misterboomer.com

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Endured Heat Waves

As Martha & the Vandellas so succinctly put it in 1963, we’re having a heat wave. It’s been unbelievably hot in a good portion of the country this week. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, like many others, there has been yet another heat wave.

In earlier posts, Mister Boomer has mentioned how we boomers used to keep cool before air conditioning. There was another hot-weather family tradition of sorts in the Mister Boomer household that occurred around this time of the summer, that probably will resonate with many boomers. That is, once the temperature started rising for a few days in a row, Mister B’s mother would declare, “It’s too hot to cook.” And that was that. She had the first and last word on the subject, so the stove was off-limits. She couldn’t stand the heat, so she was staying out of the kitchen.

That was the cue for Mister Boomer and his brother to bring up the grill from the basement — where it was kept in its original cardboard box — for a rare midweek cookout. The grill was a round pan that sat on a tripod of metal legs that slid into metal sleeves welded to the bottom. Once assembled in the yard, the boys would make a pyramid of charcoal briquettes and Mister B would douse them with lighter fluid. Brother Boomer, being the elder, was the one to yield the matches. In this case, he flicked wooden kitchen matches into the briquettes. After a satisfying woosh and burst of flames, the boys’ job was complete and they could turn over the cooking duties to their father.

These “too hot to cook” cookouts meant that dinner was going to consist of whatever was on hand in the refrigerator, and that usually meant hamburgers and hot dogs. Most boomer households bought ground beef on a regular basis, and kept a package of hot dogs for the kids, too. Mister Boomer’s sister preferred her hot dogs like she ate her bologna — plain and charred, no bun, bread or condiments. Mister Boomer and his brother generally opted for hamburgers. In their yard, a hamburger on a grill was not gussied up with additional ingredients; there was rarely even a slice of cheese melted on top. Rather, the burger was lifted from the grill to a waiting bun — which was usually pulled straight from the package and not toasted on the grill — after which, mustard or ketchup was added by the recipient. Brother boomer liked mustard, but Mister B was a ketchup man. Occasionally he would retrieve the jar of pickle relish from the refrigerator door and add a teaspoon of the stuff to his burger.

There were no vegetables invited to the party, not even lettuce and tomato for the burgers; it would be a decade before Mister B’s family got that fancy. Instead, a handful of potato chips rounded out the dinner on their paper plates. After all, if it was too hot to cook, Mister B’s mom sure as hell wasn’t going to be washing dishes, either.

In the spirit of Mister B’s mom and her “it’s too hot to cook” declarations, Mister B presents this smattering of classic Mister Boomer posts about how we beat the heat:

Keeping Our Collective Cool
In an age when not many boomer households had air conditioning, people had their ways of keeping cool.

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Mister B recalls the era of car air conditioning known as “460”; that was, four windows down at 60 miles per hour.

Boomers Grabbed a Cold One
Long before boomers were old enough to use “grab a cold one” to mean a beer, they drank a series of cold beverages that helped shape their attack on the heat.

How did you keep cool, boomers? Did your boomer youth training help you keep cool during this recent round of heat waves?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Mister Boomer Turns Six

It’s our anniversary! We’re starting our sixth year of talkin’ ’bout our generation at misterboomer.com. A look back at the posts that marked the beginning of each of our new years reveals our mission to explore the personal connections we boomers had to the historical revolution that was the post-war years. This week, click the title of these previous postings and recall where you were when …

2010: The Sweet Taste of Success
Remember when we were young, and sugar was a good thing? Companies, in fact, thought so much of sugar that they could openly advertise their products as made with the real deal. No one advertised with more gusto than the cereal companies, and of course, we all remember those classic commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks.

2011: Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Yes, we are old enough to remember when air conditioning first began to be popular in new cars.

2012: Boomers and Pens: A Nib and a Click
Boomers lived directly in the path of the changeover from fountain pen to ballpoint pen and on to disposable pen.

2013: Boomers Said: “A Penny for Your Shoes”
Legend has it placing a “lucky penny” in a shoe was derived from the practice of putting a penny in a bride’s shoe on her wedding day to give the couple good luck and wealth. The penny loafer became a big deal for early boomers when Ivy League students began wearing them with their khakis.

2014: Boomers Said, “Let’s All Go to the Movies!”
Going to the movies was a real event for Baby Boomers. Movies and matinees and drive-ins … oh my!

2015: The Boomer Era Had Its Scandals
It’s hard to see any media these days without running into some sort of corruption and scandal. Yet we tend to forget that this is nothing new; the boomer era had its share of political, corporate and personal scandals as well. Two of the most famous involve the entertainment industry: the Quiz Show Scandal and the Payola Scandal.

Keep coming back to misterboomer.com each week for a look back at the way we were, how we grew, and who we became because of it all. Subscribe to the RSS feed and get notification whenever a new post is published. And, tell all your friends and neighbors to drop in through the Facebook link, too! Thank you for five memory-packed years!

posted by Mister B in Cars,Fashion,Film & Movies,Fun,Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Mister Boomer Turns Six

It’s Too Hot to Write

You don’t need anyone to tell you that in practically every area of the country this past week, it’s been unbearably hot. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, like many others, there has been a heat wave.

Mister B has recounted in earlier posts how we boomers used to keep cool in the age before air conditioning. There was another family tradition of sorts in the Mister Boomer household that occurred during heat waves back then, that probably will resonate with many boomers. That is, once the temperature started rising for a few days in a row, Mister B’s mother would declare, “It’s too hot to cook.” And that was that. She had the first and last word on the subject, so the stove was off-limits. She couldn’t stand the heat, so she was staying out of the kitchen.

Instead, her declaration was the starting gun for Mister Boomer’s dad to grill in the backyard. On such short notice, the meal would have to be whatever was on hand. That usually meant hot dogs or hamburgers, as these were made from inexpensive ingredients that were always stocked. Mister B and his brother would trek down the basement stairs to the storage area where the circular charcoal grill was kept in its original box. One carried it while the other grabbed the charcoal and charcoal lighter. We brought them up the stairs, through the back door and into the yard. There, the Boomer Brothers would flip the box over to spill the contents onto the grass. There was the shallow, black circular charcoal pan, a grill top, and three legs. One brother held up the charcoal pan while other slid the chromed legs into the pre-formed sleeves on the bottom of the pan to form a tripod cooking station. They placed a crumpled page of newspaper in the bottom of the pan and dumped charcoal on top of it. Mister B’s brother then took great delight in squirting charcoal lighter over the entire contents. After a quick run to the kitchen, where matches were kept, he ripped off a paper match, struck it on the cover strip, and tossed it onto the charcoal. With a big woosh of flames the pile came alive, setting the stage for cook-master dad.

So, in the spirit of Mister B’s mom and her “it’s too hot to cook” declaration, I’m declaring it’s too hot to write this week. Instead, please enjoy this encore presentation of classic Mister Boomer posts about how we beat the heat:

Keeping Our Collective Cool

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning

posted by Mister B in Fun,Seasons,Suburbia and have Comments Off on It’s Too Hot to Write

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning

As we approach another summer season, Mister Boomer was reminded by a recent conversation about how he and the neighborhood teens would describe the air conditioning in their cars. Some semblance of naming the vehicle make and model followed by “460” was cleverly voiced to describe the model number of the cooling unit (i.e., Ford Fairlane 460). What they were actually saying was, “four windows down at 60 miles per hour.” Of course, that meant turning the hand-cranks to open each of the windows before getting underway. It would be decades before power windows became standard equipment. In other words, when it came to air conditioning in cars, Mister B’s boomer-hood didn’t have it.

Car air conditioning was first seen in a 1939 Packard, but it really began in earnest when the Packard Motor Company offered factory-equipped air conditioning in some of their 1940 models. It consisted of a compressor stored in the trunk that circulated cooled air through tubes inside the car.

Though the timing would make car air conditioning a pre-boomer invention, lower-priced cars aimed at growing families didn’t feature air conditioning as a selling point until the prime boomer years of the 1950s. By 1953, Chrysler presented its Airtemp air conditioning system. It took Ford until 1956 before air conditioning was an option on most models. When the mid-50s rolled around, every auto manufacturer was offering air conditioning as an option on some, if not all, of its models.


Looking to increase their market share alongside Ford, Chrysler and GM, the American Motors Rambler was often associated with the most inexpensive cars available. Unfortunately, it was also considered among the ugliest. By 1958, the top-of-the-line Rambler Ambassador gave air conditioning as a standard feature to help differentiate it from its higher-priced competitors.


DeSoto was introduced by Chrysler in 1929, and sales continued until the disruption of auto manufacturing during World War II. After the war, Chrysler picked up where they left off, and several DeSoto models continued to sell until the recession of 1958. After a precipitous drop in sales that year, the brand never recovered and was dissolved by Chrysler less than two months after they introduced the 1961 models. DeSoto was yet another car model that disappeared in early boomer years, though many recall riding in them with parents or grandparents.

For Mister Boomer, air conditioning wasn’t present in any of his family’s cars until the 1970s. In fact, none of the neighborhood kids had air conditioning in their family cars either, except one. A family living near the Boomer household had a penchant for buying used Cadillacs. Mister Boomer had the occasional ride in their cars, marveling at the power windows and air conditioning while at the same time preferring the windows open since the father of the boomer neighbor liked to smoke cigars in his Cadillac. Car air conditioning in the 1960s may have cooled the air, but it wasn’t a good filter for cigar or cigarette smoke.

In Midwest car culture, most teens had their own vehicles between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The very nature of buying inexpensive wheels meant teen boomers went for the most style available for the money instead of luxuries such as air conditioning. For Mister B, air conditioning controls never graced the all-metal dashboards of his early-years cars. Even when he was able to purchase his first new car years after college in the late 1970s, he did not equip it with air conditioning. The 460 model had been good enough for him for decades.

What car air conditioning memories come to mind for you, boomers? When was the first time you rode in an air conditioned car?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Keeping Our Collective Cool


Yes, it was pretty hot in 1966. Do you remember that Abbe Lane was married to Xavier Cugat?

A commonly quoted definition of “heat wave” is one in which the temperature reaches above 90º F for at least three consecutive days. Here at Mister Boomer headquarters, we’ve had quite the heat wave this past week, with the thermometer near or topping the 100º F mark for five days in a row. That got old Mister B thinking about our earlier years, and the ways we kept cool.

It’s difficult for today’s youngsters to fathom a world without air conditioning, yet that was our shared world while growing up. Willis Carrier is considered the father of modern air conditioning, for his invention of a unit in 1902. Hindered by toxic chemicals used to create the cool, and high costs, decades would pass until a practical, affordable model reached the average boomer household.

Mister Boomer recalls a time when only higher-end cars had air conditioning, and there weren’t many of those in his neighborhood. Homes and even stores did not have air conditioning. One fine summer day Mister B walked, with his mom, the mile and a half to the city’s business district. As we approached the Woolworth store, the doors were wide open and the store was uncharacteristically dark. The prevailing thought was that lights generate too much heat, and there was already plenty of that. On entering, a blast of hot air brushed across our faces. The store staff had positioned two tall, large metal fans at the back corners of the store, aiming them out the front door. We wandered through the aisles of bins — in an era before shelving was a marketing art — maneuvering the maze as the wooden floorboards creaked, and we criss-crossed the hot stream from the fans.

The scene at home wasn’t any better. Positioned on the floor by the front screen door, one box fan provided the only breeze for the family. Come bedtime, the fan was repositioned to point down the hallway of bedrooms. Windows and doors, including the front door, where left open all night to catch any breeze that would care to waft our way.

So how did we keep cool? The same way it had been done for centuries, with a few modern twists. We could lounge beneath shade trees when our 47-inning baseball game got to be a bit much. Some, especially young girls, folded paper to make a hand fan. For more immediate cooling in our younger years, there was the oscillating sprinkler. We’d put our bathing suits on and set the lawn sprinkler in the front yard. Flipping the control knob to allow it to rotate a full 180º left and right ensured that a neighborhood group of us could all feel the cool spray of the jets even by standing in a single spot. We’d leave the sprinkler on until pools of water accumulated on the lawn, or it would remain off when restricted by the city in times of drought.

Mostly, we took in a lot of fluids. Water in a glass with ice, iced tea, cold milk, lemonade, Kool-Aid or the occasional Hawaiian Punch helped us beat the heat. When we got a little older, we might ride our bikes to the A&W Root Beer Drive-In, walk inside and sit at the counter. We’d order up an icy root beer. The thick glass mugs were kept in the ice cooler, so dispensing the tasty concoction into the glass could be as frosty and cold an experience as anything you’d ever imagined. Then there was the Coca-Cola machine at the corner Sinclair gas station. We didn’t drink soda pop all that often — it wasn’t kept in the house — but there weren’t many things better than an ice cold Coke on a very hot day. When we could gather up ten cents, we’d walk to the station, where the Coke machine was perpetually kept outside. Slipping the dime into the coin slot, we could open the glass door and pull an 8-ounce bottle out by its neck from the column of circular receptacles. Grasping the familiar feminine-shaped Coke bottle’s waist, we’d aim the top at the built-in cap opener on the front of the machine. The bottle was always cold to the touch, adding to the anticipation. Once the fizz popped when the cap was removed, you could hardly wait to taste the sweet coolness. While some chugged the full 8 ounces in one fluid motion, Mister B would savor the moment. This boomer would take that first delicious sip, then go back for more, again and again until it was spent and the heat was gone. All the while we’d be standing in front of the machine — in the heat — to avoid paying the two-cent bottle deposit. Once empty, the bottles were slid neatly into the wooden cases alongside the machine.

Ice cream trucks made regular runs down the streets. There were independents clanging bells to peddle their wares: usually frozen fruit pops, push-ups or sundae cups. We knew these would do in a pinch, but weren’t our top-shelf-quality favorites. For that, there was the Good Humor truck (Toasted Almond, Chocolate Malt or Strawberry Shortcake for Mister B, please) and Mister Softee (the creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream, maybe, but a jingle that haunts most of us to this day). Sometimes our families couldn’t spare the change, so we’d make our own popsicles. Other times, we’d search for soda pop bottles along the main road and redeem them at the store for Creamsicles or those frozen sticks of gooey color.

Somewhere in the early sixties, stores started getting air conditioning. They would advertise the fact with “Air Conditioned” signs in the window. Movie theaters took the advertising to a whole other level, with signs hanging from the bottom of the marquee exclaiming, “It’s Cool Inside!” Always situated on a blue background, the letters were composed of icicles and snow to offer a literal, visual explanation. Although Mister B cannot recall a single time his family escaped the heat by going to a movie, others have reminisced of that very thing. With double features and an intermission, complete with cartoons and coming attractions, you could stay inside for a full four hours.

Nevertheless, for day-to-day, beat-the-heat cooldowns, only one experience comes to mind. It may very well be the quintessence of boomer keep-cool methods. We’d grab the metal handle of the outdoor faucet with one hand, and turn it on, holding the garden hose in the other hand. As the clear, cool liquid arched from its spout, we’d lean in and take the most satisfying drink of water a boomer child could have. Hey, boomers, have you let your children — or grandchildren — in on this super summer experience? Teach them well. Teach them to drink from the garden hose!

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have Comment (1)