Tag Archives: memories

A Brief Look at Christmas 1997

I’m working on a big huge end-of-year post, so this won’t be a long one. Even though it’s now the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some of yous), two events occurred recently that made me think “hey, I can get a post out of this!” 1) I was digging through old family photos, admittedly with the purpose of an update in mind, and of which I had several prospects up for consideration. Of course I didn’t find the pic I had set out for, but this one here actually works better. 2) My brother went and picked himself up a brand new Nintendo Switch earlier today, and as he hooked it up for the first time, I was reminded of the same sort of feelings from Christmas 20 years ago. I had waffled back and forth on doing this post beforehand, and had finally decided to can it, but that event earlier today changed my mind.

And so here we are, with an absolute blast from my childhood’s past. Behold!

First off, that’s not quite everything received that day. The stuff to the left, with the exception of the TV, was mine. Everything to the right, which in actuality was in the middle of the floor, was “share.” (The TV was share as well.) I cropped out everything beyond, because those were my brother’s gifts and consequently I had little to say about them. He got a bunch of Beast Wars stuff, okay?

Why even bother with this post? Well, it felt a little strange not getting a ‘proper’ Christmas article up this year, but more importantly, I’m forever nostalgic and Christmas 1997 was one of the biggies for me personally. When I found this old photograph the other night, well, it fired the memory machine up – the very purpose of old photographs, I suppose.

While digging, I also found some pictures from Christmas 1998 and beyond, and there were some other good memories attached, to the point that I set a bunch aside and thought about giving each one a spotlight, but meh, I’ll just stick with this.

Here’s “my stuff.” Yes, I know it’s a little blurry; look, digital cameras wouldn’t be on our radar yet for a few more years. Plus, I obviously did some cropping.

So what are you seeing here? Starting from bottom-left, you’ll note that I too fell victim to the Giga Pet/Tamagotchi craze of the late-1990s. Yes, I got my very own Giga Pet! For those “not in the know” (do people still use that phrase?), these were little devices with an LCD screen that presented an animal of some sort. You were charged with taking care of said animal, with feedings and walks and so on and so forth. If you didn’t properly maintain your pet, it would up and die on you. No kidding, these things might seem pretty quaint today, but they were a big fad at the time. I don’t think I ever used mine much, and as such, my Giga Pet was probably constantly dead.

I’ve got no idea what the thing behind the Giga Pet is. I *think* it might have been a Tamagotchi carrying case of some sort. Don’t quote me on that, though.

Ah, but behind that are three VHS tapes that I still own to this day. From front-to-back, I received Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Megalon, and Creature From the Black Lagoon. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was very much into old horror and sci-fi films at the time (still am, too), and while it’s hard to fathom today, there was a time when a lot of these eventual-standards were still new and unknown to me, as these three movies were. I was (am) a big, big Godzilla fan, devouring any new old entry I could, so Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Megalon, I just loved it. And Creature From the Black Lagoon? You just can’t fault that flick! Like Godzilla, it was so great seeing new old Universal monster movies; I couldn’t get enough of ’em! (I know you can’t see Creature‘s cover, but trust me, that’s what it is.)

Next, I’m not sure what exactly the big Star Wars thing is, but look closely at what’s sitting in front of it: The Special Edition trilogy VHS boxset! Okay, even back then I wasn’t big on George Lucas tampering with the original films, but that did get them back in theaters, allowing me to see A New Hope on the big screen. So altered or not, that was cool. And besides, while in retrospect the Special Editions were the first indication that the Star Wars series could do wrong, the massive hype surrounding them in those pre-prequel days was certainly a lot of fun to live through. An extreme late-1990s throwback? Sure, but nostalgia can go a long way towards overlooking whatever problems a property may have had, and that’s the mindset I’m going with there.

Beside the Star Wars stuff: A pewter Superman statue, honoring the cover of the first issue of Superman proper. Next to that, a big two-in-one book, featuring the complete Frankenstein and Dracula novels back-to-back. I was (and am) an avid reader, and I did indeed read the Frankenstein portion, though I  never did much with ol’ Drac.

Finally, on the floor: I’ve loved praying mantis’ for years, so there’s some kind of wooden mantis kit there. Also, an Archie book of some sort. More importantly though, and I know you can barely see it, is what’s beneath both of those things: It’s the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide! I was a massive MSTie even then, but having discovered the show on the Sci-Fi Channel, the Comedy Central years were almost entirely a blank slate to me, save for the few VHS releases out there. The episode guide did much to fill me in. Not only was in ridiculously informative, but it was also (of course) very, very funny. I loved learning about the different MST’d movies featured on the show over the years, some of which I had seen unMST’d and some of which I would specifically check out later. It’s wild to realize that at that time there were only a few episodes released officially on VHS, and now we’ve gotten very nearly the entire series!

So, that was “my stuff,” which means we’ve come to the “share pile…”

Look, I’ve got severe memories tied to all of this, but man, this is where the nostalgia goes into hyper drive.

In the very back was one of those tabletop pinball machines, this one for Donkey Kong Country. Neat, but impossible to not be overshadowed by what’s right in front of it: A brand new Nintendo 64 console! I don’t even remember asking for a ‘next gen’ system, but man, N64 was just such a leap forward compared to the 16-bit era I had been stuck in. In fact, in the very front of this pile is a brand new Super Nintendo power supply (the old one had bit the dust) and Super Star Wars, which, 1997 or not, was and is timeless. But really, it was all about the N64 here.

Obviously a spare controller is present, and behind Super Star Wars is Super Mario 64 – I may not be able to find the words to properly describe Super Mario 64. The game was just so unbelievably great! The hours my brother and I spent on that during Christmas break and beyond, I’m not sure I want to know. There was so much to see and do in the game, and aside from a sometimes-wonky camera (hey, this was basically uncharted territory), it played fantastic. Heck, I think it still plays fantastic! Indeed, Super Mario 64 would absolutely find its way into my top ten favorite games list, should I ever be required to make one.

Even though the N64 would lose that respective console war, and there are any number of complaints gamers can (and will) lobby against it, you won’t find me among their ranks. Simply put, very rarely have I been blown away by gaming the way I was that Christmas 20 years ago, taking that first true plunge into the 32/64-bit era. The original PlayStation may have been better, but for as much as I love it, I could never love it more than the Nintendo 64.

(Oh, that Daewoo TV seen to the far left in the first picture up above? That was for the N64, so we could have our own TV to play it on without tying up the main one in the living room.)

So anyway, as my brother hooked up the Nintendo Switch earlier today and we played Super Mario Odyssey, to me the whole event recalled our first experience with Super Mario 64 (the similar controls didn’t hurt, either). As I said, that was the final thing that spurred me into writing this post. I wasn’t trying to break any new ground here, just trying to share some personal memories of one of my favorite Christmases. And 1997 was absolutely near the top for yours truly.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday. I’ll see you again before the year is out!

R.I.P. Johnny Winter (1944-2014)

Well, this just sucks. Yesterday, blues-rock legend Johnny Winter passed away. I simply couldn’t believe the news when I hopped onto Facebook today, but sadly, it’s true. The news hit me with a total thud, and needless to say, I’m bummed.

I had the great fortune to meet Johnny this past November at Time Traveler Records in Cuyahoga Falls, and he couldn’t have been a nicer guy. Completely personable and giving of his time. Believe it or not, he had a concert to perform after the appearance, but even with that deadline, he took pictures with everyone that wanted one, and signed whatever people had. Such a cool guy. Even though it was months ago, it seems like I was just talking to him. Obviously I didn’t know him personally, I still feel a real sense of loss, as I’m sure so many other music lovers do as well right now.

R.I.P. Johnny, and thanks for all the great music.

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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State Road Shopping Center Memories

The shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The (former) shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Alright, I’m going to diverge a bit from the sort of things I usually cover. As many of you know by now, I take a big interest in broadcasting from anywhere in the U.S., but at the heart of this blog is an appreciation for Northeast Ohio. For obvious reasons, this usually takes the form anything related to NE Ohio television. As you might guess, that’s the area I have the most fondness for, the M.O. of my whole hobby, you could say. However, that doesn’t mean I automatically dismiss anything that wasn’t shown on TV. Of course not. Like most people, I have nostalgic memories of my hometown, of places that are no longer there or no longer the same as they once were.

That almost-long-winded intro is my way of saying that lately I’ve been nostalgic for the now-demolished shopping center on State Road in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. It’s only been gone a few years, but it feels like much longer. Probably because for the longest time, “hitting up the strip,” as I and probably I alone called it, was a weekly (and sometimes more) occurrence. It actually went beyond just the shopping center, as there were plenty of other places on State Road itself I liked to check out regularly. Most of those places are still standing, but the shopping center as seen in this post is looong gone.

A view from the car: a closer look at the deserted shopping center.

A closer look at the deserted shopping center. Also, notice the image in the rear-view mirror. I’m such a pro!

All of the pictures in this post were taken by me on March 24, 2009. In the grand scheme of things, the entire center would be demolished relatively soon after, but technically, everything was still standing until, I believe, August. You’ll notice a bluish tint to all of these shots; like a dope, I didn’t roll down the car window to take the pics. There are two possible explanations for this: 1) it was fairly cold that day, or 2) my brother and I were in his Firebird, an exceptionally cool car, except the passenger-side window liked to go down but not up. In retrospect, I probably could have put up with the cold, but spending half a day trying to get the window to roll up? “Nah brah!”

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

The first few former shops on the strip. Notice my highly skilled use of alliteration just now!

I don’t remember the exact order of every shop in the center, but I do know that these three were the first ones on the strip, provided you were going right-to-left, which I almost always did. The store on the furthest right was a restaurant I never went in, and the one next to it was a discount book shop I also never went in, though I now wish I would have visited both at some point. However, I did go into the VCR & TV Repair shop once. Not only did they do repairs, but they also had old electronics for sale. This was waaay before I had established this whole “buying old used blank videotapes” hobby, but even then, I wanted one of the Betamax recorders that was for sale there. Of course, this was long before I had any kind of regular income, so whatever amount of money I had, it probably wouldn’t have been enough for anything. I do know ths repair shop relocated, and since I now have two fairly-nice-but-not-currently-working Betamax VCRs, maybe it’s time to give them a call.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

These last remnants of Goodwill stayed up until the very end.

You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but this is Goodwill. Those Halloween pictures went up the last season they were there, and stayed up until the end. Or, at least they were up every time I went by. Of all the places in the shopping center, I probably wound up checking out Goodwill most. 30 cent vinyl records, $1.00 videotapes, and ancient clothes no one would be caught dead wearing? Now you’re speaking my language! Actually, while this Goodwill had a good selection, since they’ve relocated this store elsewhere on State Road, I’ve had even better finds.

Notice the forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it happily collect trash or be the surrogate fire hydrant of passing dogs.

Poor forlorn trashcan, alone and abandoned. Never again will it collect trash. Never again will it play surrogate fire hydrant to passing dogs. Perhaps there’s a metaphor somewhere in this scene. Or maybe I’m just filling space.

I never went into Accent Ability. Aside from the declaration of furniture on the window, I have no idea what they sold. Google says antiques, and Google has rarely, if ever, lied to me. I’m sure it was a fine store. If they relocated, I’m sure that’s a fine store, too. it’s just that, frankly, there’s not much I can really say about Accent Ability. If they’ve relocated, please patronize them.

Best Cuts was/is kind of like Great Clips, in that both specialize in cutting you hair. However, there's a notable difference in the names of both places.

Best Cuts is not the same as Great Clips. I’m not sure why I have this self-imposed rule to have a caption for every picture, because I clearly don’t always have anything important to say.

Well now! I certainly do remember visiting this Best Cuts more than once! In my younger days, Mom would take my brother and I there for our regular haircuts! A lady that cut our hair in a way acceptable to Mom’s high hair standards worked there. Eventually she left to work at some other “hair place.” While I’m sure we continued to go to this location for a while afterwards, I seem to recall our visits to this particular Best Cuts dropped off substantially following her departure. Mom always took our hair seriously, which was why in grade school, while all the other boys had shaved heads, my hair looked positively Sam Malone-ish. In retrospect, I’m actually pretty grateful for that.

Watch out for pedestrians!

Watch out for pedestrians!

I’m not sure what this is a shot of. I think it’s the start of Save-A-Lot. There’s not much I can say about it, except it looks exceptionally desolate. But, since the whole place is gone now, I might as well use every pic I can. Actually, I kinda like this shot. Very evocative of…something. Maybe?

I take solace in the fact that it's highly doubtful anyone's reading these captions anymore.

I take solace in the fact that it’s highly doubtful anyone’s reading these captions anymore.

This I know was the former location of Save-A-Lot, however. As far as our area goes, I think this was one of their earlier locations. While this store obviously closed, the other two listed on that sign seen in the pic are still around. I was never much of a grocery shopper, but believe it or not, I did go in there from time to time. Y’see, back then, they sold $1 VHS tapes, and while there was a lot of crap that no one in their right mind would buy, they also seemed to get, I don’t know, close-out lots, I guess? What I’m trying to say is that there were occasionally some really good tapes, sealed and new, for the low, low price of a buck! Several episodes of Magnum, P.I. were once released as standalone VHS tapes, and a couple found there way to this Save-A-Lot. You can bet I snapped those up right quick. Other neat finds included an episode of the Back To The Future cartoon series, an episode of Kid ‘N Play’s cartoon, and even some ancient PC games that probably wouldn’t run on any reasonably current computer then and would actually be laughed at by our super-smart PCs now. In other words, really old games (naturally, I bought one).

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin'?

Is it just me or is the window seen on the far-left pretty trippy lookin’?

Falls Bootlegger was on “the strip” for years, but they’ve since moved practically around the corner and down the street from the former shopping center.

I don’t have a picture of the former-location, but Fishland Pets was also a regular stop for me. I loved the place; very reasonable prices and a really great selection of animals. A big, huge, long-lived cane toad (appropriately named “Beef”) came from there, as did a did a little bullfrog and a firebelly toad. The shop also had a big pool right up front under the window where a turtle named “Big Mama” lived, and once in awhile there would be kittens for sale (practically free, actually: you could get a kitten of your choice with the purchase of any cat-specific item).

America's driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

America’s driving to Firestone, just not this one anymore.

This now-former Firestone store closed out the first-half of the shopping center. If you think I had little to say about Accent Ability, I have even less to say about Firestone. I mean, it’s Firestone, there are a bunch of them. Really, without any other experience with the place, what can I say? I like cars, but I’m not exactly a “car guy.” However, I’m glad I grabbed this pic, because it makes a nice seque into the 2nd half of the center, where some of my fondest memories lie.

Can't go this way uh-uh no way!

Can’t go this way uh-uh no way!

Unfortunately, the 2nd half was roped off, barring me from any kind of halfway decent picture, unless we wanted to run through the barricade (hint: we didn’t). We’ll have to make do with pics I took from the road…

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Streets Blues? No? I'm the only one? Okay.

Does this shot remind anyone else of the intro to Hill Street Blues? No? I’m the only one? Okay.

As this was taken from the road, I’m reasonably sure this shot is from the roped-off half of the center. Why take it from the road otherwise? If it’s not, pretend it is, okay? Either way, it was in the second half that the old North Gate Bowling Lanes was located. I remember long ago, when I was only a few years old, my Dad taking me there. You had to walk down a flight or two of steps to get to the actual alley, and I recall that at the time there were pink elephants painted on the walls, which I, as a young fella, loved.

Many years later (it had to have been about 2005), my brother and I did our usual run of the center, and decided to check out North Gate. The elephants were gone, but the alley was still there. We didn’t bowl, but we did ask about prices, stopped and played a quick game of Ms. Pac-Man (NEO Video Hunter hot tip: Ms. Pac-Man is always best in bowling alleys. Trust me), and decided to come back when we had more money and time. Well, a little while later, we did just that, except North Gate wasn’t open. There was a paper schedule taped to the door, listing new times that weren’t all that accessible to us. The next time we went by, the place was closed entirely. Of all the places in the shopping center, North Gate is the one I wish I would have spent more time at. I love bowling (even if in reality I’m pretty awful at it) and North Gate seemed like exactly the kind of non-showy hometown place I would have wanted to hang out at. I’ll always regret not being able to bowl at least one game there or taking some pictures of the place before it closed. At least we stopped in there that one time for one last look, even if we didn’t realize it was a last look.

Also, I wonder what happened to that Ms. Pac-Man machine?

This is the end, my State Road friend...

Despite the assurances of the sign, I highly doubt the key stand was, at that moment, “open.”

We’re just about done with our run-through of the State Road shopping center. Even more memories of the final few stores. Near the end of the strip, there was a D&K discount store. My Mom used to take my brother and I there, and I remember in the summer of either 1997 or 1998 (maybe even both) us going in there. D&K had a bunch of closeout items at bargain basement prices. Lots of cheaply made toys and VHS tapes of public domain cartoons that were manufactured in who-knows-where were the things that interested me most then. I remember getting little pocket books of classic novels, very abridged (well, I guess, actually rewritten) and with lots of pictures. I’m not exactly sure why I wanted these books, but I believe I had War Of The Worlds and Moby Dick. I have no idea if they still reside somewhere in my basement or were long ago thrown out.

Also in that second half of the shopping center were two of the longest-lasted stores in the entire place: KB Toys and Dollar General. We’d stop into Dollar General every once in awhile (they have since relocated further down on State Road), but KB Toys was where we spent more time. In the late-90’s, my brother was a Pokemon addict, and that’s where they held these Pokemon “Clubs,” which was basically where people could trade cards, play each other, and if I recall correctly, some official ‘trainer’ would give out badges and whatnot for some achievement of dubious importance. I never really go into all that, at least not for an extended amount of time, but I did like going with my brother to these meetings, since I could play the latest video games that were on display. This was where I was introduced to Sega Dreamcast, and at the time, Crazy Taxi was just about the funnest thing ever. Later, I wound up buying lots of PS1 games there (though by that point they were becoming increasingly downsized), and when I finally got a PS2, I remember this location was where I got Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, on sale, no less.

Also, lots of neat ‘bargain’ toys would sit in bins outside of the store, and some of them were of relatively impressive vintage (think early-90’s figures and whatnot). I never made much use of this bargain bin, though now I wish I would have bought a toy or two out of it.

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Not the greatest pic ever taken, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

That pretty much ends our look at the now-gone State Road shopping center, but it doesn’t feel right concluding without a shot or two of Montgomery Ward. This place was closed for years, long before the shopping center was torn down. I do remember Mom taking me into it when I was really little. I seem to recall some downstairs lounge that didn’t really have anything for me to eat, but my memory’s hazy on that.

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all...

Monty Wards, off in the distance, looming over all…

There’s Montgomery Ward, in a shot clearly taken from waaay off in the non-roped part of the shopping center. For those wondering, the cars parked in the bacground are for a bank that’s still there today. There are a few places, such as that bank, Burger King and Arby’s, that are up front towards the street and thus were spared the demolition of the rest of the shopping center.

Before ending this post, I have to mention two places that were looong gone before (probably) any thought of tearing the center down ever arose:

First off, Funsville USA, the arcade that was located in the shopping center. it ended up closing in the early-1990’s, but my Dad took me there a few times. Despite only being 5 or 6 years old, I loved the place. I still distinctly recall playing the arcade version of Super Mario Bros. there. Here’s the thing with Funsville: I can’t remember exactly where it was in the shopping center. I have two ideas: one is the bank I was just talking about. I seem to remember “Funsville USA” being written on the building. But, I also remember a Donkey Kong Jr. ad/marquee/whatever in the window of one of the shops in the actual strip. I’m thinking Funsville was where the bank now is, but I could very well be wrong. If I’m not, then what shop had that DK Jr. ad in the window?

Second, The Galleria. I think that was the name of the place, at least. Also, I’m not positive it was in the shopping center, I could be confusing it with a location in the plaza at Chapel Hill. Either way, it was a big antique/second hand shop, and while I only visited a couple of times, I found some really cool things, including an old print ad for The Marx Bros.’ film The Cocoanuts and a vintage 1950’s TV Guide, both of which I still have.

So, that about wraps this whole thing up. Even though a new shopping center of some sort is scheduled to be built where the old one was, as of right now, it’s just a big empty space. Whether the new place inspires the same kind of fond memories I have of the old one remains to be seen. I’m sure it’ll be fine, but somehow I doubt I’ll ever be as nostalgic for it as I am of the dearly-departed shopping center I just spent 400 paragraphs talking about.

One long last look.

One long last look.

Farewell, State Road shopping center. You are missed.