Memories of Goodyear Boulevard and life in Picayune during the 1960s and 1970s

Published 2:28 pm Wednesday, August 9, 2006

In the 1960s, Picayune was define by two streets: Canal St., with its many stores and shops, and Goodyear Blvd., a magnificent four-lane drive in what was then a two-lane town.

Goodyear Blvd. Was a street well-ahead of its time. We were in awe of its width, with parking on both sides and still plenty of room for four lanes of traffic.

It had sidewalks on each side and a neutral ground that in places was only a sliver of concrete and power line poles, but in other places was a wide strip of lawn, shrubs and trees. It ran from just west of the railroad tracks in the center of town for just a couple of miles to the Old Bogalusa Hwy.

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It ran by comfortable oak-shrouded homes and magnolias and dogwoods. At its midpoint sat Picayune High School on the north and Crosby Memorial Hospital on the south, then two of the town’s most imposing structures.

Near the east end was the City Hall, an impressive three-level brick building whose Roman columns gave it an ante-bellum look. At the west end were the Crosby mill and the International Harvester dealership, and, most significantly to those of us growing up in the 1960s, the Boulevard Inn.

To understand the significance of the Boulevard Inn, which to the average adult in town was nothing more than a flat-roofed, two-room hamburger joint, one must understand the role that Goodyear Blvd. played in our teenage years.

As a kid growing up in Picayune in the 50s and 60s, it seemed as if the Boulevard had always been there. It held a fascination for us as little kids because it was so big and modern compared to the town’s other streets. It was like a taste of the big city magically plopped right into the middle of our little town.

And, above all, it was where the high school kids hung out. I can remember trudging in double lines from West Side Elementary over to the old Junior High for some sort of assembly because West Side did not have an auditorium at the time.

Of course, we had to cross the Boulevard to get to the junior high school. This was a big deal. There on one side was Crosby Memorial Hospital, new and the envy of any city our size. Across from it was the high school, where our heroes, people like football players named Bud, Billy Wayne, and Tommy Joe and beautiful girls named Betty Anne, Donna Faye, and Mary Alice, all went to school.

And lined up along the Boulevard in front of the high school were their cool cars, cars with fender-skirts, dual exhausts, and names like “Blue Angel” on the rear fenders. So, as we marched wide-eyed across the Boulevard and past the high school, we strained to catch a glimpse of life in the big times, and dared to dream of some day making our own memories on the Boulevard.

Later, in our progression through the Picayune Public Schools, we became students at Picayune Junior High School. The old building no longer stands, but it was once located near the east end of the football stadium. Once again we found ourselves staring with envy across at the high school and beyond to the Boulevard, anxious for the day when both would finally be ours for the taking.

In the meantime, we had to satisfy ourselves with the occasional ride down Goodyear Blvd. with an older brother or sister. They had gained Boulevard privileges by being high school students. But we younger siblings did not enjoy many of these trips, as no self-respecting older brother or sister like to be seen on the Boulevard with a younger sibling. After all, the Boulevard was a place to be “cool.”

Early on as kids in Picayune, it was established in our psyche that the Boulevard was the turf of the high school kids. You had a four-year window to enjoy Boulevard privileges from ninth grade through twelfth grade. Once your four years of high school were done, it was time to move on and turn the Boulevard over to subsequent generations. But, for four years Goodyear Blvd. would define your adolescent life in Picayune.

In the ninth grade, most of us were not old enough to drive. As high school freshmen, we tended to walk the Boulevard from high school to home. It was a wonderful walk, past lovely homes with manicured lawns, all the while beneath a canopy of majestic oak trees. If you were lucky enough to carry a girl’s books while she walked with you, it was an even more magical journey. Such opportunities were rare, however, as ninth-grade girls like the older guys, the one’s with cars. So normally we contented ourselves with watching the older kids drive by, their cars full of happy, noisy riders, while we tried to maintain our cool, despite trudging wearily along with an armload of books.

When that glorious fifteenth birthday finally arrives and we held our first driver’s license, the first solo trip in the family sedan had to be up and down Goodyear Blvd. Ah, what a grand day that was. Window down, your arm perched casually along the window’s edge, slouched down so that you were peering through the steering wheel rather than over it, with WTIX or WNOE blasting out some Jerry Lee or Elvis tune, trying to look cool but anxious to spot someone you knew so you could honk the horn at them.

Now this horn-honking was not something to be taken lightly. One’s popularity could be measured directly in proportion to both the number of honks given and the number received. A five-honk trip down the Boulevard was the minimum for acceptability. A ten-honk trip and you were verging on cool. A fifteen-honk trip put you in the upper echelon of the high school hierarchy. But one could not just go randomly down the Boulevard honking at others. The ultimate put-down was to honk and not receive a returning honk. No one wished to suffer that indignation.

It was in the evening that the really cool people could be found on the Boulevard. There were basically three things one could do. One, you could, of course, cruise up and down the Boulevard, giving and collecting honks. Tow, you could park along side some friends’ cars, congregate around one and casually wave at honkers as they paraded by while you engaged in deep discussions about who could win a foot-race between the Flash and Superman, or who won the drag race out on the Bogalusa Hwy. Or three, you could hang out at the Boulevard Inn.

The Boulevard Inn was a small, flat-roofed structure that served food and drink out the front windows, or you could dine in a small room at the back. Dining in was a good choice, as the Boulevard Inn had one of the great juke boxes of all time. For only a dime you could hear a great song. With nothing to satisfy our desire for rock and roll except AM radio, such a juke box was a treasure.

It housed a hundred or more rock and roll 45s and we loved to play the flip side of big hits, always in search of a cool song that others did not know of. One such song that we discovered was “Love Hurts,” by Roy Orbison. It was on the flip side of one of his big hits and received no air time on the radio, but it was a favorite at the Inn.

In face, we finally wore out the grooves in the record. Years later Nazareth recorded a version of “Love Hurts” that was a big hit for them. Anyway, on most nights you would find so many cars around the Boulevard Inn that many were parked along the Boulevard itself. Rock Dan roll, Barq’s root beer and hamburgers. Life could get no better.

The day finally came when we graduated from high school. That summer after our senior year was one of transition, when we cruised the boulevard knowing that each night edged us closer to leaving both our adolescence and the Boulevard behind.

As summer hurried toward fall, our nights at the Boulevard Inn became more somber, punctuated more and more by talk of college, marriage, work or military service. Finally, the summer ended and we all went our many ways, turning the Boulevard over to those who would come behind us. On our subsequent trips home, we would inevitably end up in someone’s car, cruising down the Boulevard again, but it was never the same. Some years later, the Boulevard Inn was demolished, gone forever, much like the youth and innocence of that time.

Not long ago while visiting my former home town, I rose early , just after first light, and drove to where the Boulevard Inn once sat. I got out of my car and stood in the abandoned lot and tried to picture again where so much of our youth was spent.

It was quiet at that hour, the town not yet awake, when suddenly I heard the unmistakable sound of “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. It seemed to be coming up from the earth where once the Inn had stood.

Overcoming my initial astonishment, I reasoned that someone had a radio tuned to an oldies station and the tune had simply escaped an open window to fall on my ears. I smiled at myself and turned back to my car. And for just a moment, I could swear that I saw ‘57 Chevys and ‘59 Fords and ‘62 Plymouths sitting in the lot around me.

Standing around them were boys with flat tope and duck tails, tee shirts and blue jeans, white socks and penny loafers. And I saw girls with pony tails, white blouses and pleated skirts, many of them wearing some guys’ football jackets.

They seemed to motion for me to join them, but I simply stood and stared, unable to move, until one by one the cars filled with laughing, carefree passengers and pulled out onto the Boulevard for one more cruise.

I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, they were gone. I wanted to see them again, tried to see them again, and I strained to hear the music again, but I could not. If they had ever been there at all, I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted them to be there so much that I imagined them. Or maybe, for a moment, God allowed me to peer back into that time. Whichever, I never saw them again.

I plan to go back one morning, and in the quiet before another day, I hope to see them again. But whether I do or not, I know they are there in the memories of so many of us, there where the Boulevard ends, at the Boulevard Inn.