The bridge at Freedom Park, Charlotte, NC. April, 2017
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that in the mid-20th century, particularly during the Vietnam War, Charlotte's Freedom Park was used as an occasional training area by Special Forces (Green Beret) reservists? They would "track" in the woods, and practice crossing Little Sugar Creek upside-down using line training.
Charlotte was a great place to learn to play. When I was a kid, the Nature Museum (now Discovery Place Nature) was my favorite “get out of jail free" (school!) card. The mammals, reptiles, birds, and bugs liberated me from the musty classrooms of my youth. The animals were always easier to relate to than other people. Ask almost any native Charlottean over 50 about their favorite childhood haunts and the Nature Museum is bound to be one of them. Of course, it was (and is) a place of learning, but it called me to play.
It was the same type of thrill going to Freedom Park in those days. We would run around the big train, and climb on the engine. The park had a couple of old fire engines, an army tank, and a fighter jet and we had great fun climbing those, too. We would play in the creek, and do the things that children did in the carefree manner that reflected the spirit of the times. Likewise, Veteran’s Park, on Central Avenue, was another popular park that in earlier days had the classic pump-action swings, where, the harder one pumped the handles, the higher one would go. Play would come, but we were forced to use our imaginations to create our circumstances, which were not dictated to us by technology as it is today.
Moreover, I can still smell the musty hard and softcover books at what was then the Commonwealth Branch of the Mecklenburg Public Library. When I was a small child, my mother would reward me by taking me to the library for two or three books. Fortunately, the love of books stuck with me. Aside from being part of my work, they will always be a source of play for me.
Another favorite was the Saturday morning visits to the “uptown” (as my dad called it) Sears. The aroma of roasted nuts permeated the place, and I loved the model train that seemed to run the entire length of the lobby when we walked in. I think the trips to Sears may be part of the reason why Saturday became my favorite day of the week. Saturday was sometimes the day that brought new football cleats, a new baseball glove or basketball from places like Sears, the Collins Company, and B & R Sporting Goods.
Later, I would be called to “play” when my father would take me to lunch at Hardees (a big deal in those days) on Eastway Drive. It was next to the post office and had one of the original “witch hat” roofs. After lunch or “supper” there, we might go to a Charlotte Checkers hockey game (I still have an authentic puck from 1973) at what I now like to think of as the “old” Charlotte Coliseum.
Dad and I would go to Charlotte’s Park Center so that I could see Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling. This was my first exposure to the likes of Johnny Valentine, Paul Jones, Super Destroyer, Andre the Giant, and of course, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. Early in his career, Flair lived up the street from us in Parkview East. I think the Nature Boy was called to play (though it was also part of his professional image as a “heel”) when he would stroll down his driveway, flex his muscles, and stare at us as we drove by. I’m delighted to see that Flair’s daughter, Ashley (“Charlotte”), continues the family tradition in the squared circle. Sorry, Ric; she’s a heck of lot more fun to watch: Your Figure-Four Leg Lock may have made the world stop, but when Charlotte does her Corkscrew Moonsault, the world reverses, starts, and then backs up again before restarting. Chick power with "flair." Woooooooooh!
My first job, believe it or not, was at the movies. The remains of the Capri Theatre rest at 3500 E. Independence Boulevard, and I had more fun working there—and got into more trouble—than any teen should be allowed to have at work. Sometimes, when the matinee sold out, they would send me across the road to The Ramada Inn, so that the Capri would have cash and coin for the next show. I had fun playing “chicken” with the cars on the way back. Charlotteans were forgiving in those days. During last year's visit to Charlotte, I smiled as I drove past the old Capri, because East Independence is now a highway divided by two, three-foot-high medians, and I doubt I would try crossing it today without the assistance of a Ranger platoon or a SEAL Team.
At least some of life should be fun. Are you called to be at play at times?
This will be excruciating if you spend your days around people who are so uptight that they must unbutton their collar to use the restroom. You know the type: the ones who can’t see their reflection in the mirror.
Have a little fun; be at play. You deserve it!
Help others to play from time to time. They deserve it, too.