The More Things Change


My wife and I have our special places, just like everyone else does. Or I imagine they do. Really I’m just guessing.

But you know. We’ve got favorite places, things we like to do, stuff we like to eat. People we like to see. And mostly I’m talking about restaurants. We tend to go to Costco together, for example, but it’s not really a favorite thing.

We’ve got a current favorite, and a group of back-up favorites. These aren’t fancy places, and for just the two of us (and with one non-drinker and the other a minimal one) I rarely see a check above $30. It’s just a place to go by ourselves, hang out and eat tasty food. You know what I’m talking about.

But even cheap food comes in wheelbarrows these days. I read an article this morning in which the author griped about the size of portions in the contemporary American restaurant, which we’ve been talking about for years anyway. This was another article that felt like filler to me, but that’s a different subject (although similar, it occurs to me now).

So, yeah. They give you a lot of food these days, because food is cheap and it looks better to have a big plate covered to the edges with edibles. The focus of this article was that, in a country battling an obesity epidemic, as they say we are, all this food wasn’t helping.

It also spent too much time on show-offy food extravaganzas, the ones with the massive ice cream sandwich and the meat tornado and so on, where you get special recognition if you manage to eat the whole thing. Eh. I can just bitch about this article, I suppose.

Anyway, we know this or we should, those of us old enough to remember when it wasn’t this way. I believe I read that the average restaurant meal, not counting drinks or dessert, runs around 1200 calories. That’s the entrée I’m talking about, plus maybe some broccoli and rolls. That’s about twice what I’d consider a pretty decent meal, although there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. For most of us, that much food is at least half of what we need for the day. Just eat less the other times.

Right. Hence the article, I guess. I still think it’s filler.

And I’m not all that interested in this discussion, although God knows I used to be. I’m more interested in the difference.

The way it used to be. The old normal. Take a young person from 2019 and plop them into a mid-range restaurant in 1972. They will wonder where all the French fries went, for one thing. It’ll be different.

Not better. I have no idea. Probably a mix. I’m just fascinated now by the changes, as I’ve moved past my children’s generation in terms of awareness. When my kids were growing up, I was cognizant of what they were experiencing in the culture because I was a parent. That was my job. It was my job to explain what life was like with black-and-white television (it was awful) and so on.

But now, I dunno. My son is nearly 30, my daughter 34. A 20-year-old has a life unexamined by me. I’d have to work at it a little harder to figure out what might surprise them about the past.

I want to find the small stuff, too. The stuff nobody talks about. We can all go on about technology—we actually didn’t have a color TV in our house until the 1970s—and when it showed up, but how about the little things?

Like blow dryers. Nobody talks about blow dryers, but they didn’t exist and then suddenly everybody had three. You know it changed something. It’s not the microwave or the PC or the VCR, but they’re ubiquitous now and I remember when they weren’t.

Or debit cards and how we use them. I’ve had a bank card since I was 18 and got a checking account. It even worked with an ATM of sorts, a machine only connected to my bank but certainly functioning in the same way.

But it’s really only been in this century that we could pay for everything with plastic. I remember gushing in print back at the turn of this century about the joy of paying for gas at the pump, so it’s not nearly as old as we might think it is. It feels like forever since we’ve been handing over cards and not cash, but not really.

I could go on. The reason most of our food and medicine that comes in bottles have little paper seals over the tops? The Chicago Tylenol Murders of 1982, when seven people died from bottles of Tylenol laced with cyanide.

No one pumped their own gas until the early 1970s and the first Middle East oil crisis, when gas prices shot up and self-serve stations came into existence.

Nobody smokes. In comparison. That 1972 restaurant with the meager fries? The first thing a 21st-century young person would notice, I bet, would be the clouds of smoke, the constant smell. It’s hard to conjour up now without passing a downtown alley and taking a whiff, but I grew up with a chain smoker and I remember. People used to smoke in grocery stores and just drop the cigarettes on the floor when they were done. Everyone was cool with that.

And sure. I imagine if you grabbed a person from 1972 and whooshed them here to 2019, they’d wonder how everybody got so fat. It might be low on the list of things to wonder about, though.

Not to mention that the President of the United States routinely lies and cusses at political rallies, but c’mon. Things change. Nobody likes a fuddy-duddy.

Chuck Sigars1 Comment