On Facebook the other day, someone posted a photograph of an old phone booth (if you don't know what a phone booth is, think Superman's dressing room) and called it “my generation's mobile phone.” I laughed...and quickly flashed back to days gone by.
When I was young, phone booths with folding doors for privacy commonly dotted city streets. Phone calls were a dime, and if we needed to find a certain telephone number, we let our fingers doing the walking through the yellow pages, aka the phone book, dangling in the phone booth by a chain. If you don't know how to let your fingers do the walking, you're likely from a generation with a cell phone glued to your ear; thus, you are also unfamiliar with telephone privacy...and stationary, rotary phones (no, not paper phones...paper is stationery). In my childhood home, we had two telephones: a rotary dial princess phone upstairs and a rotary dial wall phone in the kitchen. Later on, the rotary dials were replaced by touch-tone phones but remained anchored in place by cords and wall plates. Our voice mail was a pen and paper. Though cordless telephones were invented in the mid 1960s, our home did not have one until long afterward.
Ditto color television. The first color programs were introduced in the 1950s, but most people did not have color television at that time. Some folks, my parents included, believed color television would damage our health and sitting too close to the television (which was a console, a giant piece of furniture) would hurt our eyes. Remotes and hundreds of viewing channels were unheard of. If we wanted to switch stations, we had to get up from our comfortable chairs and manually turn the dial. Channel surfing was unheard of; who would channel surf through a mere handful of stations? We only watched a few networks anyway: CBS, NBC, ABC, occasionally PBS. Channels nine and eleven were virtually ignored; channel five was only good if we wanted to watch Wonderama. If reception was poor, we hung a wire clothing hangar on the dial (don't ask me why!), and if one of the tubes inside the television went dark, my father or my grandfather removed the tube and took it to the tube tester machine at the local pharmacy.
We drove to the pharmacy in a car without air conditioning or seat belts. The seats in my father's Chevy were made of vinyl, which held the heat. On a summer day, riding in the car was like sitting on a fire. Of course, we could crank the windows for air; cars did not have fancy buttons and gadgets. You were lucky if your car radio continued to play as you drove through a tunnel or beneath an overpass. You were also fortunate if mischievous teens did not bend your antenna; automatic power antennas did not appear until the 70s. Police did not have seat belt or car seat checkpoints. Children were kept in their seats with old fashioned discipline, but it wasn't uncommon to see kids kneeling on the back seats, making funny faces through the rear window at the drivers behind them.
My sister and I often did that, especially when my father took us to the local family restaurant where we dined on hot dogs or hamburgers and rode the swings in the restaurant's playground afterward. Fast food restaurants were non-existent. There was no Burger King, no McDonalds, no Sonic. Movie theaters played only one movie; duplex theaters, a precursor to multiplex theaters, were a major milestone in entertainment for my generation. If we wanted to see a movie more than once, we coughed up another $1.55 to sit in the theater again. There were no DVRs, no DVD releases.
Life was simpler in days gone by. We were less spoiled and had less stuff, less to think about. But all things are relative. We would have been thrilled to have countless, color television channels and a multitude of movies to choose from. We would have felt much safer and more in touch with a telephone in our pockets, though we may have been heavier and less healthy if we had so many fast food choices and video games to play. I guess it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. It's natural for people to look back at days gone by and believe them better, but I rather like my microwave, air conditioning, and flat screen television. I have no desire to carry ice from the local ice house the way my father did when he was a kid or to defrost a refrigerator like my mother did when I was a little girl. Nostalgia is sweet, fun, but I much prefer being spoiled.
Superman will just have to find a new dressing room.