16 March 2016

When I was a Kid -- A Compilation of Facts About Life 50 Years Ago

Women used to wear gloves, thin white ones usually. They also wore hats. Men dressed up more often and wore ties with tie clips and cufflinks. No one wore bicycle helmets and seat belts weren’t mandatory. If you were in the front seat and the car stopped suddenly your father or mother’s arm would suddenly appear in front of your belly. Cars had AM radios and most people had a transistor radio too. Disc jockeys were well known in the area and often made appearances at special events. I recall Russ “The Moose” Syracuse, “The Emperor” Gene Nelson, Jim Lange (who also hosted The Dating Game) among others.

TV sets got five channels when I was a kid. The three major networks, PBS and one local station. In our case it was Channel 2 which offered kid’s programming in the morning and late afternoon. In the early afternoon there was the Dialing for Dollars Movies. During commercial breaks they’d call a random number and if someone answered they’d win some dough.

Like most people we had a record player. I also had a portable one but that was just for .45s. I’d often spend most of my one dollar allowance on a single.

There were usually three televised college football games a week and all of them were on Saturday. There were two NFL games shown and games were only on Sunday. Hardly any local major league baseball games were on TV which made the Saturday game of the week a big deal. There was no 24 all sports networks and no internet to watch sports on. Thus ABC’s Wide World of Sports felt like must see TV. The NFL draft wasn’t televised, nor was the NBA draft, nor the Heisman Trophy presentation. You’d get about three minutes of sports highlights on the local news shows.

Absent cable, computers and recording devices, a lot more people watched the same TV shows at the same time. If you missed a show you had to wait for Summer re-runs to catch it again. There were movies on TV but they were punctuated by commercials and in some cases edited for television.

Packs of baseball cards were a nickel as were most kinds of candy bars. Sometimes my mother would send me to the corner store for a half gallon of milk. She’d give me 50 cents and I could keep the change. Of course most of our milk was delivered to our doorstep. Milkmen were as ubiquitous as mailmen and garbage collectors. They wore all white outfits.

We had a malt shop down the street called, Johnny’s. It specialized in burgers and shakes and malts and had a jukebox. We went to Peterson’s drug store which was owned not by a corporation but one guy, old man Peterson. In addition to getting your prescription filled you could get a malt there too.

There were a lot of locally owned small businesses and chains like McDonald’s hadn’t encroached yet. There was no Taco Bell, Walgreen’s or CVS or Old Navy or Gap. There was a huge department store called Hink’s that seemingly sold anything you could think of including sporting goods, men’s women’s and children’s clothes, books, perfumes, kitchenware, toys and shoes. It’s where I saw Santa Claus every December.

I walked to school everyday, as did my friends. No one worried about getting kidnapped or molested. The biggest fear was the schoolyard bullies of which there were only a few and they were pretty tame ones at that.

People said Merry Christmas and we even had  Christmas Trees in our classrooms. African Americans were negroes or colored, racists used harsher words. Asians were lumped together as Orientals, although in some cases a Chinese man would be a Chinaman, I don’t remember any offense meant by it.

There were more theaters but none were multiplexes. Saturday afternoon matinees were 50 cents at the UC Theater and 35 cents at the Oaks. You always got a double feature and a cartoon or two and a short, usually in the form of a travelogue. People walked in during the middle of a movie and stayed to watch the beginning. One of the most oft uttered phrases in theaters was: “this is where we came in.”

Kids organized their own baseball, basketball and football games. There was Little League and other activities put together by adults but they were low pressure and affordable.

I grew up on Grove Street which is now Martin Luther King Jr. Way. I went to Garfield Junior High which is now King Middle School. Columbus school is now Rosa Parks and Lincoln is now Malcolm X.

Downtown Berkeley was clean and the site of many vibrant businesses. There was the hustle and bustle of people going to work or shopping. No one slept or urinated on the streets. Downtown felt safe, even at night.

Growing up I had no idea that there men who liked to have sex with other men or women who liked sex with women. The first time I saw two men holding hands I felt like I’d seen a dog talk.

Of course there was no 24 news networks and no internet. A lot of people watched the evening news from one of the major networks. We were mostly a CBS/Walter Cronkite family. There was also local news. We got an evening and morning newspaper, this was not uncommon. Anecdotally I’d say people were as politically well informed then as now. I remember a lot of political rancor but people had respect for politicians and politicians had respect for the people. There is no question but that some very bad leaders did some very bad things in those days, but at least they were well spoken often quite articulate men who did not stoop to demagoguery.

Telephones did not leave the house and did not have cameras on them. They were rotary phones. Dialing took what would seem an eternity today. There were no answering machines, no call waiting. My grandmother even had a party line which meant she shared her phone line with someone else and if they were on a call when she needed the phone she’d have to wait. If you wanted to make a long distance call you had to connect with a long distance operator who would need to connect to your party and it took long enough that you’d actually hang up and wait for the operator to call you back and say that you’re call had been put through.

Busses made change, there was no subway system. Bikes weren’t as prolific and were mostly ridden by children. Bicyclists respected the rules of the road more and didn’t ride on the sidewalk.

Every house had ashtrays and I can’t recall anyone forbidding smoking in their house. People smoked everywhere. Busses, theaters, sports events, restaurants, offices. Not just cigarettes either, cigars and pipes too.

Sports events were affordable. There were no big screens for replays in stadiums or arenas but there also wasn’t a constant barrage of piped in music and ads. The fare sold at games was simple stuff, hot dogs, soda, beer and peanuts.

You saw more stray dogs walking the streets and people didn't pick up their dogs poop which meant your were much more likely to step in it. Children also traveled the streets without adult supervision.

There were more salesmen knocking on doors and you never felt like it was scam. People also opened their door when someone knocked or rang the bell. There was no speculating as to who it could be.

If you took a photograph and wanted to see it you had to wait. First you needed to finish the roll of film in your camera, then you needed to bring it to someplace that developed photos. A few days later you'd pick them up. Later instamatic cameras came along and you could instantly have a photo but if you wanted to share it with someone else in another state or country you had to stick it in the mail. This required an envelope that you would address and need to put a stamp on and bring to the mailbox. Depending on where the recipient lived it would be a few days to a week or more before they saw it.

Computers were not in homes. Many people had typewriters though, they came without spell check.
There were no ATMs. If you wanted cash it meant a trip to the bank. People wrote checks for a lot of things. Credit cards were for gas and department stores. Change was worth hanging on to because you could actually buy things with a few coins. I remember when comic books went from a dime to 12 cents.  A lot of adult men had change forever jingling in their pockets.

We had a black and white TV until my senior year of high school. We weren't unusual in this respect. I don't remember anyone having a remote control although they did exist. If you wanted to change the channel or the volume you got up and walked over to the set. There was no direct reference to sex on TV, at least not explicitly, and there was no scatological humor or references to bodily functions. Movies were just beginning to break free of censorship restrictions. There was no profanity in songs.

Men only wore sandals on hot days. Recently it was pouring rain and I saw men wearing sandals.

A few weekends ago I saw a small child riding a trike. Following her was an adult, likely her father. He was pushing along on a scooter and wearing a helmet. There's no way you'd have seen a man on a scooter when I was a kid.

Gas stations had attendants who pumped your gas and washed your windows and offered to check your oil. Many were referred to as service stations and many also fixed cars.

Life when I was a kid was a lot better. Life when I was a kid was a lot worse. Life when I was a kid was a lot different in some ways and similar in others. Of course when I was a kid I looked at the world through the eyes of a child. Today I view the world though the eyes of an adult. Perspective is everything.

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