Exit on Main Street

After college, in the mid-seventies, I taught Elementary school art three days a week. The other two days I worked at a little store named Exit on Main Street. I’ve made reference to the shop in this post- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Located on Main Street, Newark Delaware, the store derived its name from the Rolling Stones Album Exile on Main Street.

In earlier years the house was occupied by a college friends great grandmother.  Later it became a Main Street institution store named The Card Shop. All my greeting card purchases were made there. When The Card Shop closed friends Walt and Jeannie rented the space to open their store.

It was a narrow antiquated two-story home.  Timeworn wooden floors, door knobs of antique faceted glass, ceilings high with deep crown molding. The front two rooms, formerly living and dining room, housed the shop.  An ancient kitchen was the in back, the sink generally overflowing with dirty dishes.  Walt and Jeannie lived above the store. A staircase in the kitchen led to three tiny bedrooms and a wee ancient bathroom.

Walt’s nickname was Peanuts.  He and Jeannie had been a couple since she was in High School.  He was several years her senior.  Both were very amiable, really mellow, and generally quite stoned.

I remember getting a glass of water from the kitchen sink when Walt casually invited me to “fall into an affair.” Rather than being offended or considering it sexual harassment, I chalked it up to his being high. It was the early 70’s.  If anyone was talking about inappropriate work place behavior I sure hadn’t heard it.

Exit on Main Street sold a mash up of house plants, macrame plant holders, large baskets, copper pots banged out in India. The shop was perfumed by incense, which we marketed along with incense burners. It was truly quintessential 1970s in its decor and product line. I learned the names, care and feeding of so many types of flora.  I became informed about mealy bug, spider mites, and how easily a cactus flops and dies when over watered.

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My job involved watering plants, misting those that required it, picking off dead leaves, helping customers most of whom were college age.  Also hippies, also often stoned.

No credit cards changed hands.  Odd to remember a time when people paid in cash.  The cash register was a big brass antique that chimed loudly when you hit the Sale button.  I’d worked a cash register at National 5 and 10 when I was in college.  I had been hopeless at making change.  I clearly remember the dimestore manager teaching me to count back,  one penny/nickel/dime/quarter at a time.  Happily by the time I landed at Exit on Main Street I had change making skill set down.

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Each sale was written down on a small green paged pad with carbon paper underneath the top sheet, creating a duplicate for the shopper.  The originals were slid onto a spike and added up at the end of the day.  I’m sure their numbers were better on days when the owners worked the shop.

People Magazine had just begun being published.  During the quiet times I’d browse People, catching up on all the celebrities. I recently subscribed to People again.  I can whip through my weekly magazine in about a minute and a half.  I have no idea who most of today’s nubile stars are.  I won’t renew because getting People delivered to the door has totally ruined standing in grocery store check out lines and waiting in Doctor’s offices.

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I can clearly recall buying the first issue at Newark Newstand, then crossing the road to work.

For lunch I would wander a few doors down, get a wax paper wrapped bagel with cream cheese and sprouts, dropped into a small brown paper bag. Does anyone eat sprouts these days?  In the seventies they were ubiquitous.

I wore bell bottom jeans, clogs or earth shoes, a peace sign necklace and mood rings. I wasn’t really a hippy, but on Tuesdays and Fridays I attempted to look like one.

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Walt and Jeannie were forced to move shop when the owners of that splendid vintage building made a deal with a fast food chain, sold it and it was torn down.  Many of Newark’s original buildings went the way of the wrecking ball.  But some remain.  National Five and Ten is a fixture.  It’s mostly about University of Delaware T-shirts and memorabilia these days.  When I worked there during college it was a strange smelling low-end Department Store.  Flash bulb moment! I suddenly recalled an incident while working at National Five and Ten that would definitely be termed sexual harrasment today.  More on National Five and Ten in a future post.

Since writing this I got an email from college buddy Eleanor.  She included a photo of a toothbrush holder bought at Exit on Main Street.  She maintains she just can’t let it go. Thanks Eleanor!

Going to Church

My family attended Newark United Methodist Church every Sunday except the monthly communion Sunday.  Mom and Dad said the communion service was too long.  Personally, I liked the grape juice served in itty bitty plastic cups.   But that is all I liked about church.

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When I was very small Sunday school was kind of fun.  I remember playing  “The Farmer in the Dell” in the church parking lot. Debbie Fieldhouse was in my class.  She taught me how to tie a bow with my hat-string.  The hat-string was a continuous loop, not two individual strings.  It was a blue winter hat with white fake fur trim.

On the Sunday school room wall was a picture of Jesus.  I now think of that guy as “surfer boy Jesus.” He was strawberry blond with blue eyes.

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Can’t you picture him, riding in a Woodie, surfboard on the roof?

As I got older Sunday school began to bore me.  The church sanctuary was on the second floor.  Daddy would hand me change for the donation basket, then he and mother would head upstairs. There was a brass letter slot on the wall into which people could drop their contribution checks or envelopes. I would slip a nickel or dime through the slot, sneak out the front door and take myself down the block to Rhodes Drug Store.

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Once at Rhodes, I’d climb up onto a spinning soda fountain stool.  Using the rest of the money intended as church donation I’d buy a cream cheese sandwich on white bread.  The sandwiches always came with a pickle slice on top.  I never ate those.

The waitress was a very short black woman with the most bowed legs I’ve ever seen.  Mother said it was from rickets.  Keeping an eye on the clock I’d happily work my way through the sandwich and be back in the church lobby by the time my parents came down from the sanctuary.

Following the service, in the vestibule, Daddy handed my sister Marilyn and me our weekly allowance. My family would then cross Main Street to the Newark News shop.  We called it “Newark News Stand” but I see in the photo below that wasn’t the name.  The News Stand was a very narrow store.  Some of the magazines were wrapped in brown paper.  I didn’t know why.  They also sold cigarettes, tobacco, and other smoking stuff.  Everyone smoked then.  My parents smoked Kent cigarettes.  Later they moved on to Tareyton.  I started smoking at sixteen when I swiped Tareytons from their packages.

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Marilyn and I spent our allowance money on comic books.  My favorites were Little Lulu, Betty and Veronica, and Casper.  Marilyn usually chose Mad Magazine.  Mother’s friends disapproved of comic books, but Mom reasoned that it got us to read–which was a good thing.  Both my sister and I continue to be avid readers.

And my sister continues to be an avid church goer.  Me, not so much.  I’m more likely to spend Sunday morning perched on a Starbucks stool.

My parents never knew I skipped church on a weekly basis.  It wasn’t until a few years before mom’s death that I told her.  She was suitably horrified.

Growing up in a college town was good because…

Delaware stadium

I grew up in Newark, Delaware, home of the University of Delaware and the Fighting Blue Hens.  As a kid I took hearing the marching band on autumn Saturdays completely for granted.  Now, looking back, I realize what a gift it was to live close to the Delaware stadium.

In junior high school I had a close friend, Ruthie, who lived a stones throw from a boy’s  dormitory.  We were eager to get inside that dorm.  I was thinking we might actually see a naked boy or two.  I didn’t have a brother, so the prospect of seeing boy body parts was thrilling.  We dug through her brother Steven’s drawers, pulled out piles of guy’s clothing and dressed up like boys.  We then marched our male selves into the dorm.  I don’t remember much about it other than the place smelled like sweaty sneakers.  No naked guys, but it was still a big adventure.

The college campus was a wonderful playground.

I went to U of D and was an art major in the early 70’s.  It was a fun experimental time.  Junior year I gave a friend a bong for  her birthday. When her dad found it she told him it was a sculpture I had made in class.  Wild times and lots of laughs.

That same year  I got a job working at the Stone Balloon serving pitchers of beer.  My mother was horrified that I was “a bar maid”.  The Balloon was owned by a man named Bill Stevenson.  His then wife, Jill, was a beautiful blond who would come into the bar  looking somewhat bewildered.  She later married Joe Biden, and the rest is history.

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Who out there remembers the Stone Balloon?  Bruce Springsteen played there as did Tiny Tim.   The other bar in town was the Deer Park.  That’s where the frat boys hung out. The Balloon was for “hippies” according to my ex-husband.  Guess I was a hippie.  I had a peace sign necklace and marched in a Viet Nam war protest ( but only because I had a crush on a guy who was marching…I now realize a lot of my choices in life were motivated by crushes.)

I dated that boy for about a year.  He went on to become gay.  I wonder if dating me drove that?   He was the drum major in Delaware’s marching band and a fellow art major.  We tie died tee shirts together and spent an illegal night in the art studio.  He was cute, funny, and a wonderful dancer.

Somehow I wandered off the growing up in a college town topic.  Oh well.  It’s my blog.  I get to do whatever the heck I want with it.  Life is good.

University of Delaware