Maybe it was going back to Iowa and finding out my beloved hometown Maid-Rite was now a car dealership. Or maybe it was one more yellow pages dumped on my front step that went straight to my recycle barrel. Something got me thinking about the awesome things from my life than no longer exist.
The Sears Catalog
As a kid, the annual arrival of the Sears Catalog was eagerly anticipated. The first half of the catalog was for clothing, shoes and housewares. But the second half? All toys! The catalog led millions of kids to making out a wish list and mailing it to Santa Claus.
It was the catalog where I stared yearly at the electric football game before getting one in 1977.
The Sears Catalog was so huge the people could purchase a kit to build an entire home until 1940. It was still so big into the 1980s that it was referenced in an episode of Cheers. Mailman Cliff Clavin laments that hefty Sears Catalog and the Spiegel Catalog being mailed the same day, causing him back pain from all the deliveries.
The general catalog disappeared in 1993.
Pagers haven’t disappeared, but the cell phone made them all but obsolete. In the 1990s pagers were big. People would send you a page with their phone number, and then you would have to find a phone to call them back.
I was working in the University of Missouri-Kansas City Sports Information Office from 1993-99 when my assistant and I HAD to have pagers. My best friend’s wife worked in the industry so we had cool lime green pagers because we somehow thought we were in just as much demand as medical doctors.
The Manual Typewriter
Not gone completely but made all but obsolete by first the electric typewriter and later the personal computer.
I loved typing as a kid. My mother had an old manual typewriter and I used to type all the time. I don’t know what I typed. Mostly nonsense probably. But I loved typing. I loved hearing those heavy keys rise up and smack the ribbon against the paper. I loved the manual return.
In my life as a student I have used three skills more than any other: English, basic math and typing. I don’t use any chemistry, algebra and very little U.S. history. But I speak, use basic math and type every single day.
The Drive-In Movie
My family didn’t go to many drive-in movies. Though I do remember seeing one of the Herbie movie at the Cedar Falls drive-in.
Driving 30 minutes in a station wagon to the movie theatre, then sitting in the car for another hour and 45 minutes to watch a movie while listening to the sound through a cheap metal speaker was once upon a time appealing to the masses.
Multiplexes with reclining seats and Dolby sound put these previously awesome movie experiences to dust.
The Video Home System (VHS)
This is how we recorded TV shows and movies once upon a time. Compared to the DVRs and TiVo of today, these were a giant pain in the butt to set and record.
In the 1980s and through the mid 2000s, however, having a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) was huge. It was the first time in history you could see a TV show you really wanted without having to watch it in real time. You could tape the show and watch it at your convenience. And you could reuse the tapes over and over.
Even though the movie industry initially tried kill this technology for fear of the theatre business model completely collapsing, you could even buy movies to watch at your convenience.
Once upon a time, I had VHS copies of a Garth Brooks concert at Central Park, the final episode of Cheers and the movie Major League. I had more than 200 tapes of all my appearances as a sports anchor and reporter for Metro Sports. Those tapes have been digitally recorded to my computer.
The Sony Walkman Cassette Tape Player/Cassette Tapes
When you spend a good chunk of your summers mowing lawns with a push mower you need a little music to pass the time. This is how I did it.
I saved up $100 to buy this beauty. It’s how I listened to Men at Work, Styx and Huey Lewis and The News. The foam earphones would be drenched in sweat from pushing a mower in humid Iowa summers with this baby clipped to my basketball shorts. But I didn’t care because they helped pass the time of menial labor.
When you didn’t have the money to purchase an entire album, or you just wanted to listen to one song off the album you bought a “45” a.k.a. a single. It was called a 45 because it played at 45 RPM on a turntable, as opposed to the entire album speed, which was 33 1/3 RPM.
I don’t know what happened to all my 45s. I do still own two albums — Michael Jackson’s Thriller and We Are The World. I haven’t owned a turntable (a.k.a. record player) in 30 years, so I haven’t listened to either one recently.
Topps Gum was never awesome. It was nasty tasting and lost any flavor it had after about three seconds.
It stained the last card of any pack of Topps baseball cards you bought. Defying all logic and mathematical theory, the stained baseball card was more likely to be a prized Rickey Henderson or Wade Boggs rookie card than say, the seventh Britt Burns Chicago White Sox card you had acquired in two weeks.
But Topps Gum reminds me of a time when my brother David and I would walk up to Manly’s Drug Store in Grundy Center, buy four packs of cards for $1, then walk a half-block over to the Public Library lawn to sit and tear open the packs to find out the treasures we had just purchased.