Highway 52 Revisited
by Ed McClanahan
Highway 52--at least the stretch of it I care about--runs along the Ohio River for about 20 miles in Brown County, Ohio, from Riply through Aberdeen to Manchester. And the reason I care about it is that at Aberdeen there is a tollfree bridge to Maysville, Kentucky, my hometown; and since Ohio allows the sale of 3. 2 beer to 18-year-olds (where-as in Maysville you can't even legally smell a bottlecap until you're 21. and even then only until 10 p. m. , and never on Sunday), that bridge to Aberdeen looms as large in the landscape of my
coming of age as the Golden Gate probably does for a Mill Valley teenager.
Because Brown County knows perfectly well why the good Lord put it over there at the north end of the bridge, and in the days of my youth Highway 52 was fairly lined with taverns--the Top Hat and the Terrace Club and the Bay Horse and The Pennington Club and Danny Boone's Tavern and the Riviera Lounge and a dozen other s --rank, musty, low-ceiling ed places with puke in the urinals and Cowboy Copas on the jukebox and lighting feeble enough to allow a 16-year-old to pass for 18 if the bartender didn't particularly give a rat's ass to start with. Some of those
havens have loiig since given way to
Ed McClanahan, a native Kentuckian and graduate of UK, is a professor of English at Standford University. This piece was originally printed in the Free You magazine, organ of the Mid Peninsular Free University in Palo Alto.
motels and Frish's Big Boy Drive-ins and the like, but a remarkable lot of them have survived pretty much unchanged. And the most unchanged of all is the Pennington Club where I have been wasting my substance Ln riotous living for nearly 20 years now. Which is why I found myself maneuvering my mother's Chrysler into
the Pennington Club's parking lot one night a few weeks ago, exactly as I do as often as I can whenever I'm home for a visit.
Only this year there are a couple of subtle circumstantial differences - -namely, this time I'm wearing Fag Store boots and a droopy Mandarin moustache and round, gold-rimmed, lime-tinted spectacles, a set of accessories not likely to take the Best Dressed Bar-Fly award in Pennington's, whose clientele's taste runs at its very dandiest to plaid sportshirts and brand-new blue jeans and wingtip oxfords, glasses with tortoise-shell upper rims and steel lowers, and not the first sign of a facial hair below the eyebrows. Already my little affectations, modest as they seem from here in Palo Alto, have won countless wide-eyed stares on the streets of Maysville*.
It's the spectacles that do it, actually--even to me they still look awfully you know, weird, somehow--; if it weren't for them the boots and even the moustache would get by okay, but the spectacles seem to confirm what my other trappings merely hint at: it's a hippy it's a_ yippy it's a. commie it1 s a California crazy it1 s a faggot it's a freak! Not exaclty the sort of reception a sensible and pru-d ent 36 - yea r - old - c olleg e - English -teacher-father-of-three would ordi-
narily choose to be accorded by the usual Friday night crowd in Pennington's, farmhands and highway construction workers and beertruck drivers on a busman's holiday, all in all a bunch of very rough customers most of whom would just as leave knock me on my beatnik ass as look at me--in truth, would rather.
And as a matter of convenient fact, it just so happens I've got my regular glasses right in the glove com- t-partment, put them there myself--if you must know--against just such a contingency as this. But what the hell, I think, if I really believe all the stuff I'm always claiming to believe about being honest with people, about caring enough about them to be honest with them, then I can't very well go slinking around in disguise, can I now? After all, what's the use of the Fifth Freedom--i. e. , the Freedom to wear Funny-Looking spectacles--if I'm a-fraid to show my, face with them on it? And anyhow I've always taken a certain secret pride in my talent for turning hostility into curiosity into communication at California cocktail parties; so I really shouldn't cop out just because I'm faced with playing a tougher house. And if worse comes to worst (although I'm very likely the world's most inept fighter since Ethel the Unready), I am fairly big, and of course, they don't know I can't fight, do they now? So get on with it, good-buddy.
Into the breach. And all of a sudden there I am, sitting at the Pennington Club bar with a beer in front of me, sitting there amidst the neon glare (no intime candlelit shrinking-violet boite this) and the beery
continued on page 6
October 15, 1969