40 Years in Beer, Part Four: Those Scoreboard daze of old (first movement)

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The late Rick Lang helps load provisions in 1987, when two of the three Danes of the Apocalypse came to visit.
Previously: 40 Years in Beer, Part Three: Did I really look like a guy with a plan?

When I first began working at Scoreboard Liquors in 1982, the offices upstairs were occupied by the Probation Department. The alcohol offenders had their diversion classes there, and consequently I got to know some of them quite well.

Befriending the community offenders was a splendid way of cracking the village social code, because you see, I’m actually not a New Albanian born and bred. I’m an immigrant. As so many graduates of New Albany High School were keen to remind an “outsider” like me, especially when I ran for mayor in 2015, “you’re not from here.”

Alas, it’s true. New Albany was, and remains, a state of mind — but whose?

The first half of my life was spent up in the Knobs, a whole eight miles away and a different “enemy” high school. Not until the early 1990s did I begin living down yonder on the flood plain, by which time Rich O’s Public House (later New Albanian Brewing Company) already was up and running.

Prior to moving, I only had a work visa, not full citizenship.

Thirty years later, I’ve become so New Albanian that numerous local movers and shakers would eagerly deport me if given the opportunity, and I’m very proud of the notoriety. In fact, I’d much rather be infamous than famous. Famous people are expected to buy rounds, while the infamous have rounds bought for them.

1986: New Albany’s annual Harvest Homecoming was pretext for Vodka-Thon, a drinking expedition launched annually from Scoreboard’s parking lot into the heart of festive darkness.

As previously established, my first job in the beer business was Scoreboard Liquors in 1982, accompanied by weekend bartending at the K & H Café in Lanesville, the latter an important story yet to be told in this series.

Downtown New Albany during the 1980s was a very different place than it is now. The historic business district was merely a shadow of its immediate post-WWII peak, and the vicinity was in the process of descending into a quarter-century’s torpor, from which it only began to emerge around 2006.

The experience made for a fascinating, cross-cultural cast of characters, and my first opportunity to know the “regulars” from the commerce side of a counter.

As previously established, Scoreboard Liquors was located on West Spring Street in downtown New Albany. I worked there part-time from 1982 through 1988, when the store moved to a different location, a couple of miles uptown. In fact, I continued to work at Scoreboard after the move, on and off until 1992, but to tell the truth it was never the same as it had been when operating at the downtown location.

Scoreboard’s downtown building directly faced the federal courthouse, and it was within spitting distance of numerous bankers, lawyers, title abstractors and other functionaries performing their hoary time-honored roles amid the daily antics of a county seat in seemingly terminal decline.

For a lad from faraway, foreign Georgetown, working the package liquor trade in the core of the historic business district was both a kick and an education.

Surely the 1940’s-era structure housing the business was the ugliest in all of downtown. Tacked onto its frumpy backside was the throwback Cadillac Lanes bowling alley, run by a fractious family from Pittsburgh who were ideal for reality television long before the genre was invented. In olden times, the cobbled-together retail space out front had hosted an upscale automobile dealership, hence the “Cadillac” appellation.

Needless to say, those luxury days were long gone, even in 1982. The barren north side of Cadillac Lanes fronted a gravel parking lot separating it from Elm Street, and it became known among liquor store employees, in purely figurative terms, that to be taken “out behind the bowling alley” meant to be stood against the otherwise useless concrete block wall and shot for crimes against humanity.

Granted, the reference isn’t quite as funny to me now, although I don’t disavow it. Anyone who ever worked in retail knows why. The majority of patrons were perfectly gracious, and the ones who were not, you dreaded, knowing their money was just as green even if they had little in the way of manners.

“Out behind the bowling alley” was the imagined destination for obnoxious, drunken customers – particularly those employed by the Coyle auto dealership up the street, who seemed to believe that since they bargained with customers for the sale of cars, the same process was used when buying a single can of cold beer from the ice chest that we kept stocked during warm weather for grab ‘n’ go.

I worked two or three nights a week, Saturday afternoons and the occasional day shift. The job was good, my pay was hard cash, and included as part of the deal were discounts on merchandise (where most of my paycheck naturally landed). The times were tactile, and my early travels were plotted from behind the store’s worn Formica counter, using paper, pens and actual books.

Nowadays, whenever I spot a package store clerk with eyes glued to an iPhone or tablet, I think back to my entertainment options on slow business nights, a minuscule black and white television set with rabbit ears, from which many a McNeil-Lehrer News Hour was observed. I probably should have been sweeping or stocking, anyway.

Package stores of Scoreboard’s socioeconomic ilk will always be a psychological experiment. During my long-ago tenure, insights into the human condition were plentiful, and sometimes fairly hard to stomach.

At least the owners indulged my interest in imported beers (craft beer had not yet come into existence), and they allowed me to purchase and stock options beyond the norm. I was given one walk-in door and a shelf outside it for warm bottles. We did a fairly good trade in imports, given their obscurity and the fact that whenever I wasn’t on site to explain what they were, consumer requests generally were greeted with a sneer by Duck, the manager.

1987: Lloyd “Duck” Cunningham, a downtown New Albany legend.

“Huh? I don’t drink that shit.”

My favorite Duck story (his real name was Lloyd Cunningham) was the time when he was standing behind the counter, peacefully smoking a cigarette, when a complete stranger walked in. The man gestured toward the door to the rear office, and asked, “Do you mind if I go back there and change my pants?”

YouTube obviously didn’t exist, but Candid Camera did, and Duck’s immediate, unprintable reply to the unknown man’s request would have played well in syndication, with Allen Funt joyfully suffering the brunt of bleeped-out epithets as the would-be wardrobe shifter was physically chased from the premises.

The scene in summer, 1988, as Scoreboard was being dismantled and moved to a different location.

After a few years, business downtown began declining, and the owners had few good options when the lease expired in 1988. Scoreboard’s relocation took place the same summer. I took a week off from my “real” job in Louisville to help move the store to affordable digs at the traffic-challenged corner of East Spring & Beharrell.

Few tears were shed by New Albany’s cadre of historic preservationists when the downtown building was hastily demolished to make way for a vacant lot, and a few years later, Chase Bank was built. It’s ugly, too, in a more tolerably modern way. The store itself changed ownership, and eventually was shuttered.

Next week, we’ll meet some of the regulars: 40 Years in Beer, Part Five: Those Scoreboard daze of old (second movement).

The cover photo of downtown New Albany was taken from the levee’s top, circa December 1985.

 

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