Apropos of nothing (no, really), here are some things from life which no longer really exist and which I am glad do not.
1. Stupidly expensive long-distance charges. After I left college, I tried to keep in touch with all my friends by phone, and it added up because depending where they were, calling pals could cost up to 40 cents a minute. When my sister briefly lived with me when I was in Fresno, between the two of us we could generate $600 phone bills on a monthly basis, at a time when I was paying $400 a month for an apartment. Yes! I was occasionally paying more for my phone bill than I was for having a place to eat and sleep. Naturally, this was madness.
These days, my long distance phone bill is a flat fee of something like $25; I literally can’t think of the last time I had to think about how long I could afford to talk to someone far away on the phone. The phone companies appear to have shifted their Egregious Profit Center from long distance to text messaging, which, as I am not one of Those Damn Kids and rarely text message (and have a $5 add-on to my cell phone account which covers the first 250 texts a month, which is more than I use), suits me just fine.
The real irony here is that I’m rather more likely to e-mail or IM friends than phone them these days, so likely my phone bill would be lower now than back in ’91 no matter what. But it’s the principle of the thing.
2. Crappy old cars. Which cars qualify as crappy old cars? In my opinion, pretty much all of them. Pre-catalytic converter cars were shoddily-constructed, lead-spewing deathtraps, the first generation of cars running on unleaded were even more shoddily-constructed 70s defeat-mobiles, the 80s were the golden age of Detroit Doesn’t Give a Shit, and so on. You have to get to about 1997 before there’s a car I would willingly get into these days. As opposed to today, when even the cheap boxy cars meant for first-time buyers have decent mileage, will protect you if you’re hit by a semi, and have more gizmos and better living conditions than my first couple of apartments.
Yes, I know. Car lovers scandalized. Well, look. First, watch this:
Which I think makes the point about “death traps” I was mentioning earlier.
Second, every time I go back to LA, you know what always surprises me? The mountains. Because when I was kid growing up in LA, you couldn’t see them. I lived at the foothills of the damned mountains and I still couldn’t see them most of the time. Whereas these days first stage smog alerts in LA are a relative rarity, not even bringing into the discussion second stage alerts (in which you could see the air directly in front of you) and third stage alerts (in which you could chew it). And this was in the 70s and 80s, which were substantially better than the 50s and 60s. No, I don’t miss crappy old cars one bit.
3. Physical media for music. Audiophiles like to wank on about the warmth of vinyl, and you know, maybe if you take your vinyl and put it into special static free sleeves and then store those sleeves in a purpose-built room filled with inert gases, to be retrieved only when you play that vinyl on your $10,000 turntable which could play a record without skipping through a 7.5 earthquake, ported through your vacuum tube amplifier that sucks down more energy than Philadelphia at night, maybe it is warm. Good for you and your warm vinyl.
What I remember about my vinyl was a) it warped, b) it skipped, c) it wore out, d) any sonic benefits of the medium were compromised by my basic turntable and all the dust the damn LPs accumulated. Cassette tapes wore out even more quickly, their sonic reproduction was even worse, and they would get randomly eaten by your Walkman as a sacrifice to the music gods, and it was always your beloved music, not that Poison cassette your great aunt got you because she knows as much about your musical tastes as she knows anything else about you. I would have gladly sacrificed Look What the Cat Dragged In to the music gods, in their mercy. But it didn’t work that way. It never works that way.
Let us not even speak of 8-tracks.
CDs were the best possible physical music medium, for all the crap they get from audiophiles, but even CDs pale against the awesomeness that is the intangible digital music file, stored in a tiny, pretty little handheld computer that also plays video and games and lets me read my e-mail. I have three decades of curated personal music, enough to play straight for week without interruption or repetition, with me wherever I go. And while the encoding rate I used to rip “Don’t Stop Believin’” might not give me the crystal clarity I could get listening to it on vinyl, on a $10k turntable and through a McIntosh amp, I’ll say this: It sounds a hell of a lot better than when I was 12, listening to it on cassette through a mono tape player, or through the transistor radio alarm clock by my bed. Which is to say from a practical point of view it’s just groovy, thanks.
4. Smoking allowed everywhere. You know what? It did suck to have smokers at the table next to you at a restaurant. It did suck to have a movie theater haze up. It did suck to be walking in the mall and have some wildly gesticulating smoker randomly and accidentally jam the lit end of his cancer stick into your face. It did suck to be trapped in a tube hurling through the sky at 32,000 feet, sucking down recycled air for six hours that had cigarette smoke in it. It did suck to have everything everywhere smell vaguely of burnt ash and nicotine addiction.
Now, I’d note that it also sucks to be a smoker today, as they are exiled to the outdoors in every sort of weather, to huddle together for warmth and companionship in their devotion to the demon weed. They have my sympathy. But given the choice between telling them to go outside and having to suck down their smoke whether I want it or not, I’m good with the current state of affairs.
5. Pull tabs on drink cans. One less bit of ubiquitous trash to be annoyed with. To the dude who invented the stay tab: Bless you, sir.