The Sporting Life
When only O.D. and The Pad would do
By Tom Bryant
I grew up in the ’50s, and I believe the lifestyles during those wonderful times will never be seen again. World War II was over, with the slight exception of the police action in Korea. (Folks involved in that so-called police action would strongly disagree with the terminology — to them it was a war.) After that, the country settled into a cycle of prosperity not seen by the general population in a very long time.
In my own house, Dad was the single provider. Mom never worked outside the home. Raising four children was her full-time job. We had one car, and it was a family car, a 1957 Chevrolet station wagon, built to haul about anything. We weren’t poor, middle class maybe, but a long way from being rich. From the age of 13, I worked at one job or another every summer. Service stations, food stores, and finally Dad let me work at the ice plant, where he was manager. As a teenager, I earned my own spending money and helped with my college finances as well. But in the summer of 1959, I was a brand new graduate of those bastioned halls of higher learning at Aberdeen High School, and I was ready to celebrate.
College was right around the corner. In my mind, I had just graduated and was not real excited about becoming a freshman again. I had a pocketful of money I’d been saving, and two weeks of vacation before I had to report to Dad for summer work. There was for me only one destination during that off time, and that was the beach. Not just any beach but Ocean Drive Beach — better known as O.D. — and The Pad, better known as The Pad.
In our short time as teenagers, The Pad had become a tradition for several of my good friends and classmates, and graduation had added an extra emphasis on the importance of heading east. O.D. was calling.
Clifton and Graham, friends and also recent graduates of old AHS, were already there, supposedly on a scouting mission to find a place for us to stay for a few days, cheap. I was to meet them at The Pad at 3 o’clock Monday to begin our celebration.
The Pad was located on the corner of a street dead-ending at the ocean, right across from The Pavilion, an attraction in its own right. Home to games, carnival-type rides and snack bars, it also had a concrete dance floor and jukebox.
Both The Pad and The Pavilion were opened in 1955 and were mainstays at Ocean Drive Beach for fun and frolic. Structurally, The Pad wasn’t much, just a shed covering the bar and its sand floor and a square deck for dancing. I honestly can’t remember if the dance floor was wood or concrete. Behind the bar, washtubs were full of ice and cans of beer. In those days Pabst Blue Ribbon, PBR, was the most prevalent, and the wall surrounding the entire building was lined with empty beer cans. It was rumored that the wall was erected to hide dancers doing the shag, a six-count rhythm created by bands and music performed by groups like The Drifters.
All in all, The Pad and The Pavilion were the place to see and be seen, especially if you were young and in a party mood. As Harold Bessent, manager of The Pad for its last 10 years, said, “It became a sort of Mecca.”
Right on time, Graham and Cliff came sauntering out of the white sunshine glare of the beach into the cool shade. Chuck Berry was blasting “Johnny Be Good” from the jukebox, I was leaning against the bar talking to the on-duty afternoon bartender.
“Hey, Bryant, where’s your car? We didn’t see it outside. Didn’t make it down here?” Cliff was constantly chiding me about the car Dad had given me for graduation. Especially after he heard that it had two flat tires on the way home from the estate sale where Dad bought it. The old car, a 1940 Chevrolet Deluxe, served me well over the next several years.
“It’s parked around the corner. New tires,” I laughed. “Ready to go. What have you deadheads been doing? I hope you’ve found us a place to sleep. Cheap.”
“You won’t believe it,” Graham said. “Larry,” pointing to the bartender, “put us on to the Just-A-Mere-Guest-House, not two blocks from here. We left the car there and walked back. We booked us a room for three days, the only room they had available.”
That vacation week when we celebrated our graduation at The Pad and Ocean Drive Beach was one that we’ll never forget. We had a grand time. And at reunions ever after, it would always come up, “Do you remember that week at The Pad when Blue . . . ”
The Pad was torn down in 1994, not meeting the town’s requirements for safety and other things. The memories that old bar created for hundreds of young folks just beginning life after high school, would never be forgotten.
The ’50s and that restful, peaceful time were over. The unknown future lay on the horizon. There was the Cold War with Russia, the hot war in Vietnam, the technological race against other countries, and even perhaps against ourselves. I realize that when remembering the past, a person has a tendency to forget the bad stuff and just remember the good. My mother always said, “If you think the good old days were that good, try using an outdoor toilet when it’s 14 degrees outside.”
As a matter of fact, I think The Pad had outside bathrooms, and if I remember correctly, they were just a little better than what Mom was talking about. The difference, and a good thing for us, it wasn’t 14 degrees. OH
Tom Bryant, a Southern Pines resident, is a lifelong outdoorsman and PineStraw’s Sporting Life columnist.