Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spitting to All Fields, Part 12

The old Acres Friendly’s didn’t exactly have a happy ending, did it? Well, the adjacent United Bank is going to move there, and then use its former building to house its offices. I’d rather see something like a Starbucks (originally planned for the CVS site), but anything’s better than some nail place or tanning salon.

What would this blog do without the Facebook page “You Know You Grew Up in Springfield, Mass. When…”? You know how I hate to steal stuff on the Web (not), but I figure not EVERYONE’S on Facebook (there might be three or four of you out there) and maybe those who are haven’t seen this site. Below are its recent posts of Riverdale Drive-in photos:

I found a couple of additional relics after doing some drive-in image surfing:

Was it really “New England’s largest drive-in” when it opened in 1951?

A notorious rape allegedly occurred there in 1982. The man who was sentenced to serve up to 40 years (it was his second rape conviction) claimed it never happened—that the she-devil made it all up. 

While we’re in the West Side, below is a 1957 aerial of the Memorial Drive-in: the piece-of-pie shaped land. If you keep following Memorial Avenue above it you’ll see the rotary that takes you either onto Route 5 or the Memorial Bridge. 

It’s too bad a higher-quality photo of the Riverdale marquee hasn’t surfaced yet, or you could be your bottom dollar I’d put it on my drive-in theaters post. Word has it that someone bought this neon sign and moved to Mission Hills, CA. If the owner is out there, PLEASE SHARE! Send a photo of it to hellsacres@gmail.com.

Mystery people inhabit an abandoned building at Lyman and Chestnut.

The Sugar Bowl, near Gus and Paul’s, was the big high school hangout prior to the East Forest Park Friendly’s. That Friendly’s is gone too. Long gone.

When the Springfield Civic Center rocked, Part 6

Another jewel from You Know You Grew Up in Springfield, Mass. When…” A contribution from David Despault:

God, I would have loved to see The Who there in ’75 and Robin Trower in ’76! But alas, my parents weren’t about to let me into that teenage wasteland when I was 12 and 13. I did see that Black and Blue show (Sabbath and Cult, that is) in 1980. I saw Ozzy fill half the building in 1981—I didn’t know he returned in 1986. By then he was a larger-than-life figure and undoubtedly played to a much larger crowd. I remember my friends and I blowing off Van Halen in 1979 and passing on the opportunity to see Rush in 1980. Were we idiots or what? Hey, $8.50 and $9.50 was a lot of money back then. Then again, we probably spent those hard-earned dollars instead on Pendleton Ave.

Here’s The King at the Civic Center in 1976:

Here’s Ted Nugent’s 1976 rendition of Stranglehold in the Civic Center, which was captured on the album Double Live Gonzo and definitely put Springfield on the rock & roll map:

“You know what I like. You know what I like. You most definitely got me, honey. I say there ain’t no question at all that you definitely got me, honey. You got me where you want me. I say you got me in a goddamn stranglehold, honey.”

I love how Ted keeps saying, “I say” like Foghorn Leghorn.

“Springfield, thank you very much!” (Cheering and sound of firecrackers in the background.) Nugent’s concerts were by far the most violent in rock in the late 1970s. Ted’s “A-Team” security goons wrought havoc on Springfield concertgoers on July 27, 1978, when fan injuries included a stabbing, prompting Civic Center Chairman Tony Ravosa, Sr. to ban the performer until the promoters could prove that they intended to provide security without the “strangleholds” and gratuitous beatings on patrons.

We had to wait three long years until the ban was lifted. I used to bug his son, Tony Jr., in the Cathedral High School hallways about the situation, and he used to laugh and say, “They’re working on it.” In the meantime, we attended Nugent concerts in Hartford and New Haven and played Ted Nugent pinball.

Finally, on July 13, 1981, he was back in Springfield, thank you very much.

Derek St. Holmes’ vocals and guitar are superb in the above Stranglehold recording. Why they hell couldn’t Nugent just get along with the guy and keep him in the band beyond 1978 is beyond me. Surprisingly, St. Holmes is singing and playing with the Nuge in this year’s tour.

Ted recently returned to the Civic Center in a triple-bill with (ugh!) Styx and (gag!) REO Speedwagon. Ted was fun to see back in the day, but it would be difficult to sit through a set now and hear him rant about pro-gun rights and bash liberals between every song, especially after admitting a long time ago that he dodged the draft. His avoiding the Vietnam War was a funny story a while ago. In 1977, we got a chuckle when he said he didn’t bathe for a month before the physical, but the tale is not so hilarious now when the douche portrays himself as such a tough guy. 

See When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

There was a time when the Coliseum rocked…and shook…and rattled…and rolled.

So did the Paramount/Julia Sanderson Theater.

What was General Sam Houston’s famous quote? Oh yeah: “Remember the Ivanhoe…ho!”

It’s still at the top of the hill, but now it’s Horizons Restaurant.

A Dorman School kid at the old Forest Park zoo’s ravine area.

The male lion in the cage next to the chimpanzee family of Jiggs, Nancy, and Jiggsy.

Before the Gary Rome auto dealership on Riverdale there was the Black Horse motel—one of the first motels built on the strip (if not THE first) in 1956. Its financial troubles came to a head in 1991 and it closed a year later.

Street Characters

A picture of a full moon on State Street, with the old fire station in the background.

Totally bare in Winchester (Mason) Square
Hope you don’t care—I just had to share
I didn’t take the photo—I swear
Please don’t ask
Where he keeps his bus fare

Above and below: The Preacher of Winchester/Mason Square. Randy Lester is quite the in-your-face beggar who was arrested in 2009 for allegedly making lewd comments to two girls aged seven and nine, and trying to lure them into Magazine Park. In the same incident, witnesses claimed he also got an eight-year-old boy into a headlock, only to release his grip when the boy's brother punched him. Perhaps he should be known as Lester the Molester.

I haven’t seen the shirtless “Missing Link” (below) on Wilbraham Road lately.

I think the ultimate street character was that mentally-challenged guy in the early 1970s who used to “direct” traffic on the Chicopee side of the Singing (now Sing-less) Bridge, encouraging lots of beeping by motorists. I always wondered what happened to him—and then I recently learned that his “name” is Bunny. Well, his name is actually Bernie, but he pronounced it more like “Bunny,” so the nickname stuck—even though he had “Bernie” stitched onto the front of his jacket.

He stopped directing traffic there at least by 1981, because that summer I drove over that bridge twice every day and noticed his absence. “Where have gone, Bunny?” I asked. “Our 413 nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

I recently discovered that he’s still at it! After his parents died, he moved to a group home in Aldenville and now does his thing at the corner of Dale Street and McKinstry Avenue. “I want a photo!” I declared at this revelation. “No! I want video!” Of course, I’m too lazy to drive over there and check it out, so I let my fingers do the stalking (it’s a snap) and sought him on Google Maps:

Holy shit! Is that guy in the safety vest Bunny? He would probably be about 70 now, and the guy in the picture definitely has the old-man skinny legs and pulled up tube socks! Did Bunny “get safe” and protect his head from sunburn and wear a vest so he wouldn’t get killed? Possibly it was Whitey Bulger when he was still on the lam, before the Google Maps van swung around again. Maybe the guy in the picture is just a crossing guard, but where is that portable STOP sign those guys usually carry?

Supposedly, Bunny’s story is a tragic one. I don’t know what happened to him as a youth, but he certainly is a Chicopee institution. He used to “umpire” little league games at Szot Park and Lincoln Park in Chicopee Falls—that is, he attended “coaches pitch” games involving six- and seven-year-olds and started OFFICIATING! Yes, the coaches tolerated the antics, but the kids got furious when he blew calls. Now his other hangouts are the Copperline Eatery and Lucky Strike Restaurant. Yes, 40 years later, Bunny keeps going…and going…and going. I repeat: I WANT VIDEO!

UPDATE: Yes! Bunny! There he is! 

OK: no that’s not him. It’s the Easter Bunny. Sorry.

How about Larry the Jogger in The Acres? Actually, he covers a lot more ground than just our neighborhood. Larry Saex, a Forest Park Middle School teacher, ran about 15 miles a day about 10 years ago. Now that he’s “getting up there” in years at 62, you’ll see him a bit less, but still going at it with the same “choppy” style—accentuated with a transistor radio, thanks to my friend Craig Stewart’s father, who told him he should listen to tunes while he ran. But now the dude presses the radio against his head (evidentially he’s never heard of technology), which causes him to list to one side, which is why some call him “Tilt.”

Weather deters Tilt’s routines—sometimes. When the snowplows are too slow to follow in the dead of winter, he runs indoors at the downtown Y. Outdoors, he “runs to the rhythm” of oldies music. His favorites are Beatles, Beach Boys, The Fours Seasons, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

Anybody in The Acres and Pine Point remember the replica General Lee car in that used to cruise around in the early 1980s? It was definitely a head-turner. The owner, it turns out, lived on Breckwood Boulevard across the street from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, and he used to regale the OLSH students during recess with the horn’s rendition of “Dixie.” Too bad he didn’t have Daisy Duke as a passenger:

Yes, tan lines don’t always look bad on a woman. I wish I was “in Dixie”—hooray! Hooray! Now that’s a REAL head-turner.

Remember the Hermit of Hungry Hill? “Crazy Dave” Boris, known for wearing layers of clothing year-round and his big beard, lived in a hut in St. Benedict’s Cemetery off Armory Street. His family lived on nearby Phoenix Street, but Boris at some point became chronically homeless with a drinking problem and mental health issues. He had several run-ins with the law, including charges of assault with a dangerous weapon, along with open and gross lewdness in an incident “involving young boys,” according to the Union-News, in 1980, when he was 23.

In 1995, he was arrested for spraypainting 20 gravestones in the cemetery, and 14 years later his demons caught up with him for the last time: he got drunk and froze to death in the cemetery on February 23, 2009 at the age of 52. Boris had been living at Alliance Housing for the homeless on High Street at the time, and had been faring well, but sometime over the weekend left his apartment during a cold snap that also claimed the life another intoxicated man who fell asleep in his truck on Fort Pleasant Avenue.

Jerry Ray, director of the Mental Health Alliance, knew Boris for more than 20 years. “It was one of those binges that got the best of him," he said. “It’s kind of sad. Over the last several months, he had been doing much better.”

A priest at Our Lady of Hope pulled some strings and made sure he got a decent burial at St. Benedict’s—the same place where he lived and died.

Leave a comment and tell us about YOUR favorite street character: the Squares Walker of the Malden Street area of Forest Park (the guy who walked in an endless square pattern)? The guy with the big growth on his face who used to hang around Court Square in the 1970s and bother concertgoers outside  the Civic Center? Enlighten us!

Bring back Fairfield Mall, where I spent all my hard-earned paper route money on old baseball cards at Fanny’s Flea Market!

Here’s one thing NOT to bring back: the old WACKY 102. BOY did that station SUCK. But not as much as WHYN.

I’ll leave you with the old Lido dining room interior and bar mural: