The sign said: “This recreation room closes at 12:00 midnight.” Fortunately, when I first saw it, it was two o'clock in the afternoon. Little did I know how much that room would come to mean to me.
Fifty years ago, when I was a young boy, I first walked into that “recreation room” and was amazed and excited at all the different games. In the early 1970s there were two pool tables, a bumper pool table, and a ping pong table, all of which you could play for free! There was a baseball game where one “pitched” a small metal ball by pressing a button. The ball would come up out of a hole in the game’s floor. Your opponent would try to hit it by swinging the bat by pressing a larger metal button at just the right time. The pitcher could select from “fast ball,” “curve,” and “change-up.” There was a deluxe jukebox in the middle of the room. And, most fatefully of all for me, a separate hall with four pinball machines in a row. I quickly realized that pinball, like fishing, was my destiny. Over the years the pinball machines changed, but that resort’s “Rec Room” always had some of the best that were made. Eventually, Foosball was added. Soon air hockey and—better yet-- bubble hockey were added, too. At one time or another there was a bowling game, and, of course, many different video games. Atari’s “Pong” and “Asteroids” appeared first, then everything from auto racing to “Pac ’Man” to golfing games to “Buck Hunter.” Most recently, crane games showed up, filled with stuffed animals and plush toys.
The rec room had a long wooden counter at the far end where you could get processed sandwiches, pizzas, pop and beer. I ate my first “Chuckwagon” and had my first Dr. Pepper in the rec room. And I used to love getting beef jerky out of the bulk plastic container on the counter. (Those were very different times.) To my young mind, nothing went together like beef jerky and Dr. Pepper.
That room served as a restaurant and bar, game hall, and community center all in one. Occasionally people would dance to the music from the jukebox. It served as a gathering spot before friends, neighbors and siblings went out for the night. Often, friendships were made. Just as frequently, boy met girl…and vice-versa. In a few instances of which I am aware, wife met husband…and vice-versa.
There was always good music playing. I will never forget the top 20 or 30 juke box songs through the years. They are forever imprinted on my soul. “25 and Six-to-Four,” “Horse with No Name,” “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Thunder Island,” “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” “Dancing Queen,” and “I Want You To Want Me” among them. And my all-time favorite, the Beach Boys “Good Vibrations.” When I strode into the Rec Room in my teens and twenties and heard that song, I was immediately fired up and knew it would be a good night-- whether we went out to a bar, a drive-in movie, or to someone’s cabin to party or play board games. Sometimes we would head back to the Rec Room before midnight for one last game of pinball, ping-pong, or pool.
The Rec Room was attached to a lounge which featured cocktails and live music. Parents could enjoy the music and a libation in the bar knowing their kids were safely entertained in the game room just down the hall. I will never forget the look on my children’s faces when they came to our table to proudly show off the stuffed animals they “won” from the crane game. On a few nights our table was adorned with four or five of them.
The Rec Room was a constant for decades in an ever-changing world. It was an oasis of sorts. Unfortunately, the ever-changing world finally caught up with it. Subtly at first. The games and music changed over time, mirroring American society. Pinball games with names such as “Hootenanny,” “Paul Bunyan,” “El Dorado,” and “Skylab” were replaced by “The Sopranos,” “Netflix’ Stranger Things,” “Deadpool,” and “Trump’s Secret Service.” Innocence, exploration, and accomplishment were out. Greed, licentiousness, and political correctness were in.
In recent years, kids didn’t respect the space as in the past. Far more trash appeared on the floor. Popcorn was everywhere. Ping pong balls were often crushed or found in the Foosball table. Eventually, they were locked up. The pool tables were no longer free of charge. There was less for kids. The room became more corporate, woke. Finally, last year, the decision was made to get rid of the Rec Room altogether. After the better part of 100 years.
The writing had—figuratively-- been on the wall for perhaps five or six years. And now the writing was occasionally literally on the walls. Revenue per square foot was no longer acceptable to the resort’s new management team. There were liability concerns, too, in the less than brave new world we now inhabit. The long wooden counter is long gone now. As are the Chuckwagons and the bulk plastic jars of beef jerky, memories now, relics of a more innocent era. The sound of pinballs bouncing off bumpers and glass has been replaced by a quiet hush. The music plays no more.
The erstwhile “recreation room” has been recreated. It is now the resorts fifth outlet for hawking apparel…advertising the resort. 50% mark-ups you know. $60 sweatshirts beat a quarter in a pinball machine or jukebox any day. (They just can't produce the memories.)
Playing in the Rec Room was a literal rite of passage for generations of children. I myself transitioned from a boy to a man in that room, changing, in my own way, as the country was changing, too. Paraphrasing Don Mclean, something touched me deep inside…the day the “Rec Room” died.
And the sign in my mind said: “This recreation room closed at 12:00 midnight.”
It will never open again.
A couple cabins to the west of us lived—and lives— another family from “the cities,” about 150 miles to the south. Bob, the patriarch, bought the cabin in 1947, shortly after the end of World War II. His wife, Virginia, contracted polio when young, but this didn’t stop her from getting around. She had crutches and leg braces…and an indomitable spirit. She still drove into town and went shopping on her own. She still visited the neighbors, played cards and swam in the lake. She loved sitting in the water near shore and tanning at the same time.
“The Tool-shed” (Cabin Tales #22)
"Astronomy Isn't Pretty": Adventures In Exploration (Cabin Tales #21)
My eldest brother and I used to occasionally look through his powerful telescope at the night sky. This would occur when we both happened to be “up north” at the cabin. We would drag the largish instrument down to our expansive sugar-sand beach once the sky became inky black. Rob was thoroughly fascinated by astronomy for a ten or 15-year period, during which time he became quite versed on the subject. He went to observatories and purchased guidebooks and charts of the heavens. As such, he was my mentor in our endeavors. Also, he liked his beer. As did I. Stargazing and alcohol are a perfect match, each bringing out the best in the other…up to a point. There is something magical and mystical in pondering the impossible vastness and beauty of the cosmos, particularly when you have a little buzz (light year?) going. We have examined nebulas and globular clusters, supernovas and distant galaxies, concurrently looking into infinity and back to the beginning of time, wondering if that is even possible. We have been witness to the wonders of M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, the galaxy nearest our own, a mere 15 trillion miles away.
The Tree House Candle Shop And By-The-Way Gardens (Cabin Tales #20)
When I was a youth, I was blessed to spend the summers at the family cabin “up north.” Among the many things that made the area unique was the presence of several one-of-a-kind gift shops within walking distance of our little slice of Heaven. It may seem unusual that a young boy, especially one enthralled with contact sports, fishing, and the outdoors, would be smitten with “gift shops,” but if you’ll read on, perhaps you will come to understand.
"Harry" (Cabin Tales #19)
The Crab Caper (Cabin Tales #18)
One cool, misty day when I was 12-years-old, I was fishing off our neighbor’s dock, as I was wont to do. I usually caught perch, bluegills, and rock bass, but occasionally landed a large-mouth bass, as well. On very rare occasions, if I was particularly blessed, I would hook into a northern pike or a walleye, not a common occurrence out of only five feet of water. I even caught a sucker or two over the years, though that isn’t much to brag about.
Duke (Part II-- Cabin Tales #17)
Duke was a German Shepherd who lived across the street from my family’s cabin when I was a young lad. Duke thought highly of himself. And of a Siberian Husky named Kita who lived across the lake. He’d frequently visit Kita via a lengthy land route that he’d discovered. (In those days, Duke was allowed to run free and was usually outside from mid-morning until supper time). His owner, knowing where to find Duke if he hadn’t been spotted in the neighborhood for a few hours, would often go and pick him up in his classic old wooden Century runabout. On the way back, Duke would sit proudly erect in the boat's front passenger seat. He carried himself with an air that clearly showed he thought the occasions of his amphibious arrival, even though they occurred with some frequency, compared favorably to General Douglas Macarthur returning to the Philippines during World War II. (“As you good people can see, I have returned.”).
The Fishing Tournament (Cabin Tales #16)
I love to fish. Always have. Back in the halcyon days of my youth, one of my brothers, a good friend of ours, and yours truly entered a fishing contest on a whim. (Which was pretty much how we did most things). The multi-species tournament was sponsored by a local radio station, and was open to any lake in the area, highly unusual for a fishing contest of any type. This was the first such event any of us had ever entered, and, given the unconventional parameters, we had no idea if there would be dozens, hundreds, or thousands of contestants.
I made my way into the cottage.
The Crazed Angler and the Fish (Cabin Tales #14)
When I was younger, we had neighbors across the road from our cabin, who, unlike us, were permanent residents. Back then that was a rarity. When I was a very young lad, they were in late middle age, so by the time I was in my twenties they were elderly. And they were characters. As were their four offspring. And their dog, Duke.
A Peacock In The Northwoods? (Cabin Tales #12)
The BTL Fishing Tournament Chronicles (Cabin Tales #11)
A group of my high school friends and I used to hold (nearly) annual fishing tournaments at differing venues around central and northern Minnesota. We would enjoy zesty pre-tournament hi-jinks on Friday nights and then slither out for the first fishing session early Saturday morning. (These tournaments were comprised of three sessions of fishing: Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday morning). Each year’s winner would receive a nice Champion’s Trophy for his efforts. In later years, we added the equally prestigious “Golden Outhouse Award” to the contestant who was the biggest ‘disruption/buffoon/incompetent mess’ of that year’s tourney. (These trophies would appear to be mutually exclusive, although, oddly enough, “Spank” or “Swilligan” if you will, almost pulled that remarkable feat off one year. Had he done so, he should have automatically been put on the cover of Sports’ Illustrated’s “Sportsman of the Year” issue).
The "Incident" (Cabin Tales #10)
The Opener (Cabin Tales #9)
2/24/2015 "Elkie" (Cabin Tales #8)
A True Tale of a Nautical Neighbor (Cabin Tales #7)