Thursday, January 31, 2019

Yelling at clouds

I think I'm officially old.

I posted this on Twitter yesterday:

And yeah, just saying "I remember the Blizzard of '78" is like one of those things old people have always said...any big bad weather event they experienced. (I wonder how the "named" winter storms will change this; will we see Gen Zers, some 40 years hence, saying "I remember Winter Storm Jaden"? I don't think so)

I was... I guess I would have been 8, if it happened in January 1978. (My birthday is the end of February). I just barely remember it: school being closed, us camping out around the fireplace because as I remember there was no power (so no way for the furnace blower to run, even if we had a gas furnace, and I think in those days the furnaces had a pilot light instead of an electric starter like mine does now). I think this is the extended power outage where my mom made macaroni and cheese - she had a gas oven with a pilot light, and burners you could light with a match - and took it across the street to the family living there (four kids around my age) so they could have hot food for a change....after several days of cold food.

Also, the radio broadcast is kind of evocative; the 1970s style of broadcasting was different from now, less slick, none of that "drop this audio feed from elsewhere in" (I guess if they wanted to do something like that and didn't have some kind of live feed, they'd have to have used reel-to-reel tape? I guess?)

I've also posted this before. Channel 8 was one of the channels we used to watch regularly. (I *think* 5 was the one my dad preferred for news, but we liked Dick Goddard for weather)

Also remarkable how those names come back to me. Maybe some of the memories you lay down as a kid are stronger than adult memories? I'd be hard-pressed to name one Detroit broadcaster from the time I lived in Ann Arbor, and outside of the now-retired Garry Moore, I'm not sure I could name one from Central Illinois...

And also the haircuts, and the wide ties on the men, all of that. It feels familiar, and yet also seems indicative of a vanished world to me.

I was thinking this morning about it. There were a lot of bad things about the 1970s: stagflation, "malaise," the oil embargo and related issues with gas lines and being told to turn the thermostats down in winter, the mostly-crummy toys that I remember*

(*With a few exceptions. 1970s Lego was pretty cool because it was just blocks, this was before all the themed stuff that sort of limited the possibilities - where you could build, you know, Spiderman's car or maybe Spiderman's airplane, but once you ran out of spider-themed vehicles to make, you might not think of anything else. Whereas "old" Lego was just a bag of primary-colored bricks. Granted, I mostly used it to make "houses" for my little toy plastic animals, but... And also The Sunshine Family, which I've written about before, was pretty cool. And you used to be able to get smallish Dakin stuffed animals for not very many monies and so I could save my very-small allowance for a few weeks and beg to go down to the store called "The Attic" (or another one: "The Reserve Exchange" which also did consignment of handmade ones) and buy a stuffed animals for myself.)

But also, it seemed like times were simpler. (They may not have been: it may merely have been that I was a child, and thus, shielded from the annoying complexities of life I face now). There was no commercial Internet...I guess some proto-internet existed for some of the armed forces, but that was it. So: no cyberbullying. Which I am eternally grateful for because the in-person bullying I received at school was more than enough. (But: knowing my parents, probably we wouldn't have had Internet if it had been a thing, and I would have been ostracized all the more at school for it). Home computers weren't really a thing. (In the early 1980s, we had a TI-44, which I learned some rudimentary BASIC on, and also played games with -the big old game cartridges, and if you wanted to "save" a program you wrote, you had to patch in a tape recorder and record it to cassette tape).

Video games were in their infancy. My dad bought PONG when it came out - I guess he was taken by the novelty of it - but as I remember PONG was not very fun. I think I would play it for about five minutes at a time and then want to do something else. (Much later - probably in the mid 80s - my brother got an Atari, and then later an NES and a Sega)

The world seemed smaller in some ways, things were more localized. Good local news was a thing (though that might be because we were in the Cleveland media market, and they were a major outlet). Where I am now, the "local" news isn't so very local, and it's not at all uncommon to see stories breathlessly reported on, get concerned, and then learn they're out of Houston or Austin or some darn place like that. You didn't hear quite as much news from outside your area, it seemed, unless it was REALLY BIG news, like a world leader dying or some kind of treaty being signed.

I've written before about how I involuntarily jump whenever one of the channels-playing-news does a BREAKING NEWS ALERT because when I was growing up those were just for the big and mostly-bad things: the president has been shot. a commercial jet has crashed. war has broken out somewhere. a major natural disaster has occurred. Now, it seems even fairly trivial things - even stupid stuff like spats between politicians - get their BREAKING NEWS ALERT and for a tired old Gen-Xer like me, it causes an unnecessary fight-or-flight reaction.

I dunno. On the one hand I kind of love some of the interconnectedness: heck, I would not have a blog, probably wouldn't even keep a journal*, if it weren't for the internet. It would be much harder living here without being able to quickly order books or yarn....yes, there would be catalogs, but I remember ordering from catalogs, and it was harder and more involved, especially in the days before using a credit card for everything was common.

(*I tried having diaries off and on as a kid but I think what's kept me going on this is knowing that at least a few people read it, and once in a while someone else who writes a blog quotes me on theirs)

And that's another thing: I remember, when was a kid, my parents had credit cards, even a Sears credit card (and maybe a JC Penney's one? or maybe that was later). But as I remember, they only ever paid for big things with them; for ordinary shopping like for back-to-school clothes, they either paid cash (which means you have to budget more carefully, and take into account things like sales taxes, if you're getting close tot he amount of cash you brought). Or they wrote checks.

I wonder now if that was partly the effort involved in a credit-card transaction: in those days, writing a check, especially at a store that knew you, was every bit as fast, because credit cards were processed with those old....I don't even know what they were called, but they were big flat things with a bar across the top that slid, and you put a little stack of pages with carbon paper between them in it, and the card underneath, and you ran the bar over it to take an impression of the card, and you then signed it, and you got one flimsy copy and the store kept the others....and still later, in the early 80s, there was the whole rigamarole where the stores had little newsprint booklets of "bad" numbers (stolen card numbers, I presume, or invalid ones) and they had to look the card up in it. Now all you have to do is swipe your card in a device...of course that has led to more theft, and I largely regard one of my credit cards - which I use online and to buy gas - as largely disposable; the number's been stolen three times I think and I've been issued a new card each time.

(And again there's a rash of "skimmers found on gas pumps" stories here. And the inevitable advice: "just carry a wad of cash and walk up to the checkout and pay cash" and frankly I wonder if more people did that if we wouldn't see more armed robberies, and frankly, I'd much rather have my credit card number stolen)

Other things I remember: groceries not being open on Sundays, or not being open until after noon. Only convenience stores (where you paid a high price for the convenience...) being open on days like Thanksgiving. No cell phones, so if your car broke down somewhere you either had to hope there was a farmhouse with friendly people who'd let you use their phone, or a phone booth somewhere.

I don't know. Yes, I'm getting old. Yes, the past tends to look better and better the farther we are from it, but as much as I'd like to have REAL local radio stations, with reporters who went out and covered local stories (and also just fun stuff like the kids' 4-H fair), I also admit I don't miss the treatment I got from my peers as a kid in the 1970s, or the gas lines, or constantly being told to turn off the lights because "we're not made of money" or the terrible generic food (this was before good-quality store brands were available)

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