Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpWhen Maywood neighborhood “Mayor” Bob McAtee died last September at 100, his title as most-senior life-long Arlingtonian could pass to John Moore.

The 96-year-old—who told me he knew fellow Washington-Lee High School alum McAtee—also lived and worked for nine decades within one square Arlington mile.

Moore was born at his parents’ home in Ballston, June 29, 1918, when Arlington was Alexandria County. He was named for his godfather who owned Ballston Drug Store. He attended the original Thomas Nelson Page School when it was at Wilson Blvd. and Quincy Street, then Cherry Valley Road.

Moore entered Washington-Lee at age 12 in 1930, as the crowded building was expanding. He recalls a day when “several of us in a lab were standing by windows making noise, and chemistry teacher Mr. Christie threw a piece of chalk, saying, ’ I can’t hear myself think!’ ”

He soon became a cadet, wearing a uniform and carrying a sabre. (Moore stopped attending W-L reunions in the 1980s but remains in touch with one female classmate in Texas.)

Moore’s first job was as a caddy at Washington Golf and Country Club. Though the going rate was 75 cents per bag, the boys routinely told golfers it was $1. “On a good day we’d go home with $5.”

Moore’s boyhood included clerking at Sanitary Grocery (precursor of Safeway) at Fairfax Drive and North Stuart Street. Potatoes arrived in 100 lb. sacks and it was his job to transfer them to 5 and 10-lb. bags, he says, “If a customer spent $10, it took two people to carry the groceries.”

After graduation in 1936, Moore pumped gas at Washington Blvd. and Glebe Road (now Japanese Auto Care), marveling at how his boss made money quickly to clear ownership. After a stint at a bottled gas company in Falls Church, Moore in April 1941 landed a career job at C&P Telephone installing phone lines in the temporary Navy buildings on Constitution Avenue. It was there, as he was sleeping under his desk, that colleagues ran in shouting that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

Moore worked on the Pentagon construction site with “cables hanging all over the place.”

Though C&P got him deferments, he yearned to enter the Army Air Corps, but when he took a test at Bolling base, he was declared colorblind. Fearful of being drafted for the infantry, Moore went home and memorized the color test books, eventually landing a slot training as a Navy pilot in Pensacola, Fla.

Back at C&P (at Wilson and Irving Street), he met Regina, who became his wife in 1947. They moved to Colonial Village apartments, then to Falls Church before buying his current home on Arlington’s Harrison Street in 1957. The couple raised three daughters.

In 1953, Moore left C&P and opened an Esso gas station at Wilson Blvd. and Kansas Street. It became Moore’s Auto Service, lasting 38 years before he sold it and semi-retired. Regina (who died in 2007) kept the books so she could collect Social Security.

Moore recalls Arlington’s segregated neighborhoods and long-gone bowling alleys next to C&P and Colonial Village, back when we were “more rural.” He once knew all the old street names—Garrison, Lacey and Memorial Drive, which morphed into Washington Blvd.

Now legally blind, Moore gets help from his live-in daughter, still witnessing Arlington’s passing show.

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I was miffed at the news that longtime Washington-area folk music radio host Mary Cliff—who grew up in Arlington—has been booted from the air by “reform”-minded managers at WAMU.

Her decades-old “Traditions” show had been on the blue-grass offshoot channel since 2007 (following an equally unceremonious departure from WETA). But WAMU—of which I am a member—didn’t even announce it directly. Instead, general manager J. J. Yore sent us a sugar-coated email about “an exciting process we are undertaking to plan for our future and to create a stronger WAMU in 2020 and beyond.” I had to rely on John Kelly of The Washington Post to learn Cliff’s fate.