Sunday, January 24, 2010

We've Come a Long Way, Baby.....or Have We?

For this I have to go back 62 years plus - to the November 1947 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine. The above illustration is an advertisement for a remarkable post-WW2 product - the Crosley car which the ad claims produced a 2,800 mile trip for 16 dollars.

I broke out my trusty (sometimes) calculator and figured out what it cost me for a 2,800 mile segment of last summer's trip to the west coast. Hmmm. Hmmmm. Hmmmmm. Something isn't working out right here. Twenty-eight hundred miles divided by 30 (miles to the gallon on our trusty Dodge Caliber) comes out to around 93 gallons of gas which (at $2.75 a gallon) computes out to about $267 dollars for 2800 miles. And we talk about progress?

Well, if I came up with a miracle on the Caliber and got 50 miles to the gallon (like the Crosley) I'd have used 56 gallons of gas and paid $154 dollars for the trip.

But wait a minute - we didn't pay $2.75 a gallon for gas in November of 1947 - we were much more apt to get five gallons for a dollar. So there you have it -- fifty miles to the gallon and 20 cents a gallon probably computes to a figure pretty close to the Crosley advertisement claim. And I know that five gallons for a dollar is a valid figure - I used to pay that when I was much younger.

Then I took a look at the price for a Crosley - note the ad: $888 at the factory (plus tax). Hey, I forgot that there was a time when you could go to the factory and get your new car as it rolled off the assembly line. Then I thought about the prices on cars today and I wonder how we came about the difference. What a difference a few years make!

The Crosley could hold four people (granted, they may have to have been pretty small, but the Crosley I rode it wasn't tight). Keep in mind the fact that I was not a big feller but the car was not that small. There may not have been bucket seats and a fancy console between the seats - but hey, there was togetherness and we've lost sight of old fashioned togetherness in a car. In the early 70's Joyce and I double-dated once with our eldest daughter and her boy friend and we went in a Volkswagen 'Bug'. It was cozy and we had a blast. Now that I think of it, how often do parents double date with a daughter and her boy friend today. I suspect daughters today would say something like, "But mom (or dad) -- what would my friends think if they saw us out together on a date like that?" They survived it (though they ended up with different mates) and it went down as a treasured memory.

I remember in my Air Force days that one of my friends in Italy rented a Fiat Topolina. Translated that would read 'little mouse'. It was little but it provided good transportation and didn't cost a bundle. And we fuss today because car size is shrinking.

So, I guess there's something to the saying that we've come a long way - but it sure costs a heap more today than what it did in 1947. And it may not be as much fun.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some people think I'm weird....

That applies particularly to my taste in music, I guess. When I was I was in high school - like in 1942 or 3 - I would time my dash for the school bus to the playing of Der Fuhrer's Face on the radio. It seemed to be broadcast at precisely the same time every morning and I never missed my bus. The song was performed by Spike Jones and the City Slickers - a group that performed with every kind of kitchen or workshop implement possible - including tumed Smith and Wesson pistols. My mother (especially) thought I had a warped mind when it came to music - but even today I get a laugh out of Spike Jones arrangements. He and his band, by the way, were some of the greatest individual musicians of the time --- it took highly skilled musicians to do their songs - which were described by some as exercises in musical depreciation.

There were others - Mrs. Miller, for instance. She had a touch of opera singer in her records and was particularly noted for her off-key rendition of Downtown. Then there was Stan Freeburg who did some great parodys of top tunes and TV shows of the day. In the country field, there were - and are - singers - or at least performers - who came up with off-beat music selections.
For instance, Ray Stevens of The Streak fame (By the way, around the time that song got popular we had a streaker run through our apartment complex one night.)

I was generally successful at convincing people to leave the room at times. Likewise, I continue to enjoy some success at convincing people to leave when one of "my" music programs come on the air. For instance, of late it is Big Joes Polka Show which is on RFD TV every Wenesday evening. It's just what the name implies - a program featuring down to earth polka bands from all over the country. Minnesota. Wisconsin. Michigan. Texas. Alaska. Connecticut. And all points in between.

To understand where this interest came from one needs to realize the environment I grew up in. We had a very small group that played for square dancing after our monthly Grange meeting. A piano, a saxaphone, drums, and maybe a fiddle. Nothing fancy but they made a joyful noise and we had a great time dancing. (By the way, I learned to square dance before I knew there was any other kind - all you had to do was keep time to the music and follow the caller who told you what step to take.)

Later, when I moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts I would go down the street from the YMCA where I lived to go to the weekly dances at the Eagles Club. Then it was regular dancing but especially a lot of Polish music - polkas, waltzes, obereks, and so forth. I got pretty skilled at
Polish/German/Czech dances and sometimes we would even look up Polish weddings to crash.
Lots and lots ofdancing and as I remember, all it took was pinning a dollar or two on the bride's dress.

So, Big Joe takes me back to the old days. Some of the bands are good. Some leave a bit to be desired. Bands from Round Top Texas often have a Tex-Mex sound with a bit of mariachi thrown in for good measure. A band from Alaska has 20 or more members and for the most part it is limited to 'button-box" accordians as compared to piano accordians which may be more evident in mid-west bands. One of my favorite bands is Jim Busta's band from Minnesota featuring his daughter Molly B who sings and plays the accordian, trumpet, trombone, and saxaphone. (Jim Busta, by the way, is a superintendent of schools when he's not on the bandstand.) And there are family bands with children singing or playing instruments. Big Joe's slogan is "Happy Music for Happy People".

That's part of watching the Big Joe Show. It also involves watching a lot of people - young and old - having a lot of fun. When I say old - I wonder at times how some of them even get out to the dance floor much less dance a polka. But they do it and they flaunt smiles on their faces and seem to relish life when they do. There are lot of young people and children on the show as well and some people are on most every week as well. I think some others might not see much sense in the program - but hey, it presents a positive outlook on life - something we sometimes miss in today's world..

So, I guess my wife will go play cards Wednesday night - while I sit back for an hour reflecting on some great times in years past as I spend an hour with Big Joe and lot of people just like I used to know when I was much, much younger.

One last thing. One time when I was working in radio I had an unusual Sunday morning series of music programs. An hour each starting with the Greek program at 8 a.m., thence to French at 9, Italian at 10, and a full hour of Polish music at 11. Do you wonder that I have an unusual outlook about music? But maybe that's a story for another time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nothing is Forever

Backin my Air Force days, new base housing was going up all over the place. There were bases all over the place Now many of them are gone. It was a time when the Air Force flourished but nothing is forever.

A high percentage of the bases closed and the runways reverted to the surrounding communities. The facilities in most cases were just left to rot and it weighs on me how ridiculous it was to spend all that money to see it go down the drain. For instance, at the end of World War Two thousands of airplanes were stored nearKingman, Arizona - the lines stretched for miles and miles. For the most part these war relics were scrapped and melted down to be made into new aluminum product. Out of sight - out of mind.

I remember in the fifties military personnel living in old aircraft crates outside Chanute AFB and paying exorbitant rent. Housing never seemed adequate or in many cases even available. Then came the rush to build new on-base housing. We were never able to get base housing because we were always on temporary assignments. Our answer was trailers - every time a new child came along we went to a little bit bigger one until we finally came to the conclusion that it wastrailers that caused the additions to the family (there may be some truth to that since whenwe left trailers behind we never had any more children).

At any rate, we live on a former base - Wurtsmith AFB in Michigan - which was closed in 1993.

We finally ended up buying Air Force quarters although we were long past our Air Force days. And we loved it. But notice I said we had to BUY our base housing - we were never assigned to base housing.

I was reminded this week that nothing is forever. Across the street from where we live now - in a former Air Force super dorm that has been converted into condominiums some of the old housing I admired when I was on active duty is biting the dust, Duplexes and single family homes are being torn down and the base, to some degree, is losing its base look. It brings back a lot of memories but the thought struck me -if those old quarters could have talked I venture to say they could tell a lot of stories. Sad. Happy. Frustrating. Angry. Hopeful - stories of families who struggled with life just like so many people do today.

We've made a point of visiting a number of old bases that have closed. Most of them have lost base identity. A lot of them have little else than deteriorated runways and a few rotted buildings. Some where I was assigned have not been maintained and for some of us who recall the vibrancy of an active base are depressed when we see them fall by the wayside. In effect millions of dollars down the drain.

But there are exceptions. Much - if not MOST of this base remains in use. Civilian companies have taken over flight line buildings. A jet engine plant refurbishes equipment for major airlines. A cargo airline maintains it's 747 aircraft in the old SAC facility. A manufacturer of composite materials has flourished. And, except for '8-plexes' and other multi-residence buildings that have been demolished, much of the old base remains vibrant and attractive.

Yes, it brings back memories and I hate to see old buildings go by the wayside like the relics across the street. I'd like to think that their loss will make way for new things - but the view out my condo window will never be the same. But like I say, 'Nothing is forever.' Not even me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Welcome -2010

Well, another year is gone - and now we have another year to look forward to. But that's what happens every year at the end of December and as we move into January.

I thought I would liven the blog up with a picture this week. Only thing is, the picture is not of a New Year's celebration. The picture was taken in a posh Cairo, Egypt hotel in January of 1987 while we were on a tour of Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Never had seen an Egyptian wedding before and thought maybe this was the way we should have done it back in 1953 - hired an Egyptian band to do a processional through the lobby of a fancy hotel. Or maybe we should have asked the pastor if it would be all right to do it down the center aisle of Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Livernois Avenue in Detroit. I suspect he would not have been completely agreeable to that.
I remember, as a teenager in the nineteen forties going to a neighbor's house for New Year's.
They had a huge Zenith radio and we would play records, eat cookies, and drink C......... D.....
Ginger Ale and listen to Guy Lombardo at midnight. The Nordmans were wonderful people -
became almost surrogate parents to my brother and me - and they had a daughter. She never became a fixture in my love life - she was a couple of years ahead of me in high school and was very much the platonic big sister I never had. And my mother could never understand why I spent so much time there and could talk to Bill and Mollie about things I never would talk about at home. We found that eventually some of our children did the same thing - Linda had the Berrys and Jeff had the Whitmans. What comes around goes around I guess. But the Nordmans house was where we spent New Years eve and it was where I caught the school bus in the morning.
Anyway, that was where and how I spent New Years eve when I was young. A few minutes after midnight I'd slosh my way (a lot of ginger ale will do that to a person) up the hill to our house and wonder what the new year would bring. Now I spend a quiet New Year's eve at home, go to bed early -- but still slosh my the bathroom a couple of times a night. Not just New Year's eve -- but hey, that's part of putting years behind us.
And by the way, I DID have a can of C......... D.... Ginger Ale last Thursday night. Just for old times sake. And it tasted just as good as it had in the 1940's.