It is hard to believe in these modern times that as a ten year old, I was allowed to take the city bus by myself from Struthers to Downtown Youngstown, Ohio, about a half hour trip. I caught the Buckeye 16 Bus, as the route was called, a block away from my house and it dropped me off on Champion Street in Y-Town at The YMCA.
The YMCA had a cleaver campaign at our grade school offering memberships at a discounted price. I brought home the literature all excited about the possibilities of joining and attending The Gym and Swim Program on Saturdays. My parents immediately squashed any hopes I had of getting a membership by saying they couldn't afford it and they couldn't spend their Saturdays ferrying me back and forth to the Y. Even though I suggested taking the bus, I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen.
Lo and behold, on Christmas Morning, I opened an envelope and stared at my powder blue membership card to The Youngstown Young Men's Christian Association! I guess my whining and moping around the house for weeks paid off. I couldn't wait to go! I asked Dad if he was going to take me on Saturday. He said no, that I'd be taking the bus. To me, that was like an additional little bonus. The bus? Cool! How do I do that?
That first Saturday, my father handed me two dollars for bus fare and lunch and gave me the a thirty second speech on safety and how to catch the right bus home. "Look for the sign of the front of the bus that says Buckeye 16, Stupid!" Ok, directions understood. I was on my way, Gym Bag in hand. At every stop along the way, the bus folding doors would swing open and I'd look to see what classmates might be joining me on this adventure. Nobody! Not one single kid from my school had gotten a membership! I can't remember if I felt privileged or lonely.
Arriving at The Y was a Ball of Confusion! Scores of vehicles dropping boys off and the running and screaming in the front lobby was unbelievable! Finally, a Staffer let loose a loud enough whistle to wake the dead and restored some semblance of order. Too much high sugar cereal for most of those boys, I guess. We were taken as a group on a brief tour of this huge five-story facility. I was in awe of what was there to use. I especially was enamored with the indoor track above the Basketball Court. Banked sides and 29 laps for a mile. I thought it was soooo cool to run as fast as you could around the banking and be almost parallel to the ground! We played the typical Gym Class games along with Dodge Ball and Basketball. The Olympic-size Swimming Pool was ours for two hours. I made new friends quickly and looked forward to seeing them each week.
The Cafeteria at The YMCA was my first exposure to a Buffet. Food was healthy, plentiful and cheap compared to any nearby fast food joints. By the time I finished with Gym and swim, I was famished. I recall filling my tray full of food and gobbling it down and going back for more. No parent to tell me to slow down or to say that's enough. If it wasn't too late in the day, I'd walk a few blocks to Strouss' Department Store and buy one of their famous Chocolate Malts at their basement Malt Counter. Ten cents for a small, a Quarter for a large one! It put a Wendy's Frosty to shame for it's creaminess.
I suppose my experiences of going to and attending The Y, taught me a lot of life's lessons. I found I could have fun with others, not necessarily my friends. This was my first experience of meeting people of a different Race. White Bread Struthers had no "Ethnic Diversity" on my side of town. I learned independence as well, I could come and go as I pleased without dragging a friend along. My life-long attraction to athletics started there and I managed to stay in pretty good shape well into my adult life. Maybe The Village People were right...Listen to the song.