Archive for August, 2007
My personal experience with the world of exotica came at a very tender age. The Polynesian craze which was popular in the late 50’s and early 60’s touched even my small Texas city. The Tiki Club at the Tradewinds Motel provided adults with an escape from the pressures of everyday suburban life.
The Tiki Club was part of the motel restaurant and had a very foreboding and dark entrance. As a young child I wondered exactly what kind of mysterious and wonderful club the adults had devised “in there”. I knew it had to be really cool because they were given little plastic animals to put on the sides of their drinks. Many of my intrusions into the alcohol laced adult world of the time were based on the aquisition of these colorful little animals. Not only was the Tiki Club one of my targets, I was even run out of the Officer’s Club at Kirtland AFB as well! Well, I just had to have a red plastic monkey or an orange giraffe, so I decided to venture into this forbidden zone. Much like a spelunker I cautiously marched into the dark cavernous entranceway into the Tiki Club. After just a few feet inside I suddenly came face to face with a huge carved tiki god with menacing ruby eyes that reflected the dim light. Needless to say, I froze in terror! After a brief staredown with this wooden sentinel, I decided to beat a hasty retreat back into the restaurant only to hear the roar of laughter by the adults seated there. This club wasn’t in any danger of being invaded by kids on this day! The tiki totem had done its duty, the gods were appeased, and life went on.
The 1960’s Patio Culture coincided with one of the most prosperous times in American history. Despite the expenditures involved in running a Cold War globally, and a hot one in Vietnam, the U.S. provided ample opportunity for a prosperous middle class to thrive. Couples could build families on blue collar wages, and as often the case, spoil them. Kids reared during the Patio Culture Era were often showered with materialistic goods usually in the form of toys. However, this newfound materialism was often tempered with the traditional childhood imagination exhibited by their parents from the Depression Era. A shiny new toy was often supplemented by a homemade one, and plain old sticks were always perennial favorites. Just like their parents, kids embarked on exciting outdoor adventures in and around the neighborhood…only they were better equipped!
Perhaps the biggest school fad toy of the 1960’s, clackers are an excellent example. A simple, primitive design constructed out of space-age polymers; both old and new at the same time. Basically, this testicular looking device consisted of two colored acrylic cast balls connected with a cord with the object being the ability to hit (clack) them back and forth. The timeless simplicity of the design harkened back to the time when similiar devices, bolos, were used by early humans for hunting. If used improperly, both could be equally devastating. Once a kid gained sufficient skill to “clack” his clackers for a sustained amount of time, he would instantly gain status in the kid world. Trouble is clackers could be manufactured in various qualities and sometimes they were known to shatter sending acrylic shards all over the place. Case in point are the clackers I can remember being sold locally at Wacker’s Dime Store. They were not labeled with safety warnings…they were not even packaged. They were sold from a big pile that the kids would rummage through to find just the right color, often creating massive tangles in the cords. I’m sure entrepreneurs used Clear Cast (acrylic kit responsible for tacky homemade paperweights) to cash in on the fad. Needless to say, the tendency to shatter and their more obvious use as a weapon sent this toy to the graveyard of memorable 1960’s toys.
I still say kids these days have missed out on a lot when it comes to experiencing classic American cuisine. Oh OK…I’m talking about fast food. But, there is a distinct difference in what you get in the drive-thru today, and the offerings of the vintage mom and pop burger joints and small regional chains of the past. Although we didn’t think about it in these terms back then, I would speculate that the development of retro fast food was determined more in the kitchen than in the boardroom. Think about it.
One of the most memorable places was Griff’s Burger Bar. These hamburgers are probably the only reason why many people today are alive! At a dime a pop, they could feed an entire family with change left over to buy fries and a shake. Griff’s Burger Bar, and other regional chains like it, thrived before the age of the behemoth fast food restaurant corporations that we see today. Griff’s back then was housed in an A-frame type structure with a boxed in dining room at the front. As a small child I tried and tried to scale the sides of the A-frame but 2-3 feet was all I could manage before sliding down. The good news is that Griff’s is still around! While not any serious threat to the McDonald’s of the world, Griff’s still puts out burgers and fries that tastes like the real deal instead of the product of zealous corporate consistentency.
Another old standby was K and N Root Beer! This modest little chain produced what seemed like the perfect cure for a sweltering hot Texas summer…ice cold K and N root beer served in a real frosted glass mug! Root beer mugs came in several sizes but the tiny kid’s mug stands in my memory. Once a kid’s raging thirst was quenched, the smell of burgers and fries wafting throught the air started to garner some attention. All you had to do was order what you want off the big menu board in the middle of the building and someone would bring it to you on a bright orange tray! Now, most all people where I live prefer a heavy dose of mustard and fresh onion on their burger. I probably picked up this preference at the local mom and pop burger stands and at the K and N. As the teenage years came upon us, we found ourselves pulling into the K and N in our own cars having long since graduated from the tiny mug to the adult size. Pretty soon we were complicit in the demise of these places as we were swept up by corporate eats like Jack-in-the-Box and Sonic. Much like Griff’s, this regional chain is practically gone. A Google search produced only and handful of K and N drive-ins in Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee
If an occasion warranted a really special fast food treat, we would go to Ozark Fried Chicken. Long gone, this small chain sported green and white striped rooftops on their restaurants which predated the famaliar red and white pattern used by Kentucky Fried Chicken. The branding for this place was probably not too successful since it incorporated a logo of a woman wearing and old-style bonnet…not too groovy for the swinging 60’s!
Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, Mr. Peppermint, Icky Twerp…screech!!! Icky Twerp? Icky was different. Slam Bang Theatre was different. Not better, not worse just…different! Gone was the candy sweetness which
typified the live kid shows of the era. Instead, SBT portrayed an almost Vaudvillian brand of slap stick reminiscent of the Three Stooges. Slam Bang Theatre aired mornings & afternoons in all if its live black & white glory on KTVT-TV Channel 11 (“Live-ly 11” from Ft. Worth, Texas) from the late 50’s until the early 70’s. The name and theme music lived on until much later but there was no live action “drama”, just cartoons.
Icky Twerp experiences fine dining at the “Toemain Palace”, years ahead of Anthony Bourdain!
With him in his run-down television abode were his ape-faced pals Ajax, Delphinium and Arkadelphia who were always fighting over some trivial matter or getting into some kind of trouble. Fortunately Icky would always straighten them out in time for the next cartoon.
Sometimes he and his pals would be civil enough to play together in the Slam Bang Theatre Orchestra which was usually organized mayhem with “Nairobi Trio” undertones. As sidekicks go, these guys were more readily identified with than the “cutesy” sidekicks of other kid shows.
Cartoon favorites on SBT included Felix the Cat, the original Hercules and Popeye The Sailor (the original high quality 50’s version and the cheaper, but patio, Al Brodax version).
Slam Bang Theatre also introduced my generation to the Three Stooges which luckily has been perserved via the small screen. Produced during the 30’s and 40’s as theater short, the Three Stooges was revived by television and are still going strong today. Politically incorrect as the stooges were, they seemed to fit in with the overall SBT theme. One writer fondly remembered that at an early age he thought the Three Stooges were actually Icky Twerp’s home movies! I would take that as a compliment.
In the decades following World War II, the population of the United States underwent a massive migration to the suburbs. The society which became the “Patio Culture” of the 1950’s and 1960’s has been the subject of much criticism from intellectuals and social scientists both then and now. Much of the criticism can be attributed to the mind set of the critics themselves, which could be considered apathetic to the conditions of the middle class. While many of the social problems that the critics so poignantly singled out did, in fact, exist, they often did not manifest themselves to the extent that was claimed, and they were also simultaneously taking place outside of suburbia as well.
What ever happened to the Goat Man? Recently, I was telling some kids about my childhood adventures in the woods behind our subdivision. During the late 60’s and early 70’s there were mysterious rumors of cattle mutilations in our area. Our local kid folklore dictated that these deeds must have been the work of the Goat Man, a half-man, half-goat creature that supposedly roamed the woods looking for fresh beef on the hoof (or maybe even a kid). Needless to say, if we found ourselves in the woods as darkness began to fall, we made a beeline for the security of the city street lights.
Once, we got brave and decided to make a torchlight expedition into the woods to catch a glimpse of the Goat Man…at night! My scouting experience equipped me with the knowledge of how to make the torches, so we decided to give it a go. As the sun went down, we began soaking our torches in kerosene. Soon after, we lit them and proceeded into the dark woods.
We were familiar with the first band of trees that followed along a creek, so we weren’t too scared at first. This opened onto a big plowed field, which soon turned into another band of trees. We had never been that far before and these woods were quite unfamiliar. On top of that they were mostly ugly, snarling, scary bois d’ arc (horse apple) trees…the kind that an impressionable mind would form into macabre shapes if given half a chance. You know the kind of place…real Sleepy Hollow stuff. It was about that time that the first torch flickered and went dark. We began debating if we should be heading home when the second torch flickered out leaving us with only one torch lit. That settled it! As we made our way back towards the open field the last torch began its slow death flicker and then unceremoniously went out. When I noticed the rest of the group passing me at a full run, I thought it would be a good time to also beat a hasty retreat. After all, the Goat Man was on the loose and I’m sure he was hungry! As we all started to get winded, my friend Dan and I slowed down to catch our breath. It was at that point that we noticed a strange form moving towards us. The silhouetted shape was quite unfamiliar and clumsily continued its relentless advance. We were frozen with terror as the dark shape came right up to us…it was at that time we heard a reassuring…moooo! We were instantly calmed when we realized that our would-be assailant wasn’t half-man or half-goat…but all cow! Still, the woods were dark, and the real Goat Man might spy us standing next to this bovine delicacy, so we continued our advance towards the city.
As we crossed the first city street, we all decided to go straight home and leave daring midnight explorations to the professionals. The Goat Man was in no danger of being exposed any time soon, at least by this band of weary suburban commandos!