By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Sometimes I wish we could just turn back the clock in Stevens Point. I wish we could go back to the way things used to be.
For instance, I used to be a school crossing guard in sixth grade at St. Stephens. Even though it paid nothing, that was probably the best “job” I ever had. I got to wear a big yellow belt, and the crossing duty gave me power. In fact, lots of power.
You see, for the half hour or so each day that I was stationed on that corner, I was totally in charge. It was my corner. It didn’t matter who else was on that corner. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could cross the street until I said so. If you wanted to cross, you didn’t make a move until I gave the okay. You could be a classmate, teacher, long-lost cousin, kid just walking down the sidewalk, or the mayor. I didn’t care. You waited for me to give you the go-ahead. If I didn’t give it, you didn’t cross.
That’s power. If you seemed ready to walk into the street, I’d look sharply to the left. All clear there. Then glance to the right. Looks pretty good. I might even take a peek behind me. If the coast was clear, I’d tell you to proceed.
Don’t mean to brag, but not a single person ever got hit by a moving vehicle upon leaving my corner. Not one. 100% success rate. The crazy thing was, nobody ever complained. Not once. I never heard, “So what are you gonna do if I cross? Call the cops? Hit me with a baseball bat?”
Back then, people respected authority, and since I was the one wearing that big yellow belt, I got the respect. If I saw a kid jaywalking, I’d be sure to let the child know that he or she wasn’t pulling a fast one on me. Nothing got past Shoe the Crossing Guard.
I would politely call the kid over the next day and say something like, “Listen buster, if you can’t wait for my signal, then go find another corner. I might win a brand new bike if I do a good job here, so you better not screw it up. Got that?”
Every once in a while, a kid or old lady might take their good sweet time crossing the street. I would yell, “Hey! Get a move on there! A car’s coming! It’s only a block away, speed it up!”
Nobody messed around on my corner. And I never did win the bike. It upsets me to this day.
I long for the day when kids would walk into the Elk’s Lodge with their parents and the first thing you noticed was the strong smell of cigar smoke. That aroma was great. One also noticed the thick cigar smoke fragrance upon entering Wanta’s Bowling Lanes. You knew you were somewhere special where people liked to gather. You could bowl a game, smell the cigars, eat a “Big Ern” hot beef sandwich… ah, nobody had a care in the world.
A kid could go to the Fox Theatre on Saturday afternoon and head straight for the upstairs balcony. Then, with the bats flying overhead, you could look down and flip Jujubes at all the girls down below. We never paid a dime for a movie. We always slipped in from a side door that was never locked. The owners probably knew we were doing it but figured we’d still spend our paper-delivery money on popcorn and candy, and we always did. Also, the Fox used to bring in a little guy in a uniform named “Major Eddie”, and at halftime, Ed would stand up on the stage and draw tickets for a free pogo stick. Never did win one.
If you saw the same movie for three straight weeks, you might try the Lyric next. But the Fox always came first.
A kid could walk around for hours in Woolworth’s or Tempo.
If you wanted to buy comic books, you went to Roska Pharmacy or Overlook.
I liked to buy Starting Lineup figurines at ShopKo or Target. Those places still exist, but Kenner Starting Lineups came to an end in the mid 90s. And boy, don’t get me started about those fantastic Hartland Plastic figurines one could get at Toyland for $1.98.
Whatever happened to the days when you could buy a burger at Robby’s for 15 cents? What about those small red boxes of “Snaps”? Gone are the days when kids used to race go-carts down Elk Street Hill.
One year, my biggest thrill was mailing in a quarter and a coupon and Planter’s would mail back a plastic “Mr. Peanut.” And my neighbor Jim always used to brag about his official Roy Rogers lunch box.
Dylan was right. The times they are a changin’. Do kids even do “sleepovers” any more? Your buddy would put up a tent in his backyard and invite everyone over for a “sleepover”. About the only thing you never did was actually sleep. The gang would walk around town at night blowing off firecrackers or “borrowing” a watermelon from the neighbor lady’s garden.
I don’t see kids building forts like we used to. Treehouses seem to be lost over time. “Hide & Seek” isn’t for the youth of today.
We used to go watch the feature races at Golden Sands, and Dick Trickle always won. A stamp cost four cents, you could see a polka at the Ritz, and you had to “keep it down” in the public library. Weddings at Skipps were a must. Gone are the days when all the kids would play football on Elk Street. Fred Sprouse’s house and Tommy Jensen’s house were out of bounds. My buddy Billy once ran out for a long pass and knocked himself out on a fire hydrant. Everything was delicious at the Point Bakery. We kids would go across the street to Nick Meronek’s backyard and watch Nick hit a rubber ball high up into the clouds. Nobody ever caught one. You got dizzy waiting for it to come down.
Soda pop machines were everywhere. Cost a dime and later a quarter. Normington’s had one. Another was in front of Sports Specialties on Second Street. There was one outside at Cigel’s. Rudnick’s had one, and so did the lobby of the Rec Center. Same with lake Pacawa.
Back in the day, you were rich if you had a doorbell.
Frank & Ernie’s had those delicious “All you can eat” fish fries on Fridays.
Several of the neighborhood kids liked to go fishing in the Wisconsin River about three blocks from the courthouse. You usually caught bullheads (not Rick Koehler) or Northerns. One time, I caught a fish that was so ugly it made a carp look good. Turned out it was a dogfish. A freekin’ dogfish. You couldn’t eat it. Certainly weren’t gonna mount it. So what do you do with something like that? Well, I buried it in the backyard and planted grass on top of it. In a month, that grass was a foot high…it blew my mind.
Just remember, these were times in Stevens Point when you could buy a “Chunky” bar (milk chocolate, raisins, and peanuts), and some people actually read encyclopedias.
As always, it was fun taking another trip down memory lane, and please remember one more thing. If you’re at a street corner and you come to a little boy or girl standing as a crossing guard, don’t cross until they say you can go. They might have a bike depending on it.