Donut Hole Daydreams

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Lest the time and place be lost.

Donut Hole Daydreams

 

© 2020 by Jim Shipp

 

It came to pass that following my discharge from the Air Force in August of 1970, and after I had worked briefly as a short-order cook and a store clerk, a post office application I had filed months earlier finally caught up with me, offering me employment at the regional sorting facility in Riverdale, Maryland. So, with very little money in my pocket and everything I owned in the back of a rough-running 1965 Pontiac, I bid adieu to my miserable job and my generous relatives, who had been temporarily housing me, and made my way from Alexandria, Virginia, to College Park, Maryland.

I had become familiar with College Park while stationed at nearby Ft. Meade. The town housed the University of Maryland, often called the "UCLA of the East", and consisted of the campus, a few square blocks of student-oriented businesses, and a heavily treed, hilly residential section. We servicemen enjoyed the collegiate atmosphere there and had often frequented its watering holes on the weekends.

There was, on Calvert Road near the railroad tracks, a 150-year-old three-story house that had been subdivided into eight apartments, where I had sublet a tiny studio for a month before my discharge and during which I had made the acquaintance of my upstairs neighbor. With no other opportunities available to me, and on the off chance that he might still be living there, I drove straight to this house, knocked on the main door, and found that my friend was indeed still in residence. He was then living in a ground-floor apartment, which he shared with a fellow student, and finances being what they were in those days, they were both eager to take me in for a one-third share of the $180-a-month rent, which was just about everything I had.

The apartment was a small one-bedroom affair with lots of stonework and wooden beams. It had a kitchenette, a bathroom, and even a small fireplace. The roommate slept in the bedroom, while my friend slept on the floor in the living room. I set up camp on an available patch of the same hardwood floor.

I reported for work at the Riverdale postal facility, which was just a few blocks down US Route 1 from College Park, and found that I would primarily be routing parcels on the swing shift from 4:00 p.m. till midnight. When necessary, I would also sort first-class letters. Until my new paychecks began arriving, my single daily meal consisted of chili over white rice and a scrawny apple.

In order to set the scene for you, Nixon was president, there was a brand-new TV show called All in the Family, and the Kansas City chiefs surprised the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV. The Chicago Seven were found not guilty, the My Lai massacre trial was under way, and Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles were breaking up. Four students were murdered at Kent State, then another two at Jackson State, spawning nationwide student riots. Jimi Hendrix passed away at the age of 27, followed shortly thereafter by Janis Joplin. The Orioles beat the Reds to win the World Series, the comic strip Doonesbury made its debut, and the Environmental Protection Agency was established. The hippie era was in full swing.

College Park's business district, less than a dozen blocks from my apartment, included a grocery store, a pharmacy, a bank, numerous eateries, a few clothing stores, and a sprinkling of hair salons. There were three drinkeries in the city proper. The Varsity Grill and the Rendezvous were both beer-swilling jock bars. The Other Room, in the Italian Gardens Restaurant, attracted a somewhat brainier clientele and served hard liquor. I wasn't much of a drinker in those days, but I preferred the Other Room.

However, the main attraction for many local denizens was the Donut Hole, which fronted on US 1 in the middle of town, had a back door that opened into the municipal parking lot, and operated twenty-four hours a day. There, customers could get a cheap, but good cup of coffee and pastries of various descriptions. At 2:00 a.m. each morning, Joe, the counterman, replenished all the racks with fresh goodies and offered the previous day's fare free of charge to whoever might be in attendance. People made it a point to be there, and for some, it was their only meal of the day. If a more substantial repast was required, the Big Boy restaurant on the corner across the street served a huge platter of French fries smothered in brown gravy for thirty-five cents.

The D-Hole was more than a business. It was a nexus for destitute students, artists, and musicians, a shelter from the heat or the cold, a place to get away from the outside world. It was said that if you came in through the back door and never went out the front door, you were never really in College Park. Here, a decent painting could be had for a few dollars, performers played and sang for scant tips, and information was readily shared, back in that day before cell phones and laptops.

There was Paul-the-Wall, so named because he always took the end bar stool in the Other Room, with his back against that establishment's brick side wall, appearing for all the world to support the entire edifice. He was not to be confused with Paul-on-Crutches, who had leapt from the second story of Los Angeles apartment building to escape a minor drug bust and had crushed both heels. Towering Lewis Horton, a transplanted Texan who had feigned an Australian accent for so long that it became his, offered original, if somewhat bizarre compositions on his old Epiphone guitar. Lovely Lydia, who fell into town from somewhere in Ohio, would frequently add amazing harmonies. Beautiful Betsy, a plump Earth mother, would listen to everyone's troubles and dispense soothing words. The cast of characters changed daily and it was endless.

And so it went from day to day, a continuous stream of youthful patrons exchanging hearty greetings, and oft as not, warm hugs, a microcosm of the hippie movement that had by then spread across the country from shore to shore. There was never a fight, or even a heated argument, and people who could offer help to those in need did so freely as a matter of course.

But all good things must come to an end and, eventually, I was summoned home, again, to help my dad with his Florida restaurant, again. I took with me an artist, Mike, his seamstress girlfriend, Mary, and a fragile waif named Jennifer, all of whom were seeking warmer climes and new opportunities, and who couldn’t pass up a free ride south.

The highlight of the trip was when we hit an unseen speed bump in Newnan, Georgia, sometime after midnight and the old Pontiac's radio, which had never worked before, came on at full volume.

Thus, we tooled off into the night with "Joy to the World" blasting from every window.


Submitted: June 20, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Jim Shipp. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Sharief Hendricks

Nice one Jim

I enjoyed the trip down memory lane....

The original names was cool...my favourite was Paul the Wall

Well done !!

Sat, June 20th, 2020 5:15pm

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