Over February school vacation, with my lovely wife Carolyn away in Hawaii, I took in a few high school basketball games at the Portland Expo. It’s tourney time and that’s what Mainers do. We gather in gyms around the state to cheer on the young.
Since I don’t have teenagers in my life at the moment, I found myself sitting in the Expo stands and studying what the young folks are up to these days. Lots of girls with bare midriffs caught my attention and a measurable number of them were wearing fleece-lined slippers. Many of the boys seemed to be sporting similar hair styles — an undercut with bangs that made players and spectators alike resemble shaggy ponies.
Of course, back in my day, we had the same herd instinct. CPO shirts, saddle shoes and white Levis (because we couldn’t wear blue jeans to school). Girls wore helmet hair inspired by Jackie Kennedy. Boys started out with flattops and progressed to Beatle cuts.
Watching the Westbrook boys and the Brunswick girls brought back a lot of memories. I watched (and covered) high school basketball games at the Expo back in the 1960s. The best times were when there were dances after the games and kids from all over greater Portland would mix (and sometimes mix it up.)
The height of my own athletic career took place at the Expo. In my first track meet as a freshman (1964) I won the 45-yard low hurdles. I was only running track because I didn’t make the basketball team, and as with most sports, I was good enough to compete but I never got any better. Never won another race. I’m thinking I must have gotten a Seinfeld head start. In any event, I quit track sophomore year, opting to chase girls instead.
As I sat in the stands and watched the crowd and the action, I kept spotting places that held memories. Across the court was where I was sitting when daughter Tess won her first middle-school race on the Expo’s banked track.
Over by the near end line was where I set up my booth on 8th-grade career day. Three sessions, four 15-minute presentations each. After about the fifth or sixth time I was so loopy I’m pretty sure no one wanted to become a journalist.
Up in the opposite grandstand was where I sat with daughters Hannah and Nora and a friend at a Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch concert in the 1990s, Marky Mark being actor Mark Wahlberg back when he was a baggy pants rapper.
And way up there near the ceiling was where my sexy cousin Andrea was sitting at a boxing match. My buddies pointed out the hot chick in the stands and I scored cool points when she waved to me.
Tourney time is also when stars of the past come out to see the new kids shine. I spotted one old man hobbling along the sidelines and instantly recognized a local sports legend. It seemed just possible that I might be the only person in the Expo who saw that old man tear up the base paths as a Little League all-star.
The Maine Celtics may have commandeered the Portland Expo, but they haven’t exorcised the place of the ghosts of sporting events past.
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.