Back in 1971, the TV show “Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery” aired a particularly moving episode devoid of monsters, aliens and madmen. “They’re Tearing Down Riley’s Bar” was the story of a man faced not only with the physical destruction of a memorable and beloved building, but the symbolic dismantling of his life.
Randolph Lane (played by William Windom) has just been fired from his sales job after 25 years of faithful service because his boss wants to replace him with some young hot shot. At the same time, his favorite tavern is dark and closed, awaiting the wrecking ball that will replace the quaint and historic structure with a glass and concrete 20-story monstrosity.
Depressed and heartsick, he peers into the window of the shuttered grogshop and sees … the past. It’s 1945 and the bar is open and lively, his friends and neighbors celebrating the end of World War II and looking forward to a prosperous future.
Of course, what’s he’s seeing is ghosts, or figments of his imagination. But the story, with its ambiguous ending, strikes a chord with me as modernization hits campuses in the Garden Grove Unified School District.
The stadium at Garden Grove High has been torn down and will be replaced with something better and newer. It’s a step in the right direction that I do not begrudge. But the cranes and backhoes also flattened a piece of my history and memories, and that’s a bit sad.
For nearly 60 years, that 5,000-seat bowl was the home football field for not only GGHS, but also Santiago and Los Amigos high schools, and anybody else who needed a stadium on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night. During the heyday of local high school sports, it was filled to the brim with yelling teenagers, shouting parents, blaring bands and never-fading memories.
Great athletic dramas were played out on that field, but as important were the little soap operas that girdled it. Girls walked back and forth in front of the bleachers, hoping to get noticed. Guys gawked at the cheerleaders. The announcers tried to live out their sportscasting fantasies. Terrible fattening food was sold, romances were ignited and hearts were broken. It was a great and awful, loud and colorful pageant.
Five days a week it was a more mundane pile of aluminum, steel and wood. Boys especially remember running “bleacher laps” and the resulting inevitable barked shins. If you climbed to the top, you could survey most of the campus, and think great thoughts.
As a GGHS grad approaching more than four decades, the teardown of “Jason Field” is bittersweet. The old place was never a lovely piece of architecture and was short of any creature comfort you can name. The lighting ranged from the barely useful to twilight dark and the field took a beating all year not just from football but from the regular P.E. classes as well. By June the grass was looking as full and lush as the hair on an aging man’s head.
In my case, as a journalist I have returned to that same field many times since leaving school. Football games, graduations, marching band performances and more have drawn me back to the comforting continuity of the place. I might be getting older, but the haunts of my youth remained.
No longer. There’s a season for everything, and even stadiums can’t live forever. Thomas Wolfe wrote famously that “You Can’t Go Home Again.” I know just what he meant.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears every Wednesday, usually.