The Universal Notebook: We were all better off when …
Rationally, we all know the good old days weren’t. Still, we tend to look back through rose-colored glasses to what we remember as simpler times.
Despite my best efforts to be forward-thinking and optimistic about the future, every once in awhile it occurs to me that we were all better off when ...
... Doctors made house calls. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when a child got sick, parents thought nothing of calling the family physician who, depending on the severity of the problem, would show up in the middle of the night with his black bag to minister to the wretched patient. Hard to imagine now, isn’t it? Visit you, even in the hospital? Forget it. We’ve got hospitalists for that. Doctors now are too busy stacking cheese.
... Drug companies couldn’t advertise. Once, prior to 1980, the airways were blessedly free of legal pill pushers peddling pharmaceuticals designed to do everything from making you happy ever after to putting lead in your pencil. Now every pathology known to man has a nostrum marketed in TV. No wonder drugs are so over-priced and Americans so over-medicated.
(My favorite parts of the ubiquitous drug ads, however, are the disclaimers. “Don’t take DopeX if you are lactating, salivating, urinating, or may do so in the future. Stop taking DopeX immediately and see your doctor if you notice hair growing on your knuckles or you have thoughts of Kalahari Desert Bushmen.”)
... Lawyers couldn’t advertise either. Until the mid-1970s, attorneys couldn’t advertise on TV. And we wonder why we live in such a litigious society. “If anything bad ever happened to you, call the lawyers of Howling, Wolf & Downboy. You may be entitled to a pantsload of moolah, and, even if you’re not, we’ll scare the crap out of someone for you with our baseball bats and boxing gloves.”
... There were only three television stations and they were free. You haven’t lived if you never sat in front of the television watching the test pattern and waiting for the Saturday morning cartoons to come on. And cartoons were only on on Saturday mornings. Less is more. Now some folks get 300-plus channels, but is there really any redeeming social value to being able to watch reruns of "Mayberry RFD" and treatments for morbid obesity 24 hours a day?
... Gas stations had mechanics on duty. Out for a Sunday drive and the family car breaks down? Good luck getting it fixed. Gas stations, gas stations everywhere, but not a mechanic in one. If you don’t have AAA, you’re stuck in Mudville. Gas station attendants used to pump your 30-cent-a-gallon gas, wash your windshield and check your oil. Now you pump your $3-a-gallon gas yourself, the clerk wouldn’t know a tie rod end from his rear end, and even air will cost you 75 cents to a dollar. Progress? I don’t think so.
... Everyone had a landline telephone. And everyone was in the phone book, too. Yes, this is one of my recurring complaints – the infuriating lack of cell phone directories. There was a time you could make local calls by looking someone up in the phone book and dialing just five digits. (How many people know that telephone exchanges once had names? Portland’s 77 exchange was SPruce. Westbrook’s 85 exchange was ULster.) If the party were home, they’d answer. If not, not. No answering machines, no voicemail, no text messages, no e-mail, no tweets. Simple.
Come to think of it, those really were the good old days.