Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sans Roxanne

The driving notes of the guitars, the crashing beat of the drums, and then the soulful vocals of Sting—I always stop and pay attention when I hear the song “Roxanne” by the Police. It was a popular song in 1979 while I was in college at UC, and it takes me back to those wonderful years of my youth.

But there is another aspect to this song for me. In some respects, I suppose I should say this song haunts me. I have only known one person named “Roxanne” in my lifetime. She was a fellow student at UC, and was a year or so behind me. I can’t say that I knew her well (as I recall she was a softball player), but on that small campus everyone knew everyone to some degree. She seemed nice enough, and I can still picture her with her long brown hair and aviator style glasses (a trendy thing in the ‘70s).

After I graduated, I heard that she had committed suicide. I don’t know much about what she was going through, nor how it happened three decades ago, but I always hate to hear when a fellow human being decides to end his or her life.

I can remember a boy who killed himself in junior high—that was probably my first brush with suicide. I didn’t know the boy well (he was a year behind me and had gone to a different elementary), but later in life I got to know his father. I always wondered if my dealings with this boy’s father made his dad look at me and think of what may have become of his son. I always sensed a feeling of loss within his father, even decades later. It was a bit sad.

Teenage years were tough on a lot of us. Everyone at one time or another during difficult times has probably thought it would be easier to just end it all. However, I would urge anyone with these thoughts to think again. There are lots of good folks who would be willing to help if you just reach out to them and take a step back from the abyss. We’d rather have you with us than gone from us. Please don’t hesitate to seek help if you have thoughts of suicide. One resource is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It is free and confidential—just call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Please don’t give up!

I’m not saying that Roxanne and I would have made a couple, but I wish now that I would have tried to get to know her better. Maybe a little extra camaraderie from all of us would have helped provide her with a reason to stay with us. Perhaps she could be joining other UC alums from our era on the riverbank the last weekend in April for the Governor’s Cup alumni gathering. However, instead of seeing her again on the UC riverbank, she is frozen in time within my memory, ever waiting for the cue from Sting to reappear in my mind…“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Charleston Eateries

Yesterday, a former classmate traveling through Charleston posted this picture of the Southern Kitchen on Facebook. It brought back many good memories of this favorite restaurant for UC students of my era. Unfortunately, I understand it closed a few years ago, but the memories of late night runs down MacCorkle Avenue to the “SK” still live on.

One of my favorites was their hot apple dumplings, but all their food was good and available all the time. The inside was decorated in a chicken motif, with roosters, eggs, and other such bric-a-brac. Plus, near the cash register were framed official letters of thanks from politicians and celebrities who had eaten there. It was an authentic West Virginia restaurant that had never changed over the years.

The SK became a favorite stop of mine if I was passing through Charleston and needed a meal over the decades after my graduation. Even though our dining tastes these days normally trend towards something a bit more exotic, Anna and I got to eat there a few times, so that I could reminisce.

This picture also got me thinking about other eateries I experienced while at UC. Growing up in Parkersburg, but dependent on the Charleston/Huntington TV stations, I had always seen the commercials but had never experienced Geno’s Pizza. I was eager to try their pizza, but ended up enjoying their Pizza Bread (a sub bun with sauce and toppings). The Geno’s shop at the top of winding Bridge Hill Road was the closest, but a few times we visited the larger restaurant at South Charleston.

Speaking of pizza bread, the Anchor (just past the SK on MacCorkle) also had good pizza bread. It helped to soak up the quarter beer in plastic cups that drew many students there on Thursday nights. I also remember getting taken to St. Albans to get pizza from a new place called Husson’s, which now has a location much closer to campus. Of course, the Pizza Hut in Kanawha City was another popular place, when money and a ride were available.

The Shoney’s chain of restaurants actually got its start in Charleston (there is a historical display near the Patrick Street Bridge). With a Shoney’s nearer to campus than SK, sometimes we would venture there for strawberry pie or hot fudge cake. A couple of friends were selected to be “secret shoppers” for Shoney’s, testing the quality of food and service in exchange for providing feedback on the experience.

There was a family owned Italian restaurant across the river not far from the capitol called Leonoro’s. I ended up eating there a few times, and it was very good. It is still there and I should probably go back and give it a try again. Anna and I recently got to eat at the Quarrier Street Diner (also known as Young’s Restaurant) where I had eaten a time or two as an undergrad (we also ran into a fellow UC alum that night).

For those extra special dates on a formal dance night, the place I preferred with Steak & Ale, near the railroad station and the South Side Bridge. I also went to the restaurant on the roof of the Holiday Inn Riverfront once. I never made it to Joe Fazio’s or Ernie’s Esquire, which were also popular fancy restaurants of that era (but I did eat at Ernie’s while working the 1982 WV Legislative Session).

Although I only ate there one time, a couple of guys I looked up to took me to a place called the B&B in downtown Charleston for a late night (or should I say early morning?) breakfast. It was a bit of a rough place—you went there just to be able to say you went there once. I remember that visit in part because I ran into a guy I knew from Parkersburg who was attending WV State College.

I made the trip down to Jefferson (almost to St. Albans) a couple of times for an all-you-can-eat buffet at Smiley’s Motel. All you can eat deals were rare back then, so it was worth the drive for college students, especially to fill up on a Sunday afternoon.

Wendy’s was the closest fast food place to campus, and it was frequented for burgers as well as their Frosties. I tease Anna that maybe we saw each other there, because she can remember eating there as a young girl during the late ‘70s. The Bonanza steak house beside Watt Powell Park (the baseball stadium) was also close and popular (buy the cheapest meal and then fill up on the salad bar).

My senior year, the Taco Bell opened just beyond Shoney’s, and it quickly became a favorite destination. It was open late and was cheap—two essentials for college students. It was my first real exposure to Mexican food—but now I know that there is much more to Mexican cuisine than Taco Bell.

These are just a few of my memories from my four years (plus the ’82 Legislative session, when I also lived in the UC dorm) in Charleston. I’m glad I got to live in West Virginia’s capital city, and I enjoyed my time there. Most of my student days, I didn’t have a car on campus, so it was a real treat to eat out (on those rare times when I had enough cash), which is why these restaurants have such good memories. If I had to pick a favorite, though, it would have to be the Southern Kitchen. I’m sad it is no longer in business.

Hopefully, a lot of my former classmates will join me on the riverbank the last weekend in April for the big UC Alumni gathering and we can reminisce on the good old days!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

TV Sports

Angelo Dundee died on February 1. Many younger folks may not know this famous boxing trainer who worked with Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and others. I was never a huge boxing fan, but I am from the ABC Wide World of Sports generation—not the ESPN era.

Back in the old days, I eagerly awaited Saturday afternoon to see what kind of sports Jim McKay and others would bring to me. Today there is a plethora of sports viewing options, but back then we were dependent on what diverse sport was to be shown that week. It might be boxing, ice skating, track and field, the Globetrotters, ski jumping (“…and the agony of defeat…”—those who watched the intro each week know of what I speak), motorsports (my personal favorite), or some other choice from this smorgasbord of sports.

As such, I think it was easier back then to be a sports generalist than a sports specialist. Even if I wasn’t a big boxing fan, I still had a rudimentary knowledge of boxing and virtually all other sports. These days, with so many sports being televised on ESPN and other outlets, it is too inviting just to focus on the ones you are familiar with. If ESPN is showing college lacrosse and you are not interested, simply flip the channel to find something you like. It was a lot harder to flip the channel (which back in the old days, meant actually getting up out of your chair and walking to the TV set) when there was only ABC, NBC, and CBS.

So back in the old days, if one segment of Wide World of Sports was lacrosse (or the lumberjack contests, or the Oxford-Cambridge crew race, or billiards, or whatever), you watched and learned about it. The wonderful announcers employed by Wide World of Sports (Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, etc.) were good teachers! Plus, they always used excellent specialists for some sports, like Dick Button for ice skating and my hero Chris Economaki (the editor for National Speed Sport News—see for auto racing.

By the way, I can still remember the first time I ever watched ESPN. I was in someone’s dorm room at UC my senior year, and they were showing an old Notre Dame football game. It included a running back named Rocky Bleier, who had gone on to make a name for himself (after serving in Vietnam) with the Steelers. However, this example points out that early in their existence, ESPN was desperate for content to show on a 24 hour sports network, because Bleier had graduated from Notre Dame in 1968. So it was a college game that was over ten years old that they were re-broadcasting. Now, ESPN has so much high quality content, they have multiple networks plus internet feeds!

It is beneficial for me to be able in today’s world to watch nearly all the WVU Mountaineer football and basketball games—it certainly wasn’t that way when I was growing up (or even into young adulthood). Younger folks today don’t realize what a big thing it was for a Mountaineer game to be televised in the old days (see my previous essay that touches on the 1975 Pitt-WVU game at The same can be said for auto racing, which (until ESPN came along) was rarely on television. ESPN’s original auto racing broadcasts were based at the half-mile paved oval in Indianapolis—just a regular weekly sprint and midget track. Until 1979, the only way to see the Daytona 500 live was to attend a closed circuit television viewing. Dad, my uncle, and I drove all the way to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio, just to watch the 1971 “Great American Race” projected on a huge movie theater screen via closed circuit television.

One of the problems with the proliferation of sports programming is that folks are more apt to stay home to watch sports, rather than attending a local sports. People seem to identify more these days with national sports than local sports. This has adversely affected high school and small college sports, as well as weekly local auto racing tracks. Before I graduated from the University of Charleston, the small colleges in West Virginia had rabid fans, because they provided important entertainment, especially in small towns like Glenville, Phillipi, Buckhannon, etc. The annual WVIAC basketball tournament filled the Charleston Civic Center back then—but not so much anymore. There was a good book written several years ago entitled “Bowling Alone” (instead of participating in bowling leagues) that talked about the decline of American communities and social interaction as a result of technological advances.

To be truthful, I had not thought of Angelo Dundee for a long time. However, just about four weeks ago, his name came up to me again. We were at Miami Beach doing a tour on Segways before heading to the Orange Bowl game that night. Anna and I are quite accomplished on Segways, and we were the only customers on that tour, so it was running way ahead of the time allotted for the normal South Beach tour. Our two-wheeled tour guide asked us if we wanted to visit Angelo Dundee’s gym—which we did. Normally this is not part of the tour, and it was a few blocks back from the beach area, but the tour guide made an exception for us. It was full of memorabilia from his glory days. I’m glad I got the chance to visit.

One interesting tidbit I learned that day was in the 1960s, Muhammed Ali couldn’t stay in a hotel on Miami Beach because blacks were not welcome. So when he came to train at Dundee’s gym, he had to stay on the mainland in Miami. He would run every day across the long causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach. He got a workout just getting to his workout!

Dundee was a very talented trainer, and I am glad I got to throw a few punches in his gym. R.I.P. Angelo!