Before I go, I have something to say

Night People

One thing I love about Facebook is keeping current with news about Davenport, my hometown. No matter how often I visit, it remains jam-packed with a profound nostalgia that only grows stronger as time goes by.

Take the Draught House, a place on the Mississippi that used to be where the Dock restaurant also used to be. My friend Kathy and I spent far too many Saturday nights there, dancing to music, flirting with boys. The music was live, so we flirted with the band members, too. Never mind that they were ten, maybe fifteen, years older than us. Never mind that we were barely teenagers when we started going there, and far too young to partake in a “draught” of anything stronger than ginger ale. Her sister usually drove us there, until we got licenses and our own clunker hand-me-downs.

In the 60s, two bands played regularly at Davenport’s Draught House and Col Ballroom. The Night People were four cute guys, Beatles look-alikes mostly playing covers of British heartthrob songs. The Loved Ones were more sophisticated, playing blues and featuring a talented chick singer.

You can probably guess which band I pledged my love to. The Night People spoke to me, with their long hair and endless covers of songs by the Beatles and the Byrds. I had a full-blown crush on Mike Stroehle, the guy at the keyboard. Had I met him, I know (I hope!) he would have gently sent me home to my mother, but I could dream. When he sang the band’s version of “Billy Boy,” I thought he was singing straight to me.

Back then, our Saturday nights began with a trip across the river to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant for the best tacos ever. I had a completely unjustified bias against the Illinois side of the Quad Cities, but I knew the way to the Acapulco. Then we’d zip back to Davenport and make our grand entrance to the club. We never called it a club, but I suppose that’s what it was.

There were boys there, of course, but back then – do they do this now? – girls just got up and danced with each other to the fast songs. If a boy came along for a slow song, we could hang onto them and make small circles on the floor, and if not, we’d sit that one out.

I met at least one boyfriend there. His name was Monty, and I have no idea where he lived or which school he went to. I have a couple of pictures indicating he was at least a head taller than  me, but then, who wasn’t?

When I went off to college, I left The Night People behind, never giving them much thought until a few weeks ago, when a story appeared on my Facebook news feed. I’m a fan of a Quad Cities news station, as well as a page called Retro Q-C, so I’m always getting yanked back in time. But this headline really astonished me. “The Night People: Fifty Years Later and Still Going Strong.” Not only were they  alive, they were still playing? I was floored.

According to the article, the band started playing together in the early 60s, and did their first gig at the Draught House in 1965, when it opened. Any of you students of ancient history might know something about a bit of flooding that year. That’s when Dubuque decided to build a flood wall, and Davenport, well, Davenport decided not to.

As band member Rob Dahms recalled, “The flood of 1965 was the worst we ever had. There were rats and mice, tables and chairs, everything was floating around there. When the water finally receded, there was a main ballroom, a great big ballroom, and a big stage.” They got college students to clean the place up, and a nightclub was born.

My cousin Cheryl posted on Facebook that she and her husband would be attending a Night People anniversary concert last weekend. My comment? “Jealous!” She never saw them when she was young; as she put it, “My parents wouldn’t let this young, innocent Catholic girl go, geez!”

I’m older than her, but not by much, and I have no idea why my parents let me get away with all the things I did. Maybe they had a limited memory of their own youth. Maybe they just wanted me out of the house. Maybe they figured that since I kept getting As in school, my weekend activities didn’t matter.

A band member addressed this, noting, “An article came out in the newspaper saying the Draught House was a den of iniquity.” My big crush, Mike, added, “All the kids snuck down there. They wouldn’t tell their parents. It turned out to be a mecca for all of the schools in the area.” To meet, not to mention dance, with kids from different schools was the best kind of diplomacy. There was more to these nights than just fun and music.

It’s not like there were many other options back then. We could “ride the ones,” driving east on 3rd Street and then west on 4th Street until we got dizzy, hoping to find cute boys we could smile at but easily get away from. Drive-in movie theaters abounded, but for a girl, they just weren’t as safe.

I have an idea about why my parents let me go out dancing. Hanging on my living room wall is a terrific piece of memorabilia. Inside the frame is a black-and-white photo of my parents, Mom wearing a flower, both of them grinning. The fancy script below proclaims “Club Flamingo, 1359 West Madison Street, Chicago.” Back before they were parents, it turns out, they were night people, too.


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