Back in the good old days – by which I mean the innocent years of the 1950s and early 1960s before I graduated from high school and America went to hell – things were substantially different than they are today, by which I mean simpler.

Also dumber.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Dumber? People smoked in restaurants and airplanes, even at sporting events. Hard to imagine non-smokers putting up with the choking stench all those years. Of course, 45% of Americans smoked in 1965. Today, it’s only about 15%.

We did lots of foolish and dangerous things back then, like driving without seat belts. When I was a baby, my parents put me on the rear window shelf and drove around to cool off and put me to sleep on hot summer nights. Somehow, I survived.

It seems odd that people were so blasé when it came to health and safety, given how uptight and conformist Americans were in the 1950s. Unmarried couples living together was unheard of, divorce was rare and girls who got pregnant out of wedlock either got married, went to a home for unwed mothers or had an unsafe illegal abortion. Today, they just become single moms.

Speaking of which, do teenagers still go “parking” at airports? I kind of doubt it. The Portland Jetport was our lovers’ lane back in the 1960s. We’d park overlooking the runway and neck for hours. Ah, the stamina of youth!

We may have been just as oversexed as kids today, but we were a lot better dressed. It was a very buttoned-down era. Boys were not allowed to have facial hair or wear blue jeans to school and girls were not allowed to wear slacks at all. Not sure how to explain the sudden appearance of miniskirts and all they revealed.

When it came to media, we were happily primitive. The television got four channels if we were lucky. There were no cellphones. When you left the house there was no way to get in touch with you at all. You were gone. All in all, not a bad state of affairs.

Music was a big part of growing up. I had a transistor radio to listen to WJAB and a monaural turntable to listen to the handful of 45s I owned, chief among them Chuck Berry’s 1958 “Johnny B. Goode” with “Around and Around” on the flip side. My high school buddy Johnny had one of the best and biggest album collections in town – rock, folk and jazz LPs that nearly covered his entire bedroom wall. Today, every kid with a cellphone carries more tunes than that in their back pockets.

Portland may be an international foodie smorgasbord in 2020, but 60 years ago you had three choices – surf and turf at Boone’s or Vallee’s Steak House, Italian at the Village Café or Sportsman‘s Grill, and Chinese at the Pagoda. At home we ate things no one eats anymore – creamed chipped beef on toast, fondues, Spam, Jell-O salads and casseroles. Mmm-mm!

We like to think we are a lot hipper now than we were back in the good old days, but there are remnants of the square past still with us.

Remember Blue Laws? Department stores couldn’t open on Sundays. No Sunday sales of liquor? Amazing that we ever allowed Christian mores to dictate public policy. But then auto dealers still can’t sell cars on Sunday and supermarkets can’t be open on Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas. So much for separation of church and state, a principle of American life that now belongs to the good old days.

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