface, while smoke and steam saturated the air. One likely gained a hundred calories just by breathing there for ten or fifteen seconds. The second Snappy’s location was on the south side of Lincoln Avenue about a block west of Old Main. These two locations were part of the small local chain (Paris, IL). Their fifteen-cent burgers were relatively small-sized too (Ten per person was often the choice) and those ‘belly-busters’ were best eaten hot off the grill. Chase them down with a few Tums; and they could get you through a late night. And as I mentioned, Snappy’s never closed.

While thinking about the downtown area, who has had a ‘Chinkburger’ from up on Whiskey Row (Block off the Square from the 1st. National Bank)? Chink and Kate’s Bar was on the south side of west Monroe St. You could order a braunschweiger with a big slice of onion and cheese on rye bread, even if you were not old enough to purchase a beer.

Closer to campus, Coffee Time was opened by 1967 and was open late at night and early in the morning.

Also on the southside of the Square was Snyder’s Donut Shop and early in the morning, they delivered a tray of fresh donuts and sometimes a freshly-baked cake roll to the Ko-Op. Fresh cake roll was a treat with ice cream (Choice of soft-served or hand dipped); Larry Mizener often wondered why so much ‘sold’ that first day - - might have been that workers knew when it was fresh, soft and scrumptious too. 

By Spring of 1965, Snyder’s Donuts was displaced at the Ko-Op by a new donut operation. This shop was operated by the Brooken’s family (Not positive on the name, but he was a former employee of Snyders). The night before Brooken’s Donuts opened, several of us Ko-Op workers accepted an invitation to help with a shake-down run - - making and taste testing donuts until way after midnight - a hot glazed donut right out of the grease is hard to resist. Those were the days; I ate three to five meals a day and didn’t gain weight (Paying for that appetite development in these later decades).

For over a year, Lyle Mowery and I opened up the Ko-Op at 7 a.m. When we arrived at 6:30, the delivery of milk and ice cream from Mattoon’s Meadow Gold had already occurred. The delivery man had a key and stopped before we arrived on the scene.

Time’s, they kept a changing. Snappy’s and Coffee Time are long gone.

Until recently, it was often said that Charleston did not have and could not support a good restaurant. With very few exceptions; there were not many distinct choices, and I’m not sure if there ever was an outstanding meal in the town? What’s Cookin’ caused a little stir when it opened. Restaurants there trended toward providing low or moderately priced eats - - pub food, fast food, cheap food.

Today Trip Advisor rates Pagliai’s Pizza as number 1 of 44 restaurant in Charleston. As reported in the last census, Coles County’s medium household income for a family was estimated to be $ 37,397; twenty-two percent, over 1 in 5 of the current population were rated as being officially poor. I would guess that some people save their dining experiences for a road trip made to Champaign, IL. The good news is that Dirty’s Bar and Grill (What was once the Ko-Op) is rated number three.

Back in ’64, Charleston still had a few neighborhood grocery stores. Pearcy's Market was then open and their processing plant and delivery supplied all of the meats for both the Ko-Op and the Short Stop. There was Haddock’s Grocery up toward the the Square (Don’t remember which street). In the first block north of campus, also on Fourth Street there was Orndorf’s Market (Horney Ornies). Sometime in the Seventies, it was replaced with a dance club (Think spinning glitter ball hanging from the ceiling) and a restaurant named E.L. Crackers. Rumor had it that the owner / builder purchased a remodeling permit and kept one small wall section intact until the outer shell of the new building hid it from view. A permit for added construction on an existing building is much cheaper that one for new construction. Other night spots are / were Marty’s (What was Walt’s back in the day, named after Marty Pattin), Ted’s Warehouse (Live music on weekends, located in the north section of town next to the rail tracks), Sticks, Mother’s (Also hosted disco dancing), the Uptowner, and Thirsty’s (Quarter beer nights).

Near the intersection of Fifth Street and Lincoln, the original / first Jimmy John’s was started in a garage (1983) by Jimmy John Liautaud. Jimmy John’s is now a national chain with over two thousand stores in thirty-four states.

The changes in business enterprises were not limited to food and bar establishments. There were a handful of other stores and shops that I and other EIU students frequented. Finding a good barber in Charleston in those days was difficult. Aron’s Barber Shop was down in front of Old Main near Ike’s, getting a cut there was often the default choice. Cavins and Bayles Clothing had two locations: the Campus shop in the strip mall across Lincoln Avenue from Old Main and another on the inside NW corner of the Square. Jim Edgar (Interview transcript; college years begin about page 59), a President of the EIU student body and the last downstate governor of Illinois, worked there in 1965.

There was one independent book store, the Lincoln Book Shop owned and operated by Tanya Wood (Her husband was an EIU faculty member). My freshman year, the Book Shop was over on the side street near Walt’s, across from Lincoln and Douglas Halls. It soon moved to a house across from Old Main on Lincoln Avenue. In 2004, Tanya and Dr. Leonard Wood died as a result of an auto accident east of Charleston.

Charleston’s town square began a decline in the early Sixties - - after the widening of Lincoln Avenue (Early Sixties), some businesses moved from the town square out to Lincoln Avenue. But the Square was and still is vital and the heart of Charleston’s downtown. In the 1964-’68 era, there were still several businesses there. Along with Roc’s Lounge (The Black Front) and the Sportsman Lounge, there was Mack Moore Shoes, a five and dime (Ben Franklin’s? The basement had some restaurant glassware; I purchased some there for the Ko-Op), nearby was Jim Lanman’s Hardware store. The Will Rogers Theater (Opened in 1938) was and is still located on Monroe Street off the northeast side of the town square (Courthouse). Currently it is under restoration.

I’m sure that I left some important businesses off this summary listing; also probably have some errors in my memory. Add your entries and corrections to this posting.

*Joe Lucco coached three legendary basketball players who all played for the U of IL in the late Fifties: Govoner Vaughn, Manny Jackson and Don Ohl. After 39 years as teacher, coach and administrator, Joe retired from Edwardsville School District and was elected to serve as an Illinois State Representative (Democrat, Dist. 56).

** Herb Brooks had worked at Walt’s with Larry Mizener, and in 1964 he was the grade school principal in Rardin. In those days, Herb often helped on Sunday mornings by taking orders and payments at the cash register. After church, customers lined up for our deep-fried chicken dinners. I recognized Herb's ‘Brooks look’ the first time, that first weekend that I worked at the Ko-Op.

Two Brooks brothers and their families lived in Findlay; their kids went to Findlay schools - - first cousins, Charlotte and David, graduated in my class. Herb had been born in Moweaqua and graduated from Lovington High. He had served in the Air Force during the Korean War, then returned to EIU. He was a cousin of the Brooks families in Findlay. I later worked with Herb’s younger brother, Jim Brooks, who was a music and band teacher in Urbana Schools.

Herb left Charleston Schools and worked for the University as Assistant Director and later Director of the Student Union (1966-1978). He retired from EIU in 1987 as Director of Veterans Services. By then, Herb had purchased the DQs in Charleston. Herb Brooks, age 69, died in April 2001 at his rural Charleston home. His wife, Darlene, died in Feb. 2012.