Tag Archives: Lansing Michigan

Observations From A Phone Book

Phone Book Pic

I enjoy going to garage sales. These are great places to find deals on such things as music CDs, books, electronic, DVDs, and phone books.

That’s right, I said phone books! I bought a phone directory for a quarter just a few weeks ago. I know! I can hear you saying, “What an idiot! Why would anybody pay even a quarter for a phone book?” But this isn’t just any phone book we’re talking about. This is a genuine March 1965 phone directory for Lansing, Michigan, USA.

This little piece of history offers a glimpse into the past. A walk through the Yellow Pages presents a list of restaurants that no longer exist in my home town, hotels that have disappeared, and service stations that no longer offer full-service care.

What’s really fascinating is finding the address of some long-closed business and matching it up with what exists in that spot today. For instance, the little grocery store (Miller Leland Grocery) that once provided food and other necessities for a North Lansing neighborhood is now a pornography shop. Another grocery store (Shop Rite Super Food Store)—and the entire neighborhood it once supported—is long gone, erased by the highway that now runs through that area.

A stuffy office in which I spent six years working had been a variety store back in 1965. Above the office, what I’d known only as a dark, water-damaged void had been a furnished apartment occupied by the woman who ran the variety store. I know her name was Lula Wint. That’s all the information a phone book will offer.

The night club (The Silver Dollar Saloon) where I spent most of the 1980s drinking and partying to hair metal bands had been an indoor golf facility (Golf-O-Tron) in 1965. There are a few picture of this on a Facebook page dedicated to the now-demolished club.

An interesting observation is in what wasn’t here 49 years ago. There were five McDonald’s carry-out restaurants in the city back then—modern dine-in McDonald’s locations didn’t appear in our area until the early 1970s—but there were no Burger King restaurants. In fact, neither were there Wendy’s or Taco Bell or any other fast food operations (apart from a single Kentucky Fried Chicken). Dominoes and Little Caesar’s Pizza chains both got their start just down the road from Lansing, but neither had opened a kitchen here at that time.

A dip into the residential pages brings a brush of fame to the experience. The father of former NBA superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a Lansing Native, is listed as residing at 814 Middle Street. The budding basketball hall of famer would have been in elementary (primary) school back in 1965.

Infamy lies in there as well. Donald Basinger is listed as living at 6271 Marywood Street. Mr. Basinger would, in December of that year, take a hammer to his wife, two of his children, and the family dog, killing all involved.

March of 1965 was a full two years before my birth. It’s interesting to find my father’s name listed at an address at which I’d never lived (my parents had moved by the time I came along). He and my mother were 19 years old; newlyweds; kids, really, just getting started in life. My older brother hadn’t quite reached his first birthday, and my sister, her entrance into this world was yet a month away.

I lost my father two years ago. I’ve lost each of my grandparents, as well. They’re all in this phone book, listed at addresses I know from my youngest of days on this planet. As are my long-departed great uncles, who owned and operated a small business that once chrome-plated every bumper and every door handle on every Oldsmobile built in this city.

Even the once-mighty Oldsmobile and all of its support businesses are no longer among the living.

It never dawned on me that something so mundane as an old phone book might hold a treasure trove of memories. As a writer, I find inspiration all around me. Finding this simple directory at a garage sale has already inspired several ideas that, with a little nurturing, will one day become short stories or essays—like what I’m writing right here.

So the next time you find an old phone book, pick it up, thumb through its pages, search out the past and bring it into the present. Trust me, you’ll get a kick out of it.

New York Rock-N-Roll

NY Pic 1                                                                        Singer/guitarist Jimmy Ennis

It’s the mid 1980s, the height of hair-band-heaven. Every stage in every club across the United States sports a band dreaming of becoming the next Quiet Riot, the next Ratt, or maybe even the heirs apparent to the mighty Motley Crue. Most of those would-be rock stars fell well short of the ultimate prize. Lack of talent killed off many of those dreams. Drugs and alcohol took down others—a case of partying like rock stars before ever achieving the actual status.

But those of us old enough to remember wading into the crowded clubs of, say, 1986, remember some of the good ones; those bands that had the talent, wrote their own material, had the look. These were bands that should have made the jump to the big time.

NY Pic 2                                                                                  Bassist Freddie Foster

One band in particular was a four-piece from Rock Hill, South Carolina, called New York. I must have seen these guys a hundred times. I’d seen dozens of really good bands at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Lansing, Michigan, got to know many of the musicians, became supporters of the better ones. But New York had that something else that the others all lacked. When seeing them on stage, you just knew it was only a matter of time until they were snatched away to bigger and better stages. They even recorded a great EP, called Carry The Torch, which featured some truly amazing music. Then came a full-length album, entitled Electric Thunder, that they never released but shopped around for that inevitable record deal. 

And guess what? That record deal actually came. Yeah, a big label came snooping around and decided to give these guys a break. But this was the 1980s, the time of monster record companies dictating all the ins and outs of the rock and roll game. In their infinite wisdom, these boneheads convinced this amazing band to fire their bass player—a founding member—because he didn’t fit the newly imagined image. Enter a new guy. Good bass player but not one of the family. Things deteriorated quickly, the record deal went away, and the guys in New York eventually called it a day. A true shame, indeed. This was a talented band that deserved to be up there with Motley Crue and Warrant and Poison.

NY Pic 3 
Lead Guitarist Johnny Glover

New York had the music, the look, and the following. But they had something else that’s infinitely greater than what most bands brought to the table. These guys treated their fans like friends—some were even treated like family. Jimmy Ennis, the talented singer-guitarist, gave me and my then-girlfriend a bootleg copy of their unreleased album. I still own a bootleg of that bootleg on cassette (when the girlfriend left, she took the actual tape). I’ve also retained an ancient recording of their EP. This music still holds up today. Their songs are on YouTube, posted by Mr. Ennis. 

The others in this fantastic band included Freddy Foster on bass, Johnny Glover, an incredible lead guitar player, and Michael Constable on drums. There were other amazing drummers to play for New York, like Rikk Haynes, who can be heard banging the skins on the Carry The Torch EP, and Michael Scott Mills, who recorded most of the Electric Thunder album—late Kiss drummer Eric Carr plays on one of the tracks on the album—but it’s Michael Constable that I think of when I recall those wonderful times from so long ago.

NY Pic 4 
Drummer Michael Constable (w/ wife Valerie)

We were young back then, believing the fun would never stop, those nights would go on just the way they had been. But that could never be. This world doesn’t play by those rules. New York broke up, I’m nearly fifty years old, and the Silver Dollar Saloon closed its doors, the building demolished, and an apartment complex erected on the site. But there are still many fond memories to ponder. 

When I hear New York rock and roll, I can close my eyes and reconstruct that fabled club, those nights buzzed on pitchers of Budweiser and shots of tequila, the smell of my girl’s perfume, the warmth of her body next to mine as we moved across the dance floor. 

So, a big thank you to Jimmy, Johnny, Freddy, and Michael for being a major part of the soundtrack of my life—and the lives of countless others. New * York still ROCKS! Don’t believe me? Just have a listen for yourselves. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFpaSU…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFzC_b… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZyUSy…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dz8CRP… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxtD_H…