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3:02 p.m. - October 10, 2005
Remember These Here Things?
As I was flipping channels between the football game and Criminal Intent last night, I got to thinking about the remote control I was holding in my hand.

If you recall, I had flung our TiVo remote across the room. We received back a generic DirecTV remote that you could program to do most all of the TiVo functions (and frankly the functions that aren’t on there are rather trifling). For the most part, though, without this remote we really couldn’t operate our TV very well.

So then I started to think about the olden days, when I had a cable box on top of my 13” color TV that I had to get up to change channels on – and even before then, when I had to actually turn the channel dial by hand. No one does that anymore, unless they’re members of the Ted Kaczynski fan club.

So I thought of seven different objects or services that are no longer in general use (except for luddites or those who really are living in a hole for the past 20 years) that were used all the time when I was growing up. Let’s hop down memory lane, shall we?

1. Manual television – I am calling it manual television because it’s more than having to get up off the duff and change the channel by hand using the dial on the TV. You also had to adjust the volume color, contrast and vertical and horizontal hold by hand. These weren’t digital controls or anything like that – they were honest to God dials that you had to twist and turn.

For those without cable (Crawfordsville had cable since 1969, with 12 channels and actually started to have set top boxes in the late 70’s when they introduced Showtime, WTBS (then known as Channel 17) and ESPN), you had to futz with the antenna and dial in the picture by hand using the little wheel around the channel changer. Then there was the fun of trying to dial in a distant UHF channel.

Some of the ‘fun’ in that was what you had to go through to keep that signal. “If I hold onto the back of the TV with this hand and hold onto the side of my desk with the other, I can get the picture in clear. OK, now how to I do this without giving myself a hernia.”

But still, there was no “last channel” option, so you basically found a channel and stuck with it, even during commercials. Because if you had a manual cable box and two shows were about 30 channels apart, you’d never be able to play commercial roulette.

And the TVs back then weren’t these elegant sets that you stuck in an entertainment center. The large ones were these huge consoles that acted basically like another piece of furniture – a big TV screen set into a wooden shell. The small TVs were just small metal or plastic boxes that you stuck on top of a desk or into your kitchen. I can say for sure that the new generation of TVs are a definite upgrade!

2. Popcorn poppers (or cooking popcorn on the stove) – Now it’s easy, just throw some microwave popcorn in the microwave, and take care not to burn it. It’s presalted and pre-buttered. But back in the day, popcorn making was an art.

Real popcorn poppers meant you had to measure the right amount of oil to go in the bottom of the popper, and then measure out the right amount of popcorn, and turn it on. It took some time for the oil to warm up, but seeing the first few kernels pop in the oil was definitely entertainment. Of course, if you didn’t measure something right, the popcorn would scorch, or the lid would be blown off the popper. Then you had to salt and butter the popcorn to your taste, by hand. I think it tasted a lot better back then.

Back in college, I was the best popcorn maker in the Delt house. We cooked it on the stove, and I had the perfect ratio of oil to popcorn, and then I had a secret trick to make sure the butter was spread evenly when I applied the melted butter to the popcorn. (I spun the bowl real fast clockwise and spun the butter counter clockwise onto the popcorn.) Yum!

3. I’m sure most everyone has seen a typewriter, but when was the last time you used a typewriter? It’s funny that they still show up at times on cop shows, because I don’t think we have a working typewriter in our office.

I spent a lot of time at a typewriter in high school working on term papers and other assignments – armed with whiteout. The big trick was figuring out how to do footnotes with a rudimentary electric typewriter. In college, when I was playing DJ, the radio station, they had modern typewriters with automatic correction and all kinds of bells and whistles, so if I couldn’t get on the college computer system, I could write my papers at work. But even with that, corrections were still a bit noticeable. Sometimes I miss the clickety-tat of a typewriter, for sure, but I don’t miss the pain-in-the-ass correction process.

4. Back in junior high, the big place to hang out was the Skate Corral. Inevitably, during ladies’ choice for couples only, I slunk back to the concession stand for a soda and then over to the pinball machines.

Pinball. Honest to goodness pinball. Not these new electronic scoring games where you get 1,000,000,000 points just for playing, but games that were mostly bumpers and flippers and targets that you had to finesse and work and use body english to conquer. You had to have a touch and a feel to play honest to goodness pinball, and since I spent a lot of time being ignored during ladies’ choice, I got pretty good at pinball.

Video games killed it, for sure, because how could pinball compete with Asteroids, or Missile Command, or better yet, Defender. Still, there is a soft spot in my heart for honest-to-goodness pinball, when 100,000 was a free game, and if you won a free game, the onlookers were quite impressed with your skill!

5. Everyone, it seems, has MP3 players and CD players. But how many of you all have working (emphasis on working) turntables?

My turntable died a death during our recent move, so I have some vinyl that I cannot play. But back in the day, turntables were necessary.

In my brother’s era, you had to have a turntable with a record changer. You’d stack up five or six LPs and just put them on and the record player would play one, and then automatically change to the next one. And two-and-three record sets were constructed for use with record changers (side one and four on one LP, side two and three on another). So when listening to “Grand Funk Live” you could put it on, in order, the way God and Mark Farner intended it.

Again, back in the day, some turntables were in huge consoles that were another piece of furniture. You’d have the turntable along with an AM/FM radio and these big speakers all in one wooden package.

6. Speaking of this, you all remember 45s right? Those little seven inch records that had two songs on them, the hit side and the B-side? Those also worked well with the record changers as well, because you could stack up seven singles or so and keep the party hopping. Well before mix tapes, you just had one person that was in charge of making sure the record changer was always stocked.

As for the singles, of course everyone remembers the A-sides, but the B-sides, I felt revealed the most about the group. The Beatles had the best B-sides ever, I feel, though several songs notably Steam’s great “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”, started life as a B-side and some enterprising DJ flipped the record over and a hit was born. Now, if a DJ did that, the behemoth conglomerate radio machine would chew him up and spit him out.

7. Except for two states (Oregon and New Jersey) there are hardly any full service gas stations anymore. This, I believe, is too bad. I remember when we took family vacations, there was always someone who was friendly (they were always friendly) that would pump your gas, check your oil, wipe your windshield, and give you correct change.

My brother worked as a gas station when he was in high school, and I remember he had one of those metal coin changers. I used to play with that all the time, and he got angry because I would always put the dimes and pennies in where the nickels and quarters went.

When I was nine or ten, when we went on trips, I would always hop out of the car and listen for the ‘clunk’ that shut off the gas, then I would be the one to top off the car, and most of the time the nice attendants would let me. Of course, my mom would always complain about SOMETHING as we were leaving. Mostly it was “he cleaned the windshield with an oily rag!”

Now, I hardly ever clean with windshield, I no longer have fun pumping gas, and rarely, even do I go inside the station because I pay with a credit card on the outside. But woe to you with car troubles, because no one at a service station really knows how to fix a car anymore. Thank goodness for AAA?

Well, those are some things from my Grampa Simpson past that no longer are around. I’m sure I missed something, but you know how the mind goes when you near 40. So I’m off to listen to ABBA on my hi-fi and dream when I was the roller skating fool. (Emphasis on fool).


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