I was driving through Bedford the other day when I happened to pass the area where the Carousel Ballroom and Bedford Grove Drive-in once stood. Instantly, a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I found myself thinking about all of the great times I’d had there in the past.
The first time I ever set foot in the Carousel Ballroom was in the 1960s. There were a lot of rock concerts and teen dances held there back then, especially during school-vacation weeks. For an allowance-busting $2.00, you could enjoy an afternoon of live music by such bands as the Outsiders, Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Barbarians and the Shadows of Knight.
The dance floor there was really state-of-the-art, not only because of all of the flashing colored lights in the ballroom, but also because the dance floor could hold hundreds of people, unlike the 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, tangos and polkas needed plenty of space. Also, the tables were on a raised floor surrounding the dance floor, which prevented onlookers from accidentally being stomped on.
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” such as the Lester Lanin Orchestra. I can recall one New Year’s Eve in particular when my husband, looking dapper in his new green polyester leisure-suit and flowered shirt unbuttoned all the way down 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 attracted me to the Carousel the most often was weekly bingo. I’ll never forget the first time my mother convinced me to go to a game with her. Naïve 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 out 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 organizing a lynch mob. Every time my mother shouted, “Bingo!” the looks that were cast in our direction could not, not by any stretch of the imagination, be interpreted as “Hey, congratulations! Way to go! So glad to see you winning again!”
The Bedford Grove Drive-In theater next door also was a spot where I spent many Saturday nights during my teen years. Out of all of the drive-ins in the area back then, the Grove showed the most grade-B ones, especially horror movies and beach-party movies by Samuel Z. Arkoff. Arkoff once said that the success formula for his movies started with each letter of his last name:
Hey, it worked for me.
I can remember one particular movie my husband and I, back when we were dating, saw there, Mark of the Devil. Its promo said “Positively the most horrifying film ever made! Guaranteed to upset your stomach!” When we arrived, we even were handed vomit bags. Well, the only thing that nauseated us that night was there was some kind of major sewage leak nearby and back then, you had to keep the car window partially down to hook the speaker onto it, so the aroma wafted into the car all night. All I can say is that if either of us had been suffering from gas pains that night, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Another time, I really wanted to see a horror movie, Brides of Blood, at the Grove. Not only was it advertised to be a real scream-inducer, the ad also said every couple who attended would be given a free set of plastic wedding rings in a plastic ring-box, which I thought sounded pretty cool.
My boyfriend at that time, whom I’d been dating for about five months, and I planned to go that Friday night, but shortly before he was supposed to pick me up, he called and said he couldn’t make it because his car had sprung a major oil leak.
That Sunday, he invited me to take a ride to the beach. On the way, we stopped for ice cream and I dropped some on my lap. I opened the glove box to look for napkins, and sitting in there was a ring box with two plastic wedding rings in it.
Needless to say, we quickly (very quickly) parted ways after that.
There also was the Bedford Grove roller-skating rink in the same area, where I once saw my life flash before me because I had no clue how to stand up – or stop moving – once I put on the skates.
And one night a week, the rink was transformed into a dance party called The Swing Thing, sponsored by WKBR Radio, for people who preferred to dance while wearing shoes. That was where I met a mystery college guy who was rumored to be the son of a famous actor, and my friend Maureen was chosen by a local TV station to be a go-go dancer on its new “New Hampshire Bandstand” show.
But those are whole other stories...
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines for most of her adult life. She is the author of several novels, including: “There’s a Tick in my Underwear!” “Heed the Predictor” and “Inside the Blue Cube.” Contact her at: email@example.com.