Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Carousel Ballroom Memories

I was driving through Bedford the other day when I happened to pass the area where the Carousel Ballroom once stood. Instantly, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I found myself thinking about all of the times I’d been to the ballroom in the past.

The first time I ever set foot in the Carousel was in the 1960s. There were a lot of rock concerts held there back then, especially during school-vacation weeks. For an allowance-busting $2.50, you could enjoy an afternoon of live music by such bands as the Outsiders, Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Barbarians, the Tidal Waves and the Spectras.

The dance floor there was really “cool,” not only because of all of the flashing colored lights in the ballroom, but also because the dance floor could hold about a zillion people, unlike those playing-card-sized dance floors that are so popular nowadays. The Carousel’s was big because it had been built specifically for ballroom dancing…and fox trots and polkas needed plenty of space.

When we were first married, my husband and I used to go to the Carousel every New Year’s Eve to ring in the new year while dancing to the “big bands.” I recall one New Year’s Eve in particular where my husband, looking dapper in his new green leisure suit and flowered shirt unbuttoned all the way to his navel, with his silver neck chains sparkling beneath the blinking lights, and I, in my black mini-dress, decided to unveil a new dance, “the hustle,” that we’d been practicing at home.

We were the center of attention as we executed each step, just the way John Travolta had in Saturday Night Fever…minus, that is, the pelvis-shattering splits. Heck, even if I’d have been able to do a split without injuring some vital body part, if I’d have tried it in that dress, I’d have been arrested.

But the event that brought me back to the Carousel the most often was bingo. I’ll never forget the first time my mother convinced me to go to a game with her. Na├»ve person that I was, I thought that bingo still involved simply covering a row of numbers either vertically, horizontally or diagonally…period.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

“If you can get bingo in 47 numbers or less,” the caller announced, “and your numbers form the outline of the state of Florida, with your free space landing on the spot where Tallahassee is located, you’ll win $3,000!”

And if that didn’t confuse me enough, another game called “shotgun” followed.

“Great,” I muttered to my mother. “I suppose my numbers have to form the shape of a 12-gauge?”

She laughed. “No, shotgun means the caller ‘fires’ numbers at you really fast, not bothering to give any letters, like ‘B’ or ‘N’.”

“Then how the heck am I supposed to know where to look for the numbers?”

“Oh, you’ll learn,” she said.

She was wrong. By the time I finally found the first number, the caller already was calling the tenth. Had I just randomly covered a bunch of numbers, I’d have had a better shot at winning.

Not surprisingly, in all my three years of weekly bingo games at the Carousel, I never won a single penny. My mother, on the other hand, won so many games, there were rumors that the other players were forming a lynch mob. Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as congratulatory.

What I really enjoyed the most at the bingo games was watching the die-hard players, the ones who played 30 cards at a time, as easily as if they were playing only one card. Usually these players also brought an assortment of lucky charms with them. The first time I walked in and saw the tables loaded with stuffed animals, statues, dolls and religious artifacts, I nearly mistook the place for a flea market.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was so desperate to win one night, I actually brought a lucky charm (well, at least I thought it was a lucky charm). It was a little troll doll with purple hair. By the end of the night, I’d yanked out every purple hair on its pointy little head and given it a decent burial in an empty soft-drink cup.

Yep, I sure did have some great times at the old Carousel Ballroom. And right next door to it stood the Bedford Grove drive-in theater and the indoor roller-skating rink, where I also had a lot of fun.

But that’s a whole other story.