Monday, December 21, 2015

Aerial Shot of Adolescence: Wheaton, 1975

Google Maps and Street View and their competitors may have put printed maps to bed, but sometimes an old photo can hold more wonders than the digital domain. In the Washington Post I came across the above photo of downtown Wheaton, Maryland from 1975, and if you squint really hard you can see me—right there between HIGH'S and Wheaton Pharmacy in the Wheaton Shopping Center, which was basically two blocks of stores. (The giant black arrow points to a site mentioned in the article.) If I'm not actually there, I'm there in spirit. This photo captures the town I grew up in in loving, grainy detail: you're looking east down University Boulevard at the intersection of University and Georgia Avenues, a couple of blocks from the house on Amherst Avenue in which I lived until I was twenty-two (my house is behind the apartments, at the top of the photo). In the center of the image is Anchor Inn, a seafood restaurant that stood for decades; across the street is the IHOP, still there, amazingly. Just out of the frame to the right is the Wheaton Newsstand, a regular, beloved stop on my allowance walk, and long-gone, the kind of musty, narrow candy, magazine and newspaper store that's vanished from the American landscape.

You've indulged me long enough. Here's an excerpt from "34 of 86 Stories" which ran in Passages North this year, a piece I dedicated to Alfred Kazin who wrote A Walker In The City, one of my favorite books. I take some measure of my own, dearly-held adolescent walks through my hometown; some locations appear in this photo. It's nice to have as a document against my fading memory.
Into Wheaton Newsstand with its two, narrow, dimly-lit aisles and aromatic blend of cut-rate cigars, Farmer’s Almanacs, and baseball cards, across busy Georgia Avenue and a stroll down the alley to Barbarian Bookstore where I’d devour a Mack Bolan Executioner novel (while keeping an eye out for the store owner—when he’d duck away I’d fearfully check out the stack of 1960s and ’70s Playboy and Penthouse magazines), peek above the rush of traffic on Viers Mill Road toward Wheaton Plaza, head back to High’s for a cherry or a raspberry Slush Puppie and sit on the low-brick wall along Hickerson Drive and slowly, deliciously open a three-pack of Topps baseball cards, then head next door to Planter’s Peanuts to gawk at the rows of chocolates and peanut brittle and adult-only gag gifts, stroll the comic book and gift aisles of Wheaton Pharmacy, avoiding the school supplies, and, heading back home, throw a nervous side-glance into Rose’s, the shadowy old-man bar at Amherst and University, while listening happily for the dings chimed by the cars rolling over the black hoses at the Shell gas station across the street. I was heady with the aroma of oil and gasoline which brought back family trips to far-away, exotic Ohio and the rest stops where we’d eat a packed lunch on picnic tables next to the rumble of idling eighteen-wheelers and the distant roar of Interstate 70. Maps and legends. An expedition. An afternoon.

5 comments:

bob paton said...

Joe, this is fantastic and completely nails my experience at the same time frame at Ralph's Trophy/Cigar/Newsstand in Dekalb where we always went when visiting the grandparents. If I could bottle that smell of newsprint, tobacco and old wooden floors I'd be a happy guy.

Joe Bonomo said...

Yes! Ralph's was virtually identical to the Wheaton Newsstand. I used to love going in for that very reason. A shame that it's gone.

Anonymous said...

I used to buy records at Roadhouse Oldies which I think was in Wheaton, a bit of a hike for me coming up from Annandale. I listened to WDON in the early seventies (where I first heard Elvis' Sun material) and then WHFS for rockabilly, punk, wave and other cool sounds. I remember that year, 1975 well. I was fifteen then.

Joe Bonomo said...

Hey anon, I don't reemmeber Roundhouse. There was Backstreet Records in Wheaton Triangle, and of course the original Kemp Mill (in Kemp Mill!).

'HFS was the best. Truly formative for me. I've written about it elsewhere on this site.

Patrick McGrath said...

At the very bottom right, the sign for the original Jerry's Sub Shop. I grew up about a mile north of here on Veirs Mill Road.

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