Let me get this out of theway right off the bat - I'm sorry. To residents, past and present, I apologizeprofusely for what I am about to say about life in the Village of Angola.Actually, "life in Angola" is a contradiction. There was no life, as othersknew it, in Angola.
There were only two positivesI can remember about growing up there. One was the realization that eventuallyyou would be able to move out, somewhere with a deeper connection to amore "with-it" world that for most Angolians existed only through the media.
The other was the privilegeof being close to that wonderful place near and dear to every teenager'sheart: the Lake. The Lake - the bars, the revelry, the bonfires,the sorority and fraternity parties at stylishly seedy cottages, cruisingOld Lake Shore Road, 2 a.m. hot dogs at Connor's. And the one element evenmore exciting than any of that - meeting people not from Angola.Nothing, not even graduating from high school, was as exciting as turning18 and being able to be part of the Lake crowd.
There was a mystique aboutthe Lake that kept us spellbound. We spent our early teen years feastingon Lake stories from older friends, brothers and sisters. These storiesfilled our adolescent days with faith to persevere, knowing our rewardsof a social heaven were but a few years away. The days between your 17thand 18th birthday dragged mercilessly (remember, the legal drinking agein New York then was 18). And woe to the poor soul whose 18th birthdaywas in the fall. This unfortunate lack of parental planning meant thatsomeone had to suffer through another Angola fall, winter and spring beforenirvana arrived.
For those unfamiliar withmy quaint little hometown in southern Erie County, let me just say thatthere was very little in the way of cultural or social stimulation. Angolawas, and still is, lost in the midst of a vast social and cultural desert.And those who think I am the only one who feels that way are deluding themselves.Life was like living in a stagnant pond. New kids were unheard of. Everyclass picture I have from grades one to eight had the same faces. Onlythe nuns changed. I was fond of telling my parents that the beauty of raisingchildren in Angola, and other places like North Collins, Farnhamand Brant, is that when Irv came on at 11 o'clock and said "Do you knowwhere your children are?" a resounding "YES!" boomed through town.
But we had something thatbrought hope and excitement to our pitiful lives. We had the Lake. OurLake.The Lake that put Angola on the map four months of the year. TheLake that meant it was spring break all summer long. The Lake that transformedour village into a summer resort.
The Lake was way too coolto be in Angola. Cottages were booked seasons in advance, and fraternitiesand sororities made sure there was no shortage of juvenile-rental mayhem.(In 1962, the Angola/Point Breeze area was among the top three places tovacation in New York State Did you know that?).
Lerczak's (later the WesternMichigan University or the WMU Club), the South Shore Inn., Bill Miller'sRiviera, Castaways, Point Breeze Hotel, Lake Lodge, King's Inn, the DuDropInn and the Big Ten Club. Mention these establishments to Western New Yorkbaby boomers; immediately a wistful smile appears.
We all have a favorite Lakestory, some better left locked in the recesses of our minds. I am not particularlyproud of this one, and a large dose of social responsibility must be included.Unfortunately, every lake story normally begins, "One night, we were sodrunk that ..." So here goes. This is one I don't care if my mother reads.
One night, my best friend,Patty, was so drunk, she left me stranded at the WMU Club. I was so drunkI started hitchhiking at 3 a.m. down Old Lake Shore Road trying to gethome. I had my thumb in the air for about three seconds when a car withsix guys stopped.
I get in. Now here's thepart that typifies the beauty of the Lake. They were so drunk, they droveme home with no hanky panky. (Sorry, Mom. Thirty years later and I finallyhave the nerve to tell you how I really got home that night.) At my ageI can never remember where I put my glasses (which are usually on my face)or my car keys (usually in my hand). But I remember the car I got intothat evening was a beat-up turquoise Corvair.
If my daughter did thattoday, she would spend the rest of her life under house arrest. The words"designated" and "driver" were never spoken in the same sentence in myyouth. Now as a parent, I utter them together each time my children walkout the door, a kind of middle name they received at Confirmation.
I won't say those days weremy most stellar, but they certainly were among the most fun. Patty andI still laugh about how lucky we both were to survive it relatively unscathed.Patty ended up with a gargantuan hickey on her neck the night she leftme stranded. She spent two weeks in the dead of summer trying to hide itby wearing turtlenecks. To this day, neither of us has a clue how it gotthere. The Immaculate Hickey.
Not to make excuses, butour lives back then seemed so much safer and simpler. We were lucky noone got seriously hurt. Being older and wiser, I shudder at the chanceswe took. I'm sure there are horror stories out there, but the horrors didn'trun as rampant as today. Maybe we were blinded by naivete, but it seemedpeople weren't so out of control. No one was out to hurt anyone. We wereout to have fun and unwind. That's all, folks.
And did I mention boys?City boys. City boys wearing their Beta Phi jackets during the dog daysof summer would soon be arriving in droves. City boys coming to us.Gofigure. It was enough to make us local girls giddy with excitement. Inall fairness, there was nothing wrong with Angola guys, it's just thatwe felt somehow related to all of them. How else would an Angola girl havehad the chance to raise a little hell with a current State Supreme CourtJustice, a former Erie County legislator - who was quite the party boy- and two rising star concert promoters from the '70s? When we weren'twatching guys watching us, we saw future big-name acts before they foundfame: bands like Bob Seger, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Willie Nelson, theTweeds, and Wilmer Alexander & the Dukes for free, or a $2 cover chargethat usually included a drink coupon.
The scene was pretty muchthe same every night - an endless procession of cars filled to the max,overflowing parking lots, streets thronged with kids, patrons spillingout of crowded bars, lines waiting to get in. Things started kicking intogear by 10 p.m. If you werelate, you risked not even getting near theaction. Or having to settle for one of the "old man" places mixed in withthe hot spots - places like Eddie Stroh's or Stan's where you would mostlikely stick to something if you sat down.
Each Lake bar was unique.The South Shore was definitely for the "older crowd" - the over 25 (remember,we were legal at 18). Entering the South Shore was like entering the batcave (dank and musty). Lerczak's (later the WMU Club, later Mickey RatsBeach Club) had an old log cabin look and feel, and was usually filledwith Lake scene neophytes like myself getting their first taste of nightlife beyond a school dance or sporting event. Bill Miller's was a darkbar with a ceiling barely able to accommodate anyone over 6 feet tall.It was at Miller's that a well-known local rebel and his friends rode theirmotorcycles right into the bar and proceeded to help themselves to whateverthey wanted to drink. Drinks were definitely on the house that evening.
No Lake story would be completewithout mentioning the Albertses. Richard Alberts and his family have beenthe anchors of the Lake culture since the late '60s. It was Richi's olderbrother, Donnie, who in 1969 changed Lerczak's into WMU Club, named afterDonnie's alma mater. In 1970, Donnie opened the Big Ten Club, formerlythe Grandview, a reference to the football conference. Shortly after openingthe Big Ten Club Donnie was shot and killed there. The shooting was neversolved.
Richi always said that incidentmade him more determined to succeed. And succeed he has; the list of establishmentsRichi has been involved with is long and impressive - McNally's, KingsInn, Mickey Rats City Lounge, Stooges, Mickey Rats Beach Club (in existencefor over 27 years), Captain Kidd's, Danny Gare's Country Inn, Mickey Callahan's,etc., etc. Almost 30 years later, Richi holds the distinction of beingsuccessful in a market where the average lifespan of other such local establishmentsis 18 to 23 months, according to local experts whose business is to knowthese things.
Did Richi have a visionabout the bar business and the Lake? Absolutely not. He "thought it wouldbe fun," he says. Now there's an understatement. He said he and his brotherbrought new ideas into a town that had not taken the opportunity to marketits greatest asset - the Lake. Mickey Rats Beach Club had the first licensedpatio bar in Western New York in 1974 - a legitimately brilliant, ahead-of-its-timeidea.
Richi agrees that the Lakehas changed since the days of old. But that's not necessarily a bad thing,he says.
Richi's Lake culture cateredto the young. Now, still running Mickey Rats/Captain Kidd's complex, hebooks country-western bands, polka parties, theme parties (such as swimsuitand tanning contests, not to mention roasts) diverse dinner menus and somethingtotally unheard of in my day - an atmosphere where you would be comfortablehanging out with your family (Yikes!). Richi deservedly earned his coolstatus by booking 10,000 Maniacs and the Goo Goo Dolls before they becameuntouchable on the club market.
"I had a riot in this business,"he says.
How would he explain hiscontinued success?
"Running a tight ship,"Richi says. "The ability to adapt. Family support. And being lucky enoughto pick a superb staff."
All this from a high schoolwrestler whose father wanted him to be a barber.
Former Angolians now livingout of state are at a loss trying to describe just what made the Lake sospecial, especially to those who have never been there. My friend, Patty,(you remember Patty) has lived in Tampa, Fla., for more than 7 years. Floridahas countless waterfront bars and restaurants; none can hold a candle tothe Lake.
Not Angola. The Lake. Andonly the Lake. It was the time, the people and the effortlessness of itall; that's what made it fun.
Today the Lake is stillthe place to be, if you're under 25. Especially if you're part of the lycra,spandex, tanned-and-toned crowd. Especially on weekend afternoons. Bars,bands and big crowds. Take a drive down there. You'll see what I mean.
In all honesty (and I'vedone nothing if not be honest so far), I can count the times I've beento the Lake since our glory days on one hand. I'm afraid I'd see kids doingwhat I did, and want to grab them by their necks and shake some sense intothem.
Thirty years ago, I thoughtnothing of going to cottage parties where you knew no one but the guy youmet five minutes earlier, and taking an intimate late-night dip in thelake to get rid of the stench of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and sweat- with 30 "close friends" you met at the party. Then hitchhiking home wearingyour clothes inside out, or worse yet, wearing something that wasn't yours.
Not that that ever happenedto me. My friend, Patty, maybe. But never me.
Sandra Luedke's FIRSTSUNDAY credits include the magazine's most recent Gift Guide.