Snapshot Stories: Leo and Benny

Snapshot Stories is a series of short vignettes based on old photographs. This installment features a Street Sweeper on Washington Street, taken by John Vachon in 1943.

“The Street Sweeper.”

“What?”

“The Street Sweeper. That’s what we should call it.”

“Benny, we already decided on the Charlton Club. You want to change your mind three days before opening night?”

Washington street was empty except for a street sweeper pushing his broom and buckets along and turning the corner into Charlton.

“The Charlton Club sounds like all those uptown spots. The Street Sweeper is unusual. It’ll get people talking. Think about it. You said you wanted to branch out, get more folks interested in jazz, right?”

“Right.”

“So do you really think this street sweeper is going to come if we name it the Charlton Club? His kind need to come too if we’re going to survive this time.”

“But The Street Sweeper doesn’t even sound like a jazz club. How will people know it’s downstairs if all they see the mess behind us?”

The wind was gently tugging at the shredded advertisements, cruel reminders of the year that had passed since Leo and Benny closed the doors of their restaurant. After months of renovating the basement and recruiting upcoming talent, they had Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie lined up to play the first notes for their new venture.

“That’s the point, Leo. First rule of press for an underground establishment. Make it hard to find. Only the real enthusiasts will come in the beginning and pretty soon we’ll have movie stars knocking on our door. But they won’t find someone to help them out of their limousine. No, we’ll have our doorman stand there in a mangy coat and let them come, no lights or cheesy welcomes.”

Leo was keeping an eye out for the truck bringing more chairs and tables. He was determined to pack the place with no room for anything but music.

“Let’s call it The Street Sweeper, but only if you can catch up to him right now and convince him that he needs to spend his money on a drink and bebop.”