During each quadrennial presidential election cycle, the words “change,” “need for change” and “change Washington” are bandied about with reckless abandon. The current race is no different—as a matter of fact, one of the candidates has based his entire message on “We must change America.” I hope you will pardon my skepticism, but having been taught to believe we are fortunate to live in the greatest country in the world, where is the incentive for change?
Change for the sake of change is not necessarily improvement as demonstrated by a U.S. Marine Platoon Sergeant seeking to change the health and welfare of his men during an extended patrol in Vietnam. In this anecdote, the platoon sergeant gathered his troops and said, “Marines, I have good news and bad news. The good news is we get to change underwear today.” When the cheering subsided, he delivered the bad news; “Smith, you will change underwear with Jones; Jones, you will change with Kowalski; Kowalski, you will change with Jackson and so on to completion.”
Accordingly, the value of change is in the eyes of the beholder — at my age it is influenced most by creature comforts and a somewhat stable lifestyle. As an example, the most recent local change to affect me adversely was the closing of the 63 Diner. Featuring 1950s music and atmosphere along with generous portions of good food, the diner was an alternative to cooking and eating at home to many of its regular patrons. The sole Columbia entity to benefit from the diner’s closing was Booches Billiard Hall — Booches now serves the best burger in town.
Having enjoyed the good fortune to frequent Columbia often since the late 1930s to include graduation from MU in 1957 and return as a permanent resident in 1987 and again in 1993, I have viewed decades of a changing landscape and culture.
One such alteration of the landscape that has proven a disappointment is the location of movie theaters. From the first time I was permitted to roam alone in the early 1940s (the streets were safe then) until my university graduation and long after, there were five theaters downtown — the Missouri Theatre, the Hall (now Panera’s) the Uptown on Broadway, the Varsity (now Blue Note) and the Boone, which was swallowed by the Eighth Street garage.
Each had its peculiar attractions, the Missouri the newest and most posh, while the Boone guaranteed double feature westerns on Friday and Saturday, and the Varsity provided a vaudeville act in addition to the Saturday movie. The transfer of these entertainment venues to multi-screen emporiums in outlying regions rendered them inaccessible to students and citizens without cars while also subtracting from the charm of Columbia’s still viable downtown. The recent increase in transportation costs may also reduce attendance — when one can walk to and from entertainment, the household budget is strengthened.
Another change involving transportation was the demise of passenger cars on the Wabash spur line between Centralia and Columbia. My brothers and I often boarded the Wabash “Cannonball” in Brunswick and rode to Centralia for passage to Columbia. Particularly useful during the gas rationing days of World War II was the spur to the end of the line in Columbia with stops at Hallsville and Brown’s Station Depots.
Nostalgia being an opiate for seasoned citizens, my memories of Columbia and its inevitable growth and change are semisweet. How many remember when Hulen’s Lake was a popular swimming hole far out of the city or Andy’s Corner as a popular watering hole on or near the spot occupied by Murry’s restaurant on Green Meadows? Gone also are the Shack, the Paradise Club (the first truly integrated entertainment venue in town) and the ZERO House and the cast of characters and extended family who kept it going until the arrival of the 24-hour supermarkets.
While I may appear reluctant to bless the changes occurring on my watch, it is obvious I regard Columbia highly as a place to live. After all, I always return.
J. Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. E-mail him at JKARLUSMC@aol.com.