Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bob's of Broadway

Things ain't what they used to be and probably never was. ~Will Rogers

Before I moved to Alabama, I had the good fortune to live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Some of the nicest people on the planet live in the Shenandoah Valley. I think this occurs because the less desirable types all gravitate to the areas near Washington D.C.
I have written before about my fishing buddy and mentor, Moon. His name was (and most likely still is) Gary, but there was this hot day when we were fishing out on a lake and he decided to change into swim trunks.  He was bending over to put them on just as a boat full of people hauling a water skier came around the bend.
Hence, the logical nickname, “Moon”.
Moon is the best fisherman I have ever met, which is saying something because Alabama is full of very good and very fanatical fishermen. He was very jealous of my moving to Alabama, because I would now be close to Lake Eufaula. Eufaula is an immense lake on the border between Georgia and Alabama which had a reputation for holding monstrous bass. In Virginia, the average fisherman felt that if you lived a good life, you went to Lake Eufaula when you died.
For the record, I've been there twice, didn't catch much either time, and with the Alabama River within twenty minutes of my house, driving 3 hours to get to Eufaula seemed so unnecessary.
But, what I was going to talk about was Bob's Surplus.
One afternoon when we were supposed to be working, Moon mentioned that he and another fellow were going to Bob's Surplus that evening and asked if I wanted to come. I asked him what kind of surplus store it was, and he replied, “It's an Army/Navy store.' Well, that didn't do anything to make the strings of my heart go “zing” because I had seen Army/Navy stores in Ohio.
There was a time, back in the mid-1950's when Army/Navy surplus stores were all over the place because there was a lot of military surplus stuff left over from WW II. I had heard about them as a kid, but when I finally went to one in the sixties, it was a pretty tame place, with a lot of khaki and olive drab clothes, but little if any of it actually was old military gear. In fact, aside from a few fake hand grenades and an occasional helmet liner, the stuff was the sort of thing you could pick up at K-mart, usually for less money.
I offered this opinion to Moon, but he quickly said, “No, no. This is the real McCoy. I get my hunting clothes there, and it's the real heavy Army stuff.” Well, it would be fun to spend an evening with Moon, no matter how disappointing the surplus place might be, so I agreed to go.
Bob's Surplus was located in Broadway, Virginia, which is in no way, shape, or form ever going to be confused with the Great White Way. At any rate, we made our way out there. We got a bit of a late start so I was concerned that they wouldn't be open very long by the time we got there. No problem, Moon assured me. Old Bob kept the place open until at least nine in the evening and later if there were still people in the store and he felt like staying up.
We pulled into the gravel parking area around Bob's, and the first thing I laid eyes on was an ancient olive-drab jeep. I'm no expert, but if this thing came off a dealer's lot, the dealer had to be Uncle Sam. I began to have hope.
Bob's was a big old barn of a place, and it was filled with very genuine looking Army and Marine gear. Some shirts had stripes of rank on them. The clothing was clean but looked well-used. There were knives, mess kits, jeep caps (I still have mine somewhere), even trooper hats. I coveted a trooper hat, but on several visits I could never find one that fit. When you went to Bob's you got what he had, and what he had was whatever he could get his hands on.
Oh, he did have some new clothes, like painter's pants, which were supposed to be cotton but had the wear characteristics of canvas. Mine lasted through years of abuse, as did the rubber rain suit I bought. I also got real woolen gloves and socks. All of this stuff was available for a song. Bob didn't care about getting rich in his old age; he just liked the company.
The store had an honest-to-goodness pot bellied stove, complete with a couple of old codgers sitting around it, who were there just about every time I went. It was a wonderful place.
All good things come to an end, though. One weekend a couple of years along, the Wife and I decided to drive over to Broadway just for the fun of going through Bob's. It had been a while since I had been there, but as soon as I pulled in, I could tell something was different: There were all sorts of cars in the lot. When I went in, my heart sank. The place had been organized, and there was no old military gear anywhere. Instead there were jeans, shirts, down jackets, and other yuppy sorts of clothes, all at premium prices.
Worst of all there was no Bob anywhere. It turned out that Bob had gone to that big surplus store in the sky, and his kids had taken over the store, deciding to make it a money-making concern. Now, Bob had managed to make enough money to keep the place going, but his inheritors were going for the gold. I don't recall what became of the place because I never went back, preferring to remember it as it had been.
I wonder where that jeep cap went.

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