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Tuesday, December 02, 2014


Steve Cole ponders how old he feels.

I am 63 and the world I knew growing up was not the world I now find myself in. I grew up in a world without internet, email, cell phones, digital cameras, cable TV, computers smaller than a truck, video recorders, or Walmart.

1. I grew up in a house with one phone in a town (over 100,000 people) where nobody even knew anybody with two phones in their house. The first time I visited somebody else's house and the kids had their own separate phone was when I was about 20. Same for having two phones in different parts of the house that rang on the same line. Long-distance phone calls were still rare and expensive things when I was 25, and people would talk for days about a long-distance call they received.

2. I was born with two television channels and barely old enough to be aware of the world when the third channel appeared. At the time I didn't really realize that there were such things at channels; mother just turned on the TV for me when she wanted to, and sometimes I'd change the channel for myself. I was married and 28 years old when a fourth channel appeared and you had to have a special antenna to get it (and that antenna worked only some of the time.) That's about the same time that VHS recorders showed up for $1500 each (which today would be about $5000). Cable came along when I was 30 and suddenly we had 15 channels but 11 of them only had reruns of stuff I had seen before.

3. I grew up always carrying a dime to make an emergency phone call, and there were pay phones on every block. As a teenager I saw a movie about somebody who had been on a deserted island long enough to think phone calls were still a nickel, and my dad said that was before I was born. I remember when phone calls jumped to a quarter and a lot of people were upset. I remember seeing the first bag phone on a soap opera when I was about 27 years old.

4. I was married and working a full time job (and almost 30) when 90% of restaurants and stores would not take credit cards, and gas stations all had their own separate credit cards. And credit cards were all done in a machine that embossed the raised lettering into carbon paper and had to be physically taken to the bank. Since I worked as a construction engineer out of town most of the time I had to either carry a week of cash with me or open an account at a local bank near each construction site.

5. I was born and grew up before pistol permits. A few people carried a concealed firearm, a few did open carry, and most did not carry one at all. People working "out in the country" (e.g., oilfield construction) almost always carried a 22LR "snake gun" (and used it for rattlesnakes at least once a week). It wasn't actually legal but the cops didn't bother you about it, even if they saw it. You drove around with it lying on the seat (putting it under the seat when you parked and got out of the car). The "policy" was that if cops saw you with a gun on the seat of your car they assumed you were taking it to be cleaned, or picking it up from being cleaned, or were going to or from the firing range. Only if they caught you with a gun on three consecutive days did anybody warn you not to carry it, and nobody knew anybody that happened to. There were some construction sites with so many snakes that somebody (usually me) had to carry a pistol all day long like a cowboy.

6. Inflation is a crazy thing. When I got married in 1977 you could buy a decent plate lunch for $3 at any café in town, and you tipped the waitress a quarter. When I was about 12 you could get a hamburger at any of several fast food places for a dime; it went up to a quarter when I was in college.

7. When I was in college you had to spend an hour at a card puncher to run a relatively minor equation on a computer. I was working as an engineer when our department got the first desktop computer anyone had seen. It came with a full time computer programmer and each engineer had to write programs to calculate anything (like how much pressure a pipeline needed to move this much natural gas that many miles). All of the engineers had one tape for our programs, and we had to sign up days in advance for an hour of time to do calculations. We did word processing by running a simple math program and then typing in our text as "comment lines" which had to be retyped by a clerk-typist on a magnetic card typewriter.
 8. When I was a kid I played anywhere I wanted and when I was a teenager I rode my bike all over town. If I got lost or my bike had a flat tire, I could knock on the door of any house and the housewife would call my parents to come and get me. Nobody's mother worked outside of her home; my own mother gave up her nursing career when she got pregnant with me. Few girls went to college when I was 10; when I was 20 virtually all of the girls in college were there just to find husbands. Boys went to college to get jobs. Nobody had heard of student loans until I was 21. Only kids with rich parents got liberal arts degrees.

9. Teachers were mostly women who took a decade off from work after they became pregnant for the first time. They went back to teaching (some of them) only when their own children were in school. I was 11 when I saw the first male teacher (math) and 13 when I saw any more (gym coach, the music and art teacher, and more math teachers).

10. Just about everybody around me had a father who had been in the military for World War II and almost every home I visited had a little framed box of medals and campaign ribbons. Even the younger teachers talked about their fathers being in World War II.