And in this corner… | Feb. 9, 2018

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.”—Simon and Garfunkel

I grew up in a much different time than today. I’m not saying it was better but, well, maybe I am. Childhood seemed much more grounded and simple, as kids we were very involved with each other and created lifelong friendships. There were no multiple hand-held screens or digital noise to bombard us. We didn’t have access to the whole world in our hand at the push of a button. Just the limits of our own imagination.

Lately I’ve been reflecting back to those “good old days” and am truly thankful for the learning experiences. Those were my own Wonder Years before the angst and complications of junior high and adolescence. Back then, there were still boundaries, mysteries and a respect for authority figures. There were no graphic videos, no doomsday websites, misinformation or hackers. What a shame that Millennials won’t know life without being tethered to a device.

The 1970s seem to last forever. I spent much of my childhood dreaming, creating, imagining and playing. I remember hearing words like Watergate, inflation and Iran hostage crisis, but it was all a blur.

Vietnam was happening, and I didn’t know what it meant. I would see rows of guys in green army jackets hanging out at bus stops near the VA Hospital at Bellflower and 7th Street. I asked my parents, “Is there a war going on?” It would take me 20 years before I got an understanding of who they were and what they went through.

We had to use our imagination and not computers. Even TV watching was limited. I used to sit on our roof and eat plums from our tree and just daydream. I could be in my room for hours listening to KHJ AM on the radio or play “office” or create blanket forts. We occupied our time differently back in the day.

Was it more carefree? It felt like it to me. We had our issues, but we were more lured by the candy selection at Uncle Al’s Toy Corral– not selfies.

It was a low-tech, no-tech era. We had to keep calling a friend until they actually answered the phone. This was long before the luxury of answering machines and leaving messages for friends. I only knew if So-and-So was home by riding my bike to the house and asking “Can he come out to play?”

On Saturdays I would leave the house in the morning and be gone all day, home just in time for dinner or when the streetlights came on. We rode bikes, skates or skateboards everywhere. Lunch was usually a Pepsi and a Ding Dong at Joe’s house. Afternoons we played SWAT like the TV show and argued about who got to be which character. My JCPenney jeans always had holes in the knees. I wore out my shoes walking, climbing, running. My face was always sun-kissed, and my nose and arms were freckled. My blonde hair was long and wavy. My tube socks were pulled up to my skinny knees.

Our big adventures were to the beach or the Cerritos or Lakewood malls to see a movie or to play in the arcade and have an Orange Julius. Someone’s parents would just drop us off and pick us up hours later. We feared nothing and were too busy playing games to care.

And things seemed more rough and tumble. We threw caution to the wind, and safety was an after-thought, or we just didn’t worry about it. We’d set up bike ramps and jump over a row of kids. We didn’t know any better when we’d visit a kid down the street who was digging a six-foot hole in his back yard and we’d all jump down into it. He was older than us, so we figured that he just knew that it wouldn’t collapse.

At age 12 my buddy and I hopped on our beach cruiser and 10-speed and rode down Katella 18 miles to our friend’s house in Villa Park. We’d swim all day, spend the night and get up to ride back home in time for soccer practice. I can’t name a person or family I know these days that would let their kids do that.

It didn’t seem odd at all for me to walk around the corner to Plaza Lanes to join a bowling league. The only way my parents knew was when I brought a 4th-place trophy home. Same thing for the Plaza Movie Theater. I’d just walk over by myself and see all types of movies alone or with buddies. No one thought twice about walking to school and did so from 1st grade through 12th.

Courtesy Blair Cohn
A photo from 1978 shows me on the right and Joe McJunkin on the left. Born eight days apart, we were best friends through high school.

I spent hours and hours all over El Dorado Park. I was excited each summer for the reading contests in which you got to win prizes. I got to watch movies there too. There were countless long afternoons playing tennis or carrom at the rec center. We climbed the rocket ship and pink elephant, pushed each other on the swings. We fished, rented paddle boats and fed the ducks.

Back then we got excited about much different things than kids do today. We’d plan our Halloween costumes out for months, and the streets would always be packed with kids as we walked for hours to get candy. I also looked forward to getting the annual copy of the Guinness Book of World Records or the Johnson Smith Company gag-gift catalog.

I can still clearly recall my last day of 6th grade at Cubberley Elementary in June of 1979. Changes were coming. I stood on the corner of the playground and watched the kids scatter off in all directions. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more fanfare to it. I could actually feel it as an end of an era. We all were heading off to junior high and adolescence. But then punk rock hooked me, and the 1980s would begin a new chapter.

Time then sped up quickly, and high school soon became college applications and then my degree. Now I’m 50 and spending time with my 2-year-old, trying to show her some of the old-school ways of playing and using her imagination.

There are indeed advantages to the digital world and instant access to information. There’s no fighting it, and my daughter is growing up with the latest technology all around her.

But I will continue to encourage her to create lifelong friendships– to run, climb, create and dream just like we did in “the good old days.”

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