The stage of the Capitol Theater in better days.
A stranger traveling through Flint today would, in all probability, view it as a rather dreary, gray, nondescript city filled with abandoned factories, boarded up buildings, and streets in need of repair. It certainly doesn’t have the charm of San Francisco or the excitement of New York, but I still see Flint through the eyes of my youth.
I often have an acute attack of melancholy thinking of my school days at Central High. My thoughts drift to 1945 and the school grounds teeming with students on their lunch hour, sitting on the lawn or hanging around Lloyd’s Drug Store, hiding their cigarettes in cupped hands. If I hurried I could run downtown for a coke at Pinecrest, a tiny lunch counter in the Capitol Theater Building. It was a hangout for the so called “400,” a faction everyone wanted desperately to belong to. I felt that my presence there would somehow make me belong as if by osmosis — a theory soon disproved by the chosen few.
After school I studied in the old Public Library, standing like a fortress at Kearsley and Clifford Streets. It was full of enchanting nooks and crannies with mysterious, narrow stairways where I sat and hid for hours in the world of books. I’m sure the new library offers many more advantages, but never again will I be able to escape in such a belletristic atmosphere.
I grew up on the Eastside and recall the unexplained pride I felt when the 3:30 Buick factory whistle blew and the roughly dressed workers poured out of the General Motors labyrinth swinging their lunch pails. Some were headed for home and some for the corner bar, but all with the determined step of an army after a battle won. I somehow felt as if I were a part of this giant assembly line and the city it fed.
Saturday night was an exciting climax to the week. I sometimes spent the evening surrounded by rainbows of shimmering colored light bouncing off the ceiling and walls like ping pong balls as couples swayed gently to the music. A psychedelic happening? No, only Saturday night at the IMA during the big band era. The World War II melodies of “Moonlight Cocktail” and “Sentimental Journey” were perfect accompaniments for the mood of the times.
Nostalgia, I’m sure, is the opiate of old age. Memories over ten years old automatically become the “good ol’ days." We remember only the happy things and leave the shaded areas behind. And yet, faintly sifting through the sands of time, I seem to recall saying, "The day I’m eighteen, I’m leaving this town."