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Entries in Nostalgia (73)

Tuesday
Dec042012

Schwab's Pharmacy

“After that, I drove down to headquarters. That’s the way a lot of us think about Schwab’s. Kind of a combination office, coffee klatch and waiting room. Waiting, waiting for the gravy train.”
-William Holden as screenwriter Joe Gillis, upon facing rejection in the major motion picture Sunset Boulevard

When most of us envision a pharmacy, we recall aisles upon aisles of magic weight loss pills and periodicals, a blood pressure machine, cheap plastic toys and lines queued with the elderly. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, one particular drug store was the center of Hollywood. Simply, it was headquarters.

Schwab’s Pharmacy was its own monster. Tinsel town legend dictates that gorgeous sweater queen Lana Turner was discovered here. This tale is one in a million. 8024 Sunset Boulevard was a who’s who of industry players, a venue to fill prescriptions, grab an ice cream cone, feast on a light dinner, and solidify blockbuster deals that would lead to cinema gold. On any given night, a trip to pick up aspirin for that nagging headache would yield a glimpse at the likes of Judy Garland, Ronald Reagan, and the Marx Brothers talking shop. Charlie Chaplin was a notorious pinball machine hustler, while future leading lady Ava Gardner poured sodas behind the counter for the entertainment elite. The titanic film “The Wizard of Oz” might have gone down in the annals of motion picture history as an also ran if not for the enigmatic anthem “Somewhere over the Rainbow”-quickly composed on the famous countertops of Schwab’s Pharmacy. F.Scott Fitzgerald suffered a heart attack (fortunately amidst a plethora of meds) inside the pharmacy’s hallowed walls, and Marilyn Monroe fed a grandiose appetite for pills though the pharmacist/chefs of Schwab’s.

The behind the scenes brass, arguably more important than their fresh faced and replaceable talents for hire, brokered some of cinema’s greatest collaborations over Coca Cola floats and cheeseburgers. The magical building was the last of its kind, a convergence of wanna be’s, has been’s, and current stars. It was a place where a misplaced drama club performer from a small town in Iowa could light Mickey Rooney’s Lucky Strike, where James Dean might seek the opinion of a stock boy strategically placing industry rags near the checkout lane.

8024 Sunset has been demolished and rebuilt several times, reborn as a multiplex and a shopping center to name a few. Nothing has lived up to the iconoclast known as Schwab’s Pharmacy, but it is not their fault, as nothing possibly could. Hollywood collectors treasure many things; Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, Rocky Balboa’s American flag inspired trunks, Luke Skywalker’s light saber- magnificent, all, yet none can touch the almost biblical rolodex that once was within the grasp of a teenaged soda jerk at Schwab’s.

Thursday
Nov012012

700 WLW - The Nation's Station 

Satellite radio is not a bad thing.

Without technology, this article might have been written on a typewriter, which admittedly, I’ve long forgotten how to do. But there is an inherent charm to doing things the way they were originally meant to be done. And while orbiting satellites outside of the Earth’s surface are an impressive way to listen to the radio, one terrestrial king has been transmitting waves like a tsunami across the country (and world) since the days the automobile was still a modern curiosity.

There is a reason they call it “The Big One”. 700 WLW is the biggest of them all.

Also known as “The Nation’s Station”, what is now essentially a radio dynasty owes its foundation to innovative Cincinnatian Powel Crosley, Jr. Crosley was an eccentric type who, at any given time, partially owned: the Cincinnati Reds, a refrigeration business, an aptly named Crosmobile, and a number of investments in then-cutting edge advancements. In 1921, WLW began as a series of 20-watt tests; by 1928, the behemoth was complete, operating at the maximum-allowed 50 kilowatts. This meant that localized radio was instantly archaic; 700 WLW was easily heard over a vast area, covering Florida to New York (and as far as Hawaii). It was quite a pressing issue at the time, especially given the pre-television reliance on radio-imagine waking up in Tallahassee to weather reports of a blizzard in Cincinnati.

Crosley wasn’t satisfied with this unprecedented achievement, and in 1934, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt pressed a ceremonial button, 500 kilowatts were unleashed to the listening world. Complaints about the overpowering signal came from as far as Toronto (leave it to a Canadian to spoil the fun, eh?) and the FCC introduced broadcasting regulations due to WLW’s dominance. In a display of American pride, however, WLW amped up the wattage a few times in WWII to send special messages to our troops-literally an imposing statement that rattled the Germans.

Today 700 WLW operates at a whopping 50,000 watts and the station’s impact is fueled by personalities as large as its reach (38 states, much of Canada). All content is locally created. Notable alums include Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels. Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame once worked for “The Big One”, and a few nationally syndicated programs emanate from the station, such as America’s Trucking Network and Live on Sunday Night. The host of the latter, Bill Cunningham, is a regular on FOX News as well as the television host of a national daytime talk show. Occasional personality Eric Deters, a renowned attorney, was recently featured on Dateline NBC and sports fans certainly need no reminder of Al Michaels’ imprint over some of the most important athletic events of our lifetime.

One needs not travel to space to make a universal impact. For “The Nation’s Station” 700 WLW, a little American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit have driven them to be the standard bearer of radio for nearly a century. Besides, should former WLW talent Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone vision of an alien invasion prove true one day, the first thing to go will be those satellites.

Tuesday
Oct092012

Dixon Ticonderoga

When tasked to name a favorite grade school feast, many might cite tater tots or johnny marzetti. Some might recall the tantalizing aroma of tacos as the cafeteria line moved at an excruciatingly slow pace. Still others might fondly reminisce of the wonderment that was Pizza Friday. But if honesty is the best policy, let’s indeed be honest; we chewed on nothing as often as we nibbled on our whittled down, trusted yellow number two pencil.

As did our father and his father and infinitely down the family tree. And the best odds are that the incisor-indented writing tool in our collective adolescent mouths came from Dixon Ticonderoga.

Based now in Florida, the office, school and art supply company was originally founded in 19th century Jersey City. Named after graphite mine magnate Joseph Dixon and New York battleground Fort Ticonderoga, the company has served as the go-to medium of communication, art and scholastics since its inception (“You can’t erase pen ink”, the teacher always said). While online text seems to reign these days, it is impossible to tally Dixon Ticonderoga’s importance over the years. Important correspondence, be it lamenting love letters from two souls separated by war, or a scholarly revelation of math or science, following hours of trial and error, the simple pencil has been both the background and forefront of personal and global history. Before technology made us lazy, a Dixon Ticonderoga made us earn it.

These days the legacy lives on. There is a charm to the DIY factor of life, and it is a model that we have all followed at some point, as will our kids, thanks to the Dixon Ticonderoga. Just remember the cardinal rule: never chew the metallic eraser holder. It’s hell on the teeth.

Friday
Sep072012

Tom Bodett: an American Voice  

His jingle for Motel 6, “We’ll leave the light on for you,” is one of the more recognizable, and long lived ad campaigns in existence. Tom Bodett’s voice speaks of American sensibility – an honest, no nonsense tone telling a tale of how it really is –the subtle inflection and timbre threading into the fabric of a national essence, and has become an American treasure of sorts. Of course, he’d probably downplay that. How he got there is no surprise. The Michigan native credits his father, Peter, “who had an exceptionally dry and sarcastic wit,” as the origin of his own delivery. “Not everyone found him to be funny,” he adds, “but obviously, one of his sons found it funny enough to imitate.” Tom found himself drawn to writing – to storytelling, and writing and radio were, as he describes, “natural extensions” of that practice. “I tend to pick projects that interest me and then stop... when they don't interest me anymore,” he writes. That authenticity permeates his work.

His coming of age period began in his early 20’s as a cross country trek took him to the frontier world of Alaska – that untamed bastion of wilderness and grit that has forged the likes of Jack London, and ill fated adventurer of Into the Wild fame, Chris McCandless. Bold images of gold nuggets in wooden sluice boxes, mukluks, huskies hauling sleds – rugged and real – all come to mind. “Alaska is in almost every way the place where I grew up – even thought I didn't get there until I was 21,” Bodett says. He remained there for some twenty five years, forging lifelong friendships, and establishing his voices of both written and spoken word. Now living with this family in Dummerston, Vermont, a rural community in the more geographically connected region of New England, Bodett still remembers Alaska as a place of “jaw dropping beauty,” but fraught with the thing that paradoxically makes it so appealing – the distance.

Working in construction in Alaska, Bodett decided to hunker down and continue his writing – churning out an article for the Anchorage Daily News on a typewriter. To his surprise they published it, and his self effacing, from the hip take on things drew the attention of a local public radio host, who invited Tom on his show. One thing led to another: parlaying the success into an NPR spot, and from there the Motel 6 ad campaign.

Bodett also had a role in the mid nineties Steven Spielberg creation Animaniacs. When discussing his work on the show, Tom described it as: “The most fun I ever got paid for.” He would occasionally record in his Alaska studio, or sometimes travel to Los Angeles for work on the animated series. “It was a room full of grown-ups who make cartoons for a living. We laughed a lot,” he adds. That earnest take on the project – the humble, yet bull’s-eye perspective on things carves to the essence of Bodett’s career. The segment Good Idea/Bad Idea showcased Tom’s almost laconic delivery as a hypothetical “good idea” was juxtaposed with a corresponding “bad idea.” The intro to the recurring bit featured conspicuously, the “o” letters in “good,” and the “i” of “bad idea” as pull string light bulbs being turned on – nodding to the cultural gravitas of Bodett’s almost canonical ad work with Motel 6.

Tom continues to be a contributor on NPR, an enterprise that first landed him the Motel 6 gig in the mid 1980’s, and a venue that forces him to “watch my grammar,” with an audience that “keeps you on your toes.” His humility is apparent. Bodett’s sincerity comes through in his voice, both written and spoken, and in many ways, he speaks for America.

Saturday
Jul282012

Gleason’s Gym

In Brooklyn there is a simple gym with a simple sign. From the poet Virgil it reads: “Now whoever has courage, and a strong and collected spirit in his breast, let him come forth, lace up his gloves, and put up his hands.”

Gleason's, a boxing gym brushing against the Brooklyn waterfront, has had more than its share of warriors lace up their gloves. Since its inception in the Bronx in 1937, Gleason’s has served as a gym and virtual hall of fame for the sweet science. In the annals of boxing, nearly every iconic moment seems to share DNA with the gritty Gotham training grounds. From “The Raging Bull” Jake LaMotta and his celebrity status, the tragic final rounds of Benny “Kid” Paret or the mystifying displays of championship drive from Roberto Duran, Gleason’s Gym was a home away from the ring. The early development of an enigma named “Iron” Mike Tyson was born amongst the aged, worn speed bags of the gym; Gerry Cooney spilled his infamous blood on Gleason’s floors, joining the plasma of thousands of others. And before his legendary knockout pose, before he ever towered over a defeated Sonny Liston in all of his boisterous bravado, a young Cassius Clay and his buckets of sweat could be found in a corner, slugging away at a heavy bag for the millionth time.

Image J.Merson

The gym was founded by Peter Gagliardi, a onetime welterweight who changed his name to Bobby Gleason in an effort to appeal to the Irish community that surrounded him. It made a brief stop in Manhattan before reaching its final Brooklyn residence. Gleason's is now owned by Bruce Silverglade, and remains a throwback to an era where boxing belonged to the Big Apple and Madison Square Garden, though these days it is a common sight to witness accountants and bus drivers plugging away alongside Olympic hopefuls and championship contenders.

And next to all of them are ghosts, dancing in the shadows, bobbing and weaving eternally in boxer heaven.

Saturday
Jul282012

Sideshow Sign Co.

Luke Stockdale is perhaps more important to letters than the alphabet.

Maybe that’s a stretch. But the man behind Nashville’s Sideshow Sign Co. has certainly made his case.  As owner and Senior Designer at Whiskey Theater Design Co., he has spent more than a decade working with vintage typography and print design. As he sees it, he is bringing the print off of the page now with Sideshow Sign Co. Specializing in giant, handcrafted retro prints and vintage marquee letter light ups, Sideshow Sign Co. is equal parts old world fabrication and inspired artisan creation. Each piece is wired with an expert’s touch, every item meticulously aged and born of salvage, bent steel, wood or fine art canvas. The customization can be of minimalist simplicity or complex beauty. Whether for the home or office, the builder/graphic designer hybrid Stockdale and his crew are onto something-the stunning pieces from Sideshow are enough to sidetrack, so the client might be better off not staring at the wall during the workday

.

Sideshow Sign Co. donates 5% of its proceeds to EJI.org, a nonprofit organization which provides legal counsel to those in need. Servicing clients from all walks with the same attention to detail and creative lean that is catapulting the company into an esteemed status, Sideshow Sign Co. is also becoming a living reminder that art is in everything, even such a presumed utilitarian concept as signage and letters.

The writing is on the wall and it is a beautiful thing.

Friday
Jul132012

Archie Comics

Someone really ought to have a chat with the gang at Riverdale High. Or at least provide a tutor. After seventy two years as high school juniors, Archie and the gang have become senior citizens- before becoming the senior class. If only they focused more on their books and less on their antics…

Archie Comics launched in 1939 in the Village of Mamaroneck, New York, where it is rooted today. The fictitious town of Riverdale, where ice capped mountains, tropical beaches and dusty plains somehow exist in one locale, was designed to house a cast of characters straight from middle America (a theme that has been borrowed by television and film many times over). The all-American everyman, the carrot coifed Archie Andrews, has lead the whimsical crew into numerous adventures since it all began. His two muses, the cute girl- next- door Betty Cooper, and the sultry trust fund baby, Veronica Lodge, always in play, yanking him in every direction with competitive battings of the eye-never is there a winner in their unending battle for ownership of his affection. Except, of course, maybe Archie himself. Reggie Mantle, the Johnny Lawrence to Archie’s Karate Kid, plotting and scheming with every conniving breath. Jughead Jones, forever mellow and famished (hmm…), there in a jam for his best pal Archie. In theory. Sometimes the allure of a juicy burger proves to much.

A snapshot of American youth and the roles that are recycled over generations, Archie has resonated with readers unlike any comic before or after because of one reason-familiarity. While Batman is cool, no one relates to millionaire superheroes. Archie choosing a date for the dance? Bingo. It happened to you or a guy you know. Throughout the years, the serial has evolved with the issues of the country. Whether introducing recurring characters of color or featuring an openly gay teen, Archie always seems to have his animated thumb on the nation’s pulse. Even a dip into comic taboo, death, has occurred, as it did when beloved teacher Miss Grundy passed on to cartoon heaven. Of course, with real world logic, she would have lived through approximately 141 summers. In a universe where every problem is solved in one story arch, it was groundbreaking.

With a sleeker look, Archie and company live on today. Why? The apocalypse has yet to announce itself, and new teens in the terrestrial world are breeding evolving plots for the teens in Archie’s world. Although the modern young adult would probably scoff at the harmonies of “Sugar, Sugar”, the #1 bubblegum pop hit of 1969 from the fake(?) group The Archies. Too corny, they would say.

Teenagers these days.

Roller Rinks

Pencil Fights

Wednesday
Jul042012

Derringer Pays Homage to Board Track Racing 

The X Games recently made its yearly pilgrimage to the ESPN family airwaves, as the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home marveled at the awe inspiring continuation of Evel Knievel’s vision. It was a beautiful chaos, a poetic union of impending death and art. But it was far from original.

In the 1920’s, board track racing was the grandfather of extreme spot, but this was no senior stroll. Forget about shuffleboards-the original daredevils of board track racing danced with death (and many unfortunately had two left feet in the tango) on wooden boards. The banking angle on the corners was 60°, a flirtation with G-force far ahead of its time. Brakes were seemingly optional in the early era, with fans risking more than the ticket price should a rider lose control. And the vessel that caused gear heads to wager it all was the iconic motorized bicycle. Part Tour de France, part Indy 500, the two wheeled terror, now an icon in the annals of motorcycle history (and a forerunner to the less sexy moped), was American ingenuity at its finest. It was, in theory, a romanticized era that can never be replicated. Derringer Cycles dares to speed past this assumption.

An early Murderdrome

With an appropriate vintage aesthetic of the cycle that represented the true thundering roar of the Roaring 20’s, Derringer cycles is the present and the future of the original motorized bike’s resurrection. They customize the essence of the pleasantly minimal motorbike with a bespoke tailoring to modern needs. And they do so without losing the grit and testosterone driven rawness that made the motorbike a classic in the first place. Brashly snubbing the cookie cutter norms of the industry, Derringer designs and fabricates snowflakes, unique and original one-of-a-kind vehicles for its discerning clientele. A moto-hybrid drivetrain, 180 miles per gallon and emissions friendly for those into such details; hammered copper rivets, hand-crafted leather saddles and white tires for those like us that are infatuated by the look, which soon morphs into a mindset. Anyone can own a standard hog, but Derringer trims such fat. Sleek, clean and unapologetically cool, a Derringer rider, clad in a wool sweater or leather cap, stands out for the right reasons. Where others walk the plank to join denizens of cliché ridden, mass manufactured motorcycles, the only brush with a plank a Derringer rider encounters is his link to the forefathers of the genre, who bled on dangerous wooden planks. The ride no longer carries such danger and rebellion. The rider just may, because if he owns a Derringer, it is in his DNA.

From extreme to esteemed, it could only be a Derringer.

A Commissioned Derringer Cycle

http://www.derringercycles.com/

Wednesday
Jul042012

The Andy Griffith Museum

With the recent death of actor Andy Griffith, many have mourned the passing of an American era as well. Griffith, who found his way into the heart of our nation’s television audience as Sheriff Andy Taylor, was a symbol of simpler days, when things moved just a bit slower and our worries were confined to the local level. And when that local level was the whimsical Mayberry, life seemed to be a Rockwell painting. While perhaps this way of life will never be relived again in our frantic, wired modern existence, the patriarch of small screen stalwarts The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock ( as well as numerous film ventures) and his wholesome, neighborly message will endure forever.

In North Carolina, the same state where Aunt Bee always had a pie waiting and Barney Fife was always ready to take a proverbial pie to the face, The Andy Griffith Museum is a permanent homage to a man and the era he served. In Mount Airy, the experience is a forever changing blast from the past. Nostalgic fans, memorabilia enthusiasts and those who long for a time machine are entrenched in a wealth of remembrance and historic artifacts. The collection is a stunning array of props and wardrobe and trinkets, endowed from Griffith and other cast members of The Andy Griffith Show.

Mount Airy, Andy’s birthplace and childhood home, also hosts “Mayberry Days” an annual celebration of the man and his impact on American television and culture. It is also largely assumed to be the inspiration for the fictional community of Mayberry. Numerous locations and names mentioned in the show mirror real places and people in or near Mount Airy, such as Mount Pilot (neighbor Pilot Mountain) and Snappy Lunch, a still operating diner. In an installment of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy can be seen up close thumbing the "Airy News" an obvious play to Mount Airy’s newspaper. The Andy Griffith Museum and Mount Airy are, in effect, Mayberry; perhaps they do not have a Floyd the barber, but they likely have a relative of Floyd’s inspiration. They might not have a charmingly debaucherous Otis, but certainly his spirit fills the local taverns. They do have Barney’s on screen flame Thelma Lou, however. Actress Betty Lynn calls Mount Airy home, and is an avid guest at The Andy Griffith Museum.

Andy might have moved on to the great unknown, but he and Mayberry’s citizens are eternal within the confines of four walls. There will always be an engine that Gomer needs to repair. His cousin Goober will always be there to hand him a wrench. Aunt Bee will always be around for good southern cooking and advice, and Opie will always have an abundance of youthful optimism as he skips down the dirt road with his makeshift fishing rod.

And as always, Andy will be the man to oversee it all. The voice of reason, the good neighbor, the fair sheriff and the endearing single father, he is forever our American hero. All we have to do is whistle that familiar tune and visit The Andy Griffith Museum.

Thursday
Jun282012

Silver Tear Campers 

Call it homage to greatness.

Handcrafted American teardrop campers were all the rage in the burgeoning days of the automobile’s transition as a mainstay and necessity to life. A hitch, a buck or two in gas and a fishing rod were the basic requirements to an outdoors excursion. Silver Tears Campers, based in Roanoke, Virginia, has resurrected the classic road-to-nature accessory. A Silver Tears camper is a throwback (’32 Ford fender, ’39 Ford teardrop LED tail lights) with modern world amenities (stainless steel ice box, hot water shower system, propane stovetops). The interior of the campers are a lesson in mahogany styled refinement; the exterior an eternal teardrop outline, a myriad of customized choices, from the sleek Black Dog to the iconic Woodie. Essentially, a Silver Tears camper is a tagalong to a man’s oneness with nature-with all of the refined accoutrements of future world refuge, should it be required.

As the folks at Silver Tears Campers say best; you'll travel light, but smart, with everything you need and nothing you don't.

http://www.silvertearscampers.com/

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