Boomers Were Ready To Fly

Like television, air travel had been around a couple of decades before the Boomer Generation, but it took until then to be practical for the everyday family. Commercial air travel began in the 1920s, but it was almost exclusively a resource for the wealthy. After the war, two things changed the equation: the availability of surplus aircraft from the war launched dozens of regional airlines, plus the introduction of commercial jet travel. Domestic and international airlines competed with each other and an industry was reborn.

Just two short years after the beginning of the Boomer Generation, in 1948, the first coach fares were introduced. Taking its cue from the railroad industry, airline coach fares offered a more economical ticket price to a destination. Nonetheless, by the mid-50s, the National Air and Space Museum states the number of passengers that flew by air per year hovered around 100,000 … worldwide! At this time, Dwight Eisenhower was president, but the national freeway system was not yet built, so the major mode of transportation for long distances was by train.

In 1959, the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) was formed to address a series of airline accidents over the preceding decade, in order to make flying a safer endeavor for passengers. This FAA became the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967, when the Department of Transportation was created by an act of Congress the previous year.

At the beginning of the 1960s, air travel infrastructure became more advanced, with air traffic control towers and radar becoming commonplace. Along with the technology came the modern airport. By the 1970s, the number of passengers that flew in airplanes tripled to more than 300,000. Today, more than 4 billion passengers travel by air each year.

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It is always fascinating to Mister B that so many technological and social advancements happened in the early days of our youth. In a completely unscientific, anecdotal survey done within his circle of boomer friends and family, Mister B can report that middle class families known to him tended to take their first flights somewhere in the 1970s. Mister Boomer knows one person, an early-year boomer, whose first flight was in the late 60s; he was flying to attend a university in another state. Meanwhile, a boomer born at the end of the generation in 1964 relayed that he flew with his family on a vacation in the mid-1970s. The first-flight age difference between the early-year boomer and later-year boomer is striking; one was college-aged, in his late teens, and the other under ten years old.

In the early 1960s, the national highway system had been built, and commercials invited people to “… see the USA in your Chevrolet.” That was the case for Mister Boomer’s family (except it was in a Ford). For the decade of the 1960s, his family drove on vacation, ultimately criss-crossing the country to destinations from coast to coast, a week or two each summer.

Mister Boomer’s first flight occurred courtesy of a high school senior class trip. He knew of no one in his class who had been on an airplane before that flight. His parents didn’t take their first flight until years later, to see their first grandchild, born to Brother Boomer, who was living in another state. As far as Mister B knows, both his paternal and maternal grandparents never flew in an airplane. There is your generational difference.

How about you, boomers? When did you take your first airplane flight?

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?