Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

Archive for the ‘University of Maryland’ Category

Peanuts, Pinball and Pool

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Take a gander at the picture of the pinball machine. I loved Eight Ball Deluxe. Walking into a bar, ordering a beer and cashing a few dollars for quarters was a thrill that is now just a memory. You can still play pool in a tavern, but very few have pinball.

I was good, shaking the machine just enough to keep the ball alive and avoid tilting. Sure, there were other people who played better, but on any given night I could rattle the machine, while my beer sat on the little table or nearby shelf waiting for me to lose the ball so it could resume it’s intended duty.

One of my favorite watering holes was Town Hall, just outside the University of Maryland campus. I worked at the school, and after my shift was over, a few of us would stop at the bar, walk though the smashed peanut shells on the floor, scuttle up to the bartender, order a beer, purchase quarters and begin the journey into Pinball Heaven.

Town Hall has been open since 1960; soon to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. That’s quite an accomplishment for a drinking spot. Those that come and go are usually “theme” bars catering to whatever fad or style is temporarily occupying the minds of its semi-loyal patrons. Dance clubs seem to last the least amount of time, usually laid waste by fights, drug busts, marriage, and the quick aging and waning interest of its clients. But, Town Hall has lasted through student migrations, sporting event-driven traffic, all the recessions and economically-challenging occurrences during the five decades of its life, and the probable deaths of several of its clientele who just didn’t outlive the joint.

I don’t imagine there was a secret plan scripted by the owners. They just offered cheap beer, a liquor store next door, free peanuts, pinball, pool, slim jims, pickled eggs, bags of chips and party mix, standard bar food, those red sausages in the big jar that I only had the nerve to eat once, and an unpretentious atmosphere. It worked, and my guess is they are not even paying attention to the Golden Anniversary approaching. It’s doubtful the customers care one way or the other.

Despite being within 200 yards of University of Maryland’s main entrance, Town Hall caters to locals. Students really only go there after a football game, basketball game or any other event that brings with it doting parents and seekers of learning, spilling out to quench their thirst after a couple of hours of cheering and jeering; much to the chagrin of the regulars who adjust to the noise, silliness and immature behavior of the privileged bunch who have just invaded their space. It only lasts a short while until the nerds and their entourage decide to shove off for haute cuisine, laced with over-priced, but oh-so-pretty beverages. Once the children are gone, the slim jims and suds taste better.

People reading this outside the College Park area most likely are unaware of Town Hall. Some may have stopped by when following their team to Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium (god, that sounds awful), Cole Field House or Comcast Center. If so, you probably didn’t even notice the regulars smoking their butts (when it was legal) and drinking their draft, while arguing Redskins football or some other non-college thing. Don’t worry, they ignored you, too.

For me, it’s now nostalgia. Occasionally I am in the neighborhood on business, but beer, pool and peanuts are not on the agenda. When home, I play pinball on my computer, shaking the machine with key strokes. Diet soda in a can or plastic bottle is my “draft.”

*Sigh*

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Deathball Revival

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So, you’re sitting in the bar with your friends and you start to think about ordering food. A good steak usually satisfies, but you are not that hungry. Chicken tenders and wings have become old hat, and nachos or chili go in easy and exit violently. What to order? What? Then the hot waitress or waiter you’ve been ogling and hoping may find you appealing, suggests sliders.

It’s not surprising because they’ve been appearing in scores of bars, taverns and restaurants lately, and now’s your chance to check them out. Hell, even Burger King is advertising them these days, but theirs are called “Burger Shots.” As if you stuff one in a small glass and gulp it down with a beer.

They’re nothing new, even though they seem to be all the rage. The tiny burgers (sliders) originated with White Castle restaurants in 1921; the true beginning of the fast food hamburger trade. Then in 1928 Harry Duncan relocated from Louisville, KY to Washington, DC and opened the Little Tavern at 814 E Street, NW. The onslaught of “deathballs” in the Washington – Baltimore area began, and by 1939 there were 50 locations.

Devotees of Little Tavern affectionately called it “Club LT,” and referred to the mini-burgers as “deathballs,” which was a reference to how they were cooked. The “chef” would line the grill with little balls of meat, with chopped onions and fry a bunch, then place them on the small buns along with a pickle, and store them covered by a damp towel in a drawer under the grill.

I didn’t really frequent Club LT when I was a kid. As a teenager riding around in cars and drinking beer with my friends, we usually stopped at Eddie Leonard’s for a sub when the munchies set in. It wasn’t until about 1973, while driving a cab, that my gourmet habits developed. You see, I always worked the night shift and Little Tavern was open 24 hours. The only other place open was 7-11 and at that time their food just wasn’t very tasty. They carried the Stewart sandwiches that needed to be heated in their toaster ovens (microwaves weren’t available), so my late night meals were three LT deathballs and a cup of coffee. I’m not one who usually goes for coffee with anything other than breakfast. It just sort of says, “I’m an old fart and don’t care any more.” Coffee with dinner just doesn’t seem right. But, at Club LT the coffee was delicious, served in the thick mugs that somehow made it better. Not to mention, I needed the caffeine buzz to continue working.

After relocating from the Marlow Heights territory to the Hyattsville driving zone, my favorite cab stand was the College Park Little Tavern, referred to by the cab company as “The Ritz.” Since this location was right across the street from the Rendezvous Inn, I’m sure they had many visits by drunken U of MD students when the bar closed. Like all Little Taverns, this place had a few stools (a large LT had about a dozen). The sit-down crowd was certainly welcome, but “Buy ’em by the bag” was the slogan. When Harry started the business, burgers were a nickle, so walking out with a bag full was a pretty easy task. You could feed the whole family.

In 1981 at age 82, Harry sold the chain to an attorney, Gerald Wedren, and moved to Florida. The business had dwindled to 30 locations at this point, caused primarily by the proliferation of fast food burger chains in the area. McDonald’s, Burger King, Red Barn, Wendy’s and others had been tapping into the profits of LT for quite some time, and Harry decided to let go. The imminent demise was on the horizon, as Wedren tried to “class up” the joints and extract some profit by competing with the big guys. Dress codes were implemented, and the menu was changed by adding more items. They even opened a fancy diner named appropriately, “Club LT.” But, the flavor of Little Tavern was lost and in 1988 Wedren sold the enterprise to Atlantic Restaurant Ventures, Inc., a firm that held the local Fuddruckers franchise. The writing was on the wall.

After only three years, ARV sued Wedren for fraud, accusing him of misrepresenting the value of the business. Shortly thereafter foreclosures of the various properties began and four of them hung on, being temporarily rescued by Al Wroy of Belair, who had joined the company during the Wedren reign. He tried to keep it going, but the last Little Tavern, located in Dundalk, closed on April 29, 2008.

Well, that’s the story of the deathball; gone from our area forever, but living on in its evolved form. The next time you’re at the Green Turtle, Burger King, Chili’s or any place advertising sliders, think of Harry Duncan as you bite into your order. They’re no longer a nickle, and probably not as good, but three deathballs and coffee always hit the spot.

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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