In My Day

Rants from a 30 Something Curmudgeon

That Corner Store

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In my day, another lifetime, or perhaps someplace imagined, neighborhoods and towns were woven with the fabric of not just the residents, but the locally owned businesses that occupied the buildings.  I’m probably a part of the last generation that remembers a world without the de facto Wal-Marts in every town or the constant corner wars between the CVS’ and Walgreens.  Are neighborhood groceries still a thing?  The 20 somethings are probably the last generation that will vaguely remember a world where renting movies didn’t involve the constantly changing membership plans of Blockbuster, or the vastly greater ease of Red Box.

It’s easy to see, given the video store example, why so many embraced the march of retail progress.  Where we once wondered the racked isles like glazed eyed ghosts, we now hop online, reserve a movie at the local Red Box, and swipe our card.  That is unless we want to front the extra scratch for something On-Demand.  After all, we live in a society of instant gratification.

In no way am I a tech hater.  I love my Kindle.  It’s just that I also love physical books, and many of the stores that sold them.  The book thing is best left for a later post.  Back to point.  Local businesses.  I remember when I was an avid comic collector.  Every two weeks I would have my mom take me to Broadway Comics in Fort Wayne.  It was a den in the finest sense of the word. Cardboard boxes filed with precision.  Each one holding hundreds of awesome adventures.  It had a constant scent of newsprint and the midwest air that got trapped inside each time the door opened.  You could tell the people had a stake in the success of the business, if they did not directly own it.  They took the time to know their customers and if I forgot to check a specific comic on my order list that they knew I would want, they held it back.  They even did this for the Death of Superman when the price was inflated Thanksgiving Day Parade style.  It was the kind of store that added to the community.  Sadly, it burnt down and never pulled a phoenix.

Another such store was McVan’s Video Games.  For years I was an avid customer.  I would walk into the tacky orange painted store with my old games in hand, ready to trade them for another cartridge.   Then cartridges gave way to CDs.  It was there I bought my Japanese Dreamcast, Playstation, and so on.  By the time the PS2 came along, I was employed there.  I wore the fugly orange shirt with a certain level of pride as I sold video games to the citizens of Fort Wayne and surrounding areas.  I can’t say I was a model employee. Every Halloween, I made it a point to place the spooky games on demo.  Pure brilliance, really.  And I had the pleasure of working with some great people, many  who I would still gladly enjoy their company over a pint or two.  As things often go, other opportunities presented themselves and it was time to move on.

Even though I was free of the blinding orange shirt and walls, I never had a job I enjoyed more.  I remained a regular customer for years after my employment.  It was to me what a hardware store or barber shop is to less nerdy of men.  When we were looking for a house to raise my kid, one of the perks of my new neighborhood was that it was in walking distance to the McVan’s I held employment at some years prior.  Often I walk my still baby daughter down in her stroller to pick up a game or a Sesame Street DVD and visit with some old friends.

Some years ago, the owner sold the store to some entrepreneurial from out of town.  The original owner built up the store from nothing and a small loan.  And the dude knew marketing.  In less than a decade, he made McVan’s a household name.  Either through cheesy commercials or newly printed signs.  Whatever he did, it worked.  I can’t say the same dedication was displayed by the new owner.  Now, I don’t know any specifics, and if I did, it’s not my place to pass along hearsay.  Why add to the shaky info on the internet?  But I do know that some really smart and dedicated people still worked at the store.  And I find it impossible to believe the store would of failed, had they had the proper backing from an owner that actually was involved with the store.  After the last Gamestop is in ruins, people will still be looking for classic gaming.  Instead of selling the  high points of a business, retro gaming, offering something different, customers were greeted with sun bleached signs from a bygone era.

But that’s not venture capitalism.  That’s old school capitalism, where some one has a connection to a place they created, where the employees have a similar connection, and where the community has the strongest connections….  I need an edit

As I was going into some rant about venture capitalism, disconnection with the customers, and the death of neighborhood identity, I was informed that my old co-workers from Mcvan’s were having a bit of a get together in the room a few feet from me. No, seriously, just as I was writing this.  I walked in as saw familiar faces, faces that I missed for some years now, faces that I don’t see often enough.  Each face belonging to a person who now has to find a new job, or are seeing their friends in that position.  I saw a congregation of people I thought would never happen again.  Each one laughing, exchanging memories as if they were baseball cards.  So maybe my part in this isn’t to take a scalpel to the twitching frog, but to mark the passing of an era, at least the best I can.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a place you worked or frequent becomes a bit more than that.  It becomes a memory, a placeholder to a time where things just worked better.  And you realize how lucky you were to be a part of that.  And how much richer your community was to have it.  So, to close the bitter and end with the sweet; I feel Fort Wayne has lost something important, I feel that this isn’t new and at some point every town my be the same as every town.  Each experience the same, chain stores as far as the eye can see.  But I’m pretty damn lucky to have known the way things were.  And maybe, if enough of us remember, our children will know that as well.  If these places, and we all have them, made an impact then we have a road map for our future.  Personally, I am getting pretty goddamn sick of saying, “In my day.”

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Written by Jess Boldt

June 11, 2012 at 12:28 am

Trick or Treating

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In my day, Trick or Treating was something cherished, something sacred.  Children and homes were not forced to limit their Halloween adventure to two measly hours.  Seriously, only two hours once every year for children to Halloween isn’t enough.  It’s not enough time for a child to wear the costume that they have been waiting weeks to show off.  It’s not enough time to fill a large bag of candy and treats, a small bucket, maybe.  It’s not worth the time that homeowners spent, setting up spooky displays, to give the Trick or Treaters a sense of wonderment.  It’s just not enough for Halloween.

Sometime during the past decades, local politician and law enforcement saw an easy punching bag with Trick or Treating.  There was a lot of bad reasoning and worse decision-making, based on half-truths, scare mongering, and a media desperate for ratings.  So, let’s look at some of the potential reasoning behind the restrictive hours.

1. CANDY DANGERS

During the 1980’s, news media was rampant with stories of tampered candy.  Needles, razor blades, poison, in millions of pieces of candy, if one was to believe the alarmist media, whose motto was often, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  The truth regarding candy scares was far, far less than what many people thought. So, if the chances of getting poisoned candy is so low, almost non-existent given the number of pieces of candy passed out each year, this obviously can’t be a good reason to shorten the hours.  If people are still worried, common candy checking practices should eliminate any fears, not ridiculous hours that suck the joy out of the holiday.

2.  Vandalism

Perhaps the reason for the shortened hours is because of the rolls of TP that fly through the air, and other such mayhem on personal property.  But shortening the hours doesn’t really make sense.  First off, much of these acts happen around Halloween, and not necessarily on Halloween.  Granted, some does.  But not when the streets are filled with children and parents enjoying the tradition of fun and community.  Shortening the hours only gives the miscreants more time to do their various acts of mischief.

3. Traffic Dangers

This is the only reason that makes any kind of sense, but not much.  Children are already out while it’s dark and safety needs to be practiced by them, their parents, and motorists.  Reflective costumes, not dark ones should be encouraged.  Small children should NEVER go out alone.  Stick in groups.  But these are things that families already do.  The effort needs to be placed on awareness and education, not on restricting a parent’s right to allow their kid to form amazing Halloween memories.

It’s not much to ask that we give our children the same opportunities we had to have the kind of fun that a good night of trick or treating can bring.  It’s not much to ask for an extra hour.  It should be even less to ask that we as parents, homeowners, citizens and human beings be allowed to choose how celebrate the holiday, and a tradition America has made uniquely its own.  It doesn’t make sense that the local government can tell me, as a homeowner, how long I can leave my porch light on.  It doesn’t make sense for those people to tell me that I can’t take my family around the neighborhood at 8:30.  It makes even less sense that the government can tell me not to warmly welcome my festive neighbors and fill their kid’s pumpkin shaped buckets with treats.  There’s a point where we have to say, this is our community, we can do Trick or Treating safely without city mandated hours.  No one is suggesting that kids stay out until Midnight, going to every house to beg for candy.

The great thing about Trick or Treating is that is already has some great rules built-in.  If a porch light is off, don’t go up to the door.  Say thanks after the candy is given.  Compliment kids on their costumes.  Let’s face it, most of the year we close ourselves off to only a small number of friends and family, losing a sense of community.  Halloween Trick and Treating reminds us that we’re all neighbors, and we need to enjoy our community.

Limiting Trick or Treating hours maybe and easy target in local politics.  To some, it may seem like common sense.  To many of us, it’s absolutely ridiculous to only allow 2 measly hours of Trick or Treating fun because of irrationality and fear.  That’s why this year, I’ll be leaving my porch light on that extra hour.  If some Trick or Treaters show up, who am I to deny them a few bits of candy?  And who is anyone to tell me when to turn that light off or who I can turn away.  If you feel the same, leave your light on for one hour.  Is it civil disobedience?  I doubt it.  It’s making our community what it should be, and Halloween what it is.

Trunk and Treat and Pseudo Trick or Treating Practices.

Thanks to an awesome commenter on the Leave Your Porch Light ON Facebook page for pointing out this practice.  In all the irrational fear of Halloween, people and organizations have started to create events that try to create a trick or treating atmosphere, without the adventure and community involvement.  As discussed earlier.  These events really do not contribute to expanding community beyond our pre-established groups.  Please don’t get me wrong, these events are fine but not suitable replacements for Trick or Treating.   What’s the point of decorating your home or apartment if nobody is going to ring the bell on Halloween?

If you, like millions of other people, have fond memories of dressing up, exploring your neighborhood, meeting great neighbors, sharing in a sense of community, and getting a ton of candy, then you already know what this experience means and what it can mean to the children of today.  Get your neighbors, friends, and family involved in preserving Trick or Treating. And remember to Leave Your Porch Light On.

Written by Jess Boldt

October 11, 2010 at 4:13 am

Posted in Tradition

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Arcades of Futures Past

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In my day there were real arcades instead of these junk closets that try to pass themselves off as arcades.  As my wife and I were walking through Glenbrook mall, I started to bitch about the fact that they tore out all the character and replaced it by generic store fronts and multiple pretzel shops.  Okay, the pretzels are pretty tasty. * SIDE NOTE: Does anyone from the Fort Wayne area remember the dimly lit cobblestone area where H&M is now?  I digress.

My wife, being more reasonable than I started to suggest improvements to counteract the sterility of the mall.  One of the first things she suggested were arcades.  My mind reeled back to happier days, when the mall had not one, but two arcades.  The first one, Tilt, was a rather large and showcased the latest games.  The second was Goldmine, a much more modest arcade, nestled in the recess of what is now an overcrowded food court.  An ice skating rink once occupied the area now filled with pushy food vendors shoving chicken bits in everyone’s face.

Tilt was the main arcade.  The neon storefront sign called to us like a drunken carnival Barker. “Come, one and all!  We have games that will amuse and excite the senses.  We have fighters, adventure games, holographic games, and games that you can play with four friends at time.  Come and be entertained.”

How many parents felt the tug of smaller hands on their clothes as they passed by?  I cannot guess.  What is certain is that each parent would look down to see that hand stretched out, awaiting to be filled by quarters and dollar bills.  Any of us with some spare change would just disappear into glowing abyss, assuming our parents just knew that a fight to resist would be fruitless.  Then of course there was the constant scenes of the unlucky whose parents either did not have the time nor money to allow such diversions.  The piercing squeal of a kid whining the phrase, “WHY NOT?” was enough to stop any shopper for a brief moment, and perhaps force them to reflect on a more cruel reality flowing underneath the tides of mall consumerism.

The Tilt represented all that was good and pure about arcades.  People of all creeds coming together to challenge each other and themselves in the splendid electronic pageant.  As soon as the threshold was crossed, one would immediately be jolted out of the fog caused crushing hours of grownups digging through clearance racks.  The bright lights and bleeping sounds from dozens, probably more, games ensured that any kid was roused to a state of euphoric bliss within brief, electrifying moments.  People gathered around watching games like Time Traveler amaze the viewers with FMV and a holographic display.  Lines of determined youth waited in line, clinching sweaty quarters, ready for their change to challenge the dexterous champion in a match of Street Fighter 2.  The unmistakable chorus quarters being taken from a small pile on a control panel, dropped into the red glowing slot one by one.  One could just stand there for a moment, admiring the beauty that is the organized chaos of the arcade.  The quarters,  ever feeding the agonizing joy of trying to finish X-Men before a unsypathetic steward came to yank one out of that ecstasy.

The Goldmine was a bit different.  As stated earlier, it rested behind the skating rink, away from the eyes of parents.  The yellow marquee’s illumination was a bit dimmer, the noise radiating was a bit more stark.  The darkened entrance, not a loud neon sign, was what called to those willing to venture away from the bright lights of main path.  It was a dark whisper which was carried by the faint cigarette smoke wafting the cavern.  “This place may not be for you.  There may be things here you are not ready for, forbidden, alluring things perhaps not for your eyes.”  How could such a voice be refused?

The Goldmine was much smaller in design, perhaps 1/4 of the size of Tilt, maybe less.  It didn’t boast the newest games, nor the best.  Classics and pinball were more it’s flavor.  The crowd was generally older, more weathered than the patrons of Tilt.  Teenagers and hustlers were the denizens of this arcade.  Cigarettes emptied their ash into the tin trays attached to Donkey Kong and Ice Climbers.  The dampened moist sounds of two teens making out in the darkest of corners could be heard in between the various 8-bit soundtracks and swear words.  It was truly a place of sin and wonderment.

Today, those experiences are lost to the ever progressing wheel of change and market research.  The first blow to arcades came with the increasing popularity and capability of the home consoles.  I don’t think that’s what dealt the deathblow.  No, it was something more sinister, kids started to shop for the latest double layered abercrombie fare.

All that is left of the arcades are cheap little holes where many of the games don’t work, and the emphasis is placed on earning tickets to purchase a toy for 100 times the price when everything is said and done.  Sometimes while walking through the bright sterile hallways of the mall, If the lighting is just right and the air still enough, I swear I can hear the ghosts of those old machines, calling out in fainted beeps for anyone with a quarter and some time.

Written by Jess Boldt

September 8, 2010 at 3:05 am

Saturday Morning

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In my day we had a weekly holiday called Saturday Morning.  Sure, Saturday mornings still exist in the way that Wednesday mornings exist, but Saturday Mornings, capital M, were something all together different.  On a normal day I would find anyway to get a few extra minutes of sleep.  If this meant sneaking into a closet to nestle in the off season clothing, so be it.  Saturday Mornings were the exception.  It didn’t matter how late I was up the night before, there was a drive to fling my little body out my G.I. Bed Tent.  This often led to injuries given that it was perched on the top bunk.  Still in pajamas, I would walk past the shower and into straight to the kitchen where I would proceed to make a bowl of multi-colored compressed sugar with milk.  It was time to turn on the television and enjoy Saturday Morning.

The tubes warmed into a crecendo of static electricity.  The television lit up with flashing imagery that delighted the young mind into a joyous comfort that few moments could bring.  For the next few hours the world belonged to every kid who rolled themselves out of bed just to enjoy a few hours of cartoons.  For my household, like many others in the 1980’s, cable television was more of a luxury.  There were three basic network stations and PBS.  I personally perfered CBS’s line up.  Show’s like Muppet Babies, Garfield and Friends, Dungeon and Dragons, and CBS Story Break were among my favorites.  Of course a skilled watcher would know when to flip channels to maximize the enjoyment.  The only thing that brought down the elation was seeing Soul Train or ABC’s Wide World of Sports signal the end of the morning.  Thus starts another week of waiting.  The rest of the week belonged to our parents, school, and the other regulators of childhood, but during Saturday Morning, it was our time alone.

One could argue that many of the shows were just long commercials, being that so many were based on toys.  That maybe true, but it does nothing to detract from the moment they created.  We lived in happy times, blissful in our childlike ignorance, completely unaware that there were dark forces who were consipring to end Saturday Mornings forever.  Not only would they put their nefarious plans into action, but they would win.

The first group of people were the worried parents who wanted to over sanitize Saturday Morning.  Cartoons were constantly being bombarded by parent groups who worried that cartoons were not educational enough or or too violent.  Some groups complained that many of the cartoons were just selling toys, which many were.  But hey, still very entertaining.  In 1990, the FCC mandated that a certain amount of hours be set aside primarily for educational or informative purposes, thus the E/I label on many shows today.  Some good things did come out of this push.  The PSA’s we all remember and love were born out of this movement.  Who could forget Woodsy Owl, OG Readmore, and the many others.  Thanks to this one, I still don’t refuse to drown my food.

Indeed, Saturday Mornings could have very well survived these groups and initives, but cable was growing in popularity as well as VHS tapes.  There was less need to wait for Saturdays to see cartoons.  Still, Saturday Morning would have survived.  So what was the final bullet?  Saved By the Bell.  NBC decieded to run the live action show on Saturday Mornings.  The show did well among older kids and inspired NBC to run another show called California Dreaming.  Other networks started following course and the perfect storm was created.  Saturday Mornings were gasping, drowning in the sea of change.

Saturday Mornings are little more than a nostalgia trip today for those of us who lived during the golden age of childhood.  Reality TV has even taken over networks like Cartoon Network. Disney Channel is not much more than a platform to shove teens with an inflated sense of entitlement into the public stream.  And to make matters more tragic, the actual state of childhood is being dimished by Abercrombie parents and networks who find it more profitble to market to the ficitous new class called Tweens.

Although Saturday Mornings may be dead, I still want my child to experience a small portion of the joy we had.  I’ve started collecting DVD’s of shows from that era.  And when she is old enough, she will have a reason to roll out of bed, load up on cereal and watch cartoons once a week.  A time that is worth saving.

Written by Jess Boldt

November 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Earning the Shame.

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In my day we had to work for our pornography.  We had to earn the shame.  I remember the first  VHS tape that fellinto my possession.  It had been copied from the original several times, played for about 12 minutes with broken tracking, and was in Swedish.  None of those issues dampened the heart pounding excitement of walking home with such an illicit tape hidden in the depths of my backpack.  I knew the excitement a diamond smuggler must feel while trying to cross a well guarded border.  When I got home I called my mom twice, just to confirm she would not be home for some time.  I closed all the blinds, turned the sound down to barely audible, and dissolved my youthful innocence into the flickering images of acts, which up to that point, were merely school yard myths.  Screen shot 2009-11-05 at 11.55.52 AM

How did I get this dirty movie?  It wasn’t easy.  Louis held a secret meeting at his locker, and only his most trusted friends were allowed.  We gathered around a tight circle, each pair of eyes keeping watch for passing teachers.  He slowly pulled the worn cassette from the mountain of untouched homework assignments and broken trapper keepers.  None of us could believe it was real.  Hell, anything could have been on that tape.  Louis swore to God it was real, causing our jaws to drop in cartoon fashion.  This is the moment the bidding wars began.  Each boy dug through their pockets, backpacks, and lockers in order to come up with an offering grand enough to loosen the steel grip Louis had on the tape.  As a matter of luck, I had a gameboy game I no longer played.  The porno was mine despite the pleas of the other boys.  So it began.

Sure, that wasn’t the first time I saw sex in media.  A friend and I came into possession of a worn out Adam and Eve catalogue the previous summer.  We found it in the woods where we played.  I kept it hidden behind a large bush in front of the house before the neighbor lady found it.  I was quick to say that I saw the older neighbor kid burying something in the area.  Blame was better than getting caught  The tape was different, it was explicit and forbidden.  I  mis-labeled it “PBS Special” in the event of discovery.  I held on to it as long as I could until the temptation to brag about it got the better of me.  My friends asked me repeatedly if they could borrow it.  I finally gave in, and never saw it again.

imagesIt wasn’t until a couple of years later that we were hooked up to the world-wide web with blazing 56kbps speed.  But even this wasn’t convenient.  I was not privileged enough to have a computer in the privacy of my bedroom.  Being young and naive, I took the 18 years old only warnings with some trepidation.  After all, we were pioneers in a strange land with strange rules.  The biggest inconvenience was obviously the speed and quality of downloads.  There are few words to describe the anticipation of a slowly downloading bitmap file.   We were on a time limit, and it could easily be 5 minutes before one even knew if the picture was worth the effort.  What boy from the era cannot remember the frustration of almost seeing digital naked bits before the download stopped or they heard the dreaded sound of the front door opening.  It was dangerous ground indeed.  One wrong click could lead some unexpected viewer to things I still wish not to see.

Today is far different.  There isn’t any ritual.  In the age of high-speed internet and computers in every room, the mystique, the danger, is lost.  We had to work for our smut.  The process taught us valuable life lessons. Don’t get caught, don’t loan out something you’ll miss, people will pretend to like you for your stuff, remember where you put things  Anymore it’s just a few taps on a laptop or iPhone, and there you are, a virtual world of unsatisfying porn.  Because it wasn’t just about the images of nakey time, it was about the adventure.

Written by Jess Boldt

November 5, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Posted in Media

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