Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Location: Mt. Pleasant, MI

I lived in Mt. Pleasant from 1970 until 1976, so it has been, give or take, 30 years since I walked along Mission and Broadway. A lot happens in 30 years.

When I was a little girl, I used to pretend my dolls were students and my bedroom was the classroom, and "taught" my furry students "Beatles 101" or "Applying Blue Cream Eyeshadow and Black Eye Liner For the Beginner." Everyone got the former, but the latter was a total failure among many of my students-- Betsy McCall being the exception, who always got an A plus in anything related to fashion or makeup. My predilection was obvious -- teaching was in my soul, and was to be my occupation without a doubt. When I was graduated from Bridgeport High School (Go Bearcats!) I moved to Mt. Pleasant to attend Central Michigan University, formerly Normal Teacher's College, to pursue a career as a French teacher. The desire to be a teacher fled immediately upon attending my first education class (did you know they are supposed to teach you how to teach, but oddly do it so badly that you no longer want to?). And yet, it never left me -- I taught four Claims Representative classes, and other assorted classes in Central Office, and was always happiest in that role.

So this morning I set my GPS for my last Mt. Pleasant address, for no reason other than I knew it (1313 E. Pickard -- who could forget living at 1313 Anything?) and it was on the road I would be on as I traveled from the campground to Mt. Pleasant.

It was gone. Not just the house, mind you, but the entire neighborhood. The house used to be one of a series of houses on the outskirts of town, but definitely in a residential district. Now there are no houses, replaced instead by a series of "strip" merchants. There were restaurants, Meijers, Target, gas stations -- you know the slice of Americana I'm talking about: the "strip," the place we all go to find the familiar. I think my ex-front-door is now a tire and muffler place, although I will admit that if my GPS hadn't told me when I was "Arriving At Destination" I would not have known I was anywhere near my old address.

I moved a lot during college, as roommates and circumstances would come and go. I changed my address at least each school year and summer. So I have lived in a lot of places in and around Mt. Pleasant. I visited most of them, and found that some were almost unchanged, some were unrecognizable, and some were just -- gone.

I got a bit lucky -- today was "move in" day for those Fall Semester co-eds headed for the dorms, so a 55-year old lady on campus didn't seem odd with all the parents lugging suitcases and crates for their frightened-looking kids. I got to peek into my old freshman dorm room: Room 211 in Trout Hall. Oddly, it looked exactly the same as the day I moved out. I then wandered through the student bookstore, and decided I was glad I wouldn't have to read some of the required textbooks -- they looked more boring than enlightening. I visited the Student Union, where I previously spent many an hour "hanging out," and found it is now a fern-bar-sans-alcohol and not at all inviting. On campus, the ROTC building has been torn down. The Library, where I used to meet Pat, my freshman Love, under the guise of studying, was closed for the day so I couldn't go in. The chapel is now an Art Gallery. It was closed, too.

The Bird

The Bird was my hangout. It originally was named "The Flamingo," but for reasons that should be obvious, it started to be called The Bird, and eventually the name was changed, too. When I hung out there, a flamingo still adorned the door, but it is now gone, replaced by an eagle. Personally, I liked the flamingo better, but no one asked me!

I couldn't resist going into The Bird for a draft. I was the only patron there at 1 in the afternoon, so I sat at a what was a familiar table, next to the pool tables about half way to the back. At some point in the past, The Bird had expanded into the next-door space and now had a kitchen and a menu (the most we had was popcorn and nuts). But the original space was true to my memory, with the exception of the plasma TVs now showing CNN or sports. It had pool tables, darts, and pinball at the back. It had wood tables running down the center, forever imprinted with the names and initials of the patrons carved deeply in the wood. It had booths on the side. It looked and felt "right."

The ghosts showed up almost immediately. Kathy O'Connor, her waist-length wavy hair falling across her face and a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is concentrating on a bank shot. Barb Brown, beer bottle in hand, is flirting with a poor guy who doesn't know what he is about to get into. Cliff, normally a bouncer, is sitting at a booth playing cards, his leg braces not visible, but his upper body muscles very apparent. And I'm there, waiting for my turn at the eight ball, nothing on the line but pride and maybe a beer.

At the pool table, I was usually good enough to hold my own, but I was inconsistent. Kathy and Barb were really good, and they stayed really good when it counted. We'd play for drinks, and usually only spent 25 cents to challenge the table and then play off the winnings for the rest of the night. When we didn't play pool, we'd sit in a booth and play Euchre or Double Deck Pinochle all night, or hit the pinball machine. If we were playing Euchre against arrogant, patronizing guys (you know who you are), we'd stack the deck -- it wasn't that hard to put the Jacks, and maybe a couple Aces, where you wanted them. The popcorn used to be free, but the machine is now gone.

It was good to be a regular at the Bird.

In my visit to Mt.Pleasant I also saw:

  • The place where Stevie almost killed us all when he couldn't stop on the icy road in winter. We were saved by a dry spot of pavement that appeared right before the road dropped off.
  • The place where Barb was stopped for running a red light, with 7 drunk people in a small Fiat (I was in the back, sitting on the lap of Someone). Barb talked her way out of a ticket, while everyone else pretended nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
  • The place where the "sparkly sidewalk," a Special Place during certain states of being, used to be, but sadly is no longer.
  • The place where we saw Blazing Saddles in all its windowpane glory, and David drove. The theater has now been converted to a Christian Community outreach location.
  • The new location of the Listening Ear, where I used to be a crisis intervention counselor.
  • The pizza joint where my roommate's boyfriend would sneak us free pizzas if the order wasn't picked up on time.
  • The route we used to climb up to the top of the dome at the Student Union, a forbidden and probably illegal activity, that consisted of climbing up a fire escape and walking across several roofs. I can only attest to two climbs, although I'm sure many have done so since. The view was nice.
  • My old job sites: Cascarelli's Bar, which is now "Marty's" and JoAnn Fabrics, which is now seedy. The Blackstone, where I worked one night to help out, has moved, and I didn't eat there to see if they still have the best pizza in the midwest, thanks to Ken.

On my way out of town, I stopped in a the Indian "Soaring Eagle Casino" that used to be farmland when I was there. I spend $2 and won $10.



>I was in the back, sitting on the lap of Someone

You never tell us those juicy stories...

Audra (Swart) Heath said...

I too lived at 1313 E. Pickard Street in Mount Pleasant. That is the house my parents owned when I was born in 1967. Mt mother sold it when I was in the first grade.

rolene Thomas said...

Gee, how things change. My husband and I bought 1313 E Pickard in the fall of 1967, just before our daughter Audra was born. We lived there until 1973 so you must have rented it after that. Kraphol Ford bought the property later as well as the house next door (east) and both are part of their car lot.