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Dick Tracy: Taking a trip down memory lane

Dick Tracy

Remember Andy Rooney? He was the bushy-eyebrowed curmudgeon who wrapped up “60 Minutes” programs with five minutes of insightful dry comments on various subjects.

And he was an unabashed curmudgeon. I interviewed him once at a communications convention in Monterey and he admitted: “I don’t want to be here. I want to be home, working in my wood shop. I’m invited to a lot of these things, and usually say, ‘I’d love to attend, but I’m going to be in France then.’ But my boss is here, and he knows I’m not in France.”

So I’m dedicating these “old guy” observations to his memory.



Driving up to a Grass Valley stoplight behind a beautifully restored 1950 Chevy, I was puzzled that the driver’s arm was extended straight out from the window.

What was he pointing at? Then it hit me: The car has no directional-signal taillights. He’s signaling for a left-hand turn!



For young readers, this is the way we drove back then. Similarly, a right turn meant having your arm out of the window (rain or shine) and cocked straight up from the elbow. To signal, “slow down” or a stop, the arm hung straight down.

The idea of backup cameras (best invention since Penicillin), self-driving cars and all of the modern gadgetry we take for granted weren’t even science fiction

And our cars had other things you rarely see anymore: hub caps and whitewall tires. Nowadays even pickup trucks have wheel covers or fancy wheels instead of hubcaps. Maybe because they cost so much? Whitewalls were a class symbol back then. Sure, they were extra work to keep clean, but they visually lowered the car’s profile and were always used on fancy automobiles.

In those days when you pulled into a gas station an attendant ran to the driver’s window for instructions. I did it as a teenager for $1.35 an hour. And while pumping gas we offered to wash the windshield, check the water and oil levels or tire pressure. It was like a pit stop at the Indianapolis 500! No extra charge.

Gas up your car in Oregon for a taste of what it was like.

Something else I miss seeing: Greyhound buses with their destinations proudly emblazoned over the windshield. Once ubiquitous, where have they gone? I saw one about a year ago on Interstate 80 and said, “Look! It’s a Greyhound!”

And what about their competitor, Trailways? Don’t people ride buses anymore?

Another thing I haven’t seen in decades: Groups of kids on bikes. We rode ours to school or places like the Saturday morning “Kiddie Matinee” at the movie theater. Before TV was widely available, we spent 14 cents to see two cartoons, a serial adventure and two feature films. A jumble of bikes left little room to walk on the sidewalk outside the theater.

We either rode bikes, walked, or spent a precious dime for bus fare. One day we were standing in line at the admission booth when a car pulled up to the curb and let some kids out.

“Your mother drove you?” was the question they shamefacedly answered.

Today’s kids have other situations to face, such as the big increase in obesity. We were more judgmental about such things in those days, giving corpulent playmates nicknames like, “blubber gut” and “fatso.”

One wonders if the advent of the internet, iPhones and “helicopter moms “ driving children everywhere in a van might be linked to this health problem? In olden days, we even got out of our chairs and crossed the room to manually change TV channels.

Other things I wonder about, and can visualize Rooney offering:

Back in the 1930s, gas stations were competing for customers in price wars, and someone came up with the idea of advertising a gallon of gas for 25 9/10ths cents, making it appear cheaper than a competitor’s 26-cent gasoline. But why are we still continuing this 9/10ths cent business? And why do we still have the penny? Can you buy anything for one cent?

When American notables appear on TV to make an “important” speech, there’s a cluster of people behind them, staring fixedly at the camera. Who are they? Are they coached to show no emotion?

Some won’t even blink! What’s the purpose? If it were me, I’d be backed up by the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Pom poms and all. Smiling!

In basketball games, what’s this ritual at the free throw line, with the shooter sharing fist bumps with every member of his squad, even if he misses? Is it so hard to sink a wide-open 15-foot free throw that it’s cause for celebration?

Why do professional baseball players spit so much? I’m told maybe it’s because they chew tobacco. Why? Does anyone chew gum anymore?

What happened to those who wrote messages (“Kilroy was here!” is a benign example) on men’s room toilet walls? It was a peculiar sharing of First Amendment rights, thankfully gone but not forgotten.

Who invented the restaurant server’s question: “Are you guys still working on that?” A famed restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, alerts customers: “If your server asks that question, the meal is free.”

Great idea!

Dick Tracy, who lives in Grass Valley, is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.


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