Staying at Sam Peck

We almost made it to the Sam Peck Downtown Motor Inn that Friday in late January 1974. Our schoolbus driver knew it would be a stretch, making it from Waldron to Little Rock on one tank of diesel, but the superintendent of schools was on board with us, and he thought we could do it. But after Highway 10 became Cantrell Avenue, our bus made one final gasp and left us stranded.

This did nothing to dissuade the excitement felt by the members of the Waldron High School Beta Club, on our way to the yearly state convention. It didn’t take long for our driver to return with more fuel, and soon we arrived at the Sam Peck. The convention didn’t start until that evening, so we had the entire day to explore. It was a beautiful, spring-like afternoon. We set out in groups of four or five to see what the metropolis of Little Rock had to offer.

Our first stop was the F.W. Woolworth Co. at Fourth and Main. This was a wondrous place, much different from the five and dime store back home. It had a lunch counter, which looked very inviting to a group of hungry Beta Club members, but we already had plans for lunch. We browsed through the cards and toys and soon discovered another real novelty: a photo booth. Most of us had never encountered one of these before, so we eagerly crawled onto the little bench and put our two quarters in the slot, doing our best to look dignified as the machine produced four little black and white pictures. I still have the sack from the small purchases I made that day. The sack says it all: Woolworth … the fun place to shop.

On our way back to the Sam Peck, we ventured over to West Markham for another highly anticipated treat. The Minute Man Drive-In was a favorite from previous Beta Club trips. They advertised “real charcoal-broiled hamburgers” and, for those of more exotic tastes, “hot radar deep dish pies.” My selection was always the same: the Number 5 without onions. A Number 5 was a hamburger topped with chili and onions, and it was an epicurean marvel. We placed our order at an outside window and stood in the parking lot to eat. A Number 5 was to be enjoyed hot; taking it back to our room to eat would have diminished our entire experience.

Later that evening we traveled in our freshly fueled schoolbus to Robinson Auditorium, where the convention was held. One of our members was running for state office, so we had worked up a little skit to perform after her speech that night. Our local sponsor, Eddie Harrison, had been named State Chairman that year, so we were proud of the big role that he played in the convention.

By the way, if a student calls the front desk of the Sam Peck and says, “My name is Eddie Harrison, and I would like a wake-up call at 3 a.m.,” it really doesn’t work out like you think it would.

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