Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Flip of the Switch

Different news stories and events can have such an immediate and lasting influence on one’s life. When I mentioned what I thought was a household name to my twenty year-old daughter—she had no idea who I was talking about.

The story I was telling my daughter took place during the late ‘70s. It was a time when “Christmas Break” was renamed at school to “Winter Break,” which, dur­ing the snowy Chicago winter of 1978-79, was an appropriate name.

It was during that first day of winter break, while driving home with Mom after a brief stint of Christmas shopping, that I first heard on the radio the story that rocked the Chicago area that Christmas season: The story of a contractor named John Wayne Gacy and the discovery of bodies buried in his crawl space. The young men, the serial killer murdered and buried under his house, were around the same age as Steve and Scott. This reality had a chilling effect on my parents, as it did on many of the peo­ple in Chicago area and the rest of the country. It would be several months before the excavation of the house was complete and all bodies were found. In the meantime, the newspapers would report as bodies were discovered, continually reminding the community of the sickening crime.

In Illinois, Gacy, who was later convicted of murdering 33 young men, became the poster boy for the death penalty. I don’t think you’d be too hard pressed to find a volunteer to “flip the switch,” so to speak, in 1979. While Gacy may not have earned any mercy, it’s possible the supporters of the death penalty in Illinois were a little too eager to apply the same standards to other criminals.

As it turns out there were a number of convicts on Death Row in Illinois that were wrongly convicted. On January 31, 2000, then Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions. It seems like the worst case scenario was taking place all too often in Illinois. Since that time there hasn’t been a public outcry in favor of the death penalty but then again there hasn’t been another case like that of John Wayne Gacy either.

'70s song of the day: "Le Freak" by Chic

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Old Commercials

When there were only seven channels on the TV to choose from, many of us watched the same shows and consequently saw the same commercials. And we saw them over and over again. Certain commercials had jingles that are hard to forget. Some of those jingles were nationally promoted products like Coca Cola and McDonalds but some of them were regional.

I’m sure there are people my age who know their own regional jingles that I would never recognize. There are of course many from the Chicago area that I’ll never be able to forget. Many can be found on a website I came across called fuzzymemories.tv. If you’re from the area or are curious about past Chicago TV culture, you should check it out.

Here’s one of my favorites: Call Boushelle now at Hudson 3-2700

'70s song of the day, "Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fill 'er Up

There was a time when service was important and the customer was king. Depending on the business and industry, service to the customer may still be important. One of the biggest changes in customer service that I experienced took place at the local gas station. Anyone my age or older will remember that gas stations used to be all about service. Like something similar to a drive up restaurant, you’d pull up to the pump, your car tripping a bell in the station telling the attendant there was a customer.

He would come out to the car with a friendly smile and ask, “What will it be, today?”

“Fill ‘er up with regular.”

The attendant would proceed to wash your windows and check your oil while pumping the gas. It was nice. But that’s the pleasant image of how that service worked.

Many changes come when demand changes. In the early days service and professionalism were important. Appearance was important. All gas stations offered full service. Standards gradually slipped. A gas station attendant’s service and appearance could vary greatly from station to station or even at your station of choice. There was also a chance that they might recommend unnecessary service. Customers became more wary, at least I did.

At some point in the 1980s many gas stations began to offer self-serve pumps, where the gas was slightly cheaper. Now the choice between waiting for a slow gas station attendant, who didn’t appear to know what he was talking about while trying to sell me on the idea of an oil change and me getting out and pumping my own gas for less money, was obvious. It must have been obvious to the majority of other people too because it wasn’t long before you couldn’t find a full service gas station anywhere.

Today, when I pull up to the pump and see the high prices, I think back to a time when you actually got some service for your money. Sometimes it’s funny how your perspective changes.

'70s song of the day: "The Streak" by Ray Stevens

Friday, May 15, 2009

Buckle Up

During the 1970s I spent a good deal of time visiting with Grandpa Hinesley. There were times while my grandma would be taking a nap that I would sit down and play a game or two of Dominos with Grandpa. And we would converse. Grandpa Hinesley loved to tell stories of the past and I loved to listen. He’d seen many changes over the course of his life, in culture, in technology, and in politics. Often he would tell the same story multiple times. It didn’t bother me. As I listened to the stories, I never once considered that one day, I would be sitting in Grandpa Hinesley’s chair.

I guess with the passage of time one should expect changes. We’ve seen quite a few just in the last twenty years. It’s sometimes the little changes that you don’t really consider. One of the many changes that always intrigued me was the evolution of seat belts and seat belt laws.

If you grew up in the 1970s or earlier, you probably had to develop the habit of putting on a seat belt when you entered a car. That’s because almost nobody wore seat belts. Why is that? Was everybody ignorant back then? No. One reason was that in the older cars, many of which had one continuous seat, it seemed like seat belts were an afterthought when it came to designing the car. They were almost always only lap belts. I remember people believing that you might be worse off with a seat belt because it would break your back or cause some other unintended injury. Besides after the first week of owning a car, seat belts would often disappear between the seat cushions.

In the 1980s as cars became smaller, safety became more prominent. Seat belts improved. They improved so much that it wasn’t too difficult to form the habit of putting them on. I did. But there was still a mixture of older vehicles on the road, where strapping on a seat belt was still inconvenient. Then came the first seat belt laws. Whether you agree with mandated safety laws or not, the evolution in the law is a great lesson in civics.

In Illinois, the first seat belt laws ran into trouble because of the possible infringement of personal liberty and conflict with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, so only those drivers pulled over for another offense could be ticketed for a seat belt violation. Over time, maybe because of some court ruling, I don’t know, the law changed so that a driver could be pulled over for a seat belt violation alone.

I can’t help but think of the warden’s comment after punishing Luke in the movie Cool Hand Luke “…it’s for your own good.” and Luke’s response “I wish you'd stop bein' so good to me, Captain.”

Since that time car seats and booster seats have been added to the list. All of which I used and would have used without the law.

As I sit and converse with my son, I know his world will also change with time. I wonder if he knows it.

'70s song of the day: "Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks

Thursday, May 14, 2009

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

During the editing process, I cut out certain sections I’d written for the book because they didn’t seem to move the story forward but could stand alone. Below is one such section. It’s the fascinating story of Willow Creek.

God Moves in Mysterious Ways

While growing up, if we had extra time on our hands or if there was a good film in the theaters, my family headed out to the movies. We were movie junkies. It didn’t matter what genre of film either. The quality of movies could vary during that time from great movies like Jaws or Star Wars, which had lines of anxious movie-goers that would wrap around the theater, to really bad movies like Old Dracula, which might draw five people.

We had several good movie theaters in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. In the mid ‘70s, many of them were showing disaster movies. Woodfield Theater was showing The Towering Inferno and Randhurst was showing Earthquake that had the added gimmick of Sensurround, a special sound system shook the theater during the movie. We’d venture out to the local drive-in theater on occasion but I don’t think my parents liked it very much when we stole glimpses out of the rear window at some adult movie playing on another screen. So we didn’t go to the drive-in too often. Sometimes I wasn’t allowed to see a film because I wasn’t old enough, so Mom would bring me and a friend out to see a kids’ movie.

During early months of 1975, I invited a friend to join me to see Snoopy Come Home, which had been re-released at various theaters in the area. One such theater was Willow Creek Theater in the village of Palatine. Willow Creek was very close by, just one exit south off of Route 53 on Northwest Highway. Our family would go there from time to time when there was a good movie showing. There was nothing unusual about going to Willow Creek to see a movie with a friend except that at the time, unbeknownst to us, there was a controversy brewing between the Palatine community and Willow Creek Theater.

During the early 1970s, movie theaters were a little different than they are today. Many of the theaters were independently run from each other. The screens had a tendency to be bigger than they are today and some theaters only had one screen. If a small theater happened to land a dud, like, say, Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, it could kill their income and they would struggle to stay in business. To make matters worse, there were a lot of bad movies during the 1970s. To offset that problem, some theaters ran re-releases of popular movies. That’s how I saw movies like The Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. These were the days before video or cable and if you wanted to see an uncut, uninterrupted film you had to go to the theater. Another way to get additional revenue, common to that time, was to show adult films late at night. In the early ‘70s that’s what the operators of Willow Creek Theater decided to do to help their struggling business.

Trouble began in January of 1975, when Willow Creek began showing the film The Sex Shop and people in the community complained to the village. The controversy played out over the course of the next three months in the headlines of the local newspaper, The Daily Herald. Willow Creek management argued that it was a matter of survival, while the protestors worried about a bad element coming to Palatine. By March, The Village of Palatine looked into possibly banning theaters from showing X-rated films within its borders. In Mid-March, Willow Creek Theater relented and chose to no longer show adult films. Willow Creek was faced with the problem of staying in business. Then something unexpected happened.

About seven months after vowing never again to show adult films, Willow Creek Theater gained a new tenant for Sunday mornings. The newly formed Willow Creek Community Church began to hold Sunday morning services at the theater. Led by Bill Hybels, the unconventional church grew quickly in popularity, focusing on people who felt they didn’t belong in a traditional church. It grew and grew. Meanwhile, Willow Creek Theater plugged away and every now and then showed a good movie. By 1981, realizing they had outgrown their theater home, Willow Creek Community Church had built a new spacious complex in South Barrington and made the final move in February. This didn’t help the theater. Within three years of the move, Willow Creek Theater was out of business and remodeled into a banquet hall. Willow Creek Community Church, however, thrived and has grown to become one of the biggest churches in the country and the name “Willow Creek” can be heard all around the world.

Of course, I didn’t care much about adult films, or church for that matter, as I stood in line at the concession stand before entering the theater to watch Snoopy Come Home. Mom gave me a little spending money if I went with friends to the movies, so I wanted to make good use of it.

“I’d like a large buttered popcorn and medium coke.”

After getting my popcorn, my friend and I along with Mom entered the almost empty theater to find a seat. I bet Mom was secretly glad they didn’t put in the wrong film.

'70s song of the day: "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Will you accept the call?

In the summer 1977, when Led Zeppelin was touring the United States and Jimmy Carter was President, I was swimming on two swim teams at the age of ten trying my best to become the next Mark Spitz. Obviously that didn’t happen. But it was after those practice sessions that I would do something that I haven’t done (in the United States) for at least twenty-five years; I would use a payphone. I dialed the operator and made a collect-call to my mom to have her pick me up.

“I’d like to make a collect-call.”

“What’s your name?”

“Tom Price”

Ring Ring

Mom’s voice was instantly recognizable, “Hello, Price residence.”

“I have a collect call from Tom Price, will you accept the call?”


By 1977 Mom had become clever enough to not accept the call, knowing already what she had to do.

The one area of technology that never seems to stop changing is the field of communications. In 1977 when I called Mom on the payphone, that was my best option. If I had the means or inclination I had several other ways to get her the message, although I would have beat the message home if I simply walked the way. I could have sent a telegram or a letter. Fax machines weren’t yet commonplace. There weren’t many other options open to me. And in 1977 if no one answered the phone, I was out of luck. There was no voice mail and our first bulky answering machine didn’t appear at our house until the early 80’s.

Today communication seems to be a priority – everyone is super important and must be able to be reached at a moments notice. The first sign of this trend seemed to be the beeper or pager. These were typically only carried by the “most important people” who would wear them like they were someone so indispensable the world would stop if they couldn’t be reached. But technology didn’t stop there. Off the top of my head I can think of three new wireless communication tools, in addition to older methods, that allow you to get a message out either by voice or text. Would I have been better off in 1977 with today’s technology? I guess that depends on your perspective. If Mom missed my call in 1977, I would have had an excuse to meet up with a friend and maybe go to the White Hen or have some other adventure.

'70s song of the day: "American Woman" by The Guess Who

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beginning After the Finish

This is my first entry into the world of blogging. The idea of blogging came to me after finishing my book, Last Hand: A Suburban Memoir of Cards and the Cold War Era. I intend for the blog to be an extension of some of the themes and topics I discuss in the book. Those topics will include; childhood in the 1960s and ‘70s, suburban life around Chicago—both past and present, family life, ’70s culture, and maybe some material that didn’t make the book. Like the book, I hope it will provide a glimpse into an American past, which may be recent, is nevertheless gone forever.

I hope as I address these topics you’ll join in with your thoughts, opinions, and memories. And if you haven’t already, perhaps you’ll take a look at my book and join my family, if even just for a moment.