26 June 2007

I see Debbie's and raise her one

Kate/Susan's post today quickly calls to mind a nice "Oops!" of my own a number of years ago.

At least her co-worker's, ummmmm, "famous" comment was contained to those present at their party.

Mine was on the radio.

It was some time in the Fall of 1989, and I was working middays for a small AM station in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The format was a mixture of adult contemporary and oldies. The station (KOTN -- "Cotton", get it?) in much earlier and better days was a blazin' little top-40 owned by the late Buddy Deane, former Baltimore TV dance party emcee ("Corny Collins" in Hairspray was based on Deane's show). In its prime, KOTN was one of the best small-market hit music stations in the country.

Yeah, a station like that in a place like Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Imagine that.

Well, those days were distant images in the rear-view mirror by the time I graced "the Cotton Controls." I was playing half-baked Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan and other nice paleo-Delilah oatmeal .... and mixing in as many '60s and '70s oldies as I could get away with. Many of them the original, cue-burnt promo 45 singles that the original KOTN Good Guys played back when they were celebrities to Jefferson County's teens. Hell, I used the same Gates "Yard" console .... and, heavens-to-mergatroid, the same friggin' Russco "Cuemaster" turntables. The jingles were circa-1978. It was as if nothing in that place had changed since Buddy sold the station earlier in the decade.

Well anyway, I made my unfortunate faux pas when I hit the switch for the left Cuemaster 'table, starting a decrepit 7-inch specimen of The Capitols' 1966 hit song "Cool Jerk." And over the gobs of cueburn and the song's intro ramp I said the following:

"10:57 from KOTN, as we jerk ourselves up to ABC news at 11 with THE CAPITOLS....."

I closed the mic. It took about five seconds before I realized just what I said. Ohhhhhhh, shit.

The Grofe-like "Hee haw" music cue from A Christmas Story filled my head.

My (relatively short) broadcast career was flashing before my eyes. Did anybody call? Hell, no. Did the station manager catch it? Nope, he was out of town. The music director? She was holed up in production.

The truth is, I got away with it. But it was also a cold reminder of the reality of KOTN Radio in 1989: nobody listened to that station after morning drive. I was certainly no celebrity! During the rare giveaways, I'd open the phones for the third caller, and numbers 1, 2 and 3 would be the same person!!

"Here, David, just have every (BLEEP)damned TCBY waffle-cone coupon we have. And take a stack of these free Big Mac vouchers, while you're at it. I'm grateful for my audience of one."

Ahhhhhhh, memories, light the AM dial of my mind.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Pine Bluff, Struttin' Our Stuff" Gleck

23 June 2007

True or False: The Coyote caught the Road Runner

Answer: TRUE!!

This was from one of the last "Road Runner" shorts in the '60s. And best of all? No ACME products were involved!

Millions of times later, I can never tire of watching this stuff. Absolutely timeless.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Merry Toons .... or is it Looney Melodies?" Gleck

22 June 2007

Paean to my old flame 'Vickie'

Kate/Susan is searching for the perfect sub sammich.

Loveuhmylife Seraphim is questing for 'cue.

Me? I've been in coastal Georgia for going on seven years (July 29 to be exact), and I have yet to find a good Friday night fried seafood buffet around here.

Folks, there weren't a whole helluvalot of things I enjoyed about Troy, Alabama toward the end of my time there, but one thing I lived for on many a Friday night was taking a short drive down to a tiny settlement called Victoria, in northern Coffee County. A converted former grocery store/gas station combo housed a place called Green's Country Kitchen. Your basic meat-and-three Southern "comfort food" diner by day, but Friday night was a different story. $9.95 a head bought you all-you-can-eat fried seafood, fried chicken, perfectly-done crinkle-cut fries, and sweet iced tea (yes, the drink came with it).

I would've paid the ten smackers just to be able to walk in and smell it.

I didn't call it Green's, I just referred to it as "Victoria." As in, "I'll be heading down to Victoria for supper tonight." I first discovered it along about 1994. I didn't eat there too often at first, as Whatzername, my first wife, wasn't too crazy about it (her idea of a dream seafood buffet was the frou-frou places where they charge $30.00 for fish they barely cook, or do other weird things to. Sorry, but I'm Southern; God intended for seafood to be deep-fried to a point where you can feel your arteries constricting shut as you eat). But after the divorce in late '97, I made "Victoria" my Friday night supper host on those every-other-Fridays I didn't have my son Tiger (then, and now, he reviles seafood). Her seafood gave me peace and solace during a time when an empty weekend was staring me in the face.

Green's seafood buffet never failed to please. It was that good (I seem to recall brochures at the cash register for all the hospitals in Montgomery and Dothan ... touting the superiority of their cardiac wards). Of course, I soon met Seraphim and on those non-Tiger Friday nights I began heading in the other direction: toward Columbus.

But Seraphim loved "Victoria", too. On Fridays when she had the day off, she'd usually come over to Troy on Thursday nights, often showing up at WTBF while I was doing my classic rock program. And on those Fridays, we both went down to Green's and chowed down. Now I had a woman who knew and appreciated the fine art of seafood.

It's now been nearly seven years since I last partook of Green's buffet. Hell, I don't even know if it's still in business. I hope so.

Maybe one of these days I can get over there soon enough where I can find out for myself. My son still doesn't like seafood, but I can get him Burger King and just let him sit in the car, jamming out to whatever on his MP3 player while I go in and enjoy deep-fried nirvana.

In any event, all this doesn't change the fact that I have not found a good inland small-town diner which offers a good AYCE seafood spread on Fridays. Seraphim and I thought we had a couple of years ago when we drove up to Sylvania (~50 miles up highway 21 from here). But the restaurant was not an AYCE format. Hell, the portions were tiny. And the fish wasn't that good.

But the search continues. I'll bet SOUTH BY-GAWD CAROLINA has one somewhere.

This is more than a yearning. It's a quest. It's a quest for fish. I'm gonna eat fried fish and you're gonna eat fried fish. We're all gonna have so much fucking fried fish we'll need triple-bypass surgery just to....

Geez ... I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage for seafood. Praise the Henny Penny fryer! Holy Shit!

Which reminds me, it's Friday night and we haven't eaten yet.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "My undersea kingdom for some fried scallops" Gleck

15 June 2007

Rotting Places, Mournful Faces

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." --Charles Kuralt

If you've seen the recent movie Cars, you're familiar with Radiator Springs, the decaying ghost town along old Route 66.

The much-storied "Mother Road", it must be said, was far from the only major national highway in those wondermous days. And there were many here in the Southeast, alone. One of them is very close to where I sit: US 301. It was widely-used as a 'short cut' for travelers from the Northeast U.S. bound for Florida, and all the fun and frolic therein.

As with "Route 66", every town along 301 was chock full of restaurants and motels. And what luck -- the residents of these towns had plenty of options for eating out, or for civic club meetings. Sure, these diners catered mostly to the traveler, but a wise motel operator never snubbed the locals. (That's a lesson Kemmons Wilson took to heart when he designed his Holiday Inn chain. All of them had on-premises restaurants, and often they were the best places in town to eat.)

But while Route 66 began meeting her demise as early as the 1960s, US-301's role as a major route for Florida-bound folk continued for much longer. You see, I-95 was one of the last major stretches of interstate to get completed in Georgia and South Carolina. As late as 1975, 95 had barely 1/4 of its mileage complete between Santee, S.C. and Jacksonville, Fla.

Today, Santee is little more than your basic interstate "watering hole" -- a collection of chain motels, chain fast food, gasoline and such. Hit the offramp, fill the tank and the tummy and back on the freeway you go.

And yesterday? Santee used to be a big fork in the road. It's where US-301 split off from other major roadways to go it alone toward Georgia (US-15 would've taken you toward Charleston, Walterboro and Savannah - the "scenic coastal route", if you will). Plus, with its strategic location about a day's drive (by two-lane standards) from Washington D.C. and points northward, Santee was perhaps one of the biggest motel meccas in the United States.

While on a trip to South Of The Border a year or so ago, we got off of I-95 onto an alignment of two-lane which used to carry US highways 15 and 301 through Santee. From S.C. 6 to the 15/301 split once existed about two miles of wall-to-wall motelia. If Tom Bodett left the light on for all the motels in Santee, it would've caused a glare to rival the Las Vegas Strip.

And what about now? Out of the high-traffic view of Interstate 95, Santee, South Carolina is nothing less than the Deep South's answer to Radiator Springs. And from time to time, my mind finds itself up there. If one is into geocaching, I suspect Santee offers plenty of succulent opportunities for fun.

Although work is now being done to 'improve' the look of this stretch of road by demolishing some of the old buildings, a lot of empty, rotting motels and equally-rotting signage still remain.

For instance, one of the more prominent motels in Santee was the Congress Inn. This used to be a chain of motels, rooted in a 'member/referral' group called Congress of Motor Hotels. I remember a Congress Inn on Lido Beach in Sarasota way back when. Huntsville, Ala. had one too.

To the left is the Santee Congress Inn's sign, circa 1966. And to the right is the rusting sign frame, still up and visible today. Only the 'dome' element of the logo remains.

Congress Inn went down as an obscure footnote in Beatles history -- there's news footage of a New Orleans motel operator where the group stayed while on their '64 concert tour. He took the bedsheets where John, Paul, George and Ringo slept, cut them into hundreds (if not thousands) of small squares ... had "certificates of authenticity" printed ..... and SOLD THEM. The motel in question was a Congress Inn.

Congress Inn as a chain shriveled up in the '70s, and today a handful of motels still using both the name and logo are her only reminders.

Here's another image of the Congress Inn from that 1966 postcard:

What a layout! That's a big playground out front -- imagine how many baby-boomer chirren frolicked out here, full of elated excitement. We're gonna be in FLORIDA tomorrow!! (while Dad wonders, with a small degree of anxiety, if Ludowici, Georgia really is the speed trap from hell)

Up "old 301" from the Congress Inn was the The Gamecock Motel:

Above is a postcard image of the Gamecock from the early 1960s. The adjacent Gamecock Restaurant was well-known along 301 as being a good place to eat. Initially, the Gamecock Motel was a member of the the original "referral chain", Quality Courts (it grew into what we know today as Choice Hotels).

But later in the decade, the Gamecock traded the gold seal/ribbon for a four-leaf clover:

Another association of independent operators was Superior Motels. The four-leaf clover icon with the words "A Superior Motel" now figured into the signage.

And in the late '60s, the Gamecock Restaurant began offering Kentucky Fried Chicken! If the four-leaf clover wasn't enough of a siren call at dusk, then perhaps the rotating bucket outside was enough to convince you that The Gamecock was going to be your host. A superior bucket of chicken to eat in your Superior Motel room.

The Gamecock had fallen beyond hard times by 2006. Here's how it looked:

Even part of the old sign remained. But on a recent Santee sojourn, I noticed the Gamecock property was totally leveled, trees and all.

Frankly, though, I'm surprised the Gamecock signed on with Superior. Because, as you saw above, their logo was a four-leaf clover:

This sign makes my heart skip beats and weep at the same time. When I first saw it, I was damn near hyperventilating! The triangle background, the italicized "INN" -- it's all SO early 1960s. The legend behind CLOVER on the sign was full of light bulbs, too. Hubba!

There's a stub of some sort atop this thing, suggesting the presence of something like an attention-getting neon 'star' at one time, a semi-common touch inspired by the Holiday Inn 'Great Sign.'

I am so wanting to find a picture of this sign back in its prime. Even better (and although I doubt it exists) I'd give so much to see either a picture, or film footage of this thing lit up at night.

No vintage postcard I've found has this sign. All I've seen is an earlier linen card below - The Clover was also part of the Quality Courts group (there were lots of 'em along 301 back in those salad days):

Part of the motel building still stands as of this writing. Notice the "Entrance" arrow and 'futuristic' style vertical florescent light post in the image above? To the left is how it looks in 2007. Both are still there.

Time stands still on much of the Clover's property. The pool still retains much of its fixtures. Another battered arrow-shaped neon sign stands nearby pointing the way toward the office (no longer standing).

Yeah, Santee truly is a Radiator Springs. What I'd love to do were Powerball's ping pong balls good to me is to buy that land, rebuild the Clover Motel to its original specs, and restore that grand sign.

On the other side of Santee Lake is a rotting billboard for Quality Courts Motel, most likely advertising one in Santee.........

"Quality Courts: Travel First Class" -- On the left is what the classic Quality insignia looked like (the 'gold seal' and ribbon were the original elements; the sunburst was added in 1962). And the middle picture is the decaying billboard between Summerton and Santee on old 15/301. I don't know how long The Clover (Motel/Inn) stayed with Quality Courts ... I wonder if this might've been a billboard for them?

Check the price - $16.95! I'd say the billboard was last maintained in the 1970-71 time frame, right about the time I-95 was finished, siphoning away most of the traffic. That would be about the going rate back then for a good motel room (read: non-budget, without a Bernard Hermann soundtrack playing or old mansion atop a hill out back).

Yeah ... Santee. What a place. And it stays interesting if you get on US-301 and continue southward. Orangeburg, Allendale, Bamberg, then over the Savannah River into Georgia .... Sylvania, Statesboro, Claxton, Glennville -- many of these towns have their own "Santee stretches", complete with dilapidated motel buildings, rotting signage and abandoned restaurants.

Memories of an America we've lost.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "Neon Soul" Gleck

05 June 2007

Who spiked the 'Geritol'?

From the "Walk on the Welk Side" department:

The only thing missing is the bubble machine turned up to 11.

PS: The song is "Sister Ray" by Velvet Underground.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "And the champagne girls say, 'Doo, d'doo, d'doo.." Gleck