BACKTRACKING

The Good Old Days

by Terry Hogan

I have a computer on my desk at work. I do most of my work with the computer. It has a "screen saver" that is user friendly. It allows a relatively computer-stupid old guy like me, to load up digital photos to the screen saver, making a totally one-of-a-kind show. Mine has photos from the Stearman Fly-in, the Madison, Indiana unlimited hydroplane races, family photos, and even some digital copies of photos from the "good old days" when I wore a (much) younger man's clothes.

People occasionally wander into my office, seeking help, sage advice (not really, but I keep hoping), and most frequently, trying to pass off work to the senile old guy. While they are talking to me, I am reasonably civil for an old grumpy guy. I stop typing. If I stop typing for over a minute, my screen saver pops up with a computer random-selected photo. Sometimes it happens to be one of the old photos of my squandered, but joyful youth.

Unfortunately, these photos of me in my early teens with a ‘55 Chevy or a hydroplane on Lake Bracken, provokes unwanted comments. The comments seem to be unlimited in exact form, but generally follow the pattern of, "My grandparents have photos like those." It's a little irksome, frankly. I know why we are grumpy old men. But it is true. The receptionist that sits outside my office was born in 1984. She is looking forward to turning 21. Her name is Tiffany. This is a name that probably wasn't invented when I was born. Or if the name did exist, at least it wasn’t spoken in polite company. (It’s alright, she doesn’t read this column.)

Yes, my wasted youth was a long time ago. It was before Vietnam. It was when cars were customized and we ran "black wheels" (no hubcaps). I had a flattop and it had nothing to do with a ship carrying jets to bomb someone.

Back then, girls were still relatively modest and at least let us believe we were chasing them. Back then, the Galesburg Drive-in was still open and it showed little dancing cups of soft drinks to encourage you to leave the car and go to the concession stand. Back then, gas was about 32 a gallon, but as a teenager, you were only making about $1/hr.

These young kids laugh at me when I tell them that my employer a number of years ago sent me to a computer class to learn how to operate a "mouse". Now my grandkids seem to be born with a mouse gene and intuitively understand the principle of relative positioning of a mouse to a computer screen cursor. I've got pre-school grandsons that are more comfortable with computers than I will ever be. I still get boggled by computers from time to time, somewhere deep in the internal software control options. I just know that with the next keystroke, Chicago will disappear. Of course, some of you will probably think that's not a bad idea. Old biases die hard. But if Chicago does vanish, it is either terrorists, or me hitting the wrong option on the menu.

But despite that unintentional abuse that is occasionally heaped on me by my (much) younger co-workers as a result of the screen saver, I still like these old photos when they pop up on the computer screen. They are almost like old friends that briefly stop by to say "Hi" before they return to little digital switches of "0"s and "1"s. Sometimes I wonder if the screen saver is similar to Alzheimer's - just random flicks of the good old days.

We move at a pretty fast pace now, helped by the speed of electrons and electronic access to international data bases. But with greater speed, our patience and attention span have atrophied. Back in the 1970s when I began my career, I drove a couple hundred miles and spent several days in a university library to research a subject. Now I get impatient (yes, and "grumpy") if the Internet is having a bad day and it takes more than a few seconds to respond to my Internet query. We work faster. We work smarter. We have tons of data at our fingertips. But we are still the inherently flawed folks that walked out of the caves not that long ago, dragging our wooden clubs behind us. We can now make the same stupid mistakes, but much faster and before many more people. Progress is wonderful. We can make fools of ourselves on an international scale.

Our own parents or grandparents had the old sage advice about waiting a day before mailing that letter that is full of hot emotions. Well, now we can send those steamy thoughts by email and they can be forwarded to the entire known universe in a matter of seconds. Even Uncle Sam doesn't have to steam open the envelopes for email access.

Times were never simple. Times never will be. The good old days were good, in part, because our minds have selective memory. Selective memory is a good thing. Total recall would likely really increase the divorce rate. Can you imagine the arguments if both had total recall?

But even with that recognition and the knowledge that growing up had more than the occasional hard knock and the peer pressure that cut deep, they still were pretty good old days. At least most of your parts worked then.

One of the old photos that appears on the screen saver is me as a 15 year old. I'm in my small hydroplane at Lake Bracken. It is a staged photo. But looking at it today, the important part of the photo is behind me. In the background is the Clubhouse, the swimming beach full of mothers and their children. Up the hill to the left of the Clubhouse is the backside of the outdoor movie screen and the movie benches are clearly visible. The floating logs, hooked end to end, marked the swimming area boundaries and tied the swimming docks together. All are gone now. They live only in a few photos and in the memories of those good old days.

Have a cup of coffee. Recall a few of the good old days. If you don't, who will?

But remember, take an aspirin. And watch those stairs; they can be tricky.

11-22-04