by Bob Burdick
What IS "downtown"?
Words allow us to communicate and having a storehouse of words allows us to communicate more effectively. For this reason alone, I love words. But, have you noticed how fickle words can be?
As a kid I mowed grass to earn pocket money, and with my newly acquired wealth, gay was my feeling when headed downtown to splurge. Today, possession of "grass" is cause for arrest, and "gay" defines a lifestyle. How about downtown? Unfortunately, as recently discovered, even this word's meaning is now obscure.
My hometown was St. Petersburg, Florida, and the downtown area during my childhood was a whopping nine blocks long. This seemed like a metropolis at the time, as everything a youngster could dream of was there.
For me and my brother, Saturday and downtown were synonymous, provided the weather was decent and we had not acquired too many demerits during the week. If we met this threshold of good behavior, we still had Saturday morning chores to perform before Mom and Dad gave us permission to go downtown. However, this permission was not carte blanche; it was prefaced with warnings and an outline of consequences for any transgression on our part.
After giving our Scout's honor to be good, we'd fly out of the house and race the few blocks to the bus stop. The fare to downtown was a nickel, and once there we'd search the trashcans around the depot for transfer slips. Finding a slip for our particular bus meant we wouldn't have to cough up another nickel for the trip back home. It also meant we could use the nickel saved to buy a cherry Coke at McCrory's soda fountain after the movie.
Typically, we reached downtown with an hour to spare before the movie began. Our first stop was Coney Island where we'd down a Chili Dog and a Pepsi Cola. Then, fortified with nourishment, we'd amble the downtown streets and avenues. At Wilson's Sporting Goods, we'd heft baseball bats just like Ted Williams used. At the Army-Navy Store we became soldiers among the mess kits, survival gear, and jungle hammocks. Last stop before the movie was Sears where we gazed at rifles in the display case and then paged through the catalog to pick out the one we'd own "some day."
At the concession counter in the Roxie Theater we shelled out coins for popcorn, Jujubes, and a fountain drink before settling into one of the front row seats for an afternoon of entertainment that included a double feature, cartoon, serial, and previews of coming attractions. After the movies, sated of mind and stomach, we strolled to the bus depot and boarded Number 9 for the trip back home.
This was downtown as I remembered it.
Recently, on a trip to visit my daughter and granddaughter in St. Petersburg, I asked if they'd like to ride downtown and look around. My granddaughter gave me a puzzled look and said, "Which mall is that in, Grandpa?"
Bob Burdick is a novelist and short-story writer. When not hunkered over his keyboard, he can be found in his downtown of today: Ellijay, Georgia, a quiet community in the North Georgia Mountains hosting everything an oldster could dream of.
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