East Main

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Do Do birds, dinosaurs, three-cent postage, and East Main Street in Norfolk, VA.

Gone... Way gone, and as the old fellow said,

"Ain't never comin' back."

East Main was right up there with Sodom and Gemorrah... The 'Black Hole of Calcutta' and the lowest level of the largest outhouse ever built. The city fathers of Norfolk refused to admit it existed... Clergy were afraid it existed... Decent people would drive six unnecessary blocks to avoid it... And the Devil ran it.

If Guiness had a record for the most sleazy bars per square inch, it would read. 'East Main, Norfolk'. They sold enough draft beer on a Saturday night to fill the New London diving tank... And most of it got pissed away in the adjacent alleys on the way to the bus stop up on Granby Street.

Let's put it this way... When Queen Elizabeth visited the United States, she instructed her pilot not to fly over the place.

East Main was the K-Mart of whoredom. If you had twenty bucks and you couldn't satisfy any particular lust desire you were hauling down there, you had to be into something involving baby ducks and penguins. The place was a veritable Casbah of Carnal Delight. The place was so bad, it didn't even register a blip on the Morale Richter Scale.

One of the practical factors for Torpedoman Third read, 'Have you ever been rolled on East Main?' Followed by, 'Was she kind enough to stick your ID and liberty card in your sock before she vanished with what was left of seventy bucks and your wallet?'

Most of the gals who worked 'East Main' had been raised in the wilderness by wolves... But every now and then, you would come across some honey who had been raised in something with a roof and had once been within a half mile of a church... And those lovely ladies would just steal your money and tuck the photos of your mother, girlfriend or your great aunt Dorothy, in your jumper pocket.

The sonuvabitches at New London and Great Lakes never told you about 'East Main'. That's like taking some poor, ignorant bastard to the beach and forgetting to tell the idiot that monster sharks ate up to five or six citizens a day there.

In the late '50s, you had to learn a lot of important submarine sailor stuff on your own. It was expensive, often involved consultation with a corpsman and conversations with regulatory authorities and officers. Most Senior Chiefs were indifferent and took a "It serves you right, you dumb sonuvabitch" attitude, unless you returned with something so exotic that you were a public health menace or actually crossed the brow in flames.

Nobody gave you a diploma for an East Main education. If you rode a smokeboat in SUBRON SIX, you got 'East Main qualified' way the hell before you got 'submarine qualified'.

"Hey sailor... Looking for a good time?"

It didn't take an E-3 long to figure out that a Norfolk gal's definition of a 'good time' was a blind drunk bluejacket... Wallet-less... No raghat... Wearing one shoe and an inside-out jumper... Doing his mattress-tongued damndest to speak his mother tongue to totally disinterested constabulary forces.

East Main... You could find every sin covered in every religion in the world, in three or four blocks. It was a place established simply for the purpose of selling beer to stupid people - Who passed it from mouth to kidney... To bladder... To urinal... To the Elisabeth River - While enjoying the convivial company of fat women with hairy upper lips.

Fortunately, East Main was destroyed before its degenerative effect could infect the Rickover fleet. This would probably be viewed most positively by most normal people... A big step forward along the road of the kinder, gentler, more responsible undersea service of today.

But if you were once nineteen and wanted to grow old one day and be able to tell stories on a balmy summer night about jumping into an alligator-loaded septic tank and surviving it, East Main can return a few smiles. In days long ago, you weren't allowed to call yourself an East Coast submariner until you had treated yourself to a wallow or two on East Main... And old timers hauled around seabag-loads of stories about the place.

When they destroyed East Main, some of the establishments packed up and moved out to Hampton Boulevard... Like rats leaving a warehouse fire.

As long as there are American bluejackets, there will probably be a market for sex and beer. Whores, barmaids, taxi drivers, and shoeshine boys... And the concrete sidewalks won't get any softer. Maybe they will install padded seats and stereo surround sound in Shore Patrol wagons, but I doubt it. And they probably won't collect those two-foot oak billy clubs they issued the SPs and give them marshmallow-coated fairy godmother wands instead. But what the hell, those of us who were a part of it... Who survived... Who left a large part of their meager earnings stuffed in bra cups and cash registers there... It brings back a few good sea stories. Sea stories after all, are what God gives sailors to keep them smiling in old age.

East Main was a five-star hell hole where you could buy passion in fifteen minute increments from women whose panties went up and down like a tin can's signal flags... Drink cheap beer and pee in the street. They never held a Shriner parade or Methodist minister's convention there, but to a lot of old bent up, stove in bluejackets, 'East Main' was a 'preview of coming attractions'... Coming soon at a hell hole near you.