The coolest things ever (when I was 10 years old)

The coolest thing ever (when I was 10 years old). A weird list of food, places, objects and seasons.

  • dinosaurs
  • sharks
  • fire trucks
  • realistic Matchbox cars (I never liked Hot Wheels. I was kind of weird in how I preferred realism)
  • dioramas
  • roller coasters
  • amusement parks
  • canyons (as long as I didn’t get close to the edge)
  • summer days
  • fudge
  • Peanut Buster Parfaits
  • Filet-o-Fish
  • snow days
  • Mad magazine
  • raw peas

Now I want a time machine so I can go back to the summer of 1975 to savor these things (I’m okay with missing the snow days). Some of this list is clearly nostalgia-driven, but a surprisingly large number of these items still rank up there as pretty cool even to my sensible, more jaded adult self.

In fact, the pleasure I’d feel while eating some fresh-baked fudge while ogling a diorama of, say, dinosaurs, on a warm summer day, would be downright intoxicating.

Instead I’ll just do a GIS for fudge and lick the screen of my laptop. Or…maybe not.

The Obsolete List: 1964 Edition

Technology always marches forward, except for things like the Dark Ages and I guess World War III. But generally, it marches forward. The pace of change can sometimes be startling, while in other cases it feels like it’s taking a lot longer to progress for unspecified reasons (example: car technology has improved but not substantially changed at a mass production level in over a hundred years. The majority of vehicles are still fueled by gasoline that powers an internal combustion engine. Sure, whizzy electric cars and hybrids have gained, but they’ve yet to take over on a mass scale).

I was born in 1964, the same year a bunch of stuff happened. The Beatles were pretty popular. The American space program was in full swing and only five years away from a moon landing. And cars ran on gasoline that powered internal combustion engines.

But what technology over the past 50+ years has become obsolete or so little-used that it’s effectively obsolete? Most of it is stuff I grew up with. Do I yearn for any of this bygone technology? Let’s have a look at The Obsolete List and find out!

  • Rotary dial telephones. People often still refer to “dialing a number” but no one actually does it anymore. I remember back in Duncan you only had to dial the last five numbers instead of all seven and at the time it made dialing bearable, though you still hoped people had numbers like 222-1111. By the time the proliferation of phone numbers required you to enter all seven digits, plus the area code, we had moved on to push button phones and it was inconvenient but not the utter madness that it would have been on a rotary phone. Do I miss these devices? No. There is no nostalgia value in having to wait for a rotary dial to finish turning before you can enter the next number.
  • 8-track tapes. I’ve discussed these before and the short answer is no: digital music does everything an 8-track tape did, without all the weirdness of putting songs out of order, duplicating tracks, splitting them in two and not to mention the inevitable tape-eating that happened. These had one minor convenience over cassette tape, in that you didn’t have to flip the tape over (if you were one of those poor sods that didn’t have a tape deck that could play both sides automatically). Speaking of…
  • Side A and Side B. Okay, this isn’t technology, strictly speaking, it’s more about how albums were always split into two halves before the Compact Disc (see below) took over. While this allowed some bands to experiment by doing different things on each side, I think the benefit of having a single cohesive whole makes for better albums overall.
  • Cassette tapes. These are still around, so like vinyl, technically not dead, but it’s very much a niche product. While more compact than vinyl, durability was always iffy, with tapes unceremoniously unspooling and getting eaten in the tape deck. You also ended up with the degraded tape exhibiting a lot of pops, cracks and other un-musical sounds. May casette tapes rest in pieces, I say.
  • Floppy disks. No one in their right mind would miss these. Everything now is better. I still have a box of them dating back to the mid 90s. I wonder if they would be readable today? (I checked and you can get a USB floppy disk drive for $30. I’m not sure it’s worth $30 to find out.)
  • Compact Disc (CD). Officially introduced to the world in 1993, they became the dominant music format by the end of the decade. Now, with digital music and especially with the rise of streaming music, the CD is not dead but is on life support. It had a few advantages over vinyl: better audio quality (provided the recording was managed properly–vinyl aficionados will always argue that records offer a “warmer” sound than CD), a more, ahem, compact format, the ability to hold more music (about 75 minutes, where vinyl was pushing it at 48-50 minutes) and because the disc was read by a laser, you no longer had to worry about a needle scratching across your record when you bumped the player. Instead you had to worry about the laser blinding you. Do I miss CDs? Really, no. They were better than vinyl and tape, but ultimately they now look like more of a stopgap on the way to digital music. And they could still get scratched and have playback suffer. Plus the album art was hard to make out.
  • Compact Disc-Recordable (CD-R). These were discs you could record to (multiple times in the case of CD-RW) and they allowed for early mass backup/storage. But they were slow, prone to errors and clunky to use. DVD-Rs were not much better, just higher capacity. I do not miss these. As with floppy disks, everything now is better.
  • Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TVs and monitors. You know, the big, boxy things that you could warm your cat on and weighed between 50 and 1000 pounds. While the cats probably miss them–LCD monitors and TVs offer little room to accommodate sleeping felines–the only aspect I miss about CRT monitors is how blacks were much..blacker. This is offset today by OLED technology, but OLED hasn’t really percolated into widespread use, apart from some TVs, smartphones and laptops, because it’s still really expensive. I don’t miss the weight, energy cost, blurry text or industrial beige styling of most CRT monitors, though.
  • Digital watches. OK, these aren’t obsolete, but with watches now being more fashion statements than actual timepieces, who would still wear one? Anything a digital watch can do can be done better on a smartphone, or even a smartwatch. Still, I kind of miss that Casio I had back around 1978 or so. It could play 12 songs for no real reason and it was cool to set alarms. It felt like being in the future. As digital watches go, it wasn’t hideously ugly, either. At least that’s the way I remember it.
  • Mimeograph machines. I remember these from elementary school, circa 1971-1977. They produced weird purple text and the ink smelled strange and alien. Smudges abounded. It felt like 1850s technology that somehow lasted into the 1970s. I don’t miss them. I suspect teachers may have paid for the privilege of smashing these machines when photocopies and printers replaced them. Speaking of…
  • Dot matrix printers. These are still used in some places where multi-part forms are needed and the people there haven’t figured out how to load a tray with three different kinds of paper at once. They were noisy, slow, pretty bad at graphics, did I mention noisy, required ribbons you had to wind and worst of all, they would go haywire as soon as you turned your back to them. It was like they knew and waited to misfeed the paper. Again, I don’t miss these. Ink jet printers are better in all ways, save for ink drying out if not used for long periods of time, but that’s easily solved by getting a laser printer instead. Or just go paperless, like we were supposed to 40 years ago.
  • Microfiche. This was very cool in the early 80s. It’s been superseded by, well, computers, and the ability to digitize content. Back in the olden days you had to load a negative from, say, a newspaper, into a microfiche reader, then zoom in and pan around like you were using a microscope, except instead of bacteria, you were examining old news stories. I actually do kind of miss this. Looking back on the times I used them, it felt like I was doing real research and making real discoveries instead of just typing something into Google’s search box and getting 10 million results. The latter is still better, mind you.

More to come as I think of them.

It was 20 years ago today…

Sgt. Pepper taught the band to–no, no, that’s not it.

(That’s a whole other chapter of “Makes you feel old,” realizing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released 51 years ago. I remember when its release on CD [remember those?] was a big deal and even that was 31 years ago now.)

No, 20 years ago I got broadband. It was 1998 and Rogers was my ISP because back then there wasn’t really a choice. I got Rogers@home, their broadband service, allowing me to experience the world of high speed internet.

And disconnects. And outages (sometimes for more than a day at a time). And speeds that would go from very fast to slower than dial-up.

It was both amazing (“I don’t need to tie up a phone line to get on the internet!” “The internet is always on!”) and amazingly frustrating (see the aforementioned issues above).

It opened me to a world of online gaming, from which I think I’ve just finally cured myself, having let my WoW sub finally lapse after more than ten years with little interruption. But back in the early days, Tribes, a multiplayer-only first person shooter, simply wouldn’t have been the fantastic experience it was without broadband.

Broadband let me start exploring news online instead of having to sit down in front of the TV for the news hour and watch what the broadcaster wanted me to watch. I still get my news online. It’s so much better.

It was also an age before YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. In some ways this was better. Most ways. Nearly all ways, if you really think about it. There were forums for different games and hobbies, but with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of users rather than millions. You got to know people. There were a lot fewer funny cat pictures and even with broadband most of them were still small and horribly compressed.

The internet itself was still young and awkward. Websites had animated gifs and midi music. Sites were spartan or ugly or both. Spugly. But it was fresh and new and exciting.

Today, Blue’s News has literally the same design as it did back then. If you want a retro taste of what once was, that’s your active go-to right there. It used to be my home page back around then, too. It predates my high speed internet by two years. Zounds.

A few years after I got broadband I jumped ship to Telus and their ADSL. It was a bit slower but much more stable (well, not so much in that first year but it’s been solid since). The speeds today are a lot faster than they were in 1998, but web pages now serve so much fancypants content even before you include the singing/dancing/popping-up/sliding-in/good-chance-of-carrying-malware ads that it doesn’t necessarily feel a lot faster. And then you download a 50 mb file and wonder why it won’t start downloading only to realize it finished in a fraction of a second.

Fiber (or fibre, if you prefer, this post is being written in Canada, after all) is becoming more widespread, though not yet in my neighborhood. I wonder what that would feel like, speed-wise? Would I even notice? I actually don’t download a lot of stuff anymore. Mostly I just need the connection to be there and be reliable. Still, if it becomes an option I’ll probably go for it. Maybe ridiculous speed will open up new possibilities, the same way broadband did for me back in 1998. Or maybe it’ll just make it easier to exceed my bandwidth cap.

Either way, I’m ready.

The limits of nostalgia

Nostalgia is one of those inevitable things you get pulled into as you get older. Some give into it entirely, refusing to embrace anything new in favor of yelling at clouds and acting as if everything from their youth was better.

The reality is some things were better. Prices were lower. I can remember candy bars costing as little as 10 cents each. They cost more than ten times that now. Is that progress? Yes, if you sell candy bars. But they’re bad for you, so it’s difficult to get overly upset about that bit of inflation.

The reality is also that some things were bad. They are not worth remembering fondly. They are maybe not worth remembering at all, except as cautionary tales to warn future generations.

Fashion comprises almost all of the things in this category. Every decade has its fashion tragedies. Big hair. Acid wash jeans. Parachute pants. Running gear from 1975. You’d think it would be hard to screw up something as basic as a shirt and shorts. Then you see this:

Image courtesy of Up and Humming – A Running Blog

This looks like a publicity still from a 1977 gay porn film. Marathon Men. And what was the deal with tucking in your shirt? At least they’re not wearing those socks. Which socks? These socks:

Yes, I had socks just like these.

But what I’m here to talk about now is music.

I was not an experimental type when it came to listening to music in my teens (time-wise this was around 1977-84). While friends grooved to Dylan, Bowie and Lou Reed, I listened to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Bee Gees and Blondie. Pretty much any band that started with the letter “b.” Now, all of the groups I’ve mentioned are fine and I still enjoy listening to them today. And The Beatles (and even to an extent Blondie) pushed the boundaries on rock music. But for the most part these were safe, mainstream choices.

Below these bands were choices that were perhaps less likely to win armfuls of Grammys, like Boney M. Still, I eventually repurchased Boney M’s seminal Nightflight to Venus on iTunes. It even embraces its retro-ness by including album art that is literally a photo of the CD cover. And I’ve repurchased other albums of yore that were not exactly showered with critical acclaim but that I enjoyed too much to resist–Queen’s The Game, Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger and so on.

But there’s a line I won’t cross, where I have to admit the music I liked way back then was actually pretty bad.

So while I happily reacquainted myself with The Police’s Synchronicity, I could not do the same with Styx.

Sorry, Styx.

I bought two of their albums, 1981’s Paradise Theater and 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.

Paradise Theater is actually a pretty decent album and I loved the concept and even the album art. I liked the album enough to pick up their next, Kilroy Was Here. This was another concept album, about a fascist government (one in the future, not the one the US has now) that outlaws rock music. There was a mini-film and most people who were around back then probably remember the oddball hit “Mr. Roboto.” But here’s the thing. It’s a terrible album.

There are some good songs, like Tommy Shaw’s shimmering “Haven’t We Been Here Before?” but “Mr. Roboto” is cringe-inducing and the concept, which seems to be mocking the Moral Majority, is played completely straight, which makes it all the more ridiculous.

Nostalgia can’t bring me to buy either of these albums, and I played both quite a bit when they were new. I can still quote the (awful) lyrics from “Mr. Roboto.” But there are lines that cannot be crossed, so while Duran Duran, Boney M and the soundtrack for Grease get a pass, Styx does not.

I am now collecting obsolete Apple devices

A few days ago Apple quietly pulled the iPod nano and iPod shuffle from their online store and confirmed the devices were being discontinued. The only iPod left is the iPod Touch, which is really just an iPhone with the phone bits removed. The Touch itself hasn’t been updated since 2015, though Apple did double the storage without changing the price while killing the nano and shuffle, so it’s at least a better value now. Its days are still likely to be numbered. I predict no more hardware refreshes, maybe another round of new colors (next year) and then bye-bye it goes.

I bought the 7th generation nano shortly after it came out to replace the 6th generation model I had before it. The biggest change was going from a click wheel interface to a touchscreen that aped the look and feel of the iPhone. While the click wheel had the advantage in allowing you to use it by simply clicking without looking, I found it reacted very badly when it got the slightest bit damp when I was using it on runs. And I used mine pretty much exclusively when running (using the built-in Nike+ app). The touchscreen version could also be a bit finicky when wet but not to the same degree. I once extended a run by nearly half a km when I couldn’t get the click wheel to work during a light rain. (The nano had a bizarre history with Apple radically changing the device over its lifespan. The sixth generation model had a video camera included, something that seems completely silly looking back.)

Both of my nanos still work. In fact, I used my saucy green model just this year. I always wanted Apple to make a 32GB version of it so it could hold all of my music and I wouldn’t have to choose what to leave off. But alas.

Perhaps the best thing about the nano was its size, specifically how small it was. I could slip it into a pocket on a run and not even notice it there. There is no smartphone–iPhone or otherwise–that comes remotely close to that kind of portability.

Of course, it had its disadvantages. It didn’t connect to anything. That meant I couldn’t use Siri to set music or change tracks (I do that a lot, especially on runs). It could only sync through iTunes, which is a major downside these days, given how generally awful iTunes is (especially with syncing). And the aforementioned 16GB of storage ultimately proved limiting.

I guess if I had a wish list for the nano-that-will-never-be, it would look something like this:

  • full integration with iOS (ie. a real iOS device)
  • support for Siri
  • 32 and 64GB storage options
  • wireless syncing

Basically it would be a tiny version of the iPod Touch.

Except the only way that will happen is if this timeline splits off into a bizarro world where a lot of people in 2017 still use dedicated music devices. And even then it probably wouldn’t happen. Which means my two nanos now join my 80GB iPod Classic in the dustbin of technology, products that helped Apple become the giant it is today and just a decade later are obsolete, like my 8-track player and Zip drive. (I’d have a tough time deciding which of those two was the worst because, brother, they weren’t no nanos).

The Cars have run me over again

iTunes has a bunch of “Classic Rock Albums” on sale right now for under $7. While one might argue over what constitutes both rock and classic, there’s a bunch of good stuff here for old fogeys who fondly look back on the 70s and 80s because they were there.

Like me.

I decided to pick up The Cars’ eponymous 1978 debut and listening to it hit me with a powerful blast of deja vu.

Back in junior high, I took Drawing and Painting, even though I was never terribly good at either. During classes when we worked on our projects we were allowed to play music, provided everyone agreed to the selection. It was an unusual treat and one we savored.

One person in particular–whose name I’ve long forgotten–was the self-appointed arbiter of music and we pretty much went along with his picks.

He really liked Cheap Trick, who were a new band at the time.But he also liked The Cars, another new band.

We listened to a lot of Cheap Trick.

But he also liked The Cars, another new band at the time.

When I listen to the album now, it not only invokes memories of the class, I am reminded of how the album plays like a greatest hits collection. There are a lot of songs here that got radio play. I’m also impressed all over again at Ric Ocasek’s writing skills. The lyrics are funny and quirky and the music is catchy and inventive, effortlessly switching off from ringing guitars to cheesy organ and back again. The album is a brief 35 minutes long and it races from beginning to end, a near-perfect pop joyride.

Plus it has the lyric “Let them brush your rock and roll hair,” which is exactly what you’d expect the good times to do. Right?

Right.

The family, 1968 (?)

And to end the month here’s a photo of the entire family from around 1968 or so.

The family circa 1968

From left to right: Mom, me, Carole, Terri, Dad, Barry, Ricky

From the previous post, you can see my claim to being a skinny ass kid is accurate. My legs are sticks. I can’t even keep my comfy wool socks from slipping off. I seem pretty happy, though, possibly because I’m finally off the bottle.

While the fashions seen here are pretty jazzy, I am especially intrigued by what my brothers are wearing. The jackets are fine–they’d even look fine in the 21st century. But the black and white-striped pants that are inches too short? I just don’t know. No, wait, I do know. They look ridiculous. This must have been a fad, however brief, in the late 60s. Both brothers seem to be compensating for the pants by adopting tough guy looks. I think Rick may be holding a skateboard, which also helps a little to compensate.

I don’t recall my sisters ever wearing these knee-high socks except in photos like this one.

I remember the orange couch, though. We eventually got a green one with a floral pattern but for years the orange couch dominated the living room, demanding–and receiving–attention from all who entered.

Me, 50 years ago

I can’t really articulate how much it bothers me that I have photos that were taken of me from half a century ago, except that I’m happy to still be around and embarrassed by them. I’ve recently scanned in a pair from 1967. There’s no date beyond the year so I would have been between two and three years old.

The first photo is an outdoor shot of me and my brother Rick standing in the front yard of our house on Trunk Road in glorious Duncan, BC.

Me  with my brother Rick, 1967

You know, it may not be my brother at all, but the size and hair seem to fit.

Mostly I can’t figure out what sort of hat I am wearing. It looks like a motorcycle helmet made out of fluff. I seem mildly embarrassed by it. How ironic that in years to come I would willingly subject myself to far greater fashion crimes.

This next photo is a rare color one from the same year.

Me chilling on the couch, 1967

I seem much happier here and why not? I’m not wearing the fluff helmet, I’m snuggled in comfy jammies with the little feet built-in and I’ve…got my bottle?

Yes, that is clearly a baby bottle in my lap but as you can also see I am clearly not a baby in the photo. I have teeth and everything. This led me to wonder at what age you stop bottle-feeding your kids and I found a Time article that suggests the bottle should be taken away between 12 and 18 months. Clearly, this did not happen here, unless I was just keeping the bottle warm for the younger sibling I never knew I had. Mind you, the same study said that late bottle feeding increases the risk of obesity and I was one skinny ass kid.

But maybe I kept thin by ingesting all the second-hand smoke floating around. Every adult back then had lit cigarettes in their mouths, in their hands or in an ashtray.

I have no idea who is knitting next to me but that posture surely can’t be good for the back. Also, rad red pants.

Finally, I think my mom took this photo. The clue is the blurry digit in the top-right corner. As a photographer, my mom had two specialties: including her fingers as subjects, and lopping off the tops of people’s heads. I was too short here, thus my head was spared.

Thirty years in Vancouver: the ups, downs and sideways

I moved to Vancouver in August 1986 to take a job at Expo 86. I was 21 years old and paid $4 an hour to work in a souvenir store. This was actually 35 cents above minimum wage. I felt like I was living the high life. I quit a week later after being moved to a shift that ended at midnight (I was young and temperamental) but after thinking about heading back to the island I ultimately decided to stay.

Thirty years later and I’m still here (I’m in New Westminster as I write this, so technically outside of Vancouver proper but still in the ephemeral area known as the Lower Mainland). A few things have changed. Prices, for example. Observe!

  • 1986: one zone transit fare is $1.15
  • 2016: one zone transit fare is $2.75
  • 1986: one-zone monthly pass is $46
  • 2016: one-zone monthly pass is $91

The rent for my first bachelor apartment in downtown Vancouver was $330 per month. This seems like make-believe now, the kind of thing you tell kids and they laugh and say, “LOL, you and your crazy stories, Gramps!”

Today I walked along Robson Street for the first time in quite awhile. Some things haven’t changed–the London Drugs that was there in 1986 is still there now. Earls is still above it. The dueling Starbucks at Robson and Thurlow have been reduced to a single store–but not to worry, several others have sprung up along the strip to compensate.

The original Vancouver Public Library at Robson and Burrard has changed hands a few times, starting as a Virgin Megastore then changing to an HMV before music as physical media finally and truly died. It is now a giant Victoria’s Secret store. Where once people sought knowledge and enlightenment they now seek lacy lingerie.

An old building on Thurlow that once housed a McDonald’s has been replaced by an edifice featuring Versace. This pretty much sums up downtown now. Tony, expensive. Dull.

And crowded, as there are only three shopping days left before Christmas.

I headed over to Nelson Street to see if the old Beverly apartment building, one of the first places I lived in (circa 1987-88) was still standing–and it is! I am actually a little surprised because with real estate downtown being mega-super-insanely expensive, I would have thought this dumpy little walk-up–that my drunk landlord tried to burn to the ground one night–would be long gone.

Beverly Apartment, Dec. 22, 2016

It even looks better now than it did back then. In 1988 it was painted a much darker brown and looked like a big square poo. This is definitely a step up. Rent is probably $1500 a month now.

By this time I was starting to get cold because it’s winter and winter is like that, so I headed to the warm climes of Pacific Centre mall. My brief, incomplete tour of downtown surprisingly didn’t leave me feeling nostalgic, probably due to a combination of the crowds, cold and so many shops and other places having been replaced. The streets are there, the layout is the same but it feels like a lot of what made the area what it was in 1988 is gone now. Maybe I’ll feel different if I go back in the summer. I’ll put that on my 2017 to-do list, assuming Trump doesn’t nuke the world first.

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Guilty pleasures

A few weeks ago I moved a notch higher on the “yep, gay” scale when I bought Barbra Streisand’s album Guilty. Actually, it was more like I had gone up a notch back in 1980 when the album originally debuted (I had it on 8-track, of course), then dipped when I got rid of my 8-track tapes because it was a horrible crime of a music playback medium. So really, I’ve just returned to my 1980 level. As befits someone getting older, I’ve recently gone trolling through the music of my youth, buying a clutch of albums from the olden days when CDs were new and novel (or yet to exist). Here are a few quickie reviews of each in this modern and scary year of 2016 (all albums save Guilty I had not owned previously):

Guilty (Barbra Streisand), 1980. Collaborating with Barry Gibb and his brothers, at times this album sounds exactly like what you’d expect–a Bee Gees album fronted by Streisand. Some of the musical flourishes are very much of their time but in the end Streisand’s vocals elevate the production. “Woman in Love” is the highlight here. The lyrics are merely serviceable, the music, apart from a dramatic organ chord, is nothing special, but Streisand’s singing is powerful.

Boston (Boston), 1976. There’s a lot more organ on this album than I expected. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. This is arena-friendly rock, its power chords anchored by Brad Delp’s dexterous, soaring vocals (which turned “More Than a Feeling” into a massive hit). The music flirts with a more prog rock sound at times but never strays far from being manly man rock and roll. It’s fun and a bit silly.

Reckless (Bryan Adams), 1984. The album is appropriately described on its iTunes page as “so overstuffed with classic-rock-radio perennials, it practically qualifies as a greatest-hits collection.” This is Adams refining his sound and style and getting everything right. The album barrels along, with a pause for the ballad “Heaven” so you can catch your breath before it speeds off again. It’s all catchy as hell and Adams rough-edged vocals add just the right amount of grit to this rollicking effort. It’s an album whose ambition is to be nothing more than solid rock and roll and it delivers big time.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), 1973. Amazingly, this was already John’s seventh album, a sprawling double disc (remember “discs”?) that shifts musical styles throughout, effortlessly switching from prog rock to reggae and on to simple ballads and arena rockers. Some of the subject matter is a bit odd (Roy Rogers?) but the sheer variety and the way John confidently blazes through every song holds it all together. As with Guilty, it is often John’s vocal work that lifts the material to a higher level.

My favorite video games from a hundred years ago

Pong was the first popular video game. I first played it in a darkened pizza restaurant in 1974, the video screen casting an eerie blue glow on those gathered around it. I was nine years old.

And hooked.

In 1976 we got the home version of Pong. It had two control knobs built into the console. My brother used his advanced high school electronics wizardry to pry the knobs out and then attach them to longer wiring, allowing us to sit back and play while reclining on those giant weird pillows that were so popular in the 70s. It was great.

Through the mid-70s and early 80s, my love of video gaming saw me spending many an hour in video game arcades–my first full-time job was handing out quarters at an arcade. The job was about as exciting as it sounds, but it was still cool to be surrounded by the light and noise of forty arcade cabinets. My manager was less impressed when a group of teenage boys gathered around a machine one night, managed to jimmy it open, and then empty all the quarters from it. Hey, I just thought they were really into Sub-Roc 3D.

Looking back, some of my memories and recollections of arcade games include:

  • the Williams games were technically dazzling and impossible for me to play competently. These included Defender, Stargate (no relation to the movie or TV series) and Robotron 2084. I loved these games but my roll of quarters would vanish all too quickly attempting to play them. I’m pretty sure I lost a ship just pressing the one player button in Defender.
  • while I enjoyed Time Pilot, there was something almost transcendental about its sequel, the space-oriented Time Pilot 84, that really hooked me. I actually got pretty good at this one. A local laundromat in Vancouver had it and I probably spent more money on it than others did doing their laundry.
  • I never quite mastered Dragon’s Lair but could play through (the superior) Space Ace with a single quarter. It was pretty much watching a cartoon with a joystick. That sounds wrong and in a way it was.
  • A friend and I played Super Mario Bros as player vs. player since you could push or otherwise manipulate the other player into the crabs, turtles and mean ice cubes. You didn’t get points by indirectly offing the other player but in a way that made it even better.
  • I remember thinking laser disc games were not the future. I was right (fortunately). Williams had one called Star Rider that was decent, cleverly using the laser-y part as a fairly seamless background to a respectable racing game (there’s even a YouTube video).
  • The cocktail table version of Ms. Pacman was awesome. Suddenly, standing in an arcade was obsolete (several arcades started providing stools).
  • The Movieland Arcade in Vancouver was one of my regular haunts and had a row of Sega’s Daytona USA machines near the front. Racing against friends was great fun. The arcade and those Daytona USA machines are still there more than twenty years later, but the arcade always looks forlorn and empty. The sign in the window also still advertises “girlie movies” in the back. I never watched the girlie movies.
  • by the mid-80s, we reached a kind of golden age of arcades. Most games were still 25 cents, with new games sometimes being 50 cents. Graphics had improved dramatically so titles like Toobin’ still look pretty good today. Home consoles were in the pre-Playstation era, so arcades still had a place with a technically superior presentation. That would fade by the early 90s. Coincidentally I was edging toward 30 and my own interests began pulling me away.
  • a friend and I played Cyberball against the Deluise brothers. I don’t remember why they were in Vancouver at the time.
  • another friend and I would drive from Duncan to Victoria to play games like Star Rider and Crystal Castles at Xanacade. Yes, we drove nearly an hour just to play video games. Both ways, in the snow!

Video arcades still exist, mostly on the appeal of massive novelty machines that cost a lot more than a mere quarter, but like many things you adore in your youth (hello, Mad magazine), the magic has faded. Alas and such.

Things I don’t miss from the 1970s

In 1970 I was six years old. Candy bars cost ten cents and I had a monster green tricycle that could easily have been featured in a kids horror movie. Maybe any horror movie. It was a terror to behold and to ride.

But for all the nostalgia I have for those formative years from age six to sixteen, there are a few things I’m happy to have left behind:

  • the 8-track tape. I’ve written about this before so suffice to say that as a music format it was terrible.
  • long hair. What was I thinking? I was not thinking.
  • rotary dial telephones
  • TVs with knobs, TVs without color
  • Pop Rocks candy
  • that KISS TV movie
  • puberty