Welcome to LaFollette, TN...don't bother looking at a map...it wouldn't help you anyway. After seeing this welcome sign, you are either extremely lost, or you have a distinct purpose for treading through these waters. After driving 15 miles, you notice strange sights that you have never witnessed before. Perhaps it was the giant green dragon welcoming you to our exit, maybe it is the vast array of tobacco shops conveniently located right next to each other, or it could be the fact that you stopped for directions, and all the guy told you was "cross that there bridge, pass the oak tree and you're there". The point I am trying to make is...these oddities helped shape my childhood in memorable ways. However, over time, things change. How about pulling up a seat and reminiscing with me about local landmarks that cease to exist in my small hometown.
NOW: Vacant Lot
Upon passing the location formally known as Zips, it would almost be impossible not to notice the giant selection of fast food items lining the roof. Zips was a great drive-in restaurant that served awesome waffle fries and chili cheese pies. Ran by trashy high school kids, Zips provided a local flare that couldn't be found elsewhere. RIP ZIPS.
NOW: Maytag Coin Laundry
THEN: Family Fun Zone
If there was ever a place that should exist in a small town, an arcade with putt putt, batting cages, and go-karts wouldn't top the list...but it did in LaFollette. Family Fun Zone was a frequent for me for various reasons. It provided the staples a kid needed to blow off some steam, and it was a great place to have a birthday party! Family Fun Zone was the only place that my dad would play video games (T2: The Arcade Game), and the only place I could challenge my mom to a game of air hockey. Unfortunately, one day the doors were locked, and they never reopened. Years later the place falls to shambles, and a laundry mat is thrown together. I still feel as if I am owed an explanation for such a loss, but that explanation has yet to be delivered.
NOW: Kyoto Express Japanese Grill
You are looking at a building that has went through more than five restaurants in a span of ten years. Fortunately the present occupant (Kyoto's) is probably one of my favorite places to eat...yet, it was a sad day when I discovered McDonald's would be leaving. This is not to say that a second later I discovered it was just moving down the street, but that building held so many memories to me. Stepping on pancakes in the playground ball pit, eating countless Happy Meals, playing arcade games...the small non modern McDonald's was one of the best. The new McDonald's is nicer, newer, and boasts a contemporary feel, yet it just isn't the same. It is sad to think that grainy home movies provide the last look back at an era that has passed.
NOW: Trashy Vacant Lot
THEN: Napier's Produce
Now, this could seem like an odd location to put in a retro junk article, but I beg the differ. I can recall many memories of stopping by Napiers with my parents to get fruit, vegetables, and seasonal items. It was an Andy Griffith type atmosphere where people knew each other, and seeing fresh cut Christmas trees would cause my little eyes to light up bigger than the lights that displayed them. Local places like this have sense emerged, but Napiers will always hold an importance to me.
NOW: Vacant Lot
THEN: Dan's BP
Dan's BP...an all American staple at its best! Well, actually it was a dirty, gritty, locally owned gas station that was a frequent stop for my grandfather and I. Dan's BP was a full service station, so when my grandfather rolled his over sized land yacht, AKA a Ford Crown Vic into the station; his signature line was "Filler' up Fuzz". Fuzz was a lanky man who had little to say, but he would clean your windows and pump your gas like nobody's business! Dan's BP had a mechanics shop as well...cigarette smoke, empty Pepsi cans, and car babe calendars lined the wall, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Dan passed way a few years ago, and everything went downhill from there. As you can see, Fuzz ain't fillin' no tanks today...
NOW: Vacant Lot
THEN: Shelby's Grocery Store
Just down the street from Dan's BP was a quaint little place called Shelby's Grocery Store. Locally owned, Shelby's hosted your average sundry items, along with a fresh meat market, and a wide selection of fruits and vegetables. I can recall eyeballing Shelby's huge magazine and candy selection, and browsing the store for any hidden treasures I might have missed the week before. I suppose what I forgot to tell you was the fact that Shelby's was, well, kinda of dirty. Ok Ok, finding a box of cereal celebrating the release of Disney's Aladdin isn't that bad...well, maybe it is if the box had two inches of dirt on it, and the current year was 1999...and Aladdin debuted in 1992...well, you do the math...
NOW: Natural Nails and Spa
THEN: Movie Magic
As a child, renting video games was my life. If I wasn't saving money for the latest action figure, renting the latest games was my passion. Movie Magic was the video store of choice, and it held a monopoly for many years. Walking down the aisles provided me the chance to stare at horror movie covers wondering what each movie was truly about. Knowing that I would never get my hands on one bugged me, yet...the covers allowed my imagination to run wild. Movie Magic also provided me with the chance to see my dad bump into a cardboard cut out of Charlie Sheen posing for Hot shots, and thinking it was a man and apologizing. You might not see the humor, but my sister and I still laugh about it. I loved Movie Magic, and when I walked out with that overplayed NES cartridge...I knew it was going to be a good night.
NOW: LaFollette Community Center
THEN: West LaFollette Elementary School
You are looking at my old alma mater. Pictured above is the school that was built many many years ago, and provided me with a hard earned, grade A, ok ok just an education. The rooms had hardwood floors, wooden desks, stairs in random places, a coal room for heating the place, and a host of other old school features (no pun intended). The little guard shack in the front is where your truly had safety patrol duties, and in the back of the school hosted a massive playground with an awesome wooden fort. Not many kids liked school, and neither did I, but this place was special. Plays, carnivals, special guests, May Day, book fairs...it had it all. The school has recently been transformed into a community center, but basketball games, haunted houses, and Christmas events still open the doors to a place where time was well spent.
Recent events have really got me thinking about my childhood. On Thanksgiving, my wife and I found out that we are having a baby. In this exciting chapter of our lives, questions upon questions will fill a young man's mind. Will I be a good father? Will my child be healthy? Will my child have a legendary childhood worthy of writing about on RetroJunk in twenty something years??? As time goes by, people and places around us change. Different seasons of our lives produce new fruits, and new memories are created. I hope you enjoyed taking a look back at a few places that helped shape mine. Until next time. Take care.
By the way, if you ever see the green dragon while traveling I-75, take the exit, cross the bridge, pass the oak tree, and stop by and say hello. Welcome to LaFollette.