Vacation Time

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I just got back from a driving vacation through several states and national parks. Along the way, there was lots of time to think about our family vacations of yesteryear, specifically, when baby boomers were youngsters. How different they were. How did families survive in the days before mini vans and SUVs? What did kids do without iPads, tablets, DVD players and energy drinks? That got me thinking about the games our mothers created … counting cows or horses along the way; finding items in an alphabetic or numerical order, guessing when we might get to the next waypoint, etc. My most fun was trying to hold my breath as my dad drove through the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I don’t think I ever made it through one without having to gasp before we got to the other side.

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Remember when the entire family got into the car, hopefully a station wagon, and drove off in search of adventure?   Families were larger, with three to five kids being typical. Cars seldom had air conditioning and only roll up windows. There were no seat belts, and car interiors were principally metal, with lots of sharp edges. If your family was lucky enough to have a station wagon, kids had the option to crawl over the back seat to occupy the “way back,” where they might spread out and play games. Entertainment was whatever reception the driver could pick up on the car’s AM radio. Depending on where your family was driving, the “sounds” might be really unique.

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Bench seats allowed for three (or four kids) to sit alongside each other (without seatbelts) in both the front and back seats. If you got tired, you could lay down on the back seat’s floor until the “hump” that ran down the center of the car (for the drive train) got too uncomfortable.

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The 1963 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the last North American passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

The 1979 Chevrolet Impala Station Wagon with a front bench seat. The 2013 Impala is the North American last passenger car in the industry to offer a front bench seat.

If it got hot, your parents would roll down the car’s windows so that you’d get air (albeit hot air) circulating through the car. When it rained, the windows would stay rolled up, and the car’s interior became sauna-like. If your brothers or sisters hadn’t bathed, everybody suffered.

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There were few national maps. When your dad (or mom, in the case that she was the driver) stopped for gas, an attendant would fill up the car with gas, check your oil, and clean the windshield. You could go into the gas station to get a soft drink or a candy bar, and you’d definitely need to get a road map, especially when you crossed a state line, and the state map you were using stopped. Very seldom did your family have reservations along the way, so you might have to stop multiple times to find a hotel that didn’t have a no vacancy sign hanging or illuminated. When you found an available hotel, the entire family would sleep in the same room, hopefully with two beds and a few cots, after swimming in the motel pool.

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It was so much fun.

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Cereal Box Toys

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Remember when you went to the grocery store with your mom and you got to pick the cereal? Be honest … did you pick the most nutritious (did we even know what that meant) kind? Did you go for the sugar versions or the colorful contents? Or did you, like me, pick the cereal box that contained a prize at the bottom of the box?

To continue with the soul searching, did you ever pour out the cereal to get the toy, and then put the cereal back in the box? Be honest! Some cereal manufacturers even hid their toys underneath the bag that was in the box. What devious person decided to do that?

Premiums have been gone from cereal boxes for years. Kellogg’s was the innovator behind this genius move. Initially, they gave away books that buyers had to get through the mail after they’d sent in two box tops or other qualifying parts of the box and possibly some money. Later, actual items were put in the boxes, including things like paper dolls, squirt guns, stickers, records, and toys.

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My favorites included the Navy frogmen and miniature toy guns, but my absolutely most favorite of all items ever, was the little SUBMARINE that sank and floated back to the surface when you put a pinch of baking soda into its “special” compartment. The genius of the cereal companies was displayed when they offered sets of items, like the frogmen. The cereal company’s genius was our pitfall, because the rest of the set could be obtained only through mail order (Can you remember Battle Creek, Michigan?) and only after you ate the requisite number of boxes of cereal and sent in sufficient money. It always took a long time for your order to be received. In fact, I actually forgot several times that I had ordered something. If you look on eBay, some of these toys are available for a lot of money, relatively speaking. I think I might have finally outgrown the submarine, although when I went to eBay to do research for this blog entry, I actually thought, for a moment, about getting another one.

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And then there was Cracker Jack. Somehow, moms knew instinctively that Cracker Jack wasn’t a cereal, even though those boxes also had prizes. It wasn’t a taste I ever acquired.

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A Free Music Download

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As a baby boomer, I, like most members of that generation, am obsessed with the music of that era. Music that you could understand, dance to and remember.

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My last post was about the Winter Dance Party tour, a tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

Long story short, or in the vernacular of our new Internet, long blog short, I sent a copy of that post to the booking agent for Winter Dance Party and they forwarded it to John Mueller, the person who does an incredibly masterful impression of Buddy.

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John got back to me quickly, and he sent a link to a free download of the tribute song he wrote to memorialize the fiftieth anniversary of the plane crash in which the three music super legends were killed. Please click here and download the song, “Hey Buddy” to your computer. It is GREAT!

If they’re ever in your area, you simply cannot miss this show!!!!!

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This past February, I wrote a blog entry about the plane crash, fifty-six years earlier, in which Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson a/k/a The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens were killed. If you wish to review that entry, click here.

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Like almost every baby boomer, I appreciate not only their music, but also lots of music we listened to while we were growing up. It was a time when you could understand the lyrics, dance to the beat and just have fun. That music is a central theme in the book that I’ve written, Baby Boomer Reflections – Eighteen Special Years Between 1946 and 1964.”

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Last night, I went to see a tribute group that was performing at a Las Vegas casino. The name of the show is “Winter Dance Party,” and I’ve linked those words to their Website, where you can see the 2015 tour schedule. Between now and the end of the year, they will appear in Oklahoma, California (several times), North Dakota, Manitoba, South Carolina, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. If you’re an authentic baby boomer, and you’re anywhere in those areas, you’ve gotta be there!

Now, as Paul Harvey would have said, “The rest of the story.”

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The performers are not egocentric. That’s why the Buddy Holly lead, John Mueller, didn’t bother to point out that he played the lead when “Buddy …. The Buddy Holly Story” opened at the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City in January 1996. It’s also why the guy who played J.P. Richardson, and he had the character nailed from start to finish, didn’t bother to announce that he was actually Jay Richardson, the Big Bopper’s son. But there was a brief acknowledgement to several audience members during “Ritchie Valens’” performance. He stopped to introduce the Ritchie’s actual sister and her granddaughters, Ritchie’s nieces, who just happened to be in the audience

I bought the CD after hearing a John Mueller perform a tribute song, “Hey Buddy,” during the show. You can hear it if you click here.

Remember what you used to be able to do with a dime?

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A dime let you make a phone call, in private, in a phone booth. Even with almost everyone having their own mobile device today, there are still nearly about a half million coin operated phones in the USA, although I must confess that I don’t know where one of them is. I fear that this piece of technology will eventually follow the eight track tape into oblivion.

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America’s first “pay phone” was reportedly in the Hartford Bank in Hartford, Connecticut in 1889. In the early 1900s, they started popping up all over America. Sources differ as to whether the number of these devices peaked in 1995 with 2.6 million or 2002 with 2.2 million. In either case, there are a lot fewer of them now.

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For the most part, those phones were in booths, initially indoors and made of wood, and then moved outside to street corners and made of glass.

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Superman frequently used a phone booth to switch from his Clark Kent persona. Others who regularly used the booths included traveling salesmen and people who got caught outside in the rain.

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Kiosks supplemented the phone booths, and many of the kiosks were located near service stations. When I traveled for business, I memorized where the kiosks with the longest cords were so I could actually sit in my car, after filling up, to make phone calls.

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In 1959, a South African fad, “telephone cramming,” or the “telephone box squash” spread to California and then to college campuses across the country. The world cramming record was set at the Durban, South Africa YMCA in 1959. Twenty-five males, who ranged in height from five feet four inches to six feet two inches, claimed that honor. America was able to get to only twenty-two people in a phone booth, but managed to get thirty-one into a VW Beetle.

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One of my first (and favorite) big boy toys

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I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was probably eight or nine. My father had a friend who regularly traveled to New York City. Dad asked him to buy me one of America’s new hot items … a transistor radio.

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Until I researched background information about transistor radios like the one I got, I mistakenly thought they came from Japan. In fact, the first transistor radios in America were produced through a joint venture by Texas Instruments from Dallas, Texas and Industrial Development Engineering Associates from Indianapolis, Indiana. That radio was the Regency TR-1. It was released in October 18, 1954, and it cost $49.95 (equivalent to $439 today). The Regency TR-1, and competitors’ versions, including Sony’s TR-63, introduced in December 1957, soon became the most popular electronic communication device in history, with billions being manufactured during the 60s and the 70s.

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The Regency TR-1 received AM stations only, measured 3” x 5” x 1 ¼,” and initially came in black, ivory, Mandarin red and cloud gray, but were soon joined by mahogany and forest green. The Sony model was ¼” narrower and ½” shorter. It came in lemon, green, red and black. The radios had a small speaker and produced a really tinny sound. The Regency TR-1 also had an earphone jack, and its optional earphone retailed for an additional $7.50. Three months after the radio’s introduction, the first aftermarket leather case was available for $3.50.

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Three social forces made transistor radios successful. Baby boomers, disposable income and rock ‘n roll music. Finally, teenagers could listen to their own music, when they wanted, without disturbing their parents.

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A Regency TR-1 is on display at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museum.

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Good things happened in 1958

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And here are two of them …

In July, a toy company in California, named Wham-O, started to market a plastic circle that people put around their waists and started them spinning. Thus, began the hula hoop, a $1.98 thing that you can buy today starting around $10.00.

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Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin are the two guys credited with developing the hula hoop which they patented in 1963. A fad started immediately, and in its first four months, twenty-five million of them were sold. More than 100 million were sold within two years. One of the first hula hoop manufacturers, Carlon Products Corporation was making more than 50,000 of them every day.  In 1999, the hula hoop was inducted into The National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.

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In case you needed to know:

  • The longest verified record holder is Aaron Hibbs, from Columbus, Ohio who kept a hoop spinning for 74 hours and 54 minutes in 2009.
  • Paul “dizzy hips” Blair twirled 132 hula hoops at once in 2009.
  • Austrian, Roman Schedler, holds the world’s record 100 meter dash for running while twirling a hula hoop around his waist in 13.84 seconds, and
  • American, Kris Slomin, holds the world’s record mile for running while twirling a hula hoop around his waist in six minutes and forty seconds.

In 1958, a brand new Chevrolet Corvette cost $3,591.  That same vehicle is worth more than $100,000 today.

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And the final thing is that Arthur Melin’s nickname, “Spud,” got me thinking about one of my favorite toys from the 50s … the spud gun.

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How Much Did You Love The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show?

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On November 19, 1959, the ABC television network introduced this new half-hour show to America on Tuesdays and Thursdays, right after American Bandstand, and I was hooked. I still am! Two years later, NBC acquired the show, broadcast it in color and moved it to Sunday nights at 7:00 pm, just before Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. It ran there until the summer of 1964 when it was cancelled by NBC. You can still see episodes on TV, and all of the seasons are available on DVD.

The stars of the show were two Frostbite Falls, Minnesota residents, a flying squirrel, “Rocket ‘Rocky’ J. Squirrel” and his best friend, “Bullwinkle J. Moose,” who was actually named after a car dealership in Berkeley, California, called Bullwinkel Motors.

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Supporting characters included fiendish Pottsylvania spies, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale; a melodramatic Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, named Dudley Do-Right and his arch nemesis, Snidley Whiplash; Peabody, a genius talking dog who presented Improbable History, and his pet boy, named Sherman; and Aesop and his son. Another favorite segment of mine was Fractured Fairy Tales, familiar stories that were changed to be quite funny.

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Bullwinkle hailed from “Moosylvania.” According to a variety of sources, the show’s creators, Jay Ward and Bill Scott started a campaign to gain statehood for Moosylvania by driving to a number of cities gathering signatures for a petition that they planned to present to President Kennedy at the White House. Apparently, they chose to present those signatures on an evening during the Cuban Missile Crisis and they were told to leave.

How could they ignore quotes like:

  • Rocky: “Do you know what an A-bomb is?”

Bullwinkle: “A bomb is what some people call our show.”

  • Rocky: “Hey Bullwinkle, we’re in real trouble now!”

Bullwinkle: “Oh good, Rocky! I hate that artificial kind!”

  • Rocky: “Well, they don’t call him Wrongway Peachfuzz for nothing!

Bullwinkle: “You mean they gotta pay?”

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What TV shows did we used to watch?

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On Friday, April 3, 1953, a new fifteen cent magazine, TV Guide, was first published. Its inaugural cover featured a small photograph of Lucille Ball, and a larger photo of her newborn son, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, soon to be called Desi Arnaz, Jr., along with the headline: “Lucy’s $50,000,000 baby.”

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For the next fifteen months, TV Guide published its weekly schedule from Friday through Thursday, and then it switched to a Saturday through Friday format on July 17, 1954. The magazine’s launch was almost instantly successful, and by 1960, TV Guide was the most circulated and read magazine in the United States. In 1974, twenty-one years after its launch, TV Guide became the first magazine ever to sell a billion copies.

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Initially, TV Guide posted listings for only the three major networks, listed in alphabetic order … ABC, CBS and NBC. The magazine’s programming started at 6:30 pm and ended at 11:00 with shows listed in half-hour increments. The earlier timeslots were generally listed as “local,” with no programs actually named. If you look at the screenshots from the years 1953, 1954 and 1955, you’ll notice some shows that are today’s “classics.” Remember Jackie Gleason, Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey and Friends or Dragnet, just to name a few.

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“I like it when somebody gets excited about something. It’s nice.” ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

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In February 2014, AARP published a list of “Readers’ Picks: Ten Books Boomers Love.” Numbers two through ten are published at the end of this post. Number one was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, first published for adults on July 16, 1951, only to became popular with adolescent readers because of its teenage themes of angst and alienation. The book has been translated into almost every major language in the world, and it’s already sold more than 65 million books with an additional 250,000 sold every year.

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In 1960, a teacher was fired, and later reinstated, for assigning the novel in class. While I remember having the book as required reading in high school, I don’t recall anything from it, even after reading the synopsis. Does that mean I had my angst and alienation under control?

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Three highly-publicized shootings have been attributed to the shooter’s reading Catcher in the Rye, including; Mark David Chapman’s shooting of John Lennon, John Hinkley Jr.’s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan and Robert John Bardo’s shooting of actress Rebecca Schaefer. Other murders have also been associated with the book. Talk about angst!

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On the other hand, last year, the Huffington Post, listed five things the book can teach you, “even if your prom-going days are far behind you.”

  1. You’re not alone in your frustrations.
  2. Societal niceties aren’t only phony.
  3. Excellent writing can transport you.
  4. Growing up means channeling your frustrations towards something productive.
  5. Beauty is rare and worth holding onto.

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In 2014, a movie documentary, named “Salinger,” (duh) was aired. It’s available on Netflix. I found it fascinating, but critics and reviews rated it poorly. If you have two-hours, and you’re motivated to learn about Salinger’s “unique” life, please watch it. He was certainly one of the “Greatest Generation,” having landed at Normandy, surviving the Battle of the Bulge, and ultimately being involved in the liberation of one of the German concentration camps. He also volunteered to help with the trials of German war criminals.

By the way, did you know J.D. stood for Jerry (actually Jerome) David?

And here’s the rest of the ten books boomers love:

  1. Catch-22
  2. Roots
  3. In Cold Blood
  4. Lord of the Flies
  5. Fahrenheit 451
  6. Slaughterhouse-Five
  7. The Color Purple
  8. The Joy of Sex
  9. The World According to Garp

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