Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dunkirk Travelogue 2008 - Part 4

Walking Central Avenue

Dunkirk is laid out in such a way that it is great for walking. Central Avenue runs east to west from the docks at Lake Erie to the D-F Plaza which is near the thruway. Main Street also runs parallel to Central, although they've rerouted that a little over the years. Central is nice for walking too as it has sidewalks all the way.

My wife is training for the Breast Cancer Cure walk in Charlotte in October, so she needed to do five miles of walking each day of the weekend. Since it was about 2.4 miles from the hotel to the plaza, that would be a perfect walk distance for us. So, by 8:30am we in our workout clothes and ready to walk. The weather was perfect - slightly cloudy and a nice breeze off the lake.

As we walked, I pointed out various sites in town and told them about my growing up in Dunkirk. Since it was my son's first visit there and only my wife's second, most of the stories and facts were pretty fresh for them. We passed by the Observer which produces the town's local newspaper. That building hasn't changed much in the past 25 years.

The Regent movie theatre wasn't on Central, but you could go that way to get to it. I remember seeing many films there in the 70's and early 80's (still have clippings in a scrapebook somewhere to mark the films I saw on the big screen). The floors were always so sticky from spilled soda and buttered popcorn, and the folding down seats would creak a lot (I think the metal joints needed greasing). Still, it has a very neat atmosphere to it.

We passed the downtown business district were in my youth there were a number of department stores used to be. Kresge's had this snack bar where you could order fries or a sundae. They had balloons overhead - you would pick one and pop it, and inside was a piece of paper to tell you what you'd pay. That was a place that often sold three-packs of mixed comic books for a quarter (you could see two of the three books but the middle one was always hard to determine. Across the street was where another old department store used to be. It had a neat toy shop in the basement which was always decorated for the holidays. I think I got my first Mego action figures there. They also had a pneumatic-tube system that shot checks up to the main office on the second floor for validation.

In the early 80's, there was a video arcade downtown as well. Spent a lot of time in there, dropping quarters to play Ms. Pac-Man, Frogger, Mousetrap, Burger Time, Robotron and Tempest. I think it was housed where a wings place now resides, so that's a pretty fair trade off (I like wings as much as I like video games).

There is still a grocery store on Central but the name has changed. Pete's, a newstand I often went to when roaming around town looking for comics, is long gone - there is a recruiting center for the Marines there now. We passed City Hall and the Post Office (both look about the same from the outside).

Next up was Brooks Memorial Hospital where I was born and had hernia surgeries when I was five years old and then again when I was fifteen (the later was the summer between Middle School and High School). We passed the Dunkirk Public Library which, it appears, is trying to raise money for a wheelchair access ramp. I guess I never thought about that twice going up those steep steps to checkout humor books and novels from their growing up. We passed the building that used to house my orthodontists' office (it is now another doctor's office); not a lot of great memories from there - between the taking of plaster impressions and the ever-tightening of the wires and metal bands. Yuck.

We passed the house where Mr. Sweeney, one of the middle school teachers, lived. He used to give us pop quizes every couple days when he felt folks hadn't done their nightly reading. Five questions - miss one and your average suffers, miss two and it was failure. He actually gave someone in our class detention for throwing a snowball at him while he shovelled his driveway one winter in the late 70's.

We passed the buildings that used to make up Cardinal Mindzenty, the former Catholic High School that was already closed when I was not even a teen. We passed the set of apartment buildings that my grandfather owned (and my parents owned after he passed away in the late 70's). They're still apartments but with a different name on them. We passed School 4, the elementary school where I spent six of the thirteen years of Dunkirk schooling. I've blogged about School 4 before (check the 2007 entries for more stories about those days).

We crossed Lucas Avenue and then down and up the hill. We passed the building where my grandfather's plumbing company used to be (my aunt inherited it and sold it many years later). Crino's music store is still there, as well as remnants of some of the streets that still had red brick beneath the asphalt. There were a few places in Dunkirk with roads like that.

We walked up past the large cemetary on Central and then past Boothie's ice cream. I loved those soft serve cones growing up. In my youth, Boothie's only had a small window in the back part of the building while the front was Country Fair, convenience store where I often bought candy and soda pop. Today, Boothie's takes up the entire building. Next to it is still a carwash. Back when I was a kid, they also sold Sunoco gas there.

Across the street there is a day spa now where Red & White grocery used to be (another place we went to buy candy and such). Red & White closed when I was still a kid and was bought by the Corsi family and turned into a liquor store.

Next was Seel Acres, the street I usually cut down as a short-cut home from school. A few of my friends and classmates lived on the far end of the street. Next is East Green Street, and there is still a Jehova's Witness church on the corner.

East Green Street was where I lived for fifteen years (from age 4 through most of my college years). Funny thing, as we stood at the end of the street for a moment - I never realized you could see from one end to the other. As a kid the street seemed a lot longer to get from the Central Avenue end to the Main Street end. I lived three houses from the corner on the Main Street end (the house used to be green, it is now painted red and has a huge tree in the backyard that wasn't there when I was a kid). I guess it is that perspective thing again. Everything seems larger and longer when you are a kid.

We passed Holy Trinity Church, the Catholic church we belonged to. They're celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. I remember when we first moved to town that Mass was done in the hall which now is used as a cafeteria and for bingo. The newer church was built in the early 70's on the other side of the school. Behind the church was a huge field with bleachers that every summer hosted a battle of the marching bands. You could hear that music all the way to Green Street which is a few streets away.

Of course, we passed the Fairgrounds which is where we spent time the day before and then, finally, we reached the D-F Plaza. The D is for Dunkirk and the F is for Fredonia since the plaza sort of resides on the boarder line between the town of Dunkirk and the village of Fredonia.

As I waited for my wife and son to use the bathroom at the drug store, I couldn't help but think about the changes here too. The drug store is where Mr. Donut used to be. I remember a Kodak hut in the parking lot that is long since gone. The YMCA is no longer there either (at least I don't think it is). Sidey's is gone and has been replaced with a Big Lots, two opposite ends of the shopping spectrum really. The Book Nook and JCPenney are still there. But there is no Record Giant any more (who needs records these days?). At the far end, Putt-a-Bit miniature golf is gone as is the two screen Cine theatre; there is just a grassy lot where those two once stood.

So, we made our return trip down the other side of the avenue. I pointed out a few neighborhoods on this side where I knew classmates had grown up. Beyond one street was a playground we used to go to every now and again. By the time we hit downdown again, we'd noted that there were no trash cans outside a lot of the stores. That was odd. I remember there being ones when I grew up. Instead, there was trash on some sidewalks. I had to wonder if vandalism was the reason to not have them (too easy for someone to throw or knock over). That was kind of sad.

When we got back to Lake Shore Drive again, we crossed the street to the dock area and had a late brunch at Dimitri's restaurant (took us a little less than two hours to do the whole circuit of our walk). Growing up, there was a restaurant there called Mark's but the name had changed long before I left town permanently in 1988. We ate outside by the lake so we could take in the fresh air and sounds (I had the steak and eggs since the walk really worked up my appettite).

A nice morning all and all, and a great start to what would continue to be a great day.

(to be continued...)

No comments: