Of Course Boomers Had Driveways!

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was underway and the country was shifting from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. Populations shifted from farms to cities and as immigrants came in, these cities grew. Housing was quickly built to accommodate the influx of workers that would signal the nation’s progress up until the Great Depression. Since the automobile was a new invention, it was purchased by upper class citizens who could afford it, so working class people in working class houses had no need for driveways. In fact, only about a third of city dwellers owned their own homes at that time. Many boomers — especially early boomers — will recall living in this type of urban housing.

Henry Ford tried to change all that by producing a car he felt everyone could afford. To make sure his workers could afford it themselves, he instituted a $5 a day wage that was unheard of at the time. Of course, that wage was not granted equally among his employees, but that is a matter for another time. The spread of the Model T into the 1920s initiated the first working class houses built in cities, with personal driveways attached.

The wealthy always had driveways, though not in the sense that boomers might recall. For centuries, the driveway up to the manor was an important path, intended to impress and reveal the occupants’ status, education and wealth. The end of the driveway was usually a circle from which visitors and owners could be dropped off at the front door. The carriage and horse were then stowed in the stables away from the main house.

Driveways in rural communities were most often dirt or gravel, and were more for moving farm equipment than the family car — which was most often a pickup truck, as soon as they became available in the 1920s. Barns and sheds housed the equipment necessary for the main job, so any auto or truck was going to reside outside on or near the driveway.

The rise of the driveway slowly continued as new housing was built before World War II; a new status symbol for a generation that grew up riding streetcars and city buses, a driveway indicated a certain level of modernity and upward mobility in a rising middle class. It was in this era where the driveway was treated as part of the house’s landscape; instead of a concrete slab, it was composed of two strips separated at a wide enough distance for a car’s wheels to tread, with a grass median between the concrete.

It was after the War that the driveway really came into its own. Returning soldiers got married and started families, which signaled the dawn of the Boomer Generation. Housing was an immediate concern, but cities were crowded, with little or no land for these new families. New suburbs were the answer, where land was readily available and inexpensive, or at least affordable with GI veteran assistance programs. Since a worker’s commute was now a serious concern, the fathers of boomers making the move to the suburbs had to own a car. Virtually all of the houses built in the late 1940s and into the ’50s featured a place for the family car, as a “standard feature.” Some driveways led to a garage behind the house, but most stopped at the back end of the house. In just two generations, the evolution of the driveway had come from a centuries-old symbol of “to the manor born” to one of middle class, utilitarian car-parking slab.

A typical car parked in a Midwest driveway, circa 1950s

At this point, the vast majority of families owned one car. For boomers growing up in these houses, the driveway was empty all day since their fathers took the car to work, so it became a boomer play space. Girls might draw hopscotch games in chalk on the family driveway, while boys were rolling homemade go-karts up and down. Many boomers (including Mister Boomer) recall flipping hula hoops up and down the driveway, or roller skating — with metal skates — back and forth.

Driveways became personal and an integral part of the house, as was the family car parked on it. In the early days in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, less than a third of homes had garages, where a driveway extended to the garage positioned in the yard behind the house. As the 1960s pushed on, several of his neighbors had single-car garages built, all the more to leave the driveway empty. That space was soon needed as boomers grew and got cars of their own. For Mister Boomer in his mid-boomer era, it was practically a rite of passage to acquire a car shortly after getting a drivers’ license. Driveways would have to serve for parking at least two cars; at one point in Mister Boomers’ house, there were three cars for household members, two of which resided in the driveway. With no garage, it was a constant shuffle to move vehicles so that one or the other could exit.

While we often consider certain television programs, toys, fashions or music as defining symbols of the Boomer Generation, Mister Boomer humbly submits that the driveway was an important part of the culture that molded our generation.

What memories do you have of your families’ driveways, boomers?

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now

In the age before the shopping mall, drug stores were locally owned and served as general stores for a variety of family needs. See if you recall your family in these Mister Boomer experiences:

Prescriptions
Then: Your doctor wrote a prescription on paper and you brought it to your neighborhood pharmacist. Mister B does recall some instances when the doctor phoned the pharmacy when his mother was ill, then he would ride his bike to the drug store and pick up her prescription. His father could always pay for it later. It was a time before the proliferation of credit cards, so, like a lot of stores, the drug store maintained a book of what people owed if they couldn’t pay at that moment.

Now: Prescriptions are still filled at neighborhood pharmacies — but chances are, these days the store is part of a national chain. Pharmacists are still licensed and can give advice on medications, the same as in early days. When we were young, though, the pharmacist probably knew the names of everyone in the family. Home centers, warehouse stores and super stores also have internal pharmacies. For ongoing prescriptions, savings can be gained by ordering in bulk from online pharmacies that ship the prescriptions directly to your home.

Then and Now: When we were young, a man had to ask the pharmacist for condoms since they were kept behind the prescription counter. It was an Urban Rite of Passage for every boy over the age of 16 to carry a condom “at the ready” in his wallet. Many a boomer boy will tell of the embarrassment they felt asking the pharmacist, especially when the man knew his family. Some rebels who had a devil-may-care attitude toward the exchange would dole out extras to his neighborhood chums or school pals, which is how most boomer boys got their wallet condom. It didn’t matter that 99 percent of them would never be used for their intended purpose.
Today, condoms are openly displayed and readily accessible in drug stores, and the variety has expanded well beyond what was hidden under the counter fifty years ago.

Also, most drug stores have expanded their services to include wellness clinic, and flu shots administered by trained medical practitioners.

Cards
Then: Mister Boomer recalls many times when the family was heading out the door to a wedding when his mother asked his father, “Did you buy a card?” Inevitably, his answer was, “No.” Mister B’s dad would drive over to the drug store. While the family stayed in the car, he’d run in for a card. The store’s cards were kept just inside the parking lot entry. Two minutes later he would return with a wedding card. The drug store had all the cards the family would need in the course of a year, from birthdays to Valentine’s Day; weddings to anniversaries; get well to sympathies.

Now: Most drug stores maintain a card area, though the stock has changed due to Internet competition. Less cards are being purchased, so much of the inventory is devoted to cards that play music, specialty shapes and papers — in other words, cards for which they can charge a premium.

Photo Processing
Then: Many boomers recall going to the drug store with their parents to drop off film for developing. A week to ten days later, you could return and get your prints and the negatives.

Now: Some drug stores have eliminated their photo processing departments, while others have greatly reduced the visibility of the services. Prints can still be ordered from some drug store/pharmacies, but now in many cases they can be ordered online and picked up in any location across the country.

Sundries
Then: In an age before large discount stores and malls, the local drug store was the closest thing to a general store in most neighborhoods. A family could pick up everyday necessities, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, but also seasonal needs like spring picnic supplies, summer beach necessities and winter snow and ice needs. For Mister Boomer, his drug store was his number one connection for car, boat and plane model kits and the Testor’s paints and glue he needed to complete the projects. All of Mister B’s monster models — Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman and Phantom of the Opera — came from his drug store. So did his model of PT 109, the patrol boat Lt. John F. Kennedy captained in World War II.

Now: You can still get a wide variety of items at drug stores, from needles and threads to car accessories, seasonal needs to snacks and cold drinks. It’s been a while since Mister Boomer has noticed model car and plane kits at his area drug stores, but he likes to think there are still drug stores out there that stock them for the youngsters interested in building the kits.

TV Tube Testing
Then: In an age when every father was expected to fix things around the house, TV tube replacement was among the easiest since it was tantamount to replacing a light bulb. Mister Boomer remembers his father opening the back of their black & white TV and pulling one to three tubes of varying sizes. A quick trip the drug store was all that was needed to test the tubes and buy replacements. Mister Boomer remembers the drug store’s test station that sat near the center of the store. The angled wooden top had a series of multiple-hole slots, each numbered to match a specific tube. By plugging the tube into the appropriate slot and flipping the on switch, a customer could test to see if his TV tube was still good. Replacements were found in drawers below the top.

Now: TVs with vacuum tubes were still being manufactured in the early 1990s, but have now disappeared as electronic inventions have replaced the need for them. Consequently, drug stores no longer have a need for TV tube test stations.

Soda Fountain
Then: Perhaps the quintessential defining area of every drug store in the boomer era (and the generation before) was a soda fountain. Soda jerks were the uniformed workers — men and women — who manned the counter. They served up ice cream sodas, sundaes, banana splits and in some cases, hot dogs and sandwiches. It was the ice cream that Mister Boomer remembers. His father promised him a banana split after he had his tonsils removed when he was six years old. It was the first one he had ever eaten, and it was at the neighborhood drug store’s soda fountain. It was a thing of beauty, with half slices of banana slipped on the sides of a long glass dish. Then scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream were layered in, and covered with whipped cream. Hot fudge was drizzled on top of the whipped cream, followed by crushed walnuts. A cherry, centered over the middle scoop of ice cream, completed the masterpiece. Sometimes Mister B’s father would get him and his siblings a sundae while waiting for a prescription to be filled.

Now: Unless the drug store is a themed nostalgia establishment, the vast majority have eliminated the soda fountain.

A trip to the drug store could be a mundane affair, but as Mister Boomer recalls, it could also be an event. A child could experience the joy ice cream can bring, or take home a kite, model or toy while his parents acquired their needs.

What did your drug store mean to you, boomers?