Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Fading Memories

The house I grew up in - my parents bought it in 1949 for $8,500
Except in my memory, the infrastructure of my childhood has largely disappeared.

All three schools I attended in Johnson City NY - Theodore Roosevelt elementary, C Fred Johnson junior high, and JCHS on Main Street - long ago ceased to function as educational institutions. In fact, the new high school opened the year after I graduated. TR has been replaced by an apartment building, CFJ is converted to Campus Square (housing for students), and the high school building houses a mishmash of marginal businesses.
The Johnson City High School I attended in the late 60s
The ballfield where I first tried out for Little League has been replaced by a rehab center. Philadelphia Sales, a precursor to WalMart and Dollar Stores, which I used to walk through enroute to junior high and high school, has been torn down and is a parking lot. The hole-in-the-wall cafe which served as the de facto HS cafeteria, where I waited tables for a short time (fired for eating too much one day) and became a prolific pinball player ... now a coin shop.
Training ground for a pinball wizard
High Score bowling lanes, our team's home, houses boutique shops with no apparent customers. The huge community pool, also named for C Fred, is now the site for the local newspaper (which I wrote for in my HS and college days). The Pavilion which staged many dances - now the location of a Visions credit union office (where I was marketing director in the late 70s). My grandfather's neighborhood grocery store - razed. Mr. Yoggi's basement barber shop next door - closed. Johnson Field, home of the minor league baseball Triplets, a Yankee franchise, and our Wildcat football games, was obliterated by a highway.
Loved to sit in the 3rd base bleachers at Johnson Field, glove ready to catch foul balls.
Perhaps the saddest site / sight - the IBM Country Club, where I spent most of my non-school time for several years (swimming, baseball, bowling, basketball, golfing, eating) is a decaying shell.
The sad, sad demise of my beloved IBM Country Club
When Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again," he may have meant that the home you knew growing up has changed while you were gone ... and you've changed too.
The original traffic circle was so large we tried to establish a neighborhood baseball field - but were chased out by the cops
Nonetheless, a few of my personal touchstones are still intact. The house I grew up in. A reduced and re-routed version of the traffic circle nearby. The Floral Avenue grocery store where I perfected my baseball playing cards skills (and trashed an extensive collection before we knew they could be valuable collectors items).  
The Floral Avenue park softball field, where a 300-pound guy once barreled into me at home plate in an attempt to knock the ball loose. He knocked me head over heels into the backstop ... but I held onto the ball.
What we knew as Greenfield, path to Little League glory
The Little League baseball field where I made all-stars, and we nearly made it to the LL World Series in Williamsport. 
Wonderful chocolate cream pies
The Red Robin Diner, our high school hangout. 
Spiedie heaven
Lupo's Char Pit, where I cooked and got hooked on spiedies. The Polar Shot golf driving range, which was Tony Macek's when I was becoming a player.
At least the golf course is still there - this was the original 18th hole
The 18-hole IBM championship golf course is intact, now part of the Traditions resort, but the 9-hole Homestead course where I traipsed the hills for as many as 54 holes in a day was ruined by a flood-control project and is reduced to a "foot golf" novelty.

Driving around to these once-familiar sites while visiting for Thanksgiving, I was struck by how much smaller the village of Johnson City seems compared with when I was a lad. It took only an hour or so to drive to all of these, and some of that was shopper traffic around the mall (which was not there during my childhood). There are also a lot fewer trees; most streets used to be tunnels of foliage. Downtown is a wasteland - with the exception of the UHS hospital complex that continues to expand (but pays no taxes).
Without the UHS hospital complex, nearly a ghost town
Across the river, Vestal is somewhat more prosperous, thanks to Binghamton University. Endicott, down the road, is as well, though the once 10,000-strong IBM workforce has disappeared. The larger city of Binghamton on the east side has struggled as well. 

Johnson City is no longer the idyllic place to raise a family as created by the Johnsons of benevolent Endicott-Johnson shoes (since shifted overseas). The innocence of my youth has been supplanted by a depressing hard edge. 

I'm glad I grew up in the Johnson City of the 50s and 60s. But that Johnson City is long gone.

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