By CHARLES FERRUZZA
Walton Marshall Bodine will turn 88 years old next month – on August 27, to be exact. Although he’s still considered the elder statesman of Kansas City television journalists for his many years reporting news on the tube, the octogenarian broadcaster says he’s had the most fun of his career as the host of his namesake weekday radio show on KCUR 89.3 FM.
One of my favorite culinary quotes comes from Bodine, who told me, several years ago, “I prefer places where ordinary people eat. A gourmet is someone with too much money and not enough to do.”
After promising, for several weeks, that I’d take him to lunch at Fox’s Drug Store in Raytown (10004 E. 63rd Street), we finally set a date to sip a chocolate malt and eat a sandwich at one of the last pharmacies in the metro area to still offer a soda fountain.
“They always served a superior malt here,” Walt said soon after Everett White, Fox’s longtime “soda jerk,” set down the chilled canister and a styrofoam cup in front of Walt. He took a sip of the thick chocolate drink. “It’s the best malt in Kansas City.”
Walt is the city’s expert at ice cream malteds, dating back to the 1930s when he was a soda jerk at the counter of his father’s pharmacy, located on the ground floor of the long-razed Ormand Hotel at the corner of Linwood and Troost.
“How many stools are at the counter of this soda fountain?” Walt, who is now legally blind, asked me. I counted 18. “That’s how many we had at the counter at my dad’s store – after the fire.”
In the mid-1930s, Walt was walking home from Westport High School when he heard the clanging of fire engines. “Someone stopped me and said, ‘You better hurry, your dad’s drug store is burning down.’ ”
When it came time to rebuild, Bodine’s father expanded the soda fountain, which served food 24 hours a day. “We even had steak dinners,” Walt said. “Although they weren’t the greatest steaks.”
In those days, there was a drug store on almost every street corner and they all had soda fountains. The competition for business was intense, especially during the Depression. “Dad was always coming up with ideas to bring in business,” Walt said. “There was a taxi stand in front of the hotel and on certain nights, we would feed the taxi drivers so they would drop off hungry customers to our drug store and not the one up the street or around the corner.”
The reason modern drug stores don’t have soda fountains, he thinks, is that convenience stores like Quik Trip have taken up that niche. Customers can get soda drinks, coffees, sandwiches – even freshly made hot dogs on warm buns – at the neighborhood convenience store. And liquor.
“We sold liquor too,” Walt said. “We could get it even during Prohibition. We bought it from Tom Pendergast.”