McKinley Street Sense...
Several years back, I was in Rome on a business and pleasure trip. It was a nice summer day and I had met some American students earlier in the day that had told me of a Jazz joint that played some nice music.

Early in the evening, I was on my way to this bar when I encountered a young man that went on to test my McKinley street sense. He ultimately provide me with some valuable feedback on how much I had learned during those years at McKinley.

It was my first trip to Rome and everything went well thus far. I was walking down the street heading for the bar that the American students had told me about earlier in the day. It was a nice evening with a lot of people on the street when a guy walking along the street asked me if I knew where Trevi Fountain was. I told him it was seven blocks straight ahead and one block to the right. I had been there earlier in the day. The famous fountain was the basis for a 1954 movie called, "Three Coins in the Fountain" where legend has it you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water.

He asked where I was from and I told him St. Louis. He told me, in a heavy Italian accent, that he was from Hamburg, Germany. He said he was on his way from Hamburg to Paris and was stopping over in Rome. The American translation would be for someone going from Detroit to Chicago with a stopover in New Orleans. Immediately...he was suspect.

I thought to myself how many people I grew up with at McKinley would be swayed by this guy whose sense of geography was as warped as his. Some – but not many.

We walked about a block together and he told me he was going to a German bar that he had just heard about where they play German music. He had heard it was a lot of fun. I told him about the Jazz joint that I had heard about earlier in the day, and that was my destination.

After walking that block, we encountered a guy who was trying to look nonchalantly, with his hands in is pockets, standing on the counter. The guy from Hamburg asks this guy where Trevi Fountain was, and the guy says it is six blocks straight ahead and one block to the right. He said he was a taxi driver. The guy with me asked how much it would cost and he said 1000 Lira. He pulled 1000 out of his pocket, gives it to the second guy, threw his arm around my shoulder and said, "Let's go to the German bar and if you don't like it, we can go to your Jazz bar."

First of all, 1000 Lira was only about $0.65, which was way too low for that ride. Secondly, this false sense of friendliness made me uneasy for a guy I met one block back. He tried to encourage me to go with this taxi driver and assuring me that was could leave the German bar and on to the Jazz bar at any time I wanted. I pulled away from his arm around my shoulder and told him I was going to the Jazz bar and that was the last I had seen of him.

The very next morning, as I was about to have breakfast, I was seated at a table with a guy from California. We were in the restaurant of the hotel where we both were staying. I asked him how was his stay in Rome had been, and he said, "It was pretty good until last night. I met a guy that asked me where Trevi Fountain was and we end up at some German bar."

Without telling him of my encounter with this guy of the previous evening, I listened to his recounting of his experience with the guy from Hamburg. It was very interesting.

The guy from California seemed well educated and not a dupe. He said that he should have known something was wrong when they charged him $7 for a glass of beer. That would have turned me out of that place had I went along with the guy from Hamburg, but he stuck around for more of the $7 glass of beer. He said the next thing was that the waitress told him that if he bought a bottle of Scotch, she would go home with him when she was finished with her shift.

She came back with a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label and a small bag; $60 for the Scotch and $40 for a couple of sandwiches. He paid for it with a Visa card. After a couple of hours had passed, he asks her if her shift was over. She said that he had to buy another bottle – which he did, along with more sandwiches – for another $100 Visa charge. I interrupted him and suggested that the waitress probably did not leave with him, to which he said, "No...she didn't." He pulled out his Visa charges for over $200 and I told him to call Visa and tell them that he did not get what he was expecting and to hold up paying that bill. He was surprised that he could do that.

As I left the restaurant, and was on the streets of Rome, I thought of how many McKinley guys that I knew would be swayed by this guy. Most would have laughed at this guy – supposedly from Hamburg – as he proposed his idea for a swell evening. The guy from California was not stupid, but he lacked the street sense must of us gained from going to McKinley. Not everyone that attended McKinley acquired these street smarts, but a much larger percentage of each class did. With Coach Blanke telling you what is right and what is wrong, if you kept your ears open, you learned things that students from other schools did not acquire. You learned what a is facade and what is real.

I don't mean to imply that sports is the ultimate analogy between two schools, but it lends itself to a relative comparison whereby you can compare one school's facilities to another's. In basketball, our courts were so inadequate that they were about half the size of a regulation basketball court. Nearly all of the other schools had regulation courts. In the 40's the basketball team practiced at Emmaus Lutheran grammar school, near Jefferson and Shenandoah, and in the 50's they practiced at the Battery A Armory, and during the late 50's and early 60's basketball teams practiced at the gym upstairs from Soulard Market. In football, we had our "campus" for scrimmaging, but the field was so short we could not practice kickoffs or running punts back. The ground was also studded with stones. Those of you that passed Cleveland's or Roosevelt's football fields knew what a real football field looked like. These same sporting fields worked well for baseball and track. McKinley baseball athletes had to walk – or get a rare ride to Lemp Park to practice baseball, which was about ten blocks from school.

Both Roosevelt and Cleveland each had their own swimming pools, which is where their swimming teams practiced. McKinley swimmers used the Downtown YMCA's swimming pool. For track and field, the campus was used, with its inherent limitations. You could not practice the 100 yard dash since the length of the campus was not long enough for this event.

When a baseball player is "on the deck," or the next batter, they are usually swinging two bats. The theory being that after a period of swinging with two bats – as the next batter – that the single bat will appear lighter and easier to swing when it is their turn at bat.

McKinley alumni are always on the deck after dealing with all the shortcomings we've had to deal with. Of course, there were no "home" games since none of our sports facilities was adequate to stage any sporting event. We never had the preeminence of having the home court advantage because we always played at our opponents field.

And yet, McKinley won several citywide championships in spite of the aforementioned shortcomings. These challenges were readily met because we were able to divine that fields and equipment do not make a winning team. A winning team faces these confrontational challenges and overcomes them as a matter of course. We met these challenges on a daily basis. Facing these challenges is but one way that we learned street smarts.

– Lou Lewis '53