The other day I drove through the old neighborhood where I grew up, looking for my barber who had mysteriously changed locations or retired or who knows? I know the last time I went, the barber shop was closed and there was a strange note on the door signed by someone other than him with an address that wasn’t too far away. When I had checked out the new address, and it appeared to be a beauty salon, but it was still being renovated, and not yet open for business. I couldn’t imagine my barber (who has been cutting my hair, almost exclusively since I was old enough to pay for my own haircuts), working out of a beauty salon. He’s not the type. His barber shop was incredibly old school, and BARELY changed in the last 20 years. The prices were good, and he was reliable and good at his craft. This time when I went, I decided to drive past that beauty salon again. It was open for business, but I couldn’t see in the window. I know this seems weird, but even after driving all that way, I didn’t want to walk into a beauty salon and ask about my barber. Out of respect for him in a way. So I drove back to the original location to see if there was any more information available. When I got to the strip plaza in my old neighborhood, it was fenced in by a construction company and just about the whole thing had already been gutted.
That was my neighborhood strip plaza.
I lived with my parents until I was 29. I know that sounds bad. My room was in the basement, so I had a fair amount of privacy. When I finished school and joined the workforce, they charged me a reasonable amount of rent. I wouldn’t have been able to live anywhere else for that price, and on months where I couldn’t afford to pay, they didn’t kick me out. I love my parents. I had a great relationship with them, so it wasn’t a difficult arrangement. The house we lived in was a 5 minute walk from the house we used to live in. Both houses were a 10 minute walk from my neighborhood strip mall. A 2 minute drive. 5 minute bike ride. I remember that plaza.
I remember the convenience store. The lady who owned it was Chinese, and she had a speech pattern that sounded like she was singing everything. She was delightful. I remember her husband who had the opposite speech pattern. They had a son who would work in the store once he was old enough. I could tell he liked Hip Hop because he was always reading The Source magazine. I used to like Hip Hop, and that’s where I went to buy The Source Magazine as well. I remember the girl who worked for them in the 90’s. She was Italian or Portuguese or something. We had little teenage crushes on her. She was sweet to everyone. Every guy that went in there thought they were the only one. I remember when there was a drug store on the other end of the plaza. My parents used to give me $50 when I was a kid to buy all of my Christmas presents for people. I know $50 doesn’t seem like a lot, but I was probably only 10 or 12 years old, and I guess adults thought it was really cool that they got an $8 present from me since I had to go to the store and pick it out myself. Plus inflation. It was the 80’s. I remember the Dry Cleaners who never spelled my last name right, but committed it to memory, so they never asked what it was, they just saw my face and remembered my name, but with the wrong spelling. I never bothered correcting them. I remembered the greasy spoon restaurant, and how we used to go there for fries and gravy, and maybe played the 2 arcade games that were there, until we’d get kicked out for making too much noise. I remember them renovating and getting their liquor licence, and then the same 5 people perched themselves at the bar stools for 5 hours a day, and drank cheap beers every single day. Still some of the best Pork Souvlaki around.
I remember when the Mafia place opened up. Yeah, they got all legit and started serving Gelato etc, but I never set foot in there after the first time (and that story could be its own blog). I remember when a guy was murdered in the parking lot. I remember the waitress from that establishment always bringing Espressos or Soda to my barber, and wondering how that arrangement was set up. I remember way back when there was a place where you could get schnitzel on a bun, and I took that for granted, but as time went on I realized how hard it is to find a little place like that at a small neighborhood strip plaza. I remember when my mom started a drop in day care for senior citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and had her office there for many years. I remember her having to go there every time someone set the alarm off in the middle of the night. I remember her retirement ceremony, and how being there, and hearing everyone pay tribute to all she had accomplished made us so proud.
I remember when pop was 50 cents at one store and 65 cents at the other. I remember buying Sarasoda and Twist Shandy because they had 0.5% alcohol, and we thought we were baaaaaaaad. I remember the New York Knicks having a pretty solid lead with about 30 seconds left in a playoff game against the Pacers, so I walked from my friend’s house to this store to get some chips and pop for the next game, only to find out when I got back that Reggie Miller scored 8 points in 9 seconds, and the Pacers won the game. I remember my friend being so obsessed with a certain brand of chocolate chip cookies that we made a day of looking in couch cushions and raiding coat pockets in our parent’s closets so we could go buy these damn cookies. I can’t even remember if they were good or not. I remember playing basketball for hours in the summer, and buying a 2 litre jug of peach flavored drink, and finishing all of it every time!
Seeing that building almost ripped to shreds made me sadder than I was expecting. I have 2 nieces that actually live within walking distance of the spot, but by the time they’re old enough to walk there by themselves, there will likely be condominiums there. I guess this happens to all of us eventually, and not to sound too cliché, but I definitely felt like a part of my childhood had just disappeared. Perhaps more importantly, where am I going to get my haircut?