Writer’s Workshop: Devon Avenue

“Write a blog post inspired by your childhood neighborhood.” Gee, that’s never something I do around here…

This is a map of my path home from school back in the Sixties. I lived at 6459 N. Glenwood and school was at 1300 W. Loyola, and as you can see it was a very short walk, less than five minutes. When I was in eighth grade, every once in a while I would take the long way, going east on Loyola Avenue until it met up with Sheridan Road, walk down Sheridan to Devon Avenue, west on Devon to Glenwood, and then walk down Glenwood to home. (I would have marked it down on the map, but I kept screwing it up. Sorry.) Why? Not really sure. I think there were days when I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts, or I felt restless and in need of exercise, or it was just a different view of the world.

Devon was all businesses, although there were apartments upstairs from some of them. It wasn’t the nicest street in the neighborhood; it always seemed a little grimy and seedy, although there were some nice places along the way. Meyer’s, for example, was, amond other things, an old-fashioned soda fountain, where when you ordered a Coke, they would actually mix the syrup and soda water together. You could get Coke mixed with different flavors, like chocolate, vanilla, and cherry, a Green River (which was lime, I think), things like that. I never seemed to have any money, so I never went there after school, but whenever I’d go there, a few guys from Weinstein’s Funeral Home were always in there. That’s where I learned that Jewish people don’t have elaborate funerals, because there’s no time to plan for one. When you died, they had to bury you within a day. At least that’s what they told me.

I’d always run past the Devon Hotel. We were always warned not to spend too much time loitering around there, though our parents never actually explained why. I learned later it was a gay bath house, and I understood why they never told us, because then they’d have to explain what went on in there, or at least what they thought went on in there. The people who ran the Devon Hotel had this very large and very vicious German Shepherd who would stand at the iron-bar gate in the back and go into a paroxysm of barking, snapping, and jumping around when you made the mistake of getting too close, which for him was anywhere in the alley. So we ran past the front of the Devon Hotel.

Most of the interesting stuff on Devon was on the south side of the street, including the dry cleaners, which was interesting for me because I was in love with the daughter of the people who ran the place. I don’t know what her ethnic background was, but I remember she was very exotic-looking and had a gorgeous smile, and based on the schoolbooks that were on the table behind the counter, she was about my age. Never had the guts to find out her name, though…

23 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Devon Avenue

  1. Sounds like something from a hundred years ago. I used to have a similarly distanced walk to school when I lived in San Diego in the early sixties but it was through a housing tract of other houses like the one my family lived in. Walking to school was a good thing. I didn’t much like it in the years in Indiana when I had to ride the bus except that the driver played the popular rock station (WLS) through the speakers and that kept me informed about the current hits which was a time when I started getting interested in that sort of thing.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  2. I have Google mapped some places I lived as a kid, taken the street tour to see old stomping grounds. The closest I come to the soda shop was our old Hook’s drugstore in Franklin, Indiana. They did have a luncheon counter, and me being me, I only ever got ice cream. But I loved to go there, on my bicycle, like a big kid šŸ™‚

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  3. Now I know why mom didn’t let me take that towel boy job. Remember Mr. Meyers taking his teeth out behind the soda bar all the time. Ick. Surprised you forgot Arfa’s, that’s a story by itself.

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  4. Walking to school brings back memories. I walked to my schools, 4 different ones, until I was 13 and we moved out into the country and started riding the school bus. It was good for me – I saw a lot of life in those neighborhoods! I was always observant because my granny warned me to run if I ever saw a black car stopping for me! LOL!

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    1. I think what attracted me to being there was the idea that these people weren’t like us, and I got a chance to see how the rest of the world lived. I thought that was interesting and taught me that there were good people in the world who weren’t Irish Catholics (or German Catholics, or Italian Catholics). Plus, I learned a lot about what people did and the kinds of businesses there were. Call it the writer’s personality starting at an early age…

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    1. My uncle owned a Shepherd for years, and she never bit any of the kids, but even so I was scared of the dog because all I could think of was the one at the bathhouse (maybe the dog was there to keep the cops from raiding the place, though a .38 between the eyes would deal with the dog quickly enough). In a way, it was good they had the dog; I just wish it hadn’t been so aggressive.

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  5. It sounds like that street was rather interesting and fun…except for the dog. Did you ever find out the girl’s name? I took an hour bus ride…not that much fun.

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    1. Nope, never found out her name. I was too intimidated, and besides I knew my mother would never approve, so I figured it was a moot issue. (“You’re interested in WHO? Who’s she? Her parents own the DRY CLEANERS? Oh, for God’s sake…”)

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  6. I had to beg my mom to let me walk to school when I was in elementary. It was only through residential neighborhoods though, I didn’t get to pass by fun businesses.
    I, sometimes, took the longer way also. Just for fun, I suppose.

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  7. I remember riding my bike to school. Of course, it was safer back then. I also remember the soda shop on the corner during my high school days. Now, it all seems like an old movie. Great memories.

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    1. I go through my old neighborhood now (Google Maps’ street view is good for that) and I barely recognize it. I start asking myself if that place I remember so well was just a figment of my imagination, like “Back To The Future” or something…

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  8. My family was just reminiscing about walking to/from school! My oldest two siblings were walkers, but by the time the remaining four of us came along there were buses and carpools. The 80’s must be when everyone started transitioning away from letting elementary school kids go off on their own. I can’t imagine letting my kids walk to/from school! No way.

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    1. I see some kids walking to school, but really the schools are too far from where we live for the kids to walk, and even if it’s less than a mile the roads are busy (and drivers are a little crazy) and parts of the walk don’t have sidewalks. It’s sad when you consider there’s so much obesity among kids these days.

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