Well, when you get a little bit older, you get nostalgic. Please do not confuse nostalgic with neuralgic in my case.
Warning: For my out of town readers, this post contains many Greater Cleveland-centric references. Mea culpa. I’m from there, and I live there.
Over the years, we have lost some things we miss, and we have every right to miss them. They made life better, and as I sit behind a MacBook Pro typing this, those things that vanished (or vanished as they once were) before this computer was even thought of are sorely missed by Six Points.
Here, per format, come six of them:
1. Service Stations.
That’s where my parents bought gasoline. There was no such thing as self-service gasoline in Ohio then, and when you rolled up to the pump, a uniformed attendant would walk up to your car and pump your gas for you.
He would also check your oil and fluids, wash your windows, and give you service advice.
“Sir, you’re down half a quart in your engine, and your left rear tire looks a little low.”
Motorist: “OK. top the oil up and check the pressure in all four tires.”
“OK, that will come to $7.50, and I’ll bring the hose out to take care of those tires.”
There was no charge for the air, nor for the attendant putting it in the tires.
Better yet, at the service station, if that left rear tire eventually failed, they could actually replace it for you on the spot.
You could not buy fast food or beverage alcohol in a service station, but they could give your car a tune-up, fix your brakes and do basic mechanical work. If you look at many gas stations these days that have been around for a while, the area they will sell you pastries, hot dogs and beer were once called “service bays.”
Those were the places you could actually get your car fixed where you bought gasoline. Now, with MADD going mad and the nationwide BAC level for DUI at 0.08 percent with DUI/OVI offenses being a revenue source for courts, police departments and insurance companies, they are selling alcohol in the same place they sold tires a generation ago.
Any problem with filling your tank and buying that which will get you tanked at the same location?
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!
Nothing said “White Middle Class” like an Oldsmobile.
In the 1970s, the Chevrolet division of General Motors ran a commercial jingle with the lyrics “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”
The jingle for Olds at the time could have been “Big Ten degree, Porterhouse, acre yard and Oldsmobile.”
Situated squarely in the middle of the GM model hierarchy, the Olds division sold plenty of cars. In the midst of much corporate infighting over positioning the marque as either a performance brand or a near-luxury brand, Oldsmobile engineers delivered both, to a large extent.
Oldsmobiles came from the same body platforms as comparable Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Buicks with the same displacement of engines, but each division designed their engines differently. For enthusiasts, the Olds “Gold Block” 350 is a prized engine, along with the division’s prized “W-30,” “W-31” and the very rare “”W-32” big-block 455 V-8s.
An Olds was slightly more expensive than a Pontiac and much more expensive than a Chevrolet on the same platform, but the Olds came with much more standard equipment and an engine that would outrun either in stock trim. In 2001, the year GM announced it was phasing out the Olds division, 90 percent of the cars in the Indianapolis 500 used Oldsmobile engines.
The engineers also upgraded the suspension to improve it over the lesser brands, and made the suspension, along with the drivetrain overall, more durable than the upper-level Buick.
Oldsmobile had another advantage that made people in the know attracted to their cars. The division had its own plant in Lansing, Michigan that had the highest reputation for quality of any GM plant.
In the late 1990s, reports hit the media that GM might kill the Olds division, and I was still driving a Subaru. Actually, it was my third Subaru. They were good, high-quality cars. They rarely needed repairs, but when they did, grab your ankles!
By 2001, I was ready for a new ride, and the news had just broken that GM was phasing out the Oldsmobile division. I was ready to make a beeline for a Toyota Corolla, but I saw a newspaper ad offering a fire-sale price on an Alero.
I went to the dealership that ran the ad, did a test drive with a complete douchebag, and did not want to deal with them. I drove the Alero, liked its performance and refinement over the Corolla, but I would not buy a demo from those clowns.
I went to another dealer, got $3500 off of sticker up front on the fire sale, and had a 5-year, 60,000 mile warranty tossed in.
I decided the Alero was the car Olds was betting its life on with an Olds-designed DOHC 2.4-liter, decided to make the leap of faith, and signed the papers. I wanted the manual transmission, so I special ordered it, and waited about two weeks before I took delivery. It came to me with nine miles on it.
From Lansing, Michigan.
Around a month after my purchase, I actually got a call from the plant where it was built, asking me about any quality issues, such as leaks, squeaks or rattles. I told the woman who called I found the quality overall to be at least equal to the three Subarus I had previously owned,.
I had to take it back to the dealer exactly once. Covered by warranty.
I got almost 13 years out of that Alero, and it did not perish from mechanical, electrical or structural failure, but from the insurance company totaling it after Bambi ran out in front of me. The engine had never been opened, the transmission had never needed service, and I had to put the car down in February 2014 with 154,312 miles on the original clutch.
What did I buy to replace that car? I didn’t want a payment, found an immaculate car at a Subaru dealership traded in by a senior citizen, paid cash, and bought another…
More than 14 years after I bought my first Olds, I still consider the demise of that GM division to be one of many canaries in the coal mines for the American middle class.
3. Good Commercial Radio.
Such a thing used to exist. Believe it or not.
One station that is legendary still bears the same call letters, but is now unlistenable. It was locally owned when it was great, but not surprisingly, it’s now owned by iHeartMedia, better known as Clear Channel.
When I was growing up, WMMS had a “progressive rock” format. Back then, major market radio stations could “break” bands and artists, as program directors and even DJs had autonomy and playlists often did not exist. You could call a station, make a request for a song, and they would actually play it.
WMMS “broke” David Bowie, Rush and Bruce Springsteen in the American market. We listened to WMMS, and WMMS was successful because it listened to us.
Sure, WMMS was for-profit, but you could get a musical education from WMMS. In an evening of doing my homework for school with WMMS playing on the stereo in the background, not only would I hear Springsteen and Led Zeppelin, but everything from Stanley Clarke to Miles Davis to Johnny Paycheck.
Now, how did commercial radio turn to shit? Six Points has a few reasons.
Back in the day, a company could own a limited number of radio stations in the same market. Now, iHeartMedia owns over 850 AM and FM stations in the United States, with a decidedly conservative bent. We’ve gone from a wide variety of music on a progressive rock station to endless, mindless repetition in all formats.
Do you like country music? Tune in and hear the same ten songs over and over. Same for rock and all other formats, and if you like talk radio, prepare to hear the same ten conservative talking points over and over. Drive around the United States listening to the radio, and it sounds the same everywhere.
Commercial radio used to reflect its regional markets. It no longer does. See, we used to have this thing called “regulation.”
Not only could you only own a limited number of stations in a market, you were required to broadcast news and public affairs programming as a given percentage of your content. As a result of that regulation, you would hear more actual morning news on progressive-rock WMMS back in the day than you hear on “news-talk” WTAM now.
Sure, the public affairs programming was usually buried on Sunday mornings, but it was there. That’s how I became aware of Cleveland’s City Club Forum.
There was also something called the Fairness Doctrine. Repealed in 1987, it was based on the principle that radio stations, who owned their own equipment but leased the airwaves that belong to all Americans, had to provide equal time to all viewpoints. It worked something like this: Go ahead and play three hours of Rush Limbaugh, but balance it with three hours of an Ed Schultz or Stephanie Miller.
The repeal of the Fairness Doctrine begat the right-wing cesspool AM radio has become. The airwaves that belong to 100 percent of Americans now serve a small fraction of them.
Plus, with a handful of companies owning most commercial radio stations in the United States, so much for competition. So much for the free market. Adam Smith would be ashamed.
Thank All That Is Holy for NPR.
When rock and roll radio was actually listenable, it would send you to places called…
4. Record Stores.
Whether mom-and pop stores, regional chains or national chains, that’s where you went to buy the music you heard on WMMS.
The best ones were not just a place to shop; they were communal experiences. I still remember being in my teens and going to the original Record Revolution on Coventry and looking not only at the records; but at the musicians’ signatures on the walls. Like today’s coffee shops, they stimulated conversations.
“When were Led Zeppelin here?”
“Oh, they stopped by in 1970.”
Record Revolution was a rock lover’s Mecca.
There were other great record stores as well, including the now-defunct Quonset Hut regional chain, with its roots in Canton. It also had stores in west Akron and Parma. Quonset Hut stores were way cool. Not only could you buy CDs there, but greeting cards with an edge, blank cassette and VHS tapes (yes, I’m old) and even darts and dartboards. Quonset Hut employees would even order music for you if it was still available.
The people behind the counters in some record stores would sometimes see what you were bringing up to purchase, ask if you had a few minutes, and play something akin to what you were buying by a different artist. Predating Netflix by a generation (since you watched X, you might like Y), the best employees often sent customers home with two or more LPs or CDs instead of one.
Record stores were often places where couples would first meet. Never mind the cheesy “Do you come here often?”
Much more natural was something like “Good band! I saw them at the Agora in October!”
Now, there’s no need to burn fossil fuel to buy music. We have iTunes, iPads and hard drives that will hold more music on a laptop than an entertainment center full of CDs. I like the technology, too.
But something special has been lost. The community aspect of music itself.
5. Intelligent Political Conversation.
Way before I was even thought of, Budweiser ran a print ad in 1956 with a cartoon donkey and elephant, both dressed in suits, toasting with pilsner glasses.
The copy consisted of four words. It had the Budweiser bowtie logo, and the type beneath simply read “When gentlemen agree.”
An old Irish saying I learned when young was “Agree to disagree without being disagreeable.”
And while this may fit in one of my They Said It! posts, it’s germane enough to this point that it belongs here:
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. No one is entitled to their own facts.”
– Daniel Patrick Moynihan
In our age of cable news and toxic talk radio, and with both media spreading deliberate falsehoods, rare is a respectful, intelligent conversation among people who love their country but disagree on its direction.
It used to be something like “X” (agreed-upon fact) is a problem. How should we approach it?
Person A: “I think Y and Z are responsible for X, and we need regulation to eliminate X.”
Person B: “I think we don’t need intervention, since X is so unpopular the free market will solve X out of enlightened self-interest.”
A: “My problem with that theory is that Y and Z report to shareholders quarterly, and their goals often don’t go past 90 days. That’s why I support regulation.”
And so on. Neither person may have been persuaded, but they could respect the other’s opinion based on logic, finish their meals and remain friends.
Now, if you are firmly on one side or another, you can go into an alternate media universe where the grass is blue and the sky is green.
If you get up watching Fox News, get in your car and listen to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, have more Fox News over dinner before you retire to read the next chapter of your Ann Coulter book after hitting the Breitbart site, your sky is green and your grass is blue.
And, friends from back in the day who listen to NPR, watch MSNBC and read the New York Times just might stop talking to you.
Once upon a time, we had reporting based on facts. Damn, I miss it.
In my childhood, of the three television networks, NBC’s news with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley was considered the most liberal, ABC’s the most conservative, and the legendary Walter Cronkite of CBS News the moderate.
But all had something in common. They were factual. They may have placed different emphasis on what they reported and had different interpretations of those facts, but none of the three deliberately lied.
Now, the conversation would go like this:
Person A: “We have a problem with X.”
Person B: “X does not exist!”
A: “A, B and C all say X exists, and they have evidence!”
B: “But what about Y?”
A: “Y never happened! It’s a blatant lie!”
A and B simultaneously: “Fuck you, moron!”
Welcome to Idiocracy. Thank you, toxic media. Problems cannot be solved with bumper stickers.
Yes, they still exist. Sorta kinda.
I grew up reading the Akron Beacon Journal. A small-market paper, it would nonetheless land on the front porch on Sunday with a resounding THUD!
The Knight family, founders of the Beacon Journal, grew a newspaper empire from their Akron beginnings. That empire grew to include the Detroit Free Press, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald.
Although Akron is considered a small market, the Beacon Journal was funded like a large-market paper. It was still John S. Knight’s baby.
It had a Columbus bureau, a Washington reporter and not only a business section, but also a labor section. Now, the Cleveland Plain Dealer does not even have a Columbus bureau. When I was in my teens, the Plain Dealer even had a London bureau. That’s England, not Ontario.
I remember spreading the comics out on the floor on Sunday mornings. By age 9, I had started snatching the sports section. By 11, I was all over the rest of the paper.
The Beacon Journal had both liberal and conservative columnists; local and syndicated. When the Beacon Journal was functioning at a higher level, I could read George Will and Molly Ivins side by side on the editorial pages. That newspaper was actually fair and balanced before Faux News used it as a slogan.
The Beacon Journal has Pulitzer Prizes to prove it.
On Sundays, the Cleveland Plain Dealer could be weighed on a bathroom scale. Editorially, it leaned slightly Republican in a blue area, but its politics were tempered by the realities of its market. Its Republican leanings were more WASP old-money, not culture warrior.
But, it let its reporters report, and kept its politics out of its news sections for the most part. And, to a 10-year-old during football season, its sports pages were Nirvana.
In my best Edith Bunker voice, Those were the days!
Of course, things have changed. Those days were before the Internet, but there was something about the ritual of reading the newspaper over coffee and breakfast, or during the week in the case of the Beacon Journal and the long-defunct Cleveland Press, over dinner.
Knight-Ridder Newspapers saw the writing on the wall and elected to dissolve, and the Beacon Journal is now a shadow of its old self. Locals call it the “Canadian Beacon,” as it was purchased in the Knight-Ridder fire sale by Black Publishing of Canada. It, still, has fared better than its neighbor to the north. It still has “good bones,” and does a good job for what is left of it.
The Plain Dealer, long privately held by the Newhouse Newspapers chain, is still privately held, but its parent firm has renamed itself Advance Communications. After Advance stopped publishing its New Orleans Times-Picayune as a daily, the rumor mill started churning in these parts over whether the same fate would befall the Plain Dealer.
It didn’t, but it did. Stop at the store and pick up a Tuesday Plain Dealer, and it’s the sum total of 26 pages. Forget home delivery. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a subscriber has to walk or drive to the store to buy it. Now, why would I pay $1 for a paper smaller than the Lorain Morning Journal or the Medina County Gazette?
When Advance made its cuts, it also did a Stalinesque blood purge of its unionized newsroom. The sportswriters all survived. Web hits, you know?
It’s not much better elsewhere in the United States. The Cincinnati Post is long gone, and the Cincinnati Enquirer has shut down its printing plant, converting to tabloid format and being printed 90 minutes to the north by the Columbus Dispatch.
The Beacon Journal also put its pressmen on the unemployment line, subcontracting its printing to the presses of the Canton Repository.
Yes, times have changed. But some things are done better in print. Print has a permanence that cannot be replicated on a computer. It also has been the source of something I also miss.
Real journalism. From a place where you could get sued for lying.
Extra Point: We’ve gained a lot, and lost a lot.
I would not trade this computer for a lifetime supply of old-school Beacon Journals or Plain Dealers.It’s a better window on the world than any other medium.
But, there’s something very disturbing about media outlets sounding like drunken morons in a bar you would have experienced prior to the Internet.
The other stuff? A loss of community, for the most part. We humans are social animals, and all of our 785 friends on Facebook, 745 of whom are corporations, aren’t the real thing.
We need those dinners together. We need that coffee together. We need those interactions. We need to work together and solve problems.
And we do not need to be toxic.