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Chocolate Malts and Bar-B-Q's

Marie, the dawn is breaking,
Marie, you'll soon be waking
To find your heart is aching

The strains of Tommy Dorsey's big band pulsating from the corner jukebox at White's Restaurant on Pitt Street East (just east of the present Royal Bank building). The early 1940's...

Collegiate students huddled in the booths. Girls in Sloppy Joe sweaters with the sleeves pushed up stylishly just below the elbows. Boys in pork pie hats and fraternity cardigans (with BIG letters) and pant cuffs rolled up to reveal argyle sox.

Chocolate malts and Bar-B-Q's. 1 a.m. Finishing off a big night of jitter-bugging in a sweaty school gymnasium or at the "Y" or the Masonic Temple or Coral Gables (on Ouellette Avenue, south of the Vanity Theatre). Music by the orchestras of Tom Crowley or Bill Carrigan or Bill Richardson or (would you believe?) Robin Hood and His Merry Men.

Or, on warm summer evenings ("I've got the Old Man's jalopy tonight") trips to the country-cool dance floors of Leamington's Seacliff Park or Casper's Pavillion on the Point Pelee Road or Swingland near Emeryville.

Or, if you wanted to save wartime gas (recently increased to $0.25 per gallon) dancing at the foot of Ouellette Avenue on the dock of the former Windsor-Detroit Ferry Company (the Cadillac and LaSalle ferries had given up the ghost on July 19 1938.)

Or, if you really wanted to impress your girl, there was always the downriver trip on the streamers Columbian and Ste. Clair to breeze-kissed Bob-Lo Island to dance to the Big Name Bands in the huge stone pavillion (billed as North America's largest).

If you attended Walkerville Collegiate Institute in those days, you could take your chance at the annual Gamblers' Gambol.  (Draw your ticket at the door and pay from one cent to 75 cents.  Per couple.) Or (fanfare, maestro, please) the social event of everyone's year ­ the Military Ball.  Where, jammed into the world's smallest gym at the rear of the second floor (not the big new gymnasium) a few hundred boys in itchy Cameron kilts whirled blushing and beautiful, long-gowned angels, magically transformed from the plain-faced girls who had sat beside them in Latin that afternoon.

    I've got a gal in Kalamazoo.
    Don't want to boast
    But I know she's the toast
    Of Kalamazoo-zoo-zoo˛ (Tex Beneke arrangement)

Followed by the ritual visit to White's. And, if you played your cards right, a trip to Heppenstall's to watch the fairyland lights wink on and off on the graceful lakers gliding silently down the Detroit River under the Ambassador Bridge. (They were only deck lights on grubby freighters?  Don't tell me.  I don't want to hear it.)

And ­ if you were very lucky ­ a chance to kiss a lovely ball of fluff in her taffeta dress, scented with her mother's best perfume. ("Careful, don't crush my corsage.")

After-school sessions at George's on Ottawa Street (north side, between Windermere and Lincoln­ long gone).  Girls sitting up on stools. Pleated knee-high skirts and Betty Grable legs. Holding their cigarettes ­ oh, so blazé. Girls in sweaters. Every one a Lana Turner.

Friday after 4.  Heintzman's at Ouellette and London Street (University?  Very well, if you say so.  But we called it London.) Where First City Trust does business in the 1980's. A half-dozen students jammed into a single-seat record booth, playing 35-cent 78's.  Glen Miler's "A-Train".  Bing Crosby's "Bells of Saint Mary's".  The Andrew Sisters.  The Mills Brothers.  The Ink Spots.  Harry James, Carmen Miranda.  Spike Jones.  Jerry Colonna.

"Put on that new one, Charlie."

A sleepy lagoon, a tropical moon,  And two on an island˛

More Al Roach



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