The Norfolk YMCA

Outside Gate 2 of the sprawling Norfolk Naval Station, on Admiral Taustig Boulevard, there was a “strip”; much like the one outside the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I would learn that every military facility has such an area “just beyond the wall” and Norfolk, being a huge naval facility and also Atlantic Fleet headquarters, of course had its version.

The Norfolk strip had its bars and gift shops of course, but the only business there with which I concerned myself was one of the “Locker Clubs”. Enlisted sailors at that time were required to wear the uniform both on the base, and when leaving and returning. A locker club, as the name might suggest, was a large, usually second-floor, room filled with lockers which could be rented for a monthly fee, and where sailors could keep their civilian clothes.

This provided us with a place outside of the gate to change; thus allowing us to, hopefully, present ourselves to the Norfolk citizenry (well, the girls anyway) as normal people – although I’m sure we didn’t fool anyone. Conveniently, there were also a few sinks and showers. The genius of locker clubs, as business establishments, was that they were almost universally located above a men’s clothing store – which of course offered easy payment plans to military personnel.

I recall the Norfolk strip as being not quite as large as the one at Great Lakes; probably for the simple reason that unlike North Chicago IL, in Norfolk there was actually somewhere else to go. The area outside Gate 2 also included a bus stop, and for a dime a simple bus ride took you to downtown Norfolk VA, which offered many more opportunities for lonely young sailors to be exploited.

One of the (few) non-exploitive features, near the end of the bus route, in downtown Norfolk was the YMCA, which organized and hosted activities for the many many young sailors (and marines, and others – but mostly sailors) who filled the downtown area on evenings and weekends.

Principal among these events were dances. These were much like dances at the “Y” back home in Aurora, but here everyone was a bit older of course, and no one knew anyone else. Here, everyone was a stranger, and the competition to dance, or to just talk with the local Virginia girls who volunteered to entertain the lonesome boys could sometimes be overwhelming. But it was occasionally worth the effort.

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