By Joe Rector
We Baby Boomers continue to age, some of us gracefully, some of us kicking and screaming. Either way, the years click by, and most of us at some point reminisce about “better” times. Part of that recalling includes ruing the fact that some of our favorite old haunts are no longer around. In an instant I can list several of mine.
The most obvious places are where I spent much of my youth: schools. Ball Camp Elementary School remained the same for years until 1962. I was in the sixth grade that year, and one fall evening we heard the sirens and watched fire trucks race down the road to the school. The front classrooms, office area, and gym all went up in flames.
Two sixth grades and one fifth spent our year in a converted hardware store across Middlebrook Pike. The place had one bathroom for girls and one for boys. We ate bag lunches at our desks, took hikes to the school under construction on occasion, and tried to keep warm with a huge ceiling heater that strained to make the makeshift classrooms with concrete floors marginally comfortable.
When the new Middlebrook Pike first began construction, that building was razed. I’m not so sure anyone has a single photo of what it looked like back then. Even the school building looks different than it did when the building was completed. The place has been extended and the front entrance moved to what used to be the back.
Movie places used to be important to us as kids and teens. At least once a month, we boys climbed into the car with Daddy on Friday nights, and off we’d go to a drive-in movie. We visited several of them around the area and found movies that we all wanted to see. In the summer months, we could spend time on the playgrounds until the show began. Rarely did we stay awake for an entire movie, and that’s why Daddy insisted that we wore our pajamas.
As teens, our dates included trips downtown to watch a movie. The Tennessee, Riviera, and Bijou Theaters offered different genres for moviegoers. I remember watching Disney movies, Elvis classics, and Hercules epics at those places. At that time, the price was still affordable enough for teens with limited funds.
These days, two of the theaters are venues for special productions, and one no longer exists. Movie theaters have located toward the suburbs and have lost some of the special qualities of the older ones that were located on Gay Street. Drive-ins are all but gone now. Some have been turned into shopping centers, and one has become home to a flea market.
As teens, part of our weekend activities was cruising. We’d hop in our cars, put a couple of dollars of gas in the tank, and just drive. My friends and I made our first stop at the Copper Kettle on Western Avenue. It was located just west of where I-640 ramps are now. Beside the place was a small package store, and a steady stream of cars circled the drive-in for hours. Occasionally, a vehicle would pull up to the window at Quincy’s, and the driver would present a fake i.d. so that he could purchase alcohol.
Next, we’d drive up the road to the Jiffy and the Blue Circle. Sometimes a convoy would drive just over the ridge to the Hollywood Drive-in on Papermill Road. Then it was time to make our way to Broadway to circle Shoney’s. Most of us were looking for cars filled with girls, although few guys would ever have enough nerve to actually stop and strike up a conversation.
Fast forward to today. The Copper Kettle is long gone and has been replaced by a Marathon gas station. Jiffy’s and Blue Circles no longer exist. Those guys who used to cruise are now senior citizens who drive Buicks. My how times change.
I miss the old haunts and the folks who visited them. Of course, tastes in popular places change with generations. Our fondest memories are about all we have left. Today, the new places that we Baby Boomers will find most interesting are being constructed all over the area. They’re called assisted living facilities. They might be our last stopovers on this journey through life.