By June Allen
June 17, 2002
Those used-to-be-teens remember listening to the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Country Joe and the Fish in a roomful of booths and stools occupied by teenagers only, while the tides of Tongass Narrows lapped the rocks on the water side of their hangout and Tongass Avenue traffic hissed along the wet pavement on the other.
This exclusive teenage enclave of those years was Herb and Peg Johnson's Toot 'n' Tell, and the Toot was an adolescent heaven - where the kids chose to behave for the privilege of just being there. "We were welcome at the Toot," says Kathy (Allen) Meggitt, now of Anchorage, "and we felt so empowered by that respect."
Coast Guard boys in the same youthful age range were also familiar with the Toot. One of them was Bob Kern - now owner of Ketchikan's KFMJ Oldies Radio. "My first contact with the Toot 'n' Tell came about 1964, shortly after I was sent to the Coast Guard's Point Higgins Radio Station," he says. He remembers that the Toot was on the water side of Tongass Avenue at that time, kitty-corner, with a covered drive-in-type structure that extended from the building's door to the parking lot and the street. It had been a drive-in at one time.
Herb Johnson, of the beloved Herb and Peg duo, passed away recently. But Peg is still hale and hearty and loves to talk about the Toot and all "her kids" who spent so many hours in her company. "The Toot 'n' Tell was a Mom and Pop operation," she says, "it really was. With a lot of kids! There was a time when the roads were so torn up that business could have come to a standstill, but the mess didn't bother the kids and they literally kept us in business."
She and Herb arrived in Ketchikan in 1960, fresh from their farm in Ohio where they raised Holstein cows. She laughs about that arrival and says, "Here we were, us and our three kids, $300 in our pocket and no job." But Herb got a job cooking at the Tongass Avenue restaurant, was promoted to manager, and soon after bought the business. The Toot was on one side of the building, the Surf Room, for adults, was on the other.
"I don't think I ever saw an adult in the Toot," Chris Elliott says, "except for Herb and Peg. It was truly for teens." But sometimes when the Surf Room was empty a romantic teen couple would slip into the Surf - many romances began and ended at the Toot - and oh the yelling when they got caught! Great fun.
Herb and Peg ran the business together, with the help of young Coasties - but "Herb made
And she especially remembered the lunch times during the school year - here came the kids! Herb learned early on to have burger baskets ready in advance for the onslaught. One Kayhi grad remembers those mid-day breaks from her days at Kayhi. "We would always run for our cars at lunchtime and race down Madison to get a good seat at the Toot. In those days, you went down Madison in a hurry and, believe me, there were some hairy airborne flights when we hit the intersections and Fourth and Third!"
Chris Elliott recalls that behavior at the Toot 'n' Tell was "sorta like high school. When you were a punk freshman, you minded your Ps & Qs there, because the upper classmen reigned. Then as you went up the ladder, you got better seats" - the goal being the big corner booth where the cool kids sat. One was Frankie, who, rumor said, had recently returned from a visit to Haight-Ashbury! squeal! He drove a navy blue VW bug and was way cool.
The rule of "no shoes, no shirt, no service" was enforced at the Toot. However, one young lady during those flower power years tied leather laces across her feet and up her ankles and then added a flower at each big toe. But no soles. She got away with it. She thinks.
Another Toot alumnus says you didn't have to spend a lot of money to be welcomed at the Toot. "You could sit over a fifteen-cent cup of coffee all evening if you wanted to - or had to, but you had to mind your manners, always." And if you weren't behaving, one of your peers might show you the door - self-policing. No one wanted to be excluded from the Toot. It was the cool place to be!
Peg says Herb had a soft heart and let the teens charge. Chris Elliott remembers that Herb was among the first to extend credit to teens. "I'm sure he got burned a few times, but what a lesson he taught us. Everyone loved him and Peg, so if you stiffed them on your
How did Herb and Peg keep all these kids under control and win their enduring affection at the same time? Peg says it was because the Toot really was a Mom and Pop operation. The teens knew what was expected of them. They had to learn the meaning of respect at the Toot, she says. "We'd make no excuses for them. For instance, if they got a phone call, they'd take that phone call - we wouldn't lie for them and say they weren't there. If they got in a fight, Herb would sit down with one and I'd sit down with the other and we'd talk it out and settle it," Peg remembers.
But eventually all good things come to an end. By 1972 Herb was ready for a change, Peg says. "He liked a challenge," she says, "something new." He decided that there was no place in Ketchikan to buy up-to-date men's clothes, so he opened the Right On Shop. A decade later the Johnsons took over Family Furniture. Then Herb said he was tired of dealing with women in the furniture store and opened the Mister Store. But Herb's failing health forced his retirement by the mid-'90s.
Peg remembers a highlight of their lives - when one of the Kayhi classes invited Herb and Peg to ride with them in the big Fourth of July parade. Was it 1999? The crowds of parade-watchers always cheer every parade entry and they wildly cheered Herb and Peg, too! And within those cheers were also memories of young love, of the strains of "I Want to Hold Your Hand," of granny glasses and granny dresses, of bell-bottoms and clunky shoes, Make Love not War, of sit-ins and love-ins and of grand ideals and grander dreams, and of king burgers with fries and a side of tartar sauce to dip the fries in, and a virgin (cherry) coke.
Thanks, Herb and Peg.