Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My old school

Last year, my old high school in Benton Harbor, Michigan, received national attention because the football team had a historic, storybook season.

Led by formerly retired head coach Elliott Uzelac, the Tigers had their first winning season since 1989 and made the playoffs for the first time in school history. Here's a link to a nice feature that ran on ESPN.

Obviously, I don't live there anymore but I continue to follow the school's teams in the news. As this story was building, I'd see pictures of coach Uzelac.
I decided I wanted one of those caps. So I called athletic director Fred Smith, explained I was a Class of '82 graduate and I'd like to buy a cap to support the program. We made some small talk and eventually he offered to send me one in exchange for me coming back home to speak/perform at the athletic department's golf tournament and dinner fundraiser. Of course I said yes. You can't ever expect an answer of "no" when you offer a comedian any kind of stage time. I got my cap a few months ago and last week, for the first time in many, many years (I moved to Tampa in '86 and have been home exactly once since), I went back to Benton Harbor last week and this is what happened.

I did some sightseeing...
Silver Beach in nearby St. Joseph. That's the pier and lighthouse way off in the distance.
Parts of downtown actually look pretty good. This is off of Territorial Avenue, which used to be known as "The Strip" and was not a good place to be,

I visited some old haunts...
It is impossible to calculate how many baseball/football/basketball/hockey cards I bought at this place over the years. Thousands and thouands. They don't carry them anymore. Probably because they don't come with a stick of pink, powdered, brittle "chewing gum".

There's a car wash on M-139 that used to have a mannequin out in front named "Big Wally". He had an animated right arm and would wave a flag all day. Eventually his arm broke but they left him out there with just a steel rod nub waving up and down without a flag. It was very sad and hilarious. This is Big Wally 2.0 I guess. 
I treated myself to a tour of the high school by just walking right in and looking around.

This looks EXACTLY the same as it did over 30 years ago.

But the gym is a lot more orange than I remember it.
I sampled the local cuisine...
Henry's: Still very inexpensive, still awesome. Bought a t-shirt here.

This is a Roxy's double deluxe, my favorite burger of all time, with a side of fried mushrooms. The secret (to the burger) is chopped green olives. It actually was a little disappointing. I may have hyped it up too much in my mind.

Blue Moon ice cream NEVER fails to live up to expectations, though!
The tour book I picked up in my hotel lobby promised even more excitement...
...but I just didn't feel up to partying with accountants.

Then it was time for the big event, the reason I was there.
I'm on the list. No backing out now.

Silent auction items. Hey, I wonder where that sweet blue sweater (autographed by Anton Stralman) came from?

Athletic director Fred Smith with opening remarks

This is women's basketball coach Lisa Gondrezick. I don't think she remembered me but we were in school together at the same time.

I got to meet coach Uzelac...
...and wound up in the paper the next day.
Pretty nice visit/vacation. I don't know when or if I'll go back, though. I felt kind of weird there. A lot of things look exactly the same but a lot of things are completely different. At any rate, different people are doing the things and patronizing the places that I used to. I felt like a tourist in my own hometown. Like it was a ghost town where I was the ghost. A little unsettling and not what I was expecting from a trip "home". Oh well. 
Go Tigers!


Debbie Aitchison Brooks said...

I think it's hard enough to go home, but you went and your Mom is gone, and she was very close to you and visa versa. Hometown visits are such an awakening. So much the same, but so different too. Did you see Connie and your nephew and your cousins? I think it's totally cool you were asked to do that speaking appearance! Big Wally 2.0 was cool and I thought it was really the Toy Store listing you liked! Partying with Accountants is so over rated. Anyway, I think that sounds like an awesome trip and fun pictorial summary.

Connie Pontjeris said...

Hometown & home are two completely different things.