Friday, October 3, 2008

Where Did the Test Pattern Go?

I stayed up late a few nights ago… well past my bedtime. It was a weekend night, and I knew I could sleep late. So I was puttering around, doing a little work, checking the fridge every 30 minutes in search of something else to snack on, and watching a little TV. Mostly channel surfing.

Shortly after 2:00 am, I noticed that I was still watching TV, and a question occurred to me: Whatever happened to the National Anthem and that always preceded the Test Pattern when stations signed off for the night?

It didn’t take me long to realize what happened to the song about Jose Canusi and the Full Color Electronic Test Pattern: Stations don’t sign off any more!!! They stay on all night long!

It bummed me out a little. In my younger days, I took great satisfaction in being up for “the end of our broadcast day!” It meant I had outlasted most of the rest of the world. Also, it was a good feeling to get a dose of patriotism before heading off to bed. Seeing the jets flying in formation gave me the feeling that the nation was secure for the night. (And, if that didn’t do it, hearing the John Wayne narration over “America” in the background definitely sent you off to bed feeling secure.)

But things change. The Star Spangled Banner and the Test Pattern have faded into the past, I realized, which set me to wondering what other little tidbits of life have simply faded away.

“Fill’er up” is a phrase that comes to mind. That’s what we used to say when we pulled in to a “filling station” or “service station”, which are what we called the places we went to get gasoline.

There are three reasons we don’t hear “fill’er up” any more: (1) Most folks can’t afford to fill up their car with gas; (2) If you can afford it, there probably isn’t enough gas available; and (3) There isn’t anybody to say “fill’er up” to! We’ve been pumping our own gas for 20 or 30 years now!

Interestingly, we still use the term “crank the car”, although we haven’t actually used “cranks” for six or eight decades!

We also use the term “dial the phone”, but I haven’t seen a phone with a dial in long time.

All sort of dials seem to pretty much be a thing of the past. Once upon a time, a dial controlled your phone, your radio and your TV. But dials seem to have been replaced by buttons and all sorts of “digital” paraphernalia.

We once heard an excited “Don’t touch that dial!” before most every commercial break on TV. Now it would be “Don’t push that remote button!”…. if they even tried, which they don’t, because they know we’re all going to be channel surfing during the break, just because we can!

Here’s something I haven’t seen in a long time: using your arm to make a turn signal, instead of the blinker. The last time I saw it was 20 years ago when I had to roll down my window to turn because my blinker was on the blink.

And another thing: When I was a kid, we were taught to “roll’ the toothpaste tube when it was near empty to get all the toothpaste out. I think the tubes are made out of a different material now, because you can’t roll them up like we used to.

Antennas up on the roof are over, and I’m sure nobody misses them. Still, they dominated our skyline for half a century, and it’s another piece of Americana that you’ll have to go to India to see.

Nobody misses party lines, either. Or the old-style, operator-assisted long-distance phone calls: station-to-station, person-to-person, or collect. (Long distance was a forbidden word in the 1960’s Shealy household. It was WAY expensive… strictly for emergencies… because what if you accidentally talked too long?!!!)

I do, however, miss the “nicknames” which were assigned to telephone exchanges. I grew up in the “Elgin” exchange, which was Lexington -- Elgin 9-9553, to be exact -- but could also make calls to the “Alpine” exchange, which was Columbia, without it being – “ohhh, no-o-o-o – the dreaded LONG DISTANCE!!!!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Polaroid “instant” camera. I guess they’ve been replaced by digital cameras. But they ruled for about half a century. Instant photos. The wonder of it… almost like magic!

Don’t even get me started on record players. Or records, for that matter: LPs and 45 RPMs. You remember… Vinyl! (If you asked a kid today if he has any 45’s, he might say “yes”… but he would be referring to pistols.)

We all know that records gave way to eight-tracks, which bit the dust when cassette tapes came along, which fell by the wayside when CDs showed up… which is about when I lost track.

It’s a shame today’s youngsters will never know the utter joy of playing a 45 on the wrong speed. Play it slow, on 33, and the singing was low, slow, and almost monster-like. Play it on 78, and every singer became one of the chipmunks. What a hoot!!!

Yes, the times they are a changing… and a lot of “stuff” changing along with it.

I could go on and on if I had time… but I need to wrap up now. (I want to try churn some ice cream to drop by the dime store before I go to the drive-in movies tonight.)

I’ll be back next week. Don’t touch that dial!

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