Phoenix Academy and Sherry’s on Vernor were just names to me. Woodrow Wilson Junior High and The Cruise Inn are institutions to me in my lifetime. I guess nostalgia is a passion or a rite when one achieves a certain age, and I guess I have stumbled into that certain age, along with about eighty others one Saturday afternoon. I had a prior commitment for part of the day, and I joined the others after they had already started on this journey of nostalgia.
There I was pulling into the parking lot, which used to be a second school yard where I had attended my Seventh, Eighth and Ninth grades when the Detroit Public School System called these structures Junior High Schools and now they are called Middle Schools. The only difference now is that Woodrow Wilson Junior High became somewhere in recent times Phoenix Academy and now it is for students from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade, where for me and my fellow classmates it was for three years. I have written about my Junior High reunions on several occasions, and the reunions are an open year reunion, and it has even opened its arms to the students that lived in the area that attended parochial schools as well, because we all grew up together. This bond has even encompassed faculty members that have taught at this school over the years. Since I got there late, after everyone else had a guided tour by the present principal of the school, I had to give myself a quick and abbreviated self-guided tour, but it was alright, since I remembered the classrooms that I wanted to see. I saw my old homeroom which was also doubled for the art room; I wandered over to where the music room was, and where I played (?) my alto saxophone, but it was no longer a music room. I also looked next door to my homeroom where the homeroom was for all the blind children that took public bus transportation from all parts of the city to come here for their education. As I was running down the halls and corridors, which was a no-no back then, and as I raced up and down stairways, I marveled that those blind students were able to traverse the school as well as they did, especially when I look at the stairs of a building as old as it is. There were even two teachers in attendance at this special planning meeting for the upcoming reunion, and I met everyone at the cafeteria, just prior to a whole big assortment of pizzas which were delivered from one of the original pizzerias from my day. Gosh it was fun and it brought tears and similar sentiments to almost everyone that was there.
Afterwards most of the alumni decided on getting together at a local watering hole for some beverages a little stronger than the soft drinks that we had with the pizzas. I was one of the first to arrive in the parking lot of Sherry’s on Vernor, which I had no problem finding since it was The Cruise Inn when I was a lad (and that I have wrote about in the past), and the hangout for all of the Armenians of my Father’s generation. They were known for their food and for their drinks, and for the card games that were played there, often with one or two of Detroit’s finest among the crowd; of course life was different and more easy going then. I had to enter from the front door, which was the usual way everyone entered back in the day, after all maybe the back door was easier to get to, but that was how deliveries were made and one had to announce their entrance. I looked up at the façade of the building the name had changed, but the two light buoys were still above the doors in the mosaic tiles from when the “Cruise” opened. As I walked into the vestibule the front door was locked until I was buzzed in, almost shades of speak-easies from the Roaring Twenties. As I walked up to bar, the young lady behind the bar surmised from my attire that I must have come from the gathering, as I did not look like any of the locals, but back in the day every patron that I remembered was dressed to the nines, after all it was the Sixties and the Seventies. As I looked around the room like a farmer in the city for the first time, I realized that the “bones” of the bar were the same, but there were changes, the most obvious was that the mounted sailfish that the owner of the “Cruise” had caught was not in sight. I asked for some wine, and was told that they didn’t have any, so I ordered a Whisky Sour and that was a no-go, so I asked for a Margarita and the two of us had to figure out how to make one, it was a lot of fun, as she kept reminding me that this was really a shot and a beer joint nowadays. After all of that fumbling at the bar, my other alumni started coming in the door and I moved from the bar to the group of tables in the center of the bar and joined with the chatter and laughs of the group. I mean some of the Alumni were older and some were younger, but clearly we were all past the legal drinking age, not like when we were kids. The bar maid came over in a bit and handed me a glass of wine; she said that she found a bottle unopened in one of the fridges behind the bar where the beer was kept. She laughed and told me, it was on the house. I looked at the wine, smelled the wine and tasted the wine, but it was beyond my “educated” palette to identify this wine, though later on someone said that they watched it being opened and that it was from the Sutter Home line of wines and if I had to guess it would be a White Zinfandel. It was fun to be in a bar again, as it has been a long time since I have spent some time just in a tavern. I even realized that the owner of the establishment was someone that I knew from the neighborhood and a landsman of mine as well, so in a sense the bar was still Armenian. So far the group that I was with that afternoon and early evening was a case of déjà vu … kind of.