Boomers Disturb the Seasonal Peace

Mister Boomer is feeling rather curmudgeonly these days, and the reason is simple: everywhere you turn these days — even watching TV commercials — you’re told in no uncertain terms that “summer is coming to a close.” This is not good news for Mister B. Summer is by far his favorite time of the year. “Oh, but fall has such pretty colors,” you might say. In Mister Boomer’s eyes, summer is the introvert, exuding a subtle yet confident calm in a range of greens and blues, while fall is the extrovert, shouting “look at me!” in attention-grabbing yellows, oranges and reds. Don’t those showy leaves know this is their last hurrah? “Oh, but fall has such cool temperatures,” you may say. Mister Boomer responds that is exactly what makes it less desirable. In every depiction of paradise recorded in Western Civilization, occupants are not wearing sweaters (or parkas, for that matter). In fact, the climate seemed so temperate in Paradise that the main mode of dress appeared to be a fig leaf. Ergo, paradise equals warmer temperatures.

Yet colors and temperatures of the impending seasonal change are the least of it. The real issue is leaf blowers. These abominations appeared for public consumption in post-boomer years. The first leaf blowers were gas-powered backpack systems that originated from garden foggers for pesticides in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, professional landscapers had a walk-behind leaf blower available for use on large properties. It wasn’t until 1978 when the first hand-held leaf blower made its way into the consumer market.

Mister Boomer remembers a time not so long ago when people didn’t feel the need to pierce the neighborhood stillness with the shriek of a leaf blower engine. He remembers a time when clouds of oil-filled smoke didn’t surround the operator of a gas-powered leaf blower. He remembers a time when there where these things called rakes. In other words, Mister B does not see a reason for homeowners to have a leaf blower, any more than parking an anti-aircraft missile launcher in the driveway. There may be a professional purpose to these things, but not for home use.

Noise and air pollution caused by leaf blowers has been a recognized problem almost from their inception. Professional operators of these garden implements must wear hearing protection for their own safety, and steps are being made, with both battery-powered electric and gas-powered models, to reduce their environmental impact. Yet the question remains of why an average homeowner with a couple of hundred feet of property at best needs this equipment.

Go back 40 or 50 years, and most boomers had not heard a leaf blower in their neighborhood. Rakes were a hand-powered garden tool, made of metal or wood. The best rakes for collecting leaves had flexible prongs that fanned out from the wooden handle about three-quarters of the way down the shaft. Rakes were most often utilized by children under the age of sixteen. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, it was the kids in the family who raked the leaves. Every child in every house had “chores,” in every season, including leaf collection. By the age of sixteen, kids had part-time jobs and a car, so the leaf raking fell to the younger siblings, both boys and girls. Some enterprising boomers made a dollar by raking the leaves of their neighbors, especially seniors without children at home to handle the job.

Raking leaves was more than a chore, however. By combining raked leaves from more than one household, a large pile in a grassy area near the street, or in the street itself, provided opportunities for jumping and playing. The kids saw that a pile could cushion a rolling leap in much the same way as ball pits operate for kids today. Leaves could be tossed in the air, at other boomers, or stuffed into jacket backs in a tag-like game. After a play session, leaves could often need re-raking and collecting.

In Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods in the 1950s, leaves were raked into piles in the street at curbside, where they were lit on fire and burned to ash. By the very early 1960s, his city and a host of others banned the process, deciding it wasn’t a good idea to have prepubescent boomers playing with matches, and of course, air pollution awareness was increasing at the same time.

Still, we are faced with an impending change in the air. As the Byrds told us, “… to every season turn, turn, turn …” We as boomers are facing each day with news of how time is passing. In recent weeks, additional people of note to boomers have passed on, including actor Ed Asner, Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, TV weatherman Willard Scott, swamp pop drummer Warren Storm (The Shondells, before Tommy James) and Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, to name a few.

Summer is coming to an end, boomers. Do you want to spend your autumn years surrounded by the noise and air pollution of “convenience” gadgets? Or, like the leaves on the trees, shouting to the sky in a burst of expression?

 

Boomers Watched Live Shows Decades Before the Internet

The proliferation of all types of live broadcasting through social media these days, specifically Facebook and Instagram, got Mister Boomer wondering about live broadcasts in the boomer years. Surely, he recalls, there were many TV shows that broadcast live. As it turns out, Mister B remembered correctly. TV was a technological marvel of the boomer era, when the majority of households were finally able to afford TV sets, and broadcasting technology had produced a degree of quality that made people want to watch. Boomers grew up with a burgeoning television industry, but today’s kids don’t know a world where there was no internet.

Prior to the appearance of the first practical videotape, it was common practice for TV shows — from sitcoms to news — to be broadcast live. Like radio before it, television began with live broadcasts. A good portion of scheduled programming was locally-based, so live broadcasts did not have to worry about time scheduling conflicts. The alternative was to use film, like movies. A few famous shows, like I Love Lucy (1951) and Gunsmoke (1955), did employ this method.

A key year in the movement away from live TV broadcasting was 1958. Experiments with forms of videotape had been around in various forms even before the War, but the first practical use of it did not evolve until 1951. At that point, it was far too expensive to purchase equipment and tape itself to be a practical replacement for live or filmed broadcasting. By 1958, the television industry began the shift to videotape, signaling the slow retreat from live broadcasting to arrive at where we are today. Boomers recall 1960s sitcoms opening or closing with a voiceover stating that the show was “taped before a live studio audience.” As shows began using videotape, some were accused of using laugh tracks. The voiceover disclaimer was an effort to dispel that notion to give the TV audience more of the feel of the early days of live broadcasting.

Boomers may not realize it, but they bore witness to many historical events when they were broadcast live on their family TV. Here are a few:

• September 4, 1951: The country’s first national, coast-to-coast live TV broadcast featured President Harry Truman’s opening speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco.

• January 14, 1952: The Today Show debuted, live, to East Coast and Central time zone customers. The show continued live until 1958.

• September-October 1960: The Kennedy-Nixon Debates were the first presidential debates that were televised, and were broadcast live. These debates were instrumental in setting John Kennedy on the path to the White House.

• July 23, 1962: Thirteen days after the launch of the Telstar satellite, the first transatlantic live television broadcast was relayed to a receiving station in England. President Kennedy was to give a short speech for the transmission, but due to its orbit around the Earth, there was only a 20-minute period of time the satellite could be used as a relay. That time window appeared earlier than scheduled, so the first transatlantic broadcast was of a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago White Sox, live from Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

• November 24, 1963: Following the assassination of President Kennedy the day before, a live broadcast of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as he was being moved to a county jail caught the shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Oswald was killed, and Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, subdued and arrested, on live television.

• November 25, 1963: JFK’s funeral was broadcast live to the country.

• December 24, 1968: As the Apollo 8 spacecraft circled the moon for the ninth time, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders gave the Earth its first look at an Earthrise view appearing above the lunar surface, live on TV. To mark the occasion on Christmas Eve, the astronauts, in turn, read passages of the biblical creation story from the Book of Genesis in the King James Bible.

• July 21, 1969: The world watched — live — as astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

Mister Boomer clearly remembers most of these live historical broadcasts, including the Nixon-Kennedy Debates, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s funeral and the first moon walk. Mister B was at a family Christmas party when the broadcast images of the Earth rising over the moon from Apollo 8 flickered on his uncle’s black and white television.

The next time a grandchild asks what you, as a boomer, watched before the advent of live social media, you know what to tell them.

How about you, boomers? Any live television memories stand out for you?