34th Avenue will always be clouded for me in a romantic haze. For those of us in the Roosevelt High School class of 1956, it was where hopes and dreams came alive or were dashed to dust.
If you had a car, after school, at night or on the weekends you’d head over to Charley’s A & W Root Beer Stand at 43rd and Hiawatha (where 34th Avenue used to connect to Hiawatha). We’d meet in the parking lot, drink nickel or dime root beers (8 ounces or16) or a black cow (root beer in a 16-ounce mug with a scoop of vanilla ice cream) and munch on a shrimp or cheeseburger basket and talk about where the parties were for the weekend.
Rock and roll was just starting and I remember hearing a popular local disc jockey breaking an Elvis Presley record on the air and saying he’d never play “that kind of music on his show.” We all laughed because we knew “Rock and roll is here to stay.” When Bill Haley and the Comets came out with their single and their full-length movie, “Rock Around The Clock,” there was a new energy and a new validation of youthful impulses. We all knew we were at the beginning of something brand new and beautiful.
It was in a drive-in that summer where we heard Shirley and Lee’s “Come On Baby Let The Good Times Roll.” The first song I remember that combined the words rock and roll in the same song and told you what they meant:
Come on baby let the good times roll Come on baby let me thrill your soul … Come on baby let the good times roll … Roll all night long …Come on baby just close the door …Come on baby lets rock some more … Come on baby let the good times roll … Roll all night long … Feels so good … When you’re home …Come on baby …Rock me all night long ..
The song went to Number 20 on the pop charts that summer, and young kids were never the same.
If you were lucky enough to get a date on Saturday night, the popular option was to spend 20 cents on a double feature (and 20 cents for your date) at the Leola Theater. Generally, major motion pictures would open downtown for a couple of weeks, then play at the Riverview for a couple of days, then at the Nile for a couple of days, and, finally, at the Leola on 50th and 34th. But, if you could wait, you got to see a double feature for the same amount of money you’d spend on a single feature at the Nile or Riverview and for less than half the cost you’d pay to see the same film downtown.
After the movie, or after a party or a really big date, you would drive to the Airloha Drive-in at 58th and 34th. It was kiddy-corner from the airport, Wold-Chamberlain Field, so the Airloha capitalized on the proximity. The most exciting hamburger in town was their Stratoburger, two hamburger patties with melted cheese in between, two strips of bacon and lettuce and tomato. That was considered wildly innovative and healthy eating in the mid-fifties.