Boomers Dropped A Dime

Did someone ever tell you to “drop a dime?” Did you ever say that phrase to someone else? If so, you recall that the idiom meant, “Give me a call.” The phrase referred to the common charge for a phone call at a pay phone. The cost of a phone call was ten cents (i.e., a dime) from the 1950s until the 1980s. By the 1980s, most states had raised the cost of a pay phone call to 20 cents or 25 cents.

The whole idea of calling someone has completely changed in the three generations that have come into adulthood since the boomer years. In the 1950s and ’60s, the phone was a vital instrument to arrange plans and schedules for personal and business needs. Boomers, especially boomer girls, began expanding the idea of what a phone call could be by carrying on extended conversations with classmates after school. One of the things that enabled this shift was the notion that a household could have more than one phone. The ad blitz Bell Telephone created surrounding the first consumer-available push button phones in 1963 promoted that idea by calling one line of their new product “Princess phones.” Ford had taken a similar approach in the 1950s when their ad blitz promoted the idea of a second family car. (For additional info on phones in the boomer era, see: For Boomers, Phone Followed Function)

Still, pay phones prevailed as the go-to resource when one was not at home. Mister Boomer recalls his mother telling him and his siblings to always keep a dime in their pockets, just in case they needed to call home. Some boys in Mister B’s neighborhood wore penny loafers with their white t-shirts and blue jeans. The penny loafers were the ideal place to keep dimes that could be used in case of emergency. You could not “drop a dime” if you didn’t have one.

Today’s generation pays for gum with a cell phone (which costs much more than a dime!). They spend countless hours scrolling through videos and other internet content on their cell phones. Their cell phones never leave their sides. Yet, this generation is not all that interested in “dropping a dime” on their friends, family and colleagues. Texting has far surpassed the desire to call someone. Many have gone one step further, composing text messages not with words, but emojis. In boomer days, there may have been a small percentage of people who could speak Klingon (to boldly go where no one had gone before), but these days there is a much wider group who speak emoji. Mister Boomer is not one of them.

How about you, boomers? How has your relationship to the phone changed through the years? Was “drop a dime” ever part of your regular vernacular?

Boomers and the Internal Combustion Engine

Last week, federal regulations banning the retail sale of incandescent light bulbs went into effect (See: Will Boomers Say “Shine On Brightly?” from a decade ago). This phase-out is one of many that have happened in the life of boomers. Whether through shifts in consumer preferences, a cooperative effort of government regulation and public companies, or technological advancements, this is not a rare occurrence in our lives.

Boomers’ grandparents, or in many cases, the parents of boomers, were around when the horse and carriage was being replaced by automobiles powered by internal combustion engines. It was a momentous change that took time, but by the end of the 1930s, most Americans had switched their major source of transportation to vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine (ICE).

The first successful commercial internal combustion engine appeared in 1860, though experiments were conducted on gas-powered engines decades before that date. By the end of WWII and the beginning of the Boomer Generation, the ICE was as commonplace as anything in American culture. As boomers became driving-age teenagers, the ICE played an important role in teenage mobility, and more so for the “motorheads,” mostly male, who customized the speed-demon machines of the 1960s, as their fathers had done creating hot rods, after the War and into the 1950s.

At this particular time in history, however, the viability of the ICE is being weighed against its required use of fossil fuels and the environmental harm it has caused for decades. Like light bulb manufacturers over the past decade, auto companies around the globe are rethinking and retooling to gear up for a future without the ICE. Audi was the first company to announce that no new development would be done on ICE after 2021. Both Ford and Stellantis (the current name of company resulting from the merger between Fiat and Chrysler) have announced their target date of 2030 for eliminating all sales of gas-powered passenger vehicles in Europe. In the U.S., General Motors has announced 2035 as their target date to eliminate the ICE from their vehicles. California has become the first to mandate that all new cars and trucks sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles beginning in 2035. Whether these targets are achievable remain to be seen, but as far as the ICE is concerned, its days appear to be numbered.

The timing of this shift away from ICE to something else, which right now leans heavily toward electric engines powered by batteries, is of great interest to Mister Boomer simply because it may happen within our lifetime. Boomer grandparents and parents witnessed a series of major shifts in all aspects of their lives, and now boomers can assess what has happened within their lifetimes.

Cars were a vital part of Mister Boomer’s early years. In his heyday, Mister B could perform a tune-up, replace spark plugs and do other regular maintenance on the ICE in his cars as needed. It was practically a rite of passage in his area, but also more economical to do it oneself. These days it has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to perform maintenance on their own engines due to the proliferation of chip technology added to the processes. Though these technological improvements have made for a more efficient ICE, it has already changed the way boomers looked at car maintenance.

What modern marvels are boomers still destined to witness? Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited with writing that the only thing constant in life is change. He went on to compare change to stepping into a river; you’ll never step into the same water twice.

Do you have an emotional attachment to the internal combustion engine, boomers?