Friday, September 3, 2010

After the renuion

I returned to my home town a couple of weeks ago for my High School reunion. I’ve written about how I might quell my anxiety - and I suppose it worked since I enjoyed the evening I spent with this group of strangers I had (more or less) known all those years ago.

The next day I spent in Huntington's old downtown. I parked on 9th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues, now a row of empty store fronts. There was a bar that might have been open, but I could not be sure given the blacked out windows.

As I dropped a quarter into the parking meter I could see the old Pritchard hotel looming against the partly clouded sky. The day was becoming hot and the morning clouds began to dissipate. As I positioned myself for a picture, I noticed way up to the 9th floor where a cluster of boarded up windows - one still with an air conditioner in the window - gave the place a desolate look.

— I must admit that at that moment I remembered the movie, Let the Right One In, and gave myself a shiver wondering who or what lived behind those darkened windows….

I spent the next hour or so wandering a few city blocks comparing the pictures in my head (from the late 1960s) to the present reality before ending up at the Court House. After taking a couple of pictures (real ones with a camera and film), I went up to the door where a little sign declared the place closed on the weekends. I peered inside and to my surprise a face loomed before me waving me to enter.

So I went in and through the security screening. I managed to make the buzzer buzz, but the guard just said, “It just your shoes. Been happening all day. Go on and vote.”

Vote? On Saturday?

It seems 'they' (The Powers That Be) had opened the Court House for early voting (as part of the process to determine who would replace the late Senator Robert Byrd).

The security guys turned out to be Marshals of the Court, not Rent-A-Cops nor even City Police. I'm sure these differences are important....

One of them turned out to have graduated from HS the same year as had I - only from Huntington East High, rather than Huntington High - nice guy despite that….

So, over the course of the next half hour or so we swapped stories - or rather they told me stories. There was one about the Huntington tradition of running disreputables out of town… but, no, I’m probably going to use it for NaNoWriMo this year (and I’m still considering that boarded window in the Pritchard hotel…), so you will have to wait.

I left after they ran the strange fellow out of the rose garden (he was picking - or perhaps just trimming? - the roses)…

“Oh, him,” one of the Marshals said, distaste grumbling his voice. “That guy's a weird duck. We see him all the time. A child molester….”

… just as the pizza arrived…

... and I spent the afternoon in the library.

In my red journal I have pages of addresses (and phone numbers…) that I gathered from the 1968 Telephone Book (which came out new each November…). Anderson-Newcomb, Nick’s News (& Card Shop), Star Book Store, Tradewell Super Markets (5 throughout the city), Bailey’s Cafeteria (410-9th Street), Long’s Parkette (across from Marshall U on 5th Avenue), the Bazaar, WT Grant, New China Restaurant, UpTowner Inn (with the Hawaiian Luau each weekend), White Panty (beside Nick’s, across from the old Public Library), the Milner Hotel (with not exactly a good rep…), Cinema Theater (previously the Orpheum), the Keith-Albee, the Palace, the Princess Shop (popular, I believe, with the Marshall co-ed), Vapo Baths & Massages (hmm…), Ward’s Doughnuts, George H. Wright (whose namesake died crashing his Corvette on Rt. 60E), VW of Huntington (on 4th Avenue - hard to believe how many car dealers were in-town back then…), Hez Ward Buick, Egnor’s Barbershop (owned by brothers of Dagmar…), Davidson’s Record Shop….

The list goes on.

Most of these places have long since disappeared. George H. Wright’s men’s shop still exists, as do all three movie theaters, although the Keith-Albee seems to only host special concerts and events (it’s now an historic site, I believe), but the rest… all memories - well, OK, I have no memory of the Vapo Baths…, but Ward’s Doughnuts…? You betcha….

I also spent a good time while in the Library peering at maps from before the last decade (or so) of urban renewal (or whatever they call it now…) trying to visualize the layering of the city from some 40 years ago.

16th Street/ Hal Greer Boulevard is unrecognizable - I will have more to say about THAT later - except for that row of low income housing TPTB somehow allowed to survive. As I drove up and down that main drive (my motel was down that-away) I realized I couldn’t visualize how I used to loop around the area on my bicycle….

No, that’s not quite right. I could visualize it, but I couldn’t find it.

Back in the day (c 1969 or so), 16th Street/ Hal Greer butted up against Rte 10. The minute I passed the boundaries of the city, the road would narrow and, amid the rural greenery, become the wandering way to Logan, WV. And just before its southern terminus 16th Street branched left and east into a series of twisting residential streets which led, incidentally, up to the small, almost European, plaza (or should I say, piazza) with a tiny movie theatre that (back then) was the city’s only hope to see an art film…. I also remember the 5 or 6 cornered intersection with a European pharmacy that, in my memory, had a clean European feel.

As a kid, I loved the odd times we would drive past that area. I have no idea why…. Later, I might bike up there, still a kid, but now more or less post pubescent, usually just poking around and more or less by mistake I would surprise myself. Then I would stop and walk around the place. I’m sure something will happen in that area in my next book…. Probably nothing mysterious, maybe just a couple walking arm in arm along the street - when suddenly a piece of space debris crashes into the steeple of the corner church… or a vampire [one of those guys from that room in the Pritchard hotel!] comes gliding from the darkness to the shadowy pavement.

Or maybe not….

Jim FitzPatrick, 2010 08-28

1 comment:

  1. Shoney's on 5th Ave.----Mr. Peanut beside the Keith-Albee---Becker's Music beside the Palace Theater---Kresge's. It was a great city at that time. Nick's News and the White Pantry were my daily haunts. My mom raised me on waitress tips when she worked at the Pritchard Hotel. Cam's Ham was great, too. Good old Huntington!