Lost Behind the Chains

What a new world I found – me the suburban kid – when my parents first brought me to Kansas State College of Pittsburg in 1971. No more colonial influenced red-brick ranches or split levels, no more strip malls and fast-food chain restaurants on every single corner.

Something entirely different hit me, the Virginia kid, in southeastern Kansas. I liked it, too!

My stories to Virginia friends had been about the great and unusual places to eat, like Chicken Annie’s or Chicken Mary’s, Harry’s Café, Otto’s Café, Jack’s Steakhouse, 1106 (a drive-in burger joint), Los Charos (a Mexican restaurant known for $1 night once a week), and a whole slew of little places.

Jokingly, I told my Virginia friends, “They’ve got a bar, liquor store or alcohol outlet [grocery stores, too] on just about every block of Broadway, the town’s main street, and it’s a long drag!”

All of these places were locally owned! All except a few businesses, like JC Penny, in the little enclosed mall on the very south end of town.

The alcohol outlets – all Pittsburg owners; the restaurants – all Pittsburg owners; mostly all the businesses in town were all locally owned. Many mom and pop establishments. The nothing alike appealed to me.

A grandma ran a bar out of her garage in an alley, right off of Broadway! You won’t see that anymore.

On Columbus Day, we thought it would be fun to take a fall drive, not just to see the changing colors along the way, but to check on Pittsburg and “the college.”

After all, Diane’s the first girl I met on campus (my roommate’s girlfriend); it’s where we married (in Pitt State’s Timmons Chapel); and where we started our life together in a minor’s shack on Monroe Street.

Our route took us south on Highway 7 to Fulton and a quick drive down what remains of the old 69 Highway to Fort Scott. The old chip and seal surface brought back memories of cars running bumper to bumper with trucks on those deadly and very narrow and hilly stretches.

Chili’s-Applebee’s-Long John Silver’s-Arby’s-McDonald’s-Sonic-Starbucks and other chain eateries greeted us as we drove into Pittsburg.

Signage made it nearly impossible to find El Charro’s, a Mexican restaurant we had talked about for lunch. We soon found it lost in look-alike-mania.

The downtown portion of Broadway appeared, thankfully unchanged, a corridor of brick and decorative storefronts from another era.

My late parents, who graduated from Kansas State Teachers College in the early 1940s, talked often about shopping in the stores and the cafes.

They would be glad to know Otto’s Café and Harry’s Café still exist, although Harry’s was closed – it being a Monday – and Otto’s way too busy when we were ready to eat.

Sadly, I missed not getting to gaze over Harry’s selection of pies. Talk about yummy! And the choices! The chicken places (Annie’s and Mary’s) being a Monday, were also closed.

Just north of the college, our three-room minor’s shack on Monroe Street, where we first lived as man and wife, looked dingy. Was a renovation underway? Hard to tell, but the place looked sad and dirty. We drove on quickly.

My first rental house, located on Madison just one block down and behind the “old” Taco Bell, appeared well kept. Glad to see!

Especially since it had been a rental for college students known as Grand Central Behind the Taco Bell! Green paint covered the yellow of old.

As we pulled back up to Broadway, we both noted the empty lot where 1106 once sat. GONE! The best greasy burgers in the state of Kansas, well Southeast Kansas – gone! A freshly graded dirt lot!

No more fresh and flavorful, hand-rolled burger patties. Totally gone!

Yet, Pizza Hut-Burger King-Taco Bell-Kentucky Fried Chicken-Subway, all anchored by the “golden arches,” spread out within view. Ugh!

A once drab, gray shack of a building, called The Palace, right across from Russ Hall, Pitt State’s administration building, towered over Broadway in green and yellow paint emblazoned with the name, The Jungle.

A party deck crowned what was now a new top level, particularly the neon sign promoting, “$1 DRAFTS & SHOTS SUNDAYS.” What was that about the Bible Belt I learned about in 1971? Bet “the college” loves this place!

What comes to my mind every time we visit Pittsburg and “the college” is preservation, endurance and knowing an educational purpose will continue in this region for future generations.

A few locally-owned outlets survive, but overwhelming signage, as it does most everywhere, camouflages the distinctive nature of a vibrant community we once called home.




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Posted by admin on Oct 19 2011. Filed under Kevin Gray. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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