The other Internet

The original Tommy's.

I’ve been using the Internet since 1991, when I started my job as the editor of Cleveland Magazine. Then I got a personal computer for home use in 1992. But, really, I was using a different form of it in the mid-’70s. It was called “Coventry.”

Coventry Road, between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, was Facebook at least 10 years before Mark Zuckerberg was born. It was also e-mail. And Google. And Twitter—though with way more than 40 characters.

It's  1976. I’m walking up Coventry. Local musician Linn Roath stops me and says, “Someone told me I could find you here. My band, Flatbush, is recording a couple of songs at Cleveland Recording next week. Can you do horn arrangements for them?” We talk, and we work out all the details and agree on everything.

I continue on, and reach Tommy’s—the original location, at the top of street, in the back of the old Ace Drug store. I walk in and say, “Has anyone seen Norman Tischler?” Several people answer: “I saw him a half hour ago on Hampshire.” “I saw him 10 minutes ago in Carroll Drugs.” And so on.

I go down to Carroll Drugs. He’s there. “Norm. Can you play a session at Cleveland Recording next Wednesday?” I know the answer is going to be yes. It’s always yes. He says, “Yes.” I say, “It’s a horn section on two songs—alto sax, tenor sax and trombone.” He says, “Who are the other players?” I say, “You are.” He says, “Fine.” We work out the details. He says, “I’m going to Tommy’s.”

I start walking back down Coventry. Two guys are standing and talking in front of Record Revolution. One says, “What was here before the record store?” The other says, “Uhh . . . I think it was Henry’s Toy Store.” I stop and say, “No. Henry’s was down toward Mayfield. This was the fur store.” The first guy says, “Yeah—that was it.” And, pointing down, he says, “The tiles. Look at the tiles—the white and brown little octagonal tiles in the entrance. This was the fur store.” I move along.

Two stores farther, there’s a political debate going on—a man and a woman; the man’s viewpoint is on the left, the woman’s is on the far-left. By Coventry standards, it’s a debate. A few other people join in. It starts to get loud, and tedious, so I leave.

I stop in at Irv’s and order a cup of coffee and plan to sit . . . anywhere, with . . . anyone. I stop at one table, where some older people are discussing philosophy. It’s over my head. Plus, I suspect they don’t know what they’re talking about. Another table is exchanging bad jokes. I’ve heard them all. And I didn’t think they were funny the first time. I move on to another table, where they’re talking about rock-music history. I settle in.

Cindy MacKay comes in, carrying a guitar case. She comes over to me and says, “Have you seen Norman Tischler?” I say, “Try Tommy’s.” She says, “Thanks,” and takes a couple of steps. I say, “He’s busy next Wednesday.” She stops for two seconds to ponder that, and continues out of the restaurant.

After a while, I leave Irv’s and head up Coventry, toward my little apartment on Euclid Heights Boulevard—an efficiency that the custodian calls a “deficiency,” but seriously and unironically. In front of Cargo, I run into my old friend Bobby Siegal, who looks like Groucho Marx and has always wanted to be a comedian. As usual, he’s carrying some kind of meat wrapped up in white butcher paper from the last remaining butcher shop from Coventry’s old days. We talk. I say something that makes him laugh. He says, “That’s good. Can I use that?” He takes a pencil out of his pocket and starts writing on the butcher paper the meat is wrapped up in. I say, “Sure,” because, I mean, where is he going to use it? Then, as always, he tries to convince me to start a comedy-and-music duo with him. “Come on—with your guitar and my clarinet, and our humor, how can it miss?” As always, I say, “I can’t. I’ve got my rock band.”

We part, and I go home (to my deficiency) and work on the horn arrangements, using the cassette tape Linn gave me of Flatbush’s demos. 

I work till my brain gets tired, then I head back to Coventry to see who’s in Chester’s. Lots of people I know. Because they’re in there every night—as I am, when my band’s not rehearsing or playing. I go from group to group and get lots of news and gossip. I’m ready for the next day.

So, that was the Internet, Facebook, Google, Twitter . . . but with a lot more walking.

David Budin

David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.

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Volume 16, Issue 7, Posted 3:39 PM, 06.29.2023