I watch my kid sometimes as she sits on front of the computer, the same one I’m typing on now, and I wonder how many hours she can spend on Facebook. I can put up with it a little easier when I remember that Facebook is mainly communication. She’s “talking,” sort of, but I prefer she would – or we would – get outside and move. Do something. Ride a bike. Anything. Then, after a rather reminiscent post recently about childhood things, I also thought about something from about 35 years ago that kind of compared to Facebook. Because I have such a younger following (HA!), it’s likely you’ll have no clue what I’m talking about, but for those of us who have been around long enough, allow me to reach back into the past.
Most of us had a pair of walkie-talkies at some point in our childhood, and they were kind of cool until you were about 12. If you were extra nerdy like me, they were cool a little longer. If you were really into using walkie-talkies, you might have eventually graduated to the CB radio. If you don’t know, CB stands for Citizens Band radio, a two-way radio used for just regular people, citizens, to talk to each other just like the police and other agencies do. There were two kinds of CB’s: a base and a mobile unit. The mobile is for your car and comes in handy for finding speed traps on the highway, how the traffic is stacking up, how to find the road you thought you were on until you realized you were lost, or locating a good place to eat. Those are all worthy purposes, but the base unit was for your house.
Way back before cell phones, husbands, wives, and kids could keep in touch when someone was driving home from or to work or just anywhere. I had one in my car right up until the early 90’s until it was fairly easy to replace it with a cell phone. For a bunch of 15-year olds in 1977, it was our Facebook. Most of my friends had CB’s, pretty much as pictured here, in our bedrooms. We’d just talk, but actually talk to each other instead of typing comments in a little box. We’d have conversations with two, four, however many people there were within range. Sometimes we’d have conversations with people we didn’t know, never would know, but it was communication and meeting someone new. We’d usually have a TV on, watching a New York Rangers hockey game or re-runs of M*A*S*H or The Odd Couple or The Honeymooners. Talk about whatever happened in school that day or make plans for the weekend.
Like I said, it was our Facebook, but you couldn’t block anyone like people do to me now. Occasionally someone would listen to our conversations, but we would have no way of knowing unless they spoke up. Sometimes another conversation would begin at the same time on the channel you were on, and it would be like two pairs of people having two separate conversations in the same room, so you’d have to switch to another channel.
The first CB’s we had only went up to 23 channels, but later models went up to 40, and there were two channels you did not use unless necessary. Channel 9 was allegedly monitored by the state and local police, so we didn’t dare say a word there unless there was an emergency to report. The other channel you respected was 19, nationally known at the channel on which the truckers, other drivers, or people who needed to reach them. People used it to ask directions when lost or other helpful things that involved driving, like the speed traps I mentioned earlier. Somehow we were dumb enough to believe that those truckers would be able to find your house and beat the crap out of you if you messed around on their channel. CB’s were so popular that several movies were made in which the attempt at a plot centered around the use of CB radios.
Everybody had, or thought they had, a cool name, also known as a “handle.” It was a cool nickname you gave yourself to avoid using your real name, likely because there were just too many people with the same first name. After a while, we stopped using handles and just used our own names. For the life of me, I can’t remember my handle. The only one I can remember was my friend Mike who called himself “The White Eagle.” No clue where that could have come from, but I’m pretty sure race had nothing to do with it. In the summer when school was out, it was rather routine to still be involved in a conversation when the sun was coming up. It was also fairly regular for a conversation to evolve into a trip to 7-11 at about 2am for Cheese Doodles and black cherry soda. We’d meet somewhere like at the corner of Lake and Delafield Avenues before trekking to the only 24-hour convenience store like 7-11. Not sure how that would go over today when I think about it, four or five teenage boys strolling through suburban streets at 2am. A recipe for a nerd disaster. Damn kids, editing incorrect street signs and all that nonsense. I remember one that said “Scavangers will be prosecuted.” C’mon; really? Didn’t anyone in town know how to spell scavengers?
Not all of my nerdy radio friends were able to sneak out of the house at 2am. Some kids had very lenient parents. Some kids were just good at being quiet. Some kids had parents who cared and protected them for their own good. Me, I was sort of “lucky.” We had five kids and only three bedrooms, which allowed me to turn the basement into my bedroom. It also provided me with my own door in and out of the house. It was like having my own apartment. It was by no means a quiet door. I had to open and close it very carefully. I’m wondering how I’d react today if I found out that my teenage child had sneaked…snuck… left the house at 2 in the morning because she and her friends wanted some snacks. Yeah, I’d be pissed.
One particular friend, Dave, was part of our group and lived only a few blocks away from me. He had a fabulous sense of humor and could easily recite, as could all of us, most any George Carlin routine or classic quip from those old TV shows I mentioned before. He looked a lot like Bob Denver in Gilligan’s Island, which isn’t important other than for me to drop in another picture. I remember one night he was eating a slice of pizza as we talked on the CB while watching something on TV. Yeah, real multi-tasking. When I told him I was coming over for a slice, he said he had already finished it all but would mail the crust to me. Two days later there was a strangely shaped envelope with some grease stains in the mailbox.
Dave was funny, but he was not cool. Actually, none of us were cool, but he wasn’t even cool amongst the rest of us. It was his own fault though because Dave was notoriously cheap. If he ever gave you a ride anywhere, he’d ask for gas money, and this is back when gas was about 49 cents a gallon. This was back when we’d break into garages and siphon gas from lawn mowers. Hmmm. I was not a good kid, or not as good as I thought, nor as bad. Once time Dave was on his way to Madison Square Garden in New York to buy Rangers hockey tickets. He saw me on the street and asked if I wanted to take a ride with him, only about 10 miles from where we lived. When I said yes, he quickly asked for gas money, to which I replied that it was kind of weird for him to ask for money after inviting me to keep him company on his way to New York and back. That logic did not work on him, so he pulled over and I walked home feeling very uncool. On the radio, we could all be cool, just like today on Facebook or other semi-anonymous places we can all be cool. Even if you looked like Gilligan, you were still capable of believing you were someone much cooler. Hell, you could be – and you could make others believe anything you could think of.
Assuming you’re still reading, I know I have strayed a bit from the CB radio thing, but I’m going to bring it all back around now. Mostly. I said before that Dave had a brilliant sense of humor, and he demonstrated that best when we made prank or crank or phony phone calls, whatever you want to call them. Dave’s mother ran a business at home, so that allowed the luxury of two separate phones and two phone numbers. We would take the two different phones and put them together but reversed. Then with each phone we would dial two different phone numbers, attach a tape recorder, and then just let people be themselves. We would call two different people at random. Each would answer their phone knowing that theirs had rung, but what they didn’t know was that the other person’s phone had also rung. This would cause some very colorful arguments by two strangers insisting the other party had called them. A few times it seemed the two people were going to find each other and fight. Sometimes we’d call two different businesses, like a Chinese and an Italian restaurant and listen as they argued. We would call the home of a boy we knew and the home of a girl who we knew that the boy liked. We would hope they would each be the one to answer the phone, which would of course cause the girl to believe the boy had called her, and she would get very upset with him. I don’t believe that ever worked out, but we tried because it was all about communication.
I guess that’s what we’re always looking for, no matter which generation or its technology – communication and connecting with people. We sat up late into the night talking to people however far those radios carried. But now our kids are up late talking to people through Facebook or even WordPress. Oops. I’m sure we’ve all had some extended conversations by leaving comments on someone’s blog post. I know I’ve been part of a handful of Facebook and WordPress comment discussions that went well beyond 100 replies, but these are now global discussions. It’s not just Dave, Mike, Ken, and me sitting in our rooms talking through a radio and hoping our parents couldn’t hear us. Now we’ve got the whole world covered. I’ve had discussions here with friends in India, Israel, England, and more. On Facebook, I’ve had lengthy discussions with people I’ve known since kindergarten but now live in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Ohio, and more.
There’s always been and always will be conversation, and that’s important. And conversation will always involve humans capable of both the best and the worst we have to offer, but we’ll have to hope that we spend more time on the best and not so much on the worst, or the snarky or snippy or angry. Even so, it’s all about communication. I’d be lost without it. I need to be near people, not like those who want to isolate themselves on 10 acres out in the country far away from everyone else.
Up until this past summer I was living in a rather large, four-bedroom house out in the middle of farmland where you can’t do a damn thing without driving two miles. Then I moved to a smaller, more practical place that’s half the price and half the taxes, and it’s in a nice suburban town where the postal workers actually walk up to the mailbox on the front of your house instead leaning through the window of the mail truck and stuffing the mail in the box out by the street. A neighbor actually brought me a cake to welcome me to the neighborhood, like people did back when Marion Cunningham and June Cleaver were keeping house. There are three excellent restaurants and a movie theater within walking distance. I think one night soon I’m going to take a midnight trip to the convenience store to get me some Cheese Doodles and black cherry soda. Or maybe I’ll get a soda and a slice of pizza instead. And if I knew where Dave lived, I’d mail him the crust.