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Friday, July 3, 2009

Don't worry, Regina, we actually thought we had it made!

After telling my 21 year old daughter how rough life was for us as kids (my previous post), she was so sympathetic, and wondered how we could survive such a boring existence. So I had to set her straight on a few things:
It's true, that when I was kid, the “digital age” had not yet begun, but we really had everything we wanted. For example, there were pin-ball machines, with fancy mechanical rotating "digital" readouts for scoring! Then there were some new, high-tech ones that had vacuum-tube, 7 segment, true digital display readouts for the score, - man was that cool! Then when I was about 16, the very first video game came out, called "Pong". It was a TV screen in a box/table facing up that two people could sit at, and play either a one player game (against the "brain" of the thing), or two players. And it was just like ping pong. A "ball" (little, fuzzy square) bounced back and forth, that you had to hit with your "paddle", an inch long blob that you could make scroll up and down the far edge of the screen with a rotary knob controller. 'Too simple and boring, right?

Well, we thought it was right out of Star Trek! Not only was it new and high tech and whiz-bang and cool and futuristic and space-age and our first contact with a thinking machine up-close-and-personal!!! …It was also sophisticated enough that you could put "spin" on the ball if you not only got up or down there in time with your paddle, but made your paddle move just as the ball was hitting it. !!! This was the most amazing part of it, to think that a machine could calculate all that stuff. And it also really made the game more interesting to play for a long time, to master just how fast and in which direction to make that ball leave your paddle in a slightly different direction, at a slightly different speed than normal, which would make a whole lot more work for your opponent to return your shot. In one-player mode it did go faster and faster until it won. It’s true you could never win. And then it calculated and displayed your score. And so you only "won" by having the highest score on that machine in that particular pizza joint, or wherever. I'm pretty sure that if I had a nickel for every quarter I spent on those early video games I could buy myself a new laptop today.

We really didn't miss the internet. Nothing was hard to look up or know what was new or anything. We had great yellow pages, and newspapers, and radio and TV stations and gorgeous full color magazines. My friends and I were into all the new, high-tech, exploding fields of - photography, stereos, two way radios, bicycles, and remote-controlled-scale cars/airplanes. We were the high-tech generation! (we thought) Color TV's were getting so cheap that even poorer families like mine could afford one. When we got one (when I was about 14, in ‘70) I got to have the old black and white one, in my room. IN MY ROOM! For a poor kid, I was sure the envy of my friends. I had that TV, to which I rigged up headphones (so that I could watch late at night when I was supposed to be asleep), my own stereo phonograph, and a radio with FM... -in Stereo!

At about 12 years old I convinced my mother to not worry when I "illegally" hooked up an extension to our home telephone in my room (back then, the phone company wanted you to pay $2/month for each additional phone device you had, - even though it was just one phone line!?) I had a killer ten speed bike (that I saved up for, for about a year), a pretty good used camera - and a flash attachment! And,....when I was about 15, I had a CB with a huge base-station antenna on the roof of our mobilehome. This was possibly the most important material thing I had, concerning my emotional and societal development (in addition to some of the controversial comedy albums like George Carlin's), because back then, in the early days of Citizen Band radio, the air was clear and not over crowded like it became later in the late 70's, and you could talk all over the Valley, and meet people. And somehow, a tiny percentage of “enlightened” high school kids bought them and used them as a social networking tool, much the same way kids today use Facebook, texting, email, I.M., and cell phones. I had moved from Tempe to Mesa when I was 13, and still had old friends there, and so with the CB radios we where finally able to talk for free all night, every night. Not privately, you understand, but that was part of the fun of it. Other people would just jump in and offer their "comments", and it was a great way to kinda get to know a buncha people from all over. When I was "doing my homework", I had the CB on (on "our" channel - channel 23), kinda half-listening in to whatever the evenings' conversation topic was and periodically interjecting, while the TV was on with the sound low, - and maybe a little music on the phonograph, just for background filler! (I don't remember my homework getting the best scores). As soon as someone got a car, we went mobile (with mobile radios) and had impromptu "boondocker" parties (‘don’t know where that term came from) in the desert on the edge of town (which wasn't very far to go, back then) every weekend. Gas was 45 cents (although there was a devastating gas shortage, where gas skyrocketed to 75 cents!). Then Cassette players and recorders came out, and you could record your albums and play them in your car!….IN YOUR CAR!!!

We really had everything we could’ve dreamed of, and didn’t want for much. We felt pride in being the space-age generation that put a man on the moon, and we were sure that someday, when we’re older, we will probably be able to visit there as tourists, if we could afford it. We had Tang and Velcro and other great by-products of the space race. And every day, you’d hear about how in a few years, we’d have affordable computers for our homes! We didn’t know what we might want to do with them, but just the thought of having one was exciting enough! We started having affordable mini-calculators (we could cheat at math!), and digital watches – with alarms!!
Rich people like doctors, and mafia hit-men had radio- mobile telephones in their cars, and you’d hear of some phones that could fit in a small suitcase! Cars were cool, of course, because the hey-day of the muscle car was about ten years past, which meant you could afford to buy some of those cool cars used (even if we couldn’t afford gas). Actually, we could always afford gas, ‘cus even 75 cents/gallon wasn’t a deal-breaker if you wanted to cruise badly enough. The problem was Gas Rationing. They’d legislated how much gas you could buy, and which days, based on what your license plate number was.

So, I remember not being able to buy gas, even though we had money! And we really needed to cruise (Main St. in Mesa), so I remember one time we set out to steal some gas out of parked cars. We knew how to siphon, we got our hose and gas can, we targeted two sorta long-term parked cars in the corner lot of the mobile home park that I lived in. We decided on these because we figured by the time they got back to using them and noticed the fuel was low, they’d think it was from evaporation. Why we worried about this, I don’t know! This being our first time (and turned out to be the last) at real honest-to-no-goodness crime, we were nervous and a little scared to say the least. It’s funny, I have a terrible memory, but I’ll always remember this event ‘till the day I die. It was Mike Putz, and Vance Green, and I, and we made a point of wearing black clothing so we wouldn’t be seen as easily, even though we noticed there was a huge streetlight right there. We started by hiking all the way around the outside fence (even though they were just a 30 second walk from my front door!?) and then jumping the fence right behind the parked cars when we were sure no one was around. “We’re safe!” “No one saw us!” (that was because no one was ever around after dark in this sleepy little trailer park).

The first car we targeted didn’t seem to have a gas filler inlet on it anywhere! We we’re all (stealthily) searching every inch of this car, and, nothing! Somebody said “See, I knew we shouldn’t be doing this, we don’t know enough about cars to even do this!” It’s true, we were not “car enthusiast kids”. Only Mike Putz had a car so far, and none of us had the kind of Dad that talked cars all the time or anything. Finally somebody found that the rear license plate flipped down to access the gas inlet. -It had a locking gas cap on it!! We had heard of them, but they were new and no one really used them much, but this guy did! “Just our luck! – Damn!” We had it all planned that we would take just half a gallon from each, filling our can and giving us enough for about 25 miles in Mike’s Chevy Vega. “Let’s just take the whole gallon from this next car here,… we don’t care!” “OK, it say’s Mercedes Benz on this one, I think it’s a rich guys’ car, he won’t care” “OK”. So we maneuvered around, still whispering and hiding in the shadows of the cars, the best we could.

You have to remember, we had seen a lot 70’s TV, and knew just how to act and talk like proper two-bit thieves. And so, we find the gas filler, and put the hose in, and now it’s time to finally decide just who is gonna start the siphon. We had “discussed” it before, but hadn’t yet agreed on a “designated drinker”. You see, to start a siphon, you have to suck on the hose long enough to draw the gas down the hose, to a lower level, where it will continue to flow, into the can. The problem is, you always end up getting some gas in your mouth, ‘cus it’s virtually impossible to know exactly when to stop sucking and see if it worked! So we’re back to arguing about who the lucky person will be, - only this time it’s bigger stakes because there’s only one car now, and the honors can’t be shared, when somebody’s weak flashlight illuminates a sticker next to the fuel-filler that says “Diesel Fuel Only”. We hadn’t even heard of passenger cars that run off of Diesel! We thought that maybe it was modified and that we found the only car in the world that had diesel fuel in it! –Just our luck! We laughed (for about a week), and decided to abandon our life of crime, realizing it was just not in the cards for us. Besides, we really did have everything we could want.


  1. I like hearing about your childhood :) The whole CB radios fad reminds me about how I would come home from jr. high and high school and immediately get on AOL instant messenger and have ongoing chats with my friends (most of them the same people I just hung out with before/after school & lunch) all night while I did homework and stuff. Sometimes we opened chatrooms with more people. Similarly, nowadays, I sometimes have ongoing text-versations throughout the day. It's kinda slow and tedious, though so not much gets said... I wonder how texts will adapt to become easier...? Texting is so much fun sometimes! Making a text is like writing poetry. Trying to make it perfect and fit it in 140 characters or less... I feel so artistic. And receiving a text is so exciting. (Omg, I just got a text as I wrote that, I'm not even joking!) I'm so excited to open it. It's a lot like getting a present!

    I liked your story about trying to steal gas. I've heard you talk of it before but never in such detail. I especially liked the part where you were (stealthily) searching the car, haha. Sorry it was such a failure! ...Could'a been worse though!

    I think about how life without the internet musta been pretty enjoyable a lot... Sometimes I get so lost on the internet! I have SO MUCH that I want to know about - things my friends talk about or tell me to look up - that I can't keep track of it all. And a lot of the time, I'll be trying to learn about something and click on so many links that I end up with a million tabs open and become so overwhelmed until eventually (thankfully) my computer crashes.

    But then I realize how awesome it is to be able to know all about whatever you want! And whenever you want, too. And you can exchange information easily with your Dad who lives far away and it's so easy and fun, and you can put cool links...

    Like this one! Check this house out: