Boomers Got Their Air and Water for Free

It has become increasingly apparent to Mister Boomer that the times, they aren’t a-changin’; they have already changed. There are so many areas of our lives we knew as Baby Boomers that operating in a fundamentally different way now than back then, that boomers can’t help but feel the encroachment of age. One such area that is wearing on Mister B’s mind lately is how we pay for air and water.

The mere notion of paying for air or water was as alien to boomers as the sci-fi visitors they watched on the silver screen. Some parts of the country only got TV by way of a cable in the 1960s, which meant those households would to have to pay for TV. Yet, most boomers would have said, “Pay for TV, what are you, crazy?” TV came from your antenna, delivered to your living room as if by magic. It seemed a national right. The very same thing can be said of water and air.

Boomers took for granted that when they turned on the faucet in their homes, fresh water would pour out. While not free, water in most municipalities was very inexpensive. Water was automatically given to every person seated in a restaurant. It was just the way it was. Except for some dry spells when water may have been rationed, boomers and their parents could drink from the backyard hose, wash cars and water lawns to their hearts’ content. It seemed like water was a never-ending resource that would forever remain available at affordable prices.

Furthermore, drinking water came from a tap. From Mister Boomer’s perspective, it was a higher class that had access to bottled water. Some sources say bottled water from Europe was sold in the U.S. as far back as the late 1700s. Other documentation points to an increase in the popularity of bottled water thought to have medicinal properties, taken from springs in New York, Boston and Maine, and sold in the early 1800s. Most boomers, like Mister B, would thumb their noses at such conceits. To most of us, water was local, and not bought in a bottle.

The modern era of buying water in a bottle caught hold in the 1970s, when flexible plastic containers were perfected, and Perrier introduced its brand to the world. At the same time, alarms were being sounded over water quality around the country and decades-long discussions of additives to the municipal water supply, such as flouride, convinced some people the time had come for a potable water source that did not come from the tap. There has been a steady, if not recently precipitous, climb in sales, brands and availability ever since.

When Mister Boomer mentions free air, he is referring to the kind needed to fill the tires of bicycles and cars. Air-filled tires were first sold in Europe in the 1890s, and to a smaller degree, in the U.S. Meanwhile, John Dunlap invented the pneumatic bicycle tire in 1888, about the same time that pneumatic automobile tires were being tested. By 1900, Firestone Tire & Rubber Company, the country’s largest tire manufacturer at the time, moved from making bicycle tires to automobile tires. Through his close relationship with Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone inked a deal to be the exclusive supplier of tires to the Ford Motor Company. In 1905, Firestone convinced Ford that his pneumatic tires offered a better ride and more durability than the solid-based rubber for Ford’s car buyers, and Ford purchased nearly 30,000 of them that year. The pneumatic tire has reigned supreme for cars ever since.

From an early age, Mister B recalls riding his bike to the Sinclair gas station, where, like all other gas stations, there was an air pump off to the side of the main building. There was plenty of room for a car to pull up next to the pump, which had a hook that held rings of extended hose so the car owner could reach all four tires around the car without having to move it. The pump was attached to an air compressor, usually housed within the service bays of the station. Some air pumps had the compressor built into its structure.

On a bicycle, it was a piece of cake to use the air pump. Brother Boomer first demonstrated to Mister B how to take the hose nozzle and press it over the bike tire valve to inflate the tire. It was especially handy to have this free access when your bike tire had a slow leak; easier to refill the tire than take out the inner tube, find the leak and fix it, only to have the need to refill the tire with air again. In later years, Brother Boomer bought a hand bicycle pump that could be employed in the Boomer household’s backyard.

In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, every kid got their first car between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Cars could be had very cheaply, but of course, at those price points, tires may not have been in the best shape, requiring multiple trips to the gas station air pump. It was at the time Mister B got his first car that he purchase a tire pressure gauge of his very own, to determine the stage at which the tires were properly inflated.

Somewhere between the late ’70s and early ’80s, stations began charging for air. At first it was 25 cents, but within a few years, it had jumped to 50 cents. Now, when you can find an air pump, you’ll be spending a dollar or more.

Of course, the air was never free; the station had to have a compressor and pay for the operation, but it was a courtesy for customers. Back then, your windshield was wiped and oil checked for free, too.

Did you ever imagine you’d buy water in a bottle on a regular basis, boomers? Do you remember filling your bike tires or car tires at the gas station for free?

Boomers Got Little Information About D-Day and WWII

This past week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. It ushered in the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe and set the stage for the Boomer Generation that followed. The first boomers were born one year after the War, so memories were fresh in the minds of all adults. Yet, for most boomers, the subject of the war was rarely spoken of, if ever, in their families.

In talking to fellow boomers through the years, it is Mister Boomer’s experience that their parents — and grandparents — did not want to talk about the War. That was a closed chapter and things were moving forward; it was a new, hopeful age. Consequently, many boomers were raised without knowing what, if any, involvement their parents may have had in D-Day and World War II. Mister Boomer’s family was fortunate to not lose a family member during the War, so that fact allowed his relatives to maintain the level of silence that they wanted. An exception to the rule was a friend of Mister B’s. He knew his father was a Marine at Iwo Jima, though not once did the man speak of it in front of his son’s friends. He was a man of few words to begin with, so that did not appear strange to Mister B at the time.

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, neighbor friends of Mister B played with an army helmet, and once, one did a show-and-tell by furtively producing a bayonet that he said belonged to his father. To many boomer boys, WWII was what they saw in the movies and TV shows, like Combat! (1962-67).

Mister Boomer knew four of his uncles were in the army, but it wasn’t until he was in college that he learned anything other than that. There was a point where two of his maternal uncles no longer kept silent, and talked generally about their experiences in an artillery division. Looking back, it probably coincided with the last of their children reaching high school age. Nonetheless, details were few.

Years later, Mister B discovered two of his paternal uncles had fought in Europe, and one was there in Normandy. Only in recent years did he get information from a cousin that her father was a participant in D-Day. Mister B’s uncle was not infantry, but was more likely to be involved with setting up field headquarters immediately after the landing.

As for Mister Boomer’s father, he was drafted late in the war, and was fortunate enough to not see combat. However, he did not speak of his service, nor that of his brother and brother-in-law, until Mister Boomer was old enough to drink with them at the kitchen table. The topic of the War was something they wanted to keep to themselves. It’s possible they spoke to each other in the family’s native language, and the boomer kids would not have known. After all, they purposely kept their kids from learning to speak their parents’ language. All the better to say things around the kids without them knowing what was being said. “You’re an American,” was the only excuse they would give for not teaching the kids their native tongue. Mister B can’t help but think their War experiences fed into the desire that their children blend in.

Reports featuring soldiers who fought in WWII often show the men remembering fallen comrades, but little details of what they had endured themselves. Most downplayed their involvement, even when their boomer children came across medals or purple hearts. Now we are in a time when there are fewer eyewitnesses remaining to tell those tales. If you learned of any during your lifetime, boomers, pass the stories on to your relatives, children and grandchildren. They deserve to know the sacrifices that were made for the Boomer Generation and generations that followed. With humility and gratitude, Mister Boomer salutes you.

Did your parents speak about the War when you were young, boomers?