Thursday, March 11, 2010

The downtown drugstore

Summer 1981.

Downtown Baton Rouge.

A college student with a Yashica twin-lens reflex camera, filling rolls of 120 black-and-white film with images for a photojournalism class.

Here is the caption he -- I -- put on the above picture in a photo essay documenting that place . . . that time in a middling Southern state capital. Some 29 years later, I don't know whether it says more about downtown Baton Rouge or more about the experience and assumptions of the 20-year-old writing it:
THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES . . . Liggett Drugs, at the corner of Riverside Mall and Florida Street, remains a downtown landmark with its vintage Coca-Cola neon sign and one of the few remaining lunch counters in Baton Rouge. Though a reminder of the Capital City's past, the store's customers generally consist of Baton Rouge's poorest residents -- a victim of the decline of downtown as a commercial area.
THE KID needed an editor. Sloppy writing. Introductory clauses that have not a bloody thing to do with what follows, except perhaps the concluding clause, which makes little sense whatsoever.

What a moron. I'll bet he thought he was hot s***, too.

I hate punks like that.

Still, the nearly 49-year-old me is oddly fascinated. I wonder what Mr. Wonderful had to say about the picture at left?
GIMME A HAMBURGER AND A ORDER OF FRIES . . . ["A order of fries"? God Almighty. OK, keep going. Jeez.] Something [?????? !] never change, like this drug store lunch counter, which pretty much looks the same as drug store counters used to look. [Scintillating insights . . . not. Idiot. Well? I've suffered this much, you just as well deliver the coup de grace. Continue with these semiliterate bleatings.] A great place to cool off on a hot Baton Rouge summer day.
WELL, at least I wasn't disappointed. Gaaaaack!

To give Joe College his due, the pictures aren't awful and -- lo, these many years later -- they do document Baton Rouge the way it used to be, as well as an establishment fewer and fewer there remember.

All right . . . photo on the right. Dare I ask what young, dumb and overconfident me wrote on that one?

Oh, what the hell. Hit me, Smiley!

SHOPPING DAY IN THE CITY . . . This family is decked out in its Sunday finest on a Saturday afternoon to do the shopping. [All RIGHT! Way to make a completely unsupported assumption about what the hell they were doing. Especially given the lack of shopping bags. Oh . . . but wait! They're just WINDOW shopping, being that "Baton Rouge's poorest residents" don't actually have enough money to BUY anything. Moron. Go on. . . .] While the city's major stores have deserted the downtown area, many smaller shops hang on, and one can still find [Way to throw a socket wrench in the gears of that compound verb, Gomer!] assorted goods at Mc Crory's five and dime.
I THINK we can say there was at least one thing more bedraggled than downtown Baton Rouge in 1981. My mad caption-writing skillz. That's a little slang that wouldn't come along for another 20 years.

Bedraggled. . . .

Interesting concept, isn't it? Surely, downtown Baton Rouge had seen better days by 1981. It is seeing better days now -- at least judging by the last time I was home for a visit.

(My writing skills, however, were as well gud gude good as they had ever gotten ever had gotten in '81. Ouch.)

Yet. . . .

Yet, if people back there are anything like me, now far away in Omaha, I'll bet they feel a certain nostalgia for the old bedraggled downtown Baton Rouge. For a weathered drugstore with a lunch counter. For a working riverfront, as opposed to a touristy, gambling riverfront.

For a place where just plain folk could hang out without a bunch of yuppies trying to out-pretentious one another amid the nightspots and trendy restaurants.

Don't get me wrong. The emerging new downtown Baton Rouge has a lot on the old, frayed-at-the-seams one. It's prettier, and nicer, and there's stuff to do.

But sometimes, when you're at the end of a hard day's night, you crave the comfortable old shoe. The frayed robe. The soft, loose (and ratty) sweats.

I GUESS THAT'S just like the realm of memory -- the comfort of looking back on what was amid the extreme uncertainty of what is yet to come. It's the realm of home. And tattered robes and old, comfortable shoes.

Which you probably bought at McCrory's, right down the street from Liggett Drugs.

OH, ALL RIGHT. What did Mr. Wonderful -- the college kid with the journalism-school camera -- have to say about this photograph? Be still my heart. . . .

IT SURE AIN'T Mc DONALD'S . . . Though business isn't what it used to be, people still stop by Willis Liggett's Rexall drug store just for its lunch counter. One of the few remaining of a dying breed, it is still a place where one can get out of the summer heat (or winter cold) and grab a coke [How about "grab a Coke"? Gee, kid, you must be on coke.] and a hamburger.

BRILLIANT! Sheer brilliance.

The kid probably will have a blog someday.

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