WTH 2016 Project, Part TwoPosted: September 13, 2014
Paris Avenue was lined with stores, houses and saloons through much of its day. As I have mentioned before it was once the most important street in West Terre Haute. Like the town it was once vibrant but now its decay reflects what happened to the town over the last five decades.
Saloons have always been a part of West Terre Haute. Indeed, the first building erected there in 1837 was a saloon/store catering to the workers building the National Road. I can not recall a time when there was not a bar on this corner of 3rd (Market) St, and Paris Avenue.
The storefront immediately to the right of the tavern once housed Ernie Lane’s barber shop. I went to Ernie for my (increasingly infrequent) haircuts during my junior high and high school years. Ernie open this shop upon being released from prison after serving a short term fo, I believe, was some sort of financial crime.
I especially remember three of my visits to his red leather barber’s chair. One was the time that Ernie convinced me that I would feel much better in the hot summer if he gave me a “butch” cut. His powers of persuasion overcame my usually strong will and I acquiesced, immediately regretting the decision as the clipper burrowed onto my scalp. I regretted it even more when I walked back into the house on McIlroy Avenue. My mother practically shrieked at my scalping. Her disappointment was even keener than mine at shearing Ernie gave me.
Like most barbers of that time Ernie was fluent in talking politics, crops and sports. He was never bereft of opinions. I remember his outrage at Cassius Clay for adopting his Muslim name of Muhammed Ali and proclaiming he had no quarrel with “them Viet Cong.” His reaction was succinct but strong. “they ought to draft that nigger, send him straight to Viet Nam and lead a squad. That way he could be shot in the back by our own troops like he deserves.
The best day I ever had at Ernie’s was that November 1968 Saturday when IU beat Purdue which meant John Pont’s team would be going to the Rose Bowl. I had not wanted to get a haircut that day, instead wanting to stay home and listen to the game. But because some event was coming up (school picture time, maybe) Mom insisted I go see Ernie. At halftime I fairly sprinted to Paris Avenue hoping to get it over with. Of course there were at least three others ahead of me with staked claims to Ernie’s chair. But it actually turned into a wonderful communal experience as the five of us listened to the game. The other customers stayed behind after their cuts (as did I) to share the experience.
See the windows on the second floor? Then as now, I believe, the second floor had apartments. It was behind one of those windows that Kenny Wayne Lowe met his early death. Kenny and his family lived down the hill from my grandparent’s house. I played with him and his brother Norman on occasion. Kenny Wayne always brought to mind Huck Finn for me. Lanky, tousled hair, he was a nice kid, though I believe he had what we would now call a learning disability. In those days the general pronouncement about Kenny Wayne was that “not too bright.” I lost track of Kenny, but learned he had been drafted and went to Viet Nam. The word around the neighborhood was that he survived the jungle, but came home with wounded psyche and a drug habit. Perhaps those are the reasons he found himself living on that second floor and fell into such a stupor that he did not notice his cigarette falling onto the bed. At least not until it was too late.
Houses also once crowded Paris Avenue. Frankly I am always surprised that more than a few still stand, some after more than a century.
Two buildings that have memories for me. The white building was once, I think, Farr’s Grocery, later Mama Joy’s Restaurant. Even Terre Hauteans would venture into West Terre Haute to dine on the down home fare at Joy’s. I remember the yeast rolls were good, not up to my Garandma’s but good.
The Young Men’s Club was home to dances, men’s stag smokers (sometimes bawdy events rumored to include what we would now call vintage porn viewed through the smoky haze), club meetings, and pool parties. It was the only indoor pool in town. Readers of previous blogs will remember it as the place my Uncle Dave Chrisman saved my mother from drowning. Hence my fear of water.
I was really surprised when I returned for a visit a few years ago to find West Terre Haute had its own strip club, opened after those dim-lit edifices like it in Terre Haute had been shut down. Checking around a bit I heard that it had quite a reputation. Many of even the most hardy Terre Haute Bawds are said to be leery of venturing across the river for their entertainment (though they desperately wish to). Perhaps that is why (in addition to worries about drunk driving) that the club offers a shuttle service on weekends. After all, this is the age of good customer service….