2024-06-14 12:01 PM

Our Man in Arlington

I’m honored to publish boyhood reminiscences from a quintessential Arlingtonian, one who, at age 95, can retrieve lost detail from settings that remain hometown-familiar.

 Two decades before there was an Arlington Hospital, Charles Burton Meyer Jr was born Jan. 20,1928 in Garfield Hospital, Washington, D.C. His parents Charles Sr. and Ruth, moved to Cherrydale, Monmouth Ave. (now N. Kenmore St.). He attended Cherrydale Elementary, recalling its pair of buildings (now a rehab center on Langston Blvd.). After the family moved to 45 Prospect St. (now N. 23rd Rd.) in Maywood Thrifton (his home today), he attended Woodmont. Now a gymnastics facility and county archives, in the mid-1930s Woodmont was “a two-room school with three grades in each room, one teacher per room and mass confusion,” he writes. “The Arlington school system was not the greatest during the 30’s and early 40’s,” though this would change after World War II.

 “Politically, my folks were Democrats for the first three FDR administrations but became Republicans near the end of World War II due to the liberal leanings of the administration.”

 In Depression-era Arlington, Meyer attended Sunday school at the Cherrydale Methodist but later switched to Grace Episcopal (which became St. Andrews). “Cherrydale had Stratton’s Garage where my dad could get five gallons of gas for $1.00,” he remembers, plus Shreve’s Grocery Store, Simmons Candy Store, the Sanitary Market and a drug store. “One of my treats was a 5 cent ice cream cone on a Sunday afternoon.” The Halls Hill Fire Department (all black) “was usually first on the scene for local fires.”

Meyer and his dad hiked to the Potomac for fishing. In 1940 when Meyer was 12, another fisherman pointed to a teen who had fallen from a cliff. “The injured boy was unable to walk. My dad hailed a man in a rowboat. We found an old Coke-Cola sign, moved the injured boy onto this makeshift stretcher and put him on the boat. While he was being transported, my dad and I returned to our car, drove across Key Bridge to Georgetown, loaded the injured boy into Dad’s car and took him to Georgetown Hospital. The story made the D.C. newspapers with pictures.”

 He recalls 15-cent movies (Westerns) at Clarendon’s Ashton Theatre and the Lee in East Falls Church. At Lee Highway and Kirkwood Rd. was the Shady Grove BBQ, scene of drunken fights on weekends. (It was replaced by a Howard Johnson’s.) A nearby nuisance was a rat-infested wartime-repository for crushed fruit and vegetables. He and friends snuck onto semi-pro baseball fields in Ballston and Rosslyn.

 Because his mom was a teacher, Meyer could go tuition-free to D.C. schools Gordon Junior High and Western Senior High (now Duke Ellington). There he played football and made a life-long friend of Bob Baxter, also meeting “first love” Barbara King of Lyon Village. Meyer recalls using the D.C. trolley and nickel buses across Key Bridge. “One time I decided to hop a freight train of the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, which dropped me off at Edgewood St. two blocks from my home. My father found out, and I was grounded.”

In 1946, his friend Jim was working at the Rosslyn Post Office when Meyer dropped in and said,”Let’s enlist in the Army.” The two signed up the next day. After basic training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, he spent a year in U.S.-occupied Japan. Meyer went onto a 36-year career with local Verizon.

            ***

Granted, my wife and I are out of touch with Capital One Arena’s digital ticket and post-Covid security protocols. But the traps we hit at the March 27 Bruce Springsteen show were eye-openers.

No paper ticket printouts accepted (smartphones only). And the gatekeepers wouldn’t let my wife enter with her purse. So after wasting 20 minutes in a long line, we had to circle the building and deposit her purse in a locker that requires your Apple password.

Luckily, two young employees were cheerful in extracting us from these traps. They do it every night. I thank them.

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