Boomers Learned to Wait

There are many things that have changed during the nearly half-century since the last baby boomer was born in 1964. Mister Boomer has chronicled several of them in these posts and now, here’s another: anticipation. As Carly Simon musically observed, “anticipation … is making me wait.” Baby boomers grew up in a world filled with anticipation. We anticipated every end of school day and couldn’t wait for summer vacation. We’d count down the days between May and June, and just when it seemed like we were ready to explode, summer vacation would finally arrive, making the anticipation all the more worth while.

We anticipated holidays, when special foods and treats served once a year made the anticipation all the more intense. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter — of course, Christmas — but also Memorial Day cookouts and Mother’s Day visits to restaurants all tilted the dial on our anticipation meters.

The point is, anticipation helped make the event, whether it was mundane or spectacular, that much more enjoyable and vivid in our memories. There is an inherent discipline attached to the art of anticipation, and our parents used it to see that we were held in check. Threats of punishments intended to diminish our abilities to completely enjoy whatever it was we were anticipating were ways for our parents to reign in our anticipatory enthusiasm. You might say that anticipation contributed to the methods that helped us learn how to behave.

As we became teens, the anticipation level increased right along with our growing anxiety for social interaction. Yet a huge part of the anticipation factor was centered around learning how to drive, and subsequently getting our first car. “I can’t wait until I’m sixteen,” sounds like a phrase The Beave might have said when his brother Wally pulled up to the front of the Cleaver house in his first jalopy. Intimately connected with this anticipation was our first date, first kiss, first dance and first going steady. Popular music from our boomer years is filled with references to these anticipations, from He’s So Fine to Then He Kissed Me and beyond.

Through all our early years, there was one level of anticipation that has now completely changed for today’s youth: TV viewing. Baby boomers desperately anticipated Saturday morning cartoons, naturally, but also weekly TV shows. The entire TV season was structured differently when we were young. The new TV season began the end of September and ran until June, when summer replacement shows were slotted in. Since most shows were broadcast only once a week and on limited TV stations, we had no choice but to wait to watch them. TV programmers were also wary of, say, broadcasting a Valentine’s Day episode of I Love Lucy in November, or a Christmas episode of Father Knows Best in May. The VCR wasn’t popularized until the 1970s, and DVDs and DVR were still in the science fiction stages, so when the program was aired, that’s when you watched it. If that meant making sure you were home on time to tune in the TV, then so be it.

There were shows that we just couldn’t wait to see each week, whether because they were a serial format with a continuing story line or individual episodes of mirth and zaniness. For Mister B, it was comedy that won out for anticipation domination on the TV program front. He was almost completely uninterested in the Friday-through-Sunday night line up of variety shows like The Jackie Gleason Show, Hollywood Palace and The Ed Sullivan Show. There was no need to waste anticipation, so he thought, for some old-fashioned singers or a guy who spun plates on poles. Rather, he couldn’t wait for The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (especially for Fractured Fairy Tales and Peabody and Sherman), Beany & Cecil, The Addams Family, The Munsters and later, Rowen & Martin’s Laugh-In. On the non-comedy line-up, Mister B anticipated weekly showings of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

It’s hard to imagine what life might have been like for us if our TV viewing in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s had any semblance of the on-demand world afforded today’s youth. They can pretty much get whatever they want, whenever they want it, from music to movies to TV shows, past and present. No anticipation is required.

Don’t get Mister B wrong, he’s not necessarily saying that a culture of instant gratification is altogether good or bad, especially since we were the generation that helped to create the current level of technology that enabled it. Rather, it is just different, especially when it comes to teaching children that “good things come to those who wait.” It seems to Mister B that anticipation helped tweak our intellectual and moral curiosities while instilling a sense of self-control that carries little weight in our current culture. Have we outgrown the need for anticipation, or will some other form of mental and emotional bell-ringing emerge to help the next generation to salivate before the treat is served?

What did anticipation mean to you, boomers, and what TV shows did you greatly anticipate each week?

Boomers Loved the Whole Tang Thing

Tang, the orange-flavored drink powder that became such a big part of growing up a baby boomer, wasn’t always a popular choice. The formula was developed in 1957 by William A. Mitchell, a food scientist for General Foods. It was marketed for purchase in 1959, and was given a tepid reception by consumers. Moms weren’t at all sure about the drink powder, even if it was purported to have twice as much vitamin C as orange juice, and added vitamin A, too.

Tang received a lukewarm reception by the moms of baby boomers in the late 1950s.

That all changed in 1962, when John Glenn took Tang into space aboard the Friendship 7. Since it was a powder, the drink could be mixed with water in a closed vessel and drunk from a straw-like tube. NASA history states that Tang was among several types of foods the organization wanted Glenn to test for eating viability in space during the Gemini missions, though the organization is adamant in stating it does not now nor has it ever endorsed brand-name products. Legend has it, however, that Glenn and his fellow Gemini astronauts were the reason Tang went into space. They were not at all fond of the water they had to drink in the spacecraft since the filtration system imparted an unpleasant aftertaste. This version of the story goes on to say that Tang was first smuggled onboard by the Gemini astronauts in order to make their water more palatable. No matter which story line is true, Tang rocketed into the public consciousness as soon as the company took advantage of their association with the Space Program to market the powder as the “drink of astronauts.”

After John Glenn took Tang into space, sales took off.

Through this television campaign, Mister B became aware of the product. His family did buy Tang on occasion, but it was not a staple of the breakfast routine. Mister B and his siblings weren’t crazy about it; they felt the powder didn’t impart enough flavor into the water using the recommended tablespoon per 8 oz. glass, so they would double or triple the powder to water ratio. The Boomer children, mostly Mister B’s sister, discovered that it was more fun to eat the powder directly. Tang powder was a little puckery due to the citric acid (foreshadowing the craze kids have today for sour candy), but offered a Pixie-stick experience, and it turned your tongue orange, too.

It may very well be that Tang sealed its fate when it literally hitched its wagon to the stars. In the early 1960s, the entire country was all abuzz about the Space Program, but none more so than little boys. If a Tang commercial came on during Saturday morning cartoons, there was a pretty good bet that little boys would ask their moms to buy the products, based solely on the notion that it was the beverage that astronauts drank in space. That wasn’t the case in Mister B’s home. More than likely, it was a situation of his parents wanted to be a part of the Space Age future with these new foods that were being introduced.

Tang is still produced today, and is now offered in several fruit flavors around the globe. It is also interesting to note that William A. Mitchell further ingratiated himself with baby boomers by inventing Pop Rocks, and later, Cool Whip, in addition to the Tang formulation. As for the Space Program, NASA may have a reduced budget in which to carry out its missions these days, but Tang is still being served aboard the International Space Station.

Was Tang a part of your family’s breakfast routine, boomers?