A Week in the Big City
Learning to clear, and run, the tables
By Bill Fields
It was a low moment when my beloved Baltimore Orioles lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1971 World Series after winning the previous season. As the seventh grade got started, though, I still had great memories from that summer and an adventure of the highest order.
Not long after the All-Star team from the Southern Pines Little League was quickly bounced from the post-season with a defeat in Warsaw (North Carolina, not Poland) in which I was hapless against the opposing pitcher’s curveball, Sadie, one of my two older sisters, invited me to spend a week with her in High Point.
Sadie had settled there after going to college at UNC Greensboro, marrying a restaurant owner named Bill Carter, and had an infant son, John. At 12, I was an uncle and, although I would make an attempt to play Pony League baseball the following year, essentially knew that I was a washed-up good glove/bad bat third baseman who would not be following Brooks Robinson to a hot corner somewhere in the major leagues.
I realized it was time to concentrate on other things, and the opportunity to hang out with one of my siblings in a place with about 10 times the population of my hometown wasn’t something to be missed. An intriguing aspect was that thanks to my brother-in-law this was a working vacation, and I would come home with some cash while also getting to enjoy the pleasures of the big city.
As a golf-loving kid fascinated by miniature golf, especially Putt-Putt, I knew High Point had a Putt-Putt facility on North Main Street, 36 holes of putting pleasure that wasn’t available in the Sandhills. A daytime, play-as-much-as-you-want pass was $3, and at least four days that week Sadie dropped me off and picked me up several hours later.
Round and round I would go, the sporting equivalent of an all-you-can-eat dinner, with no anxiety at seeing my colored golf ball go down the chute at the 18th hole because I knew there was a counter full of balls to choose from for my next round and no need to dig into my pockets to see if I had enough money to pay for it. There was also no wait to tee off on those weekday afternoons, the rest of the world obviously not into Putt-Putt as much as I was.
By the end of the week, I had gotten proficient enough to have broken 30 a few times on the par-36 courses, which made me think I could one day challenge professional putting champions like Vance Randall and Rick Smith on the carpet. I became such a familiar face to the proprietor that he let me skim bugs out of the water hazards for a pack of crackers. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer me a discount on the P.P.A. (Professional Putters Association) steel-center golf balls favored by the pros for sale in the kiosk, which I was convinced would drop my score by a couple of strokes.
My nights were spent working as an apron- and paper cap-wearing busboy at Brinwood, one of Bill’s two restaurants. The menu was huge — steaks, seafood, sandwiches, chicken, spaghetti and much more — and the food was delicious, the latter the reason the place was much more crowded than the Putt-Putt on North Main. I clearly remember two of Bill’s edicts: Never dip a glass into the bin of crushed ice, and never sweep up while customers are eating nearby.
As a relative, I got special dispensation to order whatever I wanted for my end-of-shift meal. One night I picked fried flounder, which was as good as anything you could get at the beach. All the other evenings, though, I chose country-style steak, the waitresses kidding me for being a creature of habit. There were great desserts too, the homemade German chocolate cake being a favorite.
The metabolism of a 12-year-old is a wonderful thing, but I think I still came home with an extra pound or two. After closing Brinwood, we’d go to Bill’s other restaurant, Carter’s, a smaller place closer to downtown, to check up there. While he counted the money in the till, I was free to prepare myself a milkshake in a metal cup just like they made them at the Sandhill Drug fountain. I never looked at a carton of store-brand Neapolitan in our freezer quite the same.
I came home with $60 from my busboy shifts, most of which my mother “suggested” I use to start a savings account. I sure felt rich after my week of living like a king. PS
Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.