A Living Map of a Middle American Town Drawn by a Paper Boy, 1959


Topography: It starts on the flat surface of the sidewalk under the marquee of the Idol Theater. There’s a stack of today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, secured by a wrapped strand of fence wire that I cut with my pliers. On weekdays the paper arrives already assembled, ready to load into my canvas bag to start the morning delivery. However, on Sundays several sections arrive separately and need to be inserted into the latest news, a thicker, heavier pile of newsprint.

It’s September, Lodi School resumed the day after Labor Day, following the annual Lodi Fall Fair and Medina County Fair. This Friday night the Lodi Tigers will open their final football season, before the school district consolidation, joining with Leroy and Seville to become Cloverleaf. This team will close their history with an undefeated championship season, including a humbling of Milan, 74-8, and Huron, 80-0!

It’s dark. Papers must be delivered before going home and then off to school.

Contours: I start walking east on Wooster Street, passing a 4-unit motel by a small parking lot behind Zsarnay’s Shoe Repair. By the front door, a couple candy vending machines, clear glass bowls on iron pedestals that accept pennies for the purchase. Crossing Wooster, it’s on to the Elliot Funeral Home, then I cover the residential customers on South Market and Academy Streets. Heading back to the Square, I pass Hower’s, where the Tanner sisters sell clothing, and make my way south on Harris, opening screen doors one-by-one to deposit the morning news. The first house belongs to Mr. Waite, who I’ll only meet in person once, for he always puts the weekly payment in an envelope taped to his door when I collect on Saturdays.

A common out-building on Lodi’s residential streets, small barns, left over from the era of horse-drawn carriages and buggies. Some of my customers park their cars in these wooden structures with lofts.

Done with Harris Street, back to the Square, I pass the firehouse, with the jail upstairs, Park Restaurant, Fetzer Ford, Benton’s Variety Store, Leatherman’s Hardware, and Chapman’s Barber Shop. My own haircuts were scheduled too frequently for my taste, and performed by Dallas Warner as he cranked up or down the leather seat and I studied the cast iron foot rest. A couple years later I migrated to Paul Snyder’s little shop on Church Street, behind Mrs. Musser’s news stand. Paul only charged a dollar and he had a stack of “men’s” magazines for boys to enjoy.

Turning the corner onto Bank Street, passing Philip’s Drugs, dropping papers off on both sides of the street, which doubled as US Routes 42 & 224 until the bypass had been finished. One of the residences on Bank still had a sign in front advertising “Tourist Rooms.” Because of Lodi’s place at the intersection of two major car and truck routes, plus Ohio Route 76, our town supplied three small motels, nine gas stations, including three of them as truck stops, and nine places to sit and dine on cooked meals. This was before fast food, drive-through windows, and I was headed toward my favorite of Lodi’s restaurants, the Aldo Diner.

I don’t know if the Aldo was open all night, like the Hob Nob or John’s Place further down the street, but when I arrived with the paper the lights were on and the windows steamy from the heat off the grill and fryer. It was L-shaped, an eight-stool counter parallel to the front and Bank Street, then the booths and dining room tables perpendicular toward the back. Lodi Equity and the C. W. Sommers auto dealership sat across Bank, the “Nickelplate” railroad tracks were immediately west of the parking lot. I once sat in Mom’s Edsel station wagon stopped at the crossing and spied a hobo, riding tucked in a corner under a coal hopper. We were less than a half-mile from at least one hobo camp that I knew of. A couple of characters who roamed the Square, Johnny Muskrat and Alex, might have called the camp their home, I never knew.

I was earning money, so I could afford my own breakfast, hot chocolate and home baked meringue cookies displayed in a clear glass jar on the counter next to the cash register. I’d lift the thick lid, help myself, and peruse the reports and opinions on the Indians or Browns of the day by the Plain Dealer’s Gordon Cobbledick or Hal Lebovitz. After viewing the funnies, I’d even scan the front page. I’m sure I was the best-informed reader of current events in the sixth grade, including teachers.

Back to the job, as dawn starts to light the town, a trek up Elyria Street, passed Perkins Jeweler by the Black River bridge to Lodi Hospital, where I peddled extra papers that I had “borrowed” from a pile on the stoop of Musser’s newsstand. Back down to Medina Street I’d pass the Isaly store. Later in the school day several of us might lunch on fries and coke at Isaly’s. At the Lodi Trailer Park, where none of my customers’ doors were locked, I’d open them and drop the paper in on their living room floor. Almost finished by now, I’d return to Wooster Street, passing the office of the weekly paper, The Lodi Advertiser, Bartholomai’s Hardware, Rowland Drugs and the only bar within town limits, Lodi Grill. By this hour of the day they already had customers sipping 3.2 beer and I was tickled I had legitimate reason to be the only minor present. On Saturdays when I collected it was usually packed.

Lodi citizens who imbibed on stronger drink could go just outside the corporation line to Smitty’s or Lee’s 6% up on 42, or in the other direction, passing Jim’s Place to the Shady Glen, where Hollywood matinee idol Tyrone Power once stopped to rest.

Onward, passing Western Auto, Baily’s Variety, Harry Hall’s Barber Shop, Piatt Electric, where I later purchased my first 45 rpm records, Joe Warner Insurance, and the A&P and Underwood groceries side-by-side. Lodi’s third grocer, Scott’s IGA was across the square next to the post office. Completing the list of stores with food, Mack’s Food Center was a mile away on 224 towards Homerville. Finally, crossing Church Street to Musser’s and Stick’s Restaurant next to the Idol and home in time to leave for school.  Mrs. Musser was so patient, allowing me to stand and read her magazines and paperbacks while only purchasing nickel candy bars.

Fold: Is this memory unique? I don’t believe so. There were hundreds, thousands even, of Lodi-like towns in Ohio, all over the Midwest during the ‘50s & ‘60s, and the decades before. But this perspective, I’m grateful to say, is one of many such recollections of those who celebrate a place in a time. This one is mine.

Idol Theater before closing in the ’70s. Storefront on the left housed Stick’s Restaurant until circa 1964, then decades of vacancy.

Idol Theater 1

About orangeacorn

We are, I believe, and everything is, in perpetual unfolding/enfolding/evolving. By surface appearances, we're in turmoil and fearfullness, but in fact our existence is on the edge of a new way, beyond the US versus THEM we have grown with. I encourage you to join me over coffee or tea in face-to-face encounters. I call this exercise, "CAFFEINE COMMUNION: Encounters with Paradigm Pioneers." I'm a Columbus, Ohio husband, father and citizen. I practice string band sounds from the ridges of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, the vortex of the ancient drone.
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