My friend Dawn and I recently took our annual road trip. Our 2009 trip along the old National Road, aka US 40, from Ohio to Indianapolis several years ago, was cut short by a family emergency. So we tried again. And we both love the National Road, so it was no hardship to see some of the same sights.
One of them was this great vintage McDonald’s sign, still serving in Richmond.
I’ve seen a few of these in my travels. There’s one on the south side of Indianapolis, or at least there was several years ago when I was last down there. These were the most common style of McDonald’s sign at the beginning of my 1970s kidhood, but they were already starting to be replaced by the next style of McD’s sign.
Remember how these signs used to say “Over x Billion Sold,” and then they got to 99 and ran out of room on the sign? And then, slowly, the signs started saying “Billions and Billions Served,” like this one. But this one is old enough that surely it once read 99 Billion.
By the way, I think three of the sweetest words in the English language are “breakfast all day.”
There’s a little damage on the sign’s west-facing side. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the beginning of creeping rot, and that this great old sign continues to serve for decades to come.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
During my 1970s kidhood, Schwinn was the ultimate bike. Especially the 20-inch Sting-Ray: banana seat, chopper-style handlebars, chrome fenders, bright colors. All the boys in my neighborhood wanted one, especially if it came with the 5-speed Stik-Shift on the crossbar or the “slik” treadless rear tire. My first bike was an old, battered 20-inch Schwinn with a slik. Since its previous owner had removed its model-identifying chain guard, I never knew whether it was a Sting-Ray. I always imagined it was so I could feel cool.
As we kids outgrew our small bikes, brand loyalty drew us toward the bigger Schwinns. I saved my allowance for years, a five-speed 26-inch Schwinn in my sights. I hadn’t saved enough when my old 20-inch bike in no way fit me anymore. Desperate, I bought what I could afford: a maroon 3-speed made by, horrors, AMF. Yet I rode that bike more than any other I’ve ever owned. I figure I put 10,000 miles on it. I wish I still had it. But childhood dreams can eventually come true: a friend recently gave me the 5-speed Schwinn of his teen years, in Sierra Brown. I had it mechanically restored, and from time to time I take it out for a cruise.
I dragged my butt to the Mecum Spring Classic muscle-car auction this year. I normally go excited and energized, but this year I’d had an unexpected, serious case of insomnia the night before. I got no sleep whatsoever before I had to get up and drive my kids across town so they could get to school on time. I drove from there to Margaret’s, as she was going along to see the cars with me this year. I slept hard on her couch for an hour and a half, but then sleep eluded me again.
Insomnia and I go way back. When it visits, I just go with it. I read, or watch TV, or clean, or surf the Net. I usually get drowsy enough to sleep within a few hours. If I don’t, I go about my day as best I can. And so even on next to no sleep, we drove on down to the fairgrounds to take in the cars. I was groggy and dizzy and headachy all day, but I still managed to have some fun.
Even though the Mecum is primarily a muscle-car auction, many other kinds of old cars are on hand. I go to see those cars, actually. Every year, I see cars I’ve read about, or seen in photos, but have never seen in person. This year, that car was this 1927 Hupmobile.
I’ve seen plenty of Ramblers, though; they weren’t uncommon when I was a boy. I find this ’60 Rambler Super’s angular lines strangely alluring.
I love Ford trucks of this body style. My grandpa had one when I was very small. This one’s from 1967.
Also from 1967, here’s a screaming red Pontiac Bonneville convertible. This car is about 18 feet long. You could park my Ford Focus on its hood, I’m sure.
VW Buses were pretty common during my 1970s kidhood, but the pickups on that chassis were not. So I was glad to see this ’70 Transporter.
I love station wagons. There can’t be many ’72 Buick Sport Wagons left. Modern car design tends to push the rear wheels way out to the back of the vehicle, so it’s odd to see so much overhang behind the rear wheels of this Buick.
Margaret was taken with this ’72 Fiat 500. We both towered over it.
This is the first car we saw at the auction, a ’73 Chevy Impala two-door hardtop. It seems strange today, but in those days, full-sized cars came with many different roofs: hardtop (no pillar behind the front door) and pillared, four-door and two-door. And Chevy had two two-door rooflines. This one was the sportier of the two, and was called the Sports Roof. This one looks factory fresh, down to those awesome wheel covers that were typical of the period. Dad had a ’71 Impala with this roof. It was the most unreliable car we owned.
I’m sharing this one just because it’s so over the top: a ’74 Ford Ranchero Squire, in double brown with a brown interior. This enormous vehicle was considered mid-sized in its time.
A study in opposites: this 1976 Citroen CX. This car is cram-packed with engineering innovation, including a hydropneumatic self-leveling suspension and variable-assist power steering. US auto regulations prohibited such things then, so Citroen couldn’t legally sell them here. But they were very popular in Europe, being made from 1974 to 1991.
We stayed but a few hours. I normally stay all day, but finally I couldn’t hold out anymore. A nap was in my immediate future. Mercifully, blissfully, I slept through the night that night.
I’ll share my favorite car from the auction in an upcoming post.
Hand-painted street signs like this one were very common in South Bend during my 1970s kidhood there. I remember the school-zone signs in my neighborhood as being hand painted, for example. I took it for granted until I moved away and found that other cities didn’t do it that way.
I’m sure that increasing standards for sign reflectivity at night forced South Bend to move away from hand-painted signs. But some still lurk about, like this one in front of the Century Center downtown. I took this in 2009 with my Kodak EasyShare Z730. You’ll know you’re looking at one of South Bend’s hand-painted signs when you see brush marks in faded paint.
During my 1970s kidhood, this show was one of my favorite gems of syndicated television. I loved to come across it, especially late at night, and enjoy its tales of science fiction and fantasy, of warped human nature, and of dystopia.
What I didn’t understand was that when the show originally aired, from 1959 to 1964, reason was king. People seriously and earnestly sought surety. They believed in absolutes; they deferred to authority. There was a sense that you could truly understand the world, and that there had to be a rational explanation for everything.
A frequent premise of The Twilight Zone episodes was the search for a rational explanation to events that made no rational sense. Characters were thought to have cracked, to have lost their marbles, when they spoke of experiences that they could not explain logically.
But that kind of modernist thinking had all but ended by the 1970s. I didn’t know it, of course; what small boy is aware of society changing around him? But in those days, the generation entering adulthood felt that things didn’t have to make sense, that there might not be any absolutes, and that a universal, objective means of judging things as right or true might not exist. The postmodern age had dawned.
I found these shows to be delightful because I understood both sides, although only viscerally. I grew up around adults, largely of my grandparents’ generation, who clung to those old modes of thinking – and I watched their children thumb their nose at it all. My grandparents loved The Twilight Zone as I did. But I think our experience with the show differed sharply. I imagine that sometimes it frightened them, because it challenged what they knew to be right and solid. In contrast, the shows excited me, because I wanted to believe that such alternate realities could exist.
But for my children, who have never known anyone from my grandparents’ generation, for whom the postmodern transition has always been complete, The Twilight Zone’s protagonists are buffoons trapped in a too-narrow reality. My kids can’t relate to them. They take as a given that things happen that can’t be explained. It’s reflected in the shows they enjoy watching: The Walking Dead, Supernatural, Doctor Who.They accept as given that their world is full of unfathomable mysteries. They embrace it. The Twilight Zone points to a time when the world was a puzzle that could be solved. It is too different, and it just can’t reach them.
This post on another blog I follow reminded me of this piece I wrote in 2008. The photos are from my first roll of film, shot in August of 1976, of the children I wrote about here. It seems appropriate to re-run this on Labor Day; you’ll see why as you read it.
During my 1970s kidhood when school started after Labor Day as God intended, my mid-August birthday always meant summer was beginning to end. By then, the afternoon sun was at its hottest and most intense, the annual August dry spell began to toughen and dry spring’s tender greenery, and the street lights switched on earlier to send everyone inside for long quiet evenings with our families and our TVs.
The dozens of children all up and down Rabbit Hill, as our parents nicknamed our prolific neighborhood, always sensed these changes and we all began to squeeze in as much play as we could before time ran out. One fellow down the street, thinking he was Mickey Rooney in Babes in Arms, always organized and directed an end-of-summer show, an extravaganza that nobody would come and watch because everybody was in it. I would push to reach the new tree-climbing heights my brother and his best friend had mastered weeks before, heightening their schadenfreude when I would inevitably fall, land on my back, have the wind knocked out of me, and make that loud but hilarious sucking noise that only sounds like death is imminent. Somebody would connive their mother into have a big running-through-the-sprinkler get together at which gallons of Kool-Aid were served. Several kids sold lemonade or toys at a family garage sale to raise money for Jerry’s Kids. The chubby fellow who lived where the street curved sang his slightly naughty rhymes more often (“In 1944/My father went to the war/He stepped on the gas/And blew out his ass/In 1944!”) hoping to squeeze out another laugh. And then came the telethon, which was on almost everybody’s TV, and we all knew it was over.
Sure, we could still play war in full army gear in the wide easement behind the houses, ride our bikes and Big Wheels up and down the hill making siren sounds as if we were a horde of ambulances and police cars (imagine 20 children doing this on your street!), play endless Red Rover in the freckled girl’s front yard, and watch the four-year-old girl next door eat sand with a spoon (oh, if her mom only knew) the day after school started too. We simply lost most of our enthusiasm. It was time to button ourselves back down and return to school-day routines.
Rabbit Hill conditioned me well; I still recognize and lament the signs of summer’s end. My kids are back in school (since a few days after my birthday, what nonsense). The telethon has come and gone, although Jerry Lewis isn’t welcome there anymore. The grass hasn’t grown much in weeks because of the annual dry spell. My air conditioner has been off more days than it’s been on; it was even too chilly the other morning to drive to work with the window down. I’ve crammed as much outside time as I can into these days to enjoy their freedom, but the end is in sight. Shorts will soon give way to long pants and short sleeves will give way to long sleeves. I’ll be in a windbreaker with a rake in my hands, collecting my trees’ considerable deposits. The snow will fly and I’ll be hunkered down at home. I still feel restricted, buttoned down, in fall and winter.
Here’s hoping for a long, warm Indian summer first!