Earlier in this blog, I promised to just ramble back to give you a chance to see what my growing up was like. No great revelations, but the difference of 40 to 50 years can be truly amazing some times.
The other night, I actually had a dream about my 2nd job that I took, a part-time job. I dreamed that the wife of the owner had a ton of boxes that looked all too familiar from my days there. All brown cardboard, sealed with the kind of sealing tape that you had to wet first. She needed it moved downstairs to the very big and dank basement.
But my first job was delivering groceries from a corner store, when every corner had a corner store. Yep, we hung outside of these, and they usually had the name of the owner, not a goose or a Seven-something. They were definitely mini-grocery stores and were stocked well enough that you only went to a real supermarket once a week. Anything that you needed in a pinch was there.
They also always had a smell to them. Not a bad smell. Maybe it was the old linoleum tile or well worn wooden floor, or the faint whiff of milk from the coolers. They also had a personality to them. You knew the people who worked there, you knew the people who shopped there. As a kid, you sat and watched as the butcher put the meat in the grinder and strings of burger came out.
I would deliver to an area that was mostly apartment buildings. Nice people. A quarter tip. Not getting rich, but a start. I worked there for a month or so, and decided that I wanted to work in a store, not be constantly taking pieces of it elsewhere.
Near me, across from my school and church, was NELSONS 5 and 10. The owners name was not Nelson, it was Caravella, and the fact that I remember this 40 years later amazes me.
My second job took me up the street, to what was called a “5 &10” because at one time, everything was priced that way. No longer, but it was a perfect 5 and 10 for the time. A real candy counter, which sold those sugary CANDY BUTTONS and lots of gummies. A Popcorn machine gave you a small bag of popcorn for 10 cents.
A complete rack of CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED comics.
The aisles were lined with counters, and those counters were filled with all sort of minutae and needed and not so needed but still cool items. Buttons on cards, household needs, greeting cards, and lots of toys, all just the start of what you could find. I would venture to say that, except for clothes and appliances, you found almost anything there.
The toys were the best, because there were so many little toy and loose items that you would never find today. If you had a nickel, you had a toy. Yes, they had wooden yoyos and chinese finger handcuffs. You could get replacement dice for your games. Real toy soldiers and a wonderful collection of DISNEYKINS, little toy figurines that must have numbered one million or so to collect.
And baseball cards with real gum in them, 10-12 cards to a pack. You collected the cards, and instead of sealing them forever, you ran home and played games like TOPSIES and other tournaments, or you stuck them in the spokes of your bike to make a hell of a cool racket.
I worked general stocking, and also took care of all those little Easter and Mothers Day Flowers in those tiny pots that sold so well and lasted so short this time of year. I sold a hell of a lot of these, and really took my job seriously. My nails were filthy, but I got to sit outside and watch the world go by. And it did, ever so slowly for a kid.
They didn’t bother with a soda fountain, since there were two diners on the same block. One, THE HADDINGTON, aspired to be more of a restaurant than a diner. No jukeboxes, many tables (not booths) beige walls, and a little bit more adventurous menu. Also, very boring for a kid.
And it was OK’d by my school, OUR LADY OF LOURDES. This was because the other diner, THE OVERBROOK DINER, was supposed to be off limits to us. Right.
The rumor was that all sorts of evil things went on there, but the main one was that you got nudie cards with each menu. I never did. Maybe I was there at the wrong time.
However, it was stainless steel, complete with booths that made noise when you slid across, counter stools that had no backs, and wonderful, wonderful jukeboxes. When you got to bum a quarter from your pop, it was glorious.
To this day, this was a real diner burger and has never been duplicated. It may simply be memories, and not really that good, but the atmosphere made it perfect.
Even the cook and the waitresses were everything you’ve heard, as rude and rough as ever, and totally wonderful.
There were a few other places, but except for pizza and steaks, like LARRY’S HOME OF THE BELLY FILLER, there were no fast food joints. You had to drive to them. That made them more special, but they did not, and still do not, make them better than the places you grew up with as a kid and didn’t require driving for miles.
Too few neighborhoods left that operate as neighborhoods. So many trying to reinvent themselves. Why not just look and see what was and is, and realize that for so many years, people were happy. Maybe the problems with these neighborhoods now is with the people who look past them to gleaming box stores and restaurants, instead of looking down the street and trying to reclaim and revive what so thrilled so many people before them.
…more to come, just some ramblings at 3:30 in the morning on the day that the Phillies may claim the NL East title for 2010.