The Old Days

You may have seen it online, the photograph of a gas station sign that reads


There have been no long lines and the owner is quite sure he’ll remain in business.

I have a hunch this guy hangs out after work here in this poem.

The Old Days

In a dark corner
of the Bull’s Eye Bar

they sit, burnt out
and burned up over

wages and dreams
that turned to lies.

They live in beer
and bad jokes,

make it through
the day

by knowing
this is where

they’ll be
when the whistle blows.

Something about
the neon sign.

Something about
the elk’s head.

Something about
the floor,

the walls, the
bowling scores

taped behind
the bar.

“Wish I could
quit smoking.”

“No you don’t.”
“You’re right.”

for Nelson Oestreich

–Jack Ridl

Published in Between (Dawn Valley Press) Copies available on used book sites.

Kristin Brace will be offering a reading from her newly released collection Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin on September 26, 6:00pm at Books & Mortar bookstore, 955 Cherry Street. SE, Grand Rapids.

On September 27 at 7:00pm, The Hope College Visiting Writers Series will open with readings by Matthew Baker and by Linda Nemec Foster and Anne Marie Oomen with illustrator Meridith Ridl from their book The Lake Michigan Mermaid. The readings will be held in the Concert Hall of the Jack H. Miller Music Center.

There are still a few spots left for The Lost Lake Writers Retreat. It’s a great time with good writing souls in a beautiful setting.


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

16 thoughts on “The Old Days

    • Thank thee. It’s such a “proud Papa” kind of feeling to see these
      rascals doing such stunning work. I mostly got out of their way.
      You are so good to me–and it sure matters.

  1. Yep, that is a Nelson O kinda place.   Enjoying your work Jack.   Wish I had been able to share my teaching career with Nels.  I did a much better job there than I did at WC.   

    Another interesting gathering place is any local McDonald’s in the a.m. where you will find an assortment of old white men discussing the same topics, for hours, at above normal volume,  daily.

    Image is of our 2017 production of empty bowls, about 650 created at the Manchester Craftsman’s guild ( )by family members, former students, and friends. We donate them to Just harvest( , a non profit, that sponsors an event called the empty bowls dinner,  where the public enjoys a simple meal of soup and bread, take home a handcrafted bowl, while the $ proceeds go to the community food bank.    Although there was no clay in New Wilmington,  I learned the joy of wheel thrown pottery in grad school, and spent a good portion of my 31 years, as an art teacher, sharing that knowledge.    The founder of MCG wrote an inspiring story of his life, it is inspirational and begins with his discovery of an art teacher, in the basement of Oliver HS, hunched over a potters wheel, while jazz was playing and there was a smell of coffee in the air.  His life changed from that moment on.  It is a short read if interested.   Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland.     

    From: “RIDL.COM” Reply-To: “RIDL.COM” Date: Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 8:03 AM To: Subject: [New post] The Old Days

    Jack posted: “You may have seen it online, the photograph of a gas station sign that reads “FREE GAS ON ANY DAY [45] DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING STUPID!” There have been no long lines and the owner is quite sure he’ll remain in business. I have a hunch this guy hangs out a”

    • Damn! I so love this message from you. Yep to every single wonderful
      part of it. What a great celebration of Nels. How I wish more would
      have known him and that more would get to see, understand, admire
      his amazing range of work.

      The bowls project is beautiful, rich in its great good spirit and
      as a gift in ways inexpressible.

      And think how many lives in 31 years you enriched. Without you, most
      all of those students would never come to know the real meaning of art
      and of making art.

      Thanks for drawing me to the work of Bill Strickland. Our daughter is
      an art teacher. She will appreciate this too.

      Nels would be proud of ya! And that scene of the art teacher in the
      basement reminds me so much of Nels in his tiny studio with the pot
      belly stove blazing.

      I can’t thank you enough. Not nearly enough.

    • And best greetings back to you, Wolfgang.
      I’d like to hang out with you in that old place!
      Thank you for taking the time to connect. It matters, a lot.

  2. I love it.

    It speaks to my old days, growing up in a lower class blue collar rural suburban community west of Detroit.

    Everyone, meaning the dads, were either a union worker, farmer, or very small businessman. The mothers were all stay at home moms. My mom had to go to work in 1955, to support three boys after my dad died. I was the oldest 3 months shy of 10.

    My dad used to dream of the day he would only have to work five days a week, and make over a hundred dollars for that time he put in for that shortened week. He hung out at Joe DS’s Bar with his buddies.

    They played ball together, bowled on Thursday Nights, and played with their kids on Sunday after church.

    My dad never smoked, but also never met a beer he did not like. He was a man’s man and loved by everyone he met. These guys were his people, and that was his life. It just ended far too soon.


    • Nick, you wrote a beautiful lyric here–to your father, to the times,
      to the working class, to dreams deferred, to your days and what
      you inherited. You understand. You know.
      Thank you so much.

    • Oh my goodness, thank you so much, Patti! It’s so simple a poem,
      and yet it’s not. To know you saw that helps me and means a
      lot, a whole lot.
      See you soon!

  3. Dear Jack,
    My sincere compliments! I do not think that anyone in this world could have captured “it” any better.
    Best wishes from Aschaffenburg, Germany
    Reinhard Paczesny

    • I can’t tell you, Reinhard, how very very much this means to me.
      It truly is the “it” that a poet is always trying to capture. To
      know that you did means everything to me.
      With deep gratitude,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s