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Dec 5, 2016

4 things we never knew we needed, not so very long ago

It's amazing how spoiled we are in this day and age of technology.  Kids may wonder how we ever survived in the dark ages of the 1970's and 80's!  Here's a few examples of things many have come to feel they simply can't live without..

Cell Phones
Hooray!  Now you can be connected to everyone you know 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not to mention full blown access to the internet.  You can even keep tabs on junior every minute he's away from you.  I've noticed lately that when I carry my cell, I'm mindlessly filling in spare time by texting, checking e-mail, or updating social network status's.  Sometimes it gets to be a bit much, and I will purposely leave the electronic ball and chain at home for the afternoon, or at the very least.. turn it off.  When I do so, it feels as if a weight has been lifted and I can better relax.  Nothing breaks the peacefulness of a 5 mile walk like getting bombarded by texts.

Don't get me wrong.. I'm not knocking cell phones, and I too have been guilty of "checking in" on my kids while they're out for the evening just to make sure everything is okay.  It's just such a sharp contrast to the days when I used to leave the house on on my bicycle on Saturday morning, and not be seen again until dinner time.  Cell phones are also invaluable in emergencies like accidents and car breakdowns.  I once had to walk ten miles on a busy interstate to a pay phone because I had a flat tire.  I don't want my kids to have to do that.  Cell phones are a God send in many ways, but I can see people replacing much of the real human connection we used to have, for the super fast and easy means of communication we now enjoy with our smart phones.

Flat Screen TV's
This is one piece of technology I've always been excited about!  I have a 40 inch screen television I carried out of the store with one hand.  I have an old 32 inch screen in the house that nearly gives me a hernia every time I lift it.  I wonder how many people have blown out  their backs, or have broken their toes over the years while moving around TV's that weigh 60 pounds or more.

Razors with five.. Count em' FIVE blades!
If you would have told me as a young man that we'd someday have razors with five blades, I would have laughed my head off.  Really.. FIVE Blades?!?  Until you personally have to shave every day, this might sound like overkill.  I love these razors, and can't believe how safely and closely they shave.  I shave with an old single blade adjustable razor that you buy replacement blades for.  No matter how careful I am, or how slowly I shave.. I occasionally end up having to put at least one or two pieces of toilet paper on my face to stop some bleeding.  I can't say that I've ever cut myself shaving with razors like the Gillette Fusion razor.  If they weren't so dang expensive, it would probably be my go-to razor.  However.. I'm cheap, and I don't mind slowing my pace of life for fifteen minutes to get a nice close shave with my forty year old adjustable razor.

I would have killed to have Google when I was in school!  We had a complete set of encyclopedias from the late 1950's that I would scour through to do research for school assignments.  If they didn't have the info I was looking for, it was off to the library to search through a newer set.  Once you found the info you needed, you had to copy the info (using a pen or pencil kids) to paper.  Now in mere seconds, you can look up info using Google, copy it, paste it, and print it out!  The ease of obtaining information like this makes me wonder how grammar, spelling, accuracy of history, and literacy as whole, might suffer in the decades to come.  I swear though.. it's great to get an answer to practically any question that pops into your head, in mere seconds.

I could go on for days like this!  While the good old days were indeed good.. we've made a lot of changes for the better as well.  Technology can be a blessing and a curse.  As long as we collectively try to improve our life for the better while keeping in mind the long term effects, we should be okay.  Easier said than done at this point, but we can keep our fingers crossed.

Nov 28, 2016

Video Arcades.. a 1980s escape for kids

I was quite surprised to see my fifteen year old jump for joy yesterday because she had found five dollars in her pocket.  This of course was the perfect segue for me to tell her exactly what five dollars could get you back in 1982.

I explained that in the Regan era.. five dollars could buy me four hamburgers, a Big Gulp, and a few hours at the video arcade.  To help drive my lesson on inflation home.. my bride who was listening in at the time, threw in her two cents by telling my daughter, "Wow! Daddy is really old".

Where have all the arcades gone?

The home video game market has all but killed video arcades. Sure there were home video game systems back in the early 80's, but the graphics and sound couldn't hold a candle to what the giant CPU's inside of the old standup arcade games produced.  I saw the decline of video arcades coming a long time ago when I bought my first 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 80's.  My friends and I immediately started spending more time in front of the TV, having video game tournaments for hours on end.

I can't begin to count how many quarters I pumped into video games as a kid.  Seeing as twenty five cents was still a decent amount of money in the early eighties, there was plenty of motivation to improve your game play skills, in turn squeezing as much play time as you possibly could from every game.  Heck.. I used to be able to play Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers for about forty minutes on one quarter, and I was by no means the best player around.

indeed it was

Most arcades had a certain feel to them, and anyone who was a kid in the 80's knows what I'm talking about.  Upon crossing the arcade threshold, your senses were immediately bombarded with a multitude of sights and sounds.   I can still hear the "wakka wakka wakka" blaring from the Pac Man game, the sound of pinball machine bells and bumpers going wild, and the reverberation of skee balls infinitely rolling towards their targets.  Within a few minutes, the sounds slowly sorted themselves out one by one, until you were immersed in a cornucopia of harmonious intonation.  

Air conditioning was a must to prolong the life of the video games, so the air temperature of most arcades was very comfortable.  They were also usually dimly lit so as to reduce glare on the video game screens.  Most of the arcades I visited were kept very tidy, and were always clean smelling.  Arcades if designed properly, reeled you in and made you want to stay until your pockets were empty.

The very best arcades could facilitate the needs of the average kid for most of the day, as many had snack bars or concession stands.  One such arcade that was a hangout of my friends and I for most of the 80's, was a joint called "W.C. Franks" in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado.  One side of the establishment housed a kitchen that sold nachos, hot dogs, chips, etc., and an eating area with a jukebox that was always filled with the latest music.  The other side of the room was dedicated entirely to video games and pinball machines.  

Many an afternoon and evening was spent at W.C. Franks with my buddies during our high school years.  I even took my wife there on one of our first dates.  I ordered us a couple of foot-long chili dogs, and some nachos with sliced pickled jalapenos.  It was the first time she had ever eaten jalapeno's, and she's been hooked on them ever since.  Vivid memories such as this one are jam packed in the recesses of my mind.

I love reminiscing about the recent (and not so recent) past.  In particular, memories about Americana and pop culture from my youth.  Things we experience during childhood and our younger years tend to make a bigger impression on us, because so much about life is new and exciting.  This helps to make for some sharp and detailed memories that stay with us for our entire lives.  That being said.. I feel bad for my kids sometimes.  I just don't see many parallels in this day and age to the prolific period of pop culture we experienced during the 70's and 80's. 

Am I getting so old and jaded that I can't see a wondrous and exciting period of pop culture going on right in front of me?   My 25 year old is already reminiscing about his childhood in the 90's, are my youngest kids going to be reminiscing about the 2010's in ten or fifteen years time?   Can playing video games online with friends while sitting on the couch possibly compare to what kids had in the 80's?  What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts, memories, and comments on this topic.

Nov 14, 2016

Dad's retro phrase of the week..

"Crap or get off the pot"

Meaning.. hurry up!  

A saying that I don't often hear too much these days (at least from folks under the age of forty).

Nov 7, 2016

Retro consumer products

You don't hear these product names mentioned too often anymore. However, for a fella my age.. they're definitely burned into my memory banks.

Old school pomade that hit the market in 1928.  The tag line for this product was "A Little Dab'll Do Ya!".  The product is still available in stores to this day, although few young folks know what it is or does.  I'm wondering if the right kind of retro marketing campaign could breathe life into the product once again?


A powdered roasted grain beverage that was made from from wheat bran, wheat, molasses, and malodextrin from corn.  Touted as a caffeine free alternative to coffee, I remember it tasting like a cross between coffee and tea.  Never was a big fan.  It was discontinued fairly recently in 2007.

This stuff used to come in a little green glass bottle, and was my old man's answer to a wonder drug.  You could use it for acne, cold sores, fever blisters, scrapes, nicks, chaffed skin, insect bites, and more.  Campho Phenique is also still sold to this day.

A car wax created in 1910.  My old man always had a can of Simoniz carnauba paste lying around the garage somewhere, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he still had a vintage can tucked away somewhere.

A malted milk flavoring product kind of like Nesquik.  Mom was happy giving it to us because it was healthier than chocolate milk. Us kids weren't too terribly picky, and it was close enough to the real thing for us.

A colorful and fun circus themed sugary breakfast cereal with marshmallows, born in the 70s.  The recipe was changed by General Mills from an oat based cereal to corn base.  It totally changed the taste, and is the reason I no longer buy it.

Oct 31, 2016

Why I cut my kids a little slack when it comes to procrastinating on science projects..

Here it is.  A last minute project I finished just minutes before my first period biology class in 8th grade.   I had a full week and a three day weekend to complete my construction of a plant cell, but as so many kids do.. I put it off and forgot about it until I woke up on Monday morning.  

At 6:30 a.m. I ran out to my old man's wood shop, and started scrounging for anything I could find.  I needed to construct something.. anything, so as not to get a big fat zero in the grade book.  I grabbed a piece of pine half buried beneath a pile of sawdust, and ran inside.  I scarfed down a bowl of Wheaties, got dressed, grabbed a hand full of markers, and ran to the bus stop.

After I boarded the school bus, I opened up my biology textbook, sat it next to me on the seat, and quickly began to transfer the likeness of a plant cell to the piece of pine on my lap.  It wasn't until trying to draw on a school bus, that I realized how bumpy of a ride they had.  I found myself praying for red traffic lights, and slow load times at every bus stop.  When the bus wasn't moving, I would draw with lightning speed.  When it was moving, I'd use my time for carefully coloring in shapes.

I got into class five minutes early, and spent that time labeling the different parts of the plant cell, and adding a few more accents so as to make it look like I had worked hard on my project.  The first thing Mr. Wertz did after roll call, was ask for the entire class to turn their projects in.  When I walked up to the desk and handed my plant cell made from pine to him, he looked at it, slowly stuck out his bottom lip, and uttered a slow "Hmmmm".  Walking back to my desk, I was sure I had instantly failed, but was relieved that I wasn't going to receive an incomplete grade.  

Imagine my surprise when our projects were given back to us at the end of the week, and discovered I scored a B-minus on my plant cell!  I've kept this project for the last 26 years, and I shake my head and smile every time I see it.  How the heck did I get a grade of B-minus for this project?!?  I wonder if Mr. Wertz felt sorry for me?  Maybe he thought my family was underprivileged and a slab of pine was all we could afford.  Maybe he just admired my skill at throwing something together last minute.  Whatever the case, I felt like I got away with a fast one, and was ecstatic about the grade.

I can't count how many times my kids have waited until Sunday afternoon to tell me I need to take them to the hobby store for a project that's due on Monday.  This always irks me, but I always try my best to cut them a little slack.  After all, I've been there before, and good planning is something that will come with age and experience.

Oct 24, 2016

5 Retro things I've always wanted

Congas and bongos

As a kid, I loved watching I Love Lucy reruns.  My favorite segments of the show were of Desi Arnaz performing in his nightclub The Tropicana. I was always enthralled with the skill and passion that Desi Arnaz oozed while singing and playing his percussion instruments.

I've never been an aspiring musician, but have always had the inkling to take up a musical instrument.  I've messed around with a few musical instruments in my time, but those from the percussion family have always been my favorites.  I did recently buy a modest pair of bongos, and really dig playing around with them.  Playing them feels so natural, and whenever I lay into them, beats come to mind out of nowhere.  Arranging them into rhythmic time with my hands, feels almost as easy as breathing.  I'm not entirely sure why I didn't get into trying my hand at them years ago, but better late than never.

A Ukelele

I'd love to own a ukulele, and learn how to play it.  To me, the ukuleles has always been an endearing instrument synonymous with Polynesian and tiki culture.  How cool would it be to pluck away at one of these at a tiki party, pool party, BBQ, camp fire, while relaxing on the beach, or lounging around in the backyard?  They're so small and compact, you could literally take them anywhere.  My daughter actually wanted one, so we got one for her as a gift.  She's taught herself how to play it, and can compose little ditty's very quickly.

A smoking jacket

Do I smoke?  No.  Am I an aspiring playboy?  Heck no.

I've just always thought smoking jackets were ultra swank!  As a young boy,  I used to see celebrities like Jackie Gleason, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Desi Arnaz, Sherman Hemsley aka George Jefferson, and Cary Grant donning flashy smoking jackets whilst relaxing and unwinding.

The purpose of the smoking jacket was quite simple.  A quality smoking jacket was/is an extremely comfortable garment, made for the express purpose of protecting underclothing from ashes and the smell of cigarette, cigar, or pipe smoke.  However, they also became widely accepted as a men's garment worn for domestic leisure.  Ah yes, I can imagine sitting back in my easy chair on a cold winter night in a soft silk smoking jacket, matching slippers, heck.. maybe even a fez.  No stogies or cigarette's.. just a good book and maybe a nice glass of cognac.  Now that's the good life!

Schwinn Phantom Bicycle
I've always loved the classic lines and styling of the 1950's Schwinn Phantom.  These bikes are extremely collectible now, and while I can't afford to buy a vintage model, I've found a happy medium that's quickly filling the void.  That would be in the form of my Schwinn Legacy Beach Cruiser. 

My bike features the same frame and similar styling to a classic Phantom, minus several bells and whistles.  I've spent the last couple of summers modifying and customizing the bike to my liking, and it brings me great joy to ride it.

A Pinky Ring
Go ahead and laugh.  Most people including my bride usually chuckle or roll their eyes when I tell them I'm in the market for one.  However.. that just makes me want to get one even worse!  Sinatra, Tony Soprano, heck... even Dr. Evil wore pinky rings.  How can they not be cool?  Actually, ever since I was a kid and saw my old man wearing a pinky ring he bought back in the 60's, I've wanted one.  His ring had a lion head with red ruby's for the eyes.  The fact that my mother didn't care for it, further added to the excitement of getting one.  As a kid I got several cheap steel rings from bubble gum machines that I donned as pinky rings.  I remember one featuring a gorilla face, the other the wolf-man, and of course being a child of the 70's, had a gaggle of mood rings.  It seemed like I was always cleaning a perpetual green stain from my finger that those cheap things would leave behind, but I loved them and wore every one until the broke or wore out.

That's it for now.  Trust me.. I've got a huge retro want list.  These were just the first five things that came to mind, so I may have to continue this topic at a later date.  Are there any retro items that you've always wanted, but just haven't got around to buying yet?