It’s downright eerie. People have definitely gotten the message about staying home and hunkering down. When’s the last time you’ve stood in the middle of Pine street on a “normal” weekday morning and not seen a car moving in either direction? Same with Elm Street. Quiet. Here’s another sign: local gas prices are getting cheaper by the day. As of this writing, Costco was at $2.45 per gallon. If that sounds cheap, it really isn’t when compared to what you’d pay in other states. The national average is about $1.82. … People are staying home. Employees, too. The Starbucks on Ham Lane is now only open six days a week, drive-through only, with abbreviated hours. Starbucks, Inc. gave every employee 30 days paid leave if they felt they needed it. If more of the staff choose not to come to work out of fear of being infected by The Virus, the store will have to close, one employee said recently. … The COVID-19 illness has claimed another victim. The Tour delle Vigne bike ride sponsored by the Lodi Sunrise Rotary Club has been canceled because of you-know-what. It was scheduled for the middle of May and proceeds were to go to local charities and community service projects. … The Brickhouse Restaurant on the corner of School and Elm now has “Car Hop BBQ Sundays,” featuring tri-tip and bratwurst sandwiches for $12.99 and curbside service, too. During the rest of the week they offer family-style meals to go. They’re one of the relatively few restaurants still open for take-out only. … Towne Corner Café & Market at the corner of Lower Sac and Turner was also offering gourmet meals to go, but the café has since closed for the duration of the stay-at-home order. … Greg Soligan sees one good thing coming out of the lock-down order: people are now taking the time to wave at each other as they walk and drive by.

TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGN’: You know that stack of multi-use grocery bags you’ve paid 10-cents apiece for? Leave ‘em in the car. At least one store in town—SaveMart—no longer allows customers to bring their own bags into the store, according to one of their clerks. They’re happy to sell you another one, but you can’t use your own anymore. You also can’t use your own bags next door at Rite-Aid, but they’ll give you a new one free. … Even the funeral business has had to adapt to the changing times. Walt Scheffer, president of Cherokee Memorial Park and Funeral Home, says they have suspended traditional funeral services for the time being. Now, if a family wants a graveside service, mourners must wait in their cars until the casket has been lowered into the ground and covered up. The family can then approach the gravesite to pay their last respects, but only after the cemetery staff has departed. Cherokee has also stopped publishing when such services are held, Scheffer says, in order to limit the crowd size. … Here’s another sign of the times: Laura Akahori noticed that someone has been staking signs near pet poop piles at Glaves Park, which say, “Caution! Shameful Pet Owner,” and, “Caution! Lazy Pet Owner.”

HISTORY GONE: I don’t know about you, but when they tear down an old school building, they’re also tearing down lots of memories. Maybe not tearing them down so much as bruising them. Stirring them. Ruffling them. It’s a part of your young life that they are messing with.

When the wrecking ball’s work is finished, memories will be the only thing left of Needham School’s main building, which was recently knocked down to make way for something new. The razed part included classrooms, the principal’s office, an auditorium, the kitchen and woodshop areas.

I remember starting off each school day in Mrs. Beaver’s homeroom class. It was a couple doors down from the principal’s office (the principal was Mrs. Vaughn, a wonderful lady). We would hear announcements and then file out in front of the school to say the Pledge of Allegiance. A student would hoist the American flag up the pole that stood on the corner of Chestnut and Church, and everyone placed hands over hearts and repeated the pledge.

Then it was off to our first class. For me, that was math. I struggled with math (they called it arithmetic back then) as a seventh grader. That may be where I learned to hate it so much. It was taught by a teacher who didn’t like me, or so I thought. She did her best to teach me the stuff, but it was falling on hard soil. At the end of each quarter progress reports were prepared, and, unfortunately, “cinch notices” were issued to the unlucky few who were teetering on the brink of failure in the class. The pink slips would have to be signed by a parent and returned to school. It wasn’t the grade that bothered me the most. It was the one-on-one “tutoring” I was going to get from my dad that scared me.

One day in 1963 the student body was summoned to the auditorium for an unscheduled assembly. The school’s vice principal, Mr. Roth, stood on stage, stone-faced, and announced that the President of the United States, John Kennedy, was dead, assassinated in Dallas, Texas. There was a long pause to let his words sink in. No one quite knew what to think of that news. Teary-eyed teachers led students back to their classrooms. That was the last day of school for about a week as the nation mourned.

One of the most fun classes was wood shop, taught by Mr. Nepote. It was actually more than just working with wood. Students learned to work with various metals, too. Pounding out metal ash trays was a popular assignment. I remember making a couple of them for my dad, who was a smoker.

At lunchtime students would file through the cafeteria line, then settle into the auditorium to eat. The school would also use the auditorium for assemblies, talent shows and special programs.

Another fun class was art, taught by Mrs. Lust. She was all business. But when her back was turned, some in the class entertained themselves by pitching crayons up into the bowl-shaped light fixture. Over time the wax would melt, making colorful streaks inside the chandelier. Mrs. Lust was not happy.

Music class was taught at Needham by Bill Pisani, a local legend back then. An accomplished pianist, he entertained kids with his jokes and funny antics at the keyboard. He was one of the most popular teachers at Needham.

However, Needham School’s days were numbered. A growing student population and looming earthquake standards necessitated the construction of Lodi Senior Elementary (now Lodi Middle) School, Needham’s replacement. After the Christmas break in about 1964 classes resumed at the new Senior El. Needham’s days were done as a middle school. And now its bones are a heap of rubble.

A school is so much more than just buildings.

OUTTA THE MOUTHS OF BABES: Franco Petrali, 4 ½, has this whole coronavirus thing figured out. He recently explained the situation to his great-grandma Hilda Schaefer this way: “I can't go outside right now because the world is sick." Nailed it.

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Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at aboutlodi@gmail.com.

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