Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

Archive for August 2008

Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?

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In August of 1973 I began attending Prince George’s Community College, while living in Imperial Gardens Apartments in Suitland, MD. After being discharged from the Air Force in February, I had been through an attempt to sell pots and pans and one season of driving a Good Humor truck. Now it was time to start working on an education. After several months of growing my hair and beard, my Hippie Wannabe look was beginning to take form. You may recall in my Good Humor post I mentioned how several of the Ice Cream Men drove a taxi in the off season. I was glad they directed me to this particular occupation. Since I was also attending summer classes, there would be no further Ice Cream Man duties. Hacking was my immediate future until graduation.

Cab driving proved to be rather lucrative. The Government paid me $388 a month on the G. I. Bill to be a full-time student, and I rented a cab on the weekends from the Bluebird/Yellow/Suburban Cab Company in Marlow Heights, netting between $150 – $200. Working on New Year’s Eve was usually worth an additional $100 – $150 for the night. I was averaging over $1,000 a month, tax free (please don’t tell Uncle Sam), which was a tidy sum back then. It was enough to support my wife and two tots (aged 1 and almost 3), and allowed for the occasional bottle of Boone’s Farm, Bali Hai, Ripple, or a six pack of Black Label. Whenever school was closed for a holiday or snow emergency, I rented a hack and spent the day driving, and studying on the cab stand during slow periods. It was the ultimate temporary profession.

Most of you probably have in your mind the stereotype of the taxi drivers in most cities, who can’t speak English, or feign misunderstanding to drive you out of the way, and run up the meter. In 1973, the drivers were primarily American who spoke and understood English. But, in defense of today’s cabbies, we weren’t getting constantly mugged and ripped off by passengers, as seems to be so prevalent now. Sure, there was the occasional robbery and the passenger who jumped out without paying, but not to the extent it is today. Those most desperate for work tend to gravitate toward the danger and hassle, because no one else will do it. Cut the drivers a break when criticizing their lack of language skills, if you don’t mind. You’re lucky they are there when you need the ride.

“Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?” That’s the call from the dispatcher over the two-way radio putting out a job in the Marlow Heights section. How it worked was the first cab in line sitting on the Marlow Heights stand, located in front of the Giant Food/Steak in a Sack in the Marlow Heights Shopping Center, was given the job. Why the phrase was uttered twice, I’ll never know. Maybe it was to be sure we heard him. If there was no cab on the stand, the dispatcher called “Marlow 1st,” and any driver who was empty in section could bid on the job. The one closest to the fare would get it. “Marlow 2nd” was the next call if no one was empty in section. In this case, the taxi had to be in Marlow, dropping someone off or out of section empty. The closest to the location of the passenger won. Then if it went to “Marlow, Marlow,” which was the final call, and the first driver to bid got the fare.

Recently I met with some folks who grew up in Marlow Heights. The website in the highlighted link is run by Chuck Fraley. He organizes get-togethers of people who were youngsters in the area during the 60s and 70s. I discovered Chuck’s site while doing research for my Blog, and I’m glad I did. The group met at the Steak in a Sack for a terrific meal that brought back memories of the many sandwiches (basically a steak and cheese in a pita) I ate during my tenure as a cabbie from 1973 – 1976. Chuck was all “retroed-out” in his Banlon shirt, Macs and Chucks with the colored shoe laces. He really works to “Keep the Memories Alive!”

We had several taxi stands in the area. There was the one at the Prince George’s Motel, called “The PG,” which was across the street from Iverson Mall, where I sold shoes at Baker’s in 1967. We had a stand in Suitland at the Scot’s gas station (I forget what it was called). In Temple Hills we were on a dirt lot at the corner of Brinkley and Temple Hills Road, called (now stick with me on this), “The Dirt.” Those clever guys. Then there was the stand outside Andrews Air Force Base at the Ramada Inn called (sing in unison), “The Ramada.” By far the busiest stand was The Marlow. After moving to Greenbelt in 1975, I worked out of the Hyattsville office, and my favorite stand was at the Little Tavern on Route 1, right outside the University of Maryland campus (I was a Maryland student at this point). The reason I liked that location so much was not just because of the great little burgers, but its name. It was called “The Ritz.” Someone had a sense of humor in naming that one.

Most people these days are moaning and groaning about the price of gasoline; how it’s cutting into their budgets, and causing them to forego the extra Starbucks coffee or chocolate bar, just to keep their heads above water. Try having no gas when you are driving for a living. On October 17, 1973, just a couple of months after I started hacking, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to get even with the Western world for their support of Israel. Their plan to use oil as a weapon, by making it diffcult to obtain, was secretly negotiated in August, in preparation of Egypt and Syria’s united assault of Israel. Both countries launched their attack on October 6th (Yom Kippur), and it was the beginning of the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

Fine and dandy for them, but my family had to eat and the Oil Embargo was not a welcome addition to my lifestyle. Sitting in line waiting for gas, and running out of gas while waiting, was not a particular thrill. It was irritating. In one instance, I was lucky enough to get a big fare going to Glen Burnie. The good news was I got a lot of cash for the trip. The bad news was I ended up hitchhiking, holding an empty Clorox container (it was in the trunk in case of an emergency), to get to a station and wait in line, so I could fill up the jug and get back to my taxi, with just enough gas to find another line that I could join and eventually fill up the car. Hitching a ride with long hair and a beard (two more months of growth), wearing jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and my old Air Force fatigue jacket, isn’t a particularly appealing look to passers by. The addition of the Clorox bottle to my ensemble gave some people the impression I was a bum. My Hippie Wannabe look was transformed into Hobo Chique. It was a killer look, and I don’t mean in the sense of hot and sexy, I mean killer in the sense of homicidal. Fortunately a real Hippie stopped in his VW bus and drove me around to get the bottle filled and back to my cab. Kindred Spirits. “Peace, Brother. Groovy.”

One result of the Oil Embargo was the proliferation of self-service islands at gas stations. Although the first self-service station was opened in 1947 by George Urich, they didn’t really catch on. In fact many states banned them due to concerns about the elimination of jobs, and distrust of the inexperienced motorist spraying the ground (and possibly other customers) with petrol or driving away and ripping a hose off the pump. After the crisis that occurred in ’73, and the subsequent spike in gas prices that resulted, stations began offering the choice of full-service at one price and self-service at a lower cost. Still, many states didn’t allow self-service stations, but as we all know, today they are prevalent everywhere except New Jersey and Oregon. Additionally, the many incarnations of forced increased mileage legislation grew out of the Embargo.

Aside from the gas crisis, I enjoyed driving a cab, usually working the night shift because there were fewer drivers to compete with, and fewer old ladies with eight bags of groceries to be lugged to their sixth floor apartment, who only took the cab a few blocks, which meant a low fare, small tip, a lot of time spent, and losing my place in line at the stand. If I did work during the day, I avoided The Marlow, opting to drive around on the edge of several sections at once so I could “stretch my hood” when a job came out. If there was no cab on the stand of a particular section and it went to 1st call, I would make up a location in that section, hoping no other cab could see me. Any time a driver got caught fibbing he was cut off the air for an hour. If I was lucky enough there was no other cab closer to the job, I would get it, which meant I had to hurry, so as not to be discovered. A long delay in picking up a passenger, when I was supposedly nearby, was a dead giveaway. But, we could always use the excuse we had a bathroom emergency on the way.

Marlow Heights is fairly close to Andrews Air Force Base. Andrews is where Air Force One, the plane used by the President, is housed. There was always a “Press” plane as part of the entourage whenever the President went on trips. Although there were several reporters privileged enough to accompany the President on Air Force One, most of them flew on the Press plane. And, many of them ordered taxi service to get them into Washington and Northern Virginia once their plane landed. Our dispatcher would give us notification that several cabs would be needed in the Andrews section, so those who wanted the fares would go and sit on The Ramada at the appropriate time in anticipation of a pretty decent trip. The passengers were usually interesting, talkative (after drinking on the plane) and tipped well. I had the pleasure of carrying Connie Chung, Pierre Salinger and Garry Trudeau on separate occasions.

But, the best part of driving a hack was practicing my “Chicken Call.” There was a driver whose last name was Abel. I forget his first name because they always just called him Abel. He was a full-time cabbie who worked during the morning hours to make enough money to go to the racetrack in the afternoon and bet on the horses. There were several guys who drove to bet. Then after the races were over, if they lost they’d come back out on the street and work several hours, or if they won they wold take the rest of the day off. Abel was kind of a cut-up and the dispatchers liked him. My task was to cackle like a chicken over the radio, and I am very good (send me an email with your phone number, and I’ll do it for you over the phone). What was so much fun about the “Chicken Call” was the dispatcher always blamed Abel. My original intention was just to cluck for fun, but when they started yelling at Abel, it became a pretty good game. Sometimes I would continue on until the dispatcher was irritated to the point of threatening to cut Abel off the air. And Abel wasn’t even working. We had different dispatchers at different times, and they always blamed Abel. I got a real chuckle out of it, and it beat studying while sitting on a stand.

I often think about what it would be like to drive a cab today, but I’m sure it would not be as entertaining as then. I’m not even sure Abel is still alive, but if I were ever to cross his path again, I’d confess to the “Chicken Call,” just to see his expression.

“Who’s on the Coop, the Coop?”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Who’ll Gimme Five?

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Only a few of you might recognize the guy in the picture. His name was Richard Rose. This past December I found out he died; just about a year after it happened. I felt really bad that I didn’t know it was coming. He was sick for awhile, and I had no idea. Keeping up with friends isn’t that hard. In this case I failed miserably.

On the debut of my job at the University of Maryland Computer Science Center in 1976, Richard Rose was one of the first people I met. I liked him as soon as I shook his hand. His smile was infectious under the mustache; with those eyes that kind of lit up when he grinned. You know what I mean. People just felt really comfortable around him. I was assigned to his shift and we went right to work. Richard didn’t mess around; always moving and helping. He was a great boss, who made you feel like an equal. What most people didn’t know was he had a passion for Auctioneering.

The setup at the Computer Science Center was Richard at the console with several intercoms throughout the building, used by the IBM Card Reader Operators to communicate with him. The whole purpose was for the students, who were learning how to program, to have us run their jobs incessantly; sometimes to the point of boring. Then every once in awhile you could hear coming from the intercom, “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who’ll gimme five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla, five dolla. Who’ll gimme ten? Who’ll gimme ten dolla, ten dolla? Gotta ten dolla. Who’ll gimme fifteen? De fifteen, de fifteen? Gotta fifteen. Who’ll gimme twenty?” Richard used different sing-song inflections and would go on and on into the whole rendition you might observe at a tobacco auction (where as a boy, he developed his fascination). The students loved it. We were all cracking up. Richard really was good.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yeah, Richard goofed around with the rest of us; shooting rubber bands (we used them to wrap the output before giving it to the students) and playing practical jokes, but he was very serious about his job. When Richard died, he was Executive Director of the University of Maryland Academic Telecommunications System (UMATS) and USM Office IT. He was a Big Shot (not a reference to rubber bands).

There was more to Richard Rose than the hard working Computer Guy/Auctioneer. When I ran for the Greenbelt City Council in 1977, he worked the polls for me. His beautiful wife, Carla, was the Executive Assistant to Maryland State Senator Edward T. Conroy, and Richard introduced me to Senator Conroy, who introduced me to Steny Hoyer (who at the time was the 38-year-old President of the Maryland State Senate), Delegate Leo Green and a couple of other local politicos. Even though their implied endorsements were helpful, I lost the election by 128 votes, ending my blip of a political career.

The next couple of years thereafter, Richard helped me with two money-raising Gong Shows (Ed Conroy was one of our Celebrity Judges at the first one). He never balked at lending support to people he liked. Later we had an auction for the American Cancer Society at the Greenbelt Town Center. Of course, the idea of an auction for charity was conceived with Richard’s hobby in mind. When the event took place, he was in his glory; “Who’ll Gimme Fivin'” all over the place. Richard was the show, and what a show he was.

My job at the U of MD ended in 1979, and I moved from Greenbelt in 1980. For a little more than a decade, Richard and I sort of lost track of each other. We talked on the phone a couple of times and I stopped in to see him once, while in College Park on business. That was about the extent of our “keeping up.” Then in 1991, I organized an auction for the American Heart Association of Carroll County. If you have an auction, who do you call? Richard Rose! He jumped at the opportunity.

In downtown Sykesville, Richard occupied the gazebo in the picture and the audience lined the street. “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who will give me five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla. Who’ll gimme six? Who’ll gimme six dolla? Who’ll gimme six dolla, six dolla? A six dolla, six dolla? Gotta a six dolla, six dolla. Who’ll gimme seven?” And on it went. Richard was smiling and chattering and the audience loved him.

When the auction was over, we came back to my house for some grilled steaks and conversation about the past. After dinner, Richard went home and being the piece of crap I am, I never saw or talked to him again. On January 5, 2007 he died at age 59.

Don’t let a good friend leave you without having a chance to say goodbye.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

P. S.  Here is an update to this Blog.  Richard was recently honored http://internet2.edu/rose/

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Who Left the Red Barn Door Open?

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It was 1966. I was 16 at the time and a big fan of the emerging fast food craze. McDonald’s was taking off, and we had a place named Burger Shack on Marlboro Pike, near the Hillside Drive-in Theater, selling yummy hamburgers for fifteen cents a pop. I loved Fridays, because my mother often brought home Burger Shack dinner, which included hamburgers, fries and shakes. So, I thought the best way to get a constant supply of burgers was to go to work for the new place called Red Barn that had recently opened in Coral Hills. Although the goal was to gorge myself on free eats, I had fallen upon a pretty decent job.

Red Barn was a really good chain that was started in the early 60s in Ohio, whose first Franchisee was Harry Barmeier. At its peak they had around 400 restaurants in 22 states, as well as Canada and Australia. What I liked about Red Barn that was different from McDonald’s, was they sold fried chicken. My mother grew up in Southern Virginia, so fried chicken was one of the foods I learned to love. I still do, but have to abstain because of the cholesterol problems we know about now, that we didn’t hear about then.

I was on the night shift, which went until closing. Our shift manager was a fellow named John. He was all of 19, but was still the boss. John was on his way up the Corporate ladder, yet he was very down to earth. We often messed around with him. He drove a dark blue Karmann Ghia that usually started, but sometimes did not. John had a rather weak stomach.

Our french fries were made from scratch, using a potato peeling machine and slicer. We blanched the fries and put them in the cooler for frying when needed. There was a product called Stay Fresh we used to keep them from spoiling. It probably caused health problems, but what the hell did we know in 1966? I couldn’t find anything on the Internet about it, but I would guess it was somehow related to MSG. When Stay Fresh was sprinkled in milk shake mix, it had a foul smell. One of our pranks was to take a bit of shake mix, drop a little Stay Fresh in it, and ask John to take a whiff and let us know if the mix was OK to use. The smell never failed to make him vomit. And we laughed our asses off. Sometimes John would have a drink set aside for himself, and we would add a little Stay Fresh to it when he wasn’t looking. Once he took a sip, he was a goner. It got to the point where we would just tell him it was in his drink (even though it wasn’t) and he would barf. Quite the chuckles for us punks.

My favorite task at Red Barn was to work the grill. Cooking the hamburgers, fries and chicken made me feel like a chef. It kept my Ichabod Craneish persona (picture Ric Ocasek with zits and a paper garrison cap) away from the customers, and I preferred to avoid their whiny orders, anyway. Working the counter usually ticked me off, but running the grill gave me command of the entire process.

The policy of Red Barn was to allow us to have free fried chicken only on Wednesdays and Sundays. But, we were more clever than they thought. At the end of the evening, any leftovers were fair game for our gluttonous ways. Around 10:00 PM, we would drop a load of chicken in the fryer, knowing it couldn’t be sold by the time we closed, leaving us with quite a bit of waste, that either had to be thrown away or consumed. John usually looked the other way, and we had chicken on whatever day we wanted.

Robbery of fast food restaurants was a fairly new phenomenon. During my time at Red Barn, we got hit twice. Once, a guy came in while I was cleaning the grill, hunched down near me to avoid being seen from the window, pointed a gun and yelled, “Where’s the money?” It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening, and I just said, “It’s in the back.” He was anxious and ran into the back of the store, while I took a moment to gather myself. Then it dawned on me what was going on. I shook for awhile and stood still, then figuring he was gone, went in the back looking for the rest of the crew. No one was around, so I worried a bit, then opened the walk-in refrigerator. Everyone inside instinctively put their hands in the air until they realized it was me, and John asked, “Is he gone?” Since no one was bleeding we figured he was. John then called the police. What the gunman didn’t realize was the cash registers had not been reconciled, so “The money was in them.” Robber Man did get away with the petty cash box, escaping with about $35.00. A big haul, and perhaps a couple of nights of drinking, or one fix of whatever drug he probably abused.

The second attempted heist was just this side of ridiculous. Often times after we closed, our activities included a drive to Guys and Dolls pool hall in Silver Hill, for an early morning round of pocket billiards, or a jaunt to Waldorf to throw our wages away in the slot machines that were legal at the time. This particular evening John was going to drive a few of us to Waldorf. We closed the store, and started piling into his Ghia, when we heard, “Give me the money!” We looked around to see where from the voice originated and saw what appeared to be a gun peeking out from the fence behind the store, with the “criminal” hiding in the bushes. The Karmann Ghia wouldn’t start, so we pushed it with John using the driver’s door as a shield, as we backed out of the parking space, snickering all the way. After popping the clutch, the car started, and we drove away from the “bad guy,” and headed to Waldorf. Our subsequent laughter was probably a combination of fear and relief that this particular robbery attempt was committed by a fool. We survived for another day of french fry blanching and terrorizing John.

My stint at Red Barn gives me fond memories. I’m not quite sure what happened with John’s career, but being the kind, gentle soul he was, I would guess he fared well (unless a Corporate audit revealed our chicken thievery). I tend to think if people are good, good things come of it. Since I don’t remember his last name, I can’t Google him to see where he might be (just entering John brought about 1,040,000,000 results). But, the last Red Barn franchising leases expired around 1986, so I can assume he has left the night shift.

I just hope wherever John is, he has a reliable car.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Coral Hills Red Barn Today

Coral Hills Red Barn Today

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