Tuesday, March 10, 2009

the wonder years were set in white oak, sort of

White Oak Shopping Center, once home to the largest Sears in America.

I went to Scumbag Nation again last Saturday night (the 28th) and spoke to Davey Rogner (who we interviewed last fall). Whenever I bring my college friends back home I have to point out the landmarks: this is where I went to church, this is the street where Lewis Black lived, this is where my old house was, this is where I went to middle school with Lonely are the Brave a long, long time ago. "The funny thing about White Oak," Davey tells us, "is that apparently - someone told me this - that The Wonder Years is based on it."

You remember The Wonder Years, right? Fred Savage (or is it Ben?) as Kevin, a kid growing up in the 1960's in some generic all-American suburb with flat, treeless yards and a negligible amount of diversity (though his friend Paul was Jewish, right?) This happened in the same White Oak where today the roads haven't been paved in seventeen years, homeless men and hoodrats alike wander around the shopping center late at night and raucous punk bands take over rented houses just a couple of miles away?

Apparently, yes. Carol Black, who created The Wonder Years with Neal Martens, grew up in Silver Spring and graduated from Springbrook High School. Her experiences, merged with Martens' childhood on Long Island, were combined to create the setting for the show. But the inspiration for the fictional Robert F. Kennedy Junior High was in fact Key Middle School, not White Oak Middle School (though they did share a mascot, the Wildcats, with White Oak). Carol Black's depiction of the area at the time (from a Post article on the show published just two days after I was born) goes like this:
Her own junior high school, which has since closed, was Silver Spring's Francis Scott Key. "The notable thing about our little area was that for a time we had the largest Sears in America," Black says, and breaks up. It was suburb pure and plain, she says, and it suited her just fine. "There at the intersection of New Hampshire and Colesville Road ... It was just little quarter-acre lots, completely bare of trees when it was first built. And gradually they grew up, as we did."
I wonder if she ever comes back to the area and marvels at how it's changed, how the split-levels of her youth were either super-sized into McMansions or replaced with chockablock garden apartments, how they put up fences down the middle of New Hampshire because too many people were jaywalking. I wonder what would happen if Kevin were to come back to his town on the show, and if it would look the same as well. Forty years is a pretty long time, after all.


Robert said...

According to contemporary Washington Post stories, the White Oak Sears was the largest in the Washington area when it opened, not the largest in America. Carol Black may be remembering it incorrectly.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

That is now possibly the WORST Sears store I've ever been in. My first experience there was bizarre. I went in to buy a TV that they'd advertized as on sale. Completed the purchase, went to wait in purgatory, excuse me, Customer Pick Up. Forty minutes later, a man comes out from the back and said that they realized that they don't have that TV in stock and he offered to sell me the next size up for the same price. Fine. Back to the TV department, cancel the sale, buy the next larger TV at the smaller TV price. Back to purgatory, where I wait about 45 min this time. The store manager comes out from the back this time to talk to me. Well, turns out they don't have the larger TV either. He says that they'll sell me the next largest size for the small TV price. Ok, fine. Back to the TV section. Cancel the purchase of the middle sized TV and buy the big TV at the cost of the small one that was on sale. Back to purgatory. I only waited a half hour this time, and shock of my days, the TV comes up from the back and a man wheels the box outside for me. I pull up my compact car and the box looks larger than the passenger compartment of the car. So, we unpack the TV, pull both seats forward, slide the TV in on a hope and a prayer, and it just makes it. I drive home with the passenger seat leaned forward and my drivers seat pushed way too much forward, giving me the posture of a boiled shrimp.

I pull up in front of my apartment. OMG, how the heck am I going to get this thing out of the backseat? Push, shove, angle, it finally slides out. OMG, this thing is heavy. I made it to the front door, but had to rest. I made it across the lobby but had to rest. Up the elevator, into the hall, had to rest. Made it to my door. More rest. I get the TV into the apartment and push it in front of the entertainment unit. OMG, it won't fit. The TV is wider than the trim on the edge of the opening. I had to pull out the entertainment unit, take the back off, and slide the TV in that way.

The plus side is that I got a great deal on a huge TV. The downside, boy was that a tough day.

Sligo said...

I love the bricked-over entrances.

Thomas Hardman said...

Terry: The reason you got the humongous TV is because all of the ones that anyone could carry had been run off with. Pilferage and attrition, dontcha know.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

My other least favorite day at that Sears. I went in to buy a hand truck that I'd seen on the Sears web page. I printed out a picture of it with the item number and so forth. I found the right section of the store. The clerk told me that he knows that they HAVE hand trucks, has even seen them, but doesn't know where they might be NOW. I asked him to ask his colleagues. His co-workers all agreed that this was the right section of the store, that they'd all seen hand trucks, but that no one had any idea where they might be. They suggested that I come back a different day when other staff were on duty, that they might know.

So, I drove to Strosniders in DTSS, asked for a hand truck, was shown a few kinds immediately, picked out out, and bought it.

brainumbc said...

How am I just finding this site NOW?