Air conditioners, Automobiles, driving, heat, ice cold drinks, The Write Side of 50, then and now
By Frank Terranella
Being over 50 means remembering when there was no Internet, no cell phones, no ATMs and no cable television. It means remembering a time when seat belts were optional equipment in cars, and most cars did not have air conditioning.
I was reminded of this last item recently while driving on a 90-degree day. Since almost all cars today have air conditioning, I saw no one whose windows were down. And yet I can remember driving with the windows down. As kids we would even stick our hands and (if our parents weren’t paying attention) our heads out the window like the family dog.
It was a great sensation to have the hot air rushing by – sort of like a do-it-yourself fan.
And of course, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s fans were everywhere in the summer. We had them in our bedrooms at home and in our classrooms at school. They didn’t do much good, but it was better than nothing.
A few years ago I was asked by a young boy, “What did you do before air conditioning.” I answered truthfully, “We were hot!” It’s similar to the question, “What did you watch when there were only seven TV channels?” Answer: “We watched the seven channels and were thankful for them.”
The point is that before we got air conditioning in our cars and in our homes, we simply made do with fans and cold drinks. That was what made summer different from winter. We experienced the full force of the season back then, and we survived it. I swear that a major part of the attraction of going to the movies back then was the air conditioning.
Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no desire to go back to those days any more than I have a desire to return to a time without the Internet. I was thrilled when my father had an electrician install an air conditioner in our house. I felt more civilized when I bought my first car in 1976 and it had air conditioning.
In fact, if you’re over 50 you may remember an Easter when the temperature was in the 90s. That was 1976 and I had just brought home my new Pontiac. I reveled in riding down the road with my windows up and the air conditioning blasting out cool air. That thrill alone was worth the car payments. I remember driving with my brother and pointing out all the cars with their windows down, the poor souls without air conditioning. Of course, I had my comeuppance soon afterwards when the air conditioning broke down and I had to take the car to the dealer – with the windows down!
I am struck by how much we over-50s have come to depend on things like cell phones, ATMs and air conditioning that we lived without years ago. My mother, who is 85, hibernates most of the summer in her air conditioning. She never loved the heat, but now she’s terrorized by it. Air conditioning makes summer bearable for her. She also has a cell phone.
Being over 50 means that you have some context when (such as in a blackout) life hits you with a deprivation of some modern convenience. We may not like losing a modern convenience like a cell phone, but we can deal with it. We simply go back to 1970s mode and find a pay phone. But no matter what else happens, we just hope to God they don’t take away our air conditioning!