Saturday, December 4, 2010

Urban Walkabout: Chicopee

I grew up here. It was here I learned to read and write, add and subtract, ride a bike, play soccer, basketball and baseball, learn piano and trumpet and drive a car. It was also here that I learned to smoke and drink beer, fight, kiss girls, manipulate my way through high school and avoid the police. I’ve been away most of my adult life and walking though this city seems strangely foreign to me. The sights and sounds are unrecognizable. The memories seem like something I read in a book or seen in a movie. Like all those things happened to someone else. In some other place.

Let’s take a walk:

Cabot Mill. Just one of the places I never really noticed. The old mills are beautiful artifacts related to the history of the city. Dad says a few German POWs during WWII were housed in these mills. There was also a camp at Westover AFB. Although a good portion of them were taken to upper-state Maine.

Chicopee High School. The absolute worst years of my life were spent here. I nearly didn't graduate because I refused to take gym class. Spending 3 or 4 hours a day after school at baseball or soccer practice was enough exercise for me, I thought. The vice principal thought differently. My cousin, Miss Pula, a gym teacher, saved me. Although I didn't deserve it.

I often played pool here. I got into a fist fight once that spilled out into the street. It was over a girl, of course. When the cops came I got away. I always did.

I scored a few goals here. Our team won the state soccer championship in 1984 against some team from eastern Mass. But our highlight was beating Ludlow in the Western Mass finals.

Szot Park. After snapping this photo a young boy and his dad approached me. "It's decommissioned", the boy said. "So am I", I countered.

The Collegian Court is for sale. Looking through the windows I notice the tables are neatly set, bottles of booze adorn the bar, menus are stacked and waiting, cloth napkins are folded neatly. But the doors are locked.

The old Fisk/Uniroyal tire plant still stands proudly. I recall buying sneakers here. PF Flyers. I guess they made the rubber soles.

I'm sure I bought beer here. I looked old for my age. When I was 15 I looked at least 18. Although the drinking age was 21.

The old Rivoli theater. Saw many movies here. Recently, there was hope that some Russian entrepreneurs would renovate the building and create a night club. Many dreamed of a new Brighton Beach dinner club scene. It never happened.

I always joked with my Mom that she should be careful. She might end up here one day. Those days are coming closer.

Typical 4 floor walk-up in the center of town. I've been to this house many times. But not lately. The clothes lines are a nice, new added feature.

I must have walked past this building dozens of times. But only now do I take time to notice its uniqueness.

The entrepreneurial spirit is always alive here. Bob's bakery: keeping Chicopee nice and happy. And fat.

Author's reflection in the window of Chicopee Savings Bank


Anonymous said...

Todd and I enjoyed your photos and accurate descriptions, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Left Chicopee in 1968, joined the Navy. Hasn't changed in over 40 years, except for the Fisk where my Dad used to work.
Thanx for the memories.
Tom F said...

Here's a link to some photos of the inside of the plant. I would never venture in that place. Thanks for forwarding, Ducky!

Christopher Szpara said...

Great pictures of Chicopee landmarks! My family owned (and still owns) the Collegian Court restaurant.