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I know I'm not the first person to say something like this but: "Things were simpler when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s." There, I've said it again, anyway.
A reminder of how simple things were occurred to me the other day as I sat in the car waiting for my wife who was shopping. I was sitting in the car because I don't shop, although I have nothing against men who do. What I usually do, when there's shopping to be done, is sit in the car outside the shopping center, read the paper, guard the valuables in our car and keep an eye on things going on there in the lot.
It occurred to me as I looked around that I couldn't name one of the fancy vehicles around me there in that sprawling shopping center parking lot. O.K., so it wasn't that busy in the parking lot on that particular occasion. What I noticed was there were dozens of different types of cars and vans and trucks and other types of transport - all with wild colors and fancy shapes - and I couldn't name one of them.
Never mind the exact number, but I'm old enough to remember when there were only about three or four automakers in America, and they each made about two or three different models each. In those days I could name every car on the road because there were only three: Ford, Chevy or Plymouth and every American family owned one of the three. An oddball in those days was someone who drove a Studebaker, but we didn't have any of those types in our small town, and I was in my teens before I saw my first Studebaker up close. It was a memorable experience for me. It was in the parking lot of the Monhegan Island ferry in Port Clyde.
Despite the fact that there were only a few different kinds of cars and trucks around, it seemed that every family had a distinctive vehicle, whether it was a certain kind of pickup, an oddly shaped sedan or a station wagon of a certain color. That meant that every family car was easy to identify, even from a distance. It was a big help to the nosy people in town who always liked to know whose car was in whose dooryard and for how long. Come to think of it, that hasn't changed. Nosy people still like to know things like that.
Sherrif's deputies liked the fact that there were only a few different kinds of vehicles to keep track of. That way, they always knew what usual suspects were out and about. A good deputy knew all the drunks, of course, and if a regular was out late on a Friday or Saturday night the deputy was safe in assuming the driver was "operating under the influence" and could be cited for drunk driving.
If the deputy had recently cited the all-too-familiar driver for drunk driving, he knew that he could soon add OAS or operating after suspension, to the wreckless driver's long list of driving offenses. And he could do all this just by glancing down Main Street and seeing the silhouette of a well-known vehicles.
I don't think that kind of thing can be done any more. There are too many different vehicles, too many different shapes and sizes and models and colors. Too much.
Anyway, my point was - years ago families stayed with the same brand of car generation after generation. Why change?
If you were born into a Ford family, you bought Ford cars, Ford trucks, even Ford tractors. Although you might have a few Chevy or Plymouth owners among your wide circle of friends, you never really got too close to them. After all if someone could go buy a Chevy or a Plymouth, who knows what else they might be capable of doing?
In those days a person would change his politics or his religion or his spouse before he'd change from a Ford to a Chevy. A fella might date a woman from a Chevy family but when it was time to settle down he'd seldom marry her.
But that same fella also had to behave himself, because the local deputy knew his car and therefore knew him - and knew everything he'd been up to.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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