Ah, the Good Old Days. Is there anyone who doesn’t love movie theaters where the popcorn is still made with real butter? Who doesn’t long for the days when penny candy actually cost a penny? And how can anyone’s feet stand still when a good Charleston is playing?
As a boy, I always felt a little out of step with the 20th Century, principally because I had such romantic ideals of older times. I used to wish I’d been born in Medieval times, living by the standards of chivalry, and doing great deeds in the name of some goodly king or lord. As I grew up and learned more, however, I realized how unlikely this was. Things like the Black Death, lack of modern plumbing, and the incredible unlikelihood of social mobility made the Medieval period kind of…well…shitty. And chivalry? Invented largely by later periods who wanted to romanticize the Middle Ages as much as I did.
Despite this, however, there are some things I feel an actual longing towards, many of which went out of fashion long before I was born or only hung around a short time after. Happily, some of these things are slowly coming back, compelled, no doubt, by nostalgic people like myself.
That’s why I spurn movie megaplexes for the old refurbished movie palaces in my neck of the woods. I would pay double for my ticket, if it meant getting things like newsreels and cartoons…remnants from a day when going to the movies was a big deal and not just a “I dunno…what do you wanna do?” sort of thing. I want to support the good nostalgic returns.
Here then are some things I feel nostalgia for, even though I barely remember some of them and I’m too young to have ever experienced others, that’re making a come back.
You know about them, even if only as a space on a monopoly board. But what am I talking about exactly?
Well, Atlantic City is probably the quintessential one. The lavish hotels didn’t want beachgoers to track sand directly from the beaches into their lobbies, so a wooden boardwalk was created…a pedestrian buffer between the hotels and the beach. As time went on, piers were added to it, with amusements, restaurants, shops, and more.
By the time I finally visited Atlantic City, around age 7-8, it had gotten nice and seedy, but I was still fascinated by the bright lights and lurid posters, some of which still advertized amusement rides and freak shows that were long gone. There’s been a lot of renovation in recent years, but the old Boardwalk will likely never be the same.
I think my longing for boardwalks, especially the Atlantic City boardwalk, is really a longing for the days when tourism was a somewhat different animal. We live in a time of such over-stimulation that the idea of a vacation where you just go and spend a week at the beach seems a bit quaint. But not to me. Most of my favorite vacations during my childhood were just camping with my family, and one of the best that sticks in my mind is half of a vacation I took when I was 13.
My Dad and I went to Maine for two weeks. The first week was spent on a tiny, isolated island called Spirit Island in the Richardson Lakes region. The island was big enough for our tent, a porta-potty, a picnic table…and that’s pretty much it. I spent my time reading, writing notes for a D&D game (yes, even then), listening to the 1982 Summer Olympics, and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming. Usually skinny dipping, since no one was around to see, and my Dad didn’t care.
The second week was spent at a busy, hot KOA on a very different lake. They had an arcade, movies for kids every night (I saw an edited version of Caddyshack for the first time there), a snack bar, etc. It also had a gazillion people, and skinny dipping was right out. Later on, I asked my Dad why we hadn’t just stayed at Spirit Island, since we were both so unhappy at the KOA. He was abashed and admitted that he’d thought I’d be bored at Spirit Island, so he’d done it for me. He didn’t believe I could be so happy with so little. And I think that’s a problem with tourism in general.
Strange attitude for someone in the travel industry? Maybe. But nostalgia knows little in the way of logic.
I saw some great movies at drive-in movie theaters for the first time, usually as double-features. My first exposure to James Bond was seeing The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me back to back during a campaign trip with my Dad. And I saw Aliens the same way later on, during another camping trip.
I don’t exactly know why drive-ins have gone into decline. Maybe it’s just a lot of space to keep when land developers are offering such good prices? Maybe the need for absolute darkness to get a good image, and the bad sound equipment? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m blessed to still have a drive-in theater. The Mendon Drive-In (http://mendondrivein.com/) shows great movies at a great price and has one amazing snack-bar. Complete with a great color scheme (pink and turquoise) and a vintage car crashing into the side of it. They have great sound systems that send sound wirelessly to your car radio, so the crappy speakers that hang on your car are a thing of the past.
I can only hope that other drive-ins are returning around the country, but I haven’t seen too much evidence of it. Almost every one I pass has either been repurposed into something like a flea market, or simply lies fallow and crumbling.
Saturday Morning Cartoons/Holiday Specials
When I was a kid, I looked forward to Saturday Morning Cartoons all week. I would get up early, grab a bowl of cereal, and hang out in my PJs, watching tons of shows. The Smurfs, the Kroft Super-Show, Bigfoot and Wildboy, the Banana Splits, the Super-Friends in all their permutations, Pac-Man, Looney Tunes. It didn’t matter that many of them were terribly animated and had insipid storylines; I loved them, because they belonged to us kids. I actually *liked* Aquaman, because I thought it would be cool to swim underwater all the time and call my “fishy friends”.
And, of course, I remember tons of PSAs. Like most people my age, I learned so much from Schoolhouse Rock that I still remember the words to the Preamble by singing it. But there was also the Bod Squad, Time for Timer segments (and I saw both afterschool specials that he starred in, thank you very much), The Most Important Person, and so on.
Every year, in the fall, there would be actual preview shows on the Friday night before the new fall line-up would begin. I actually really looked forward to these, to get a look at what new shows were coming, and which old favorites were returning.
Nowadays, I still love cartoons, but they tend to be on week-nights instead of Saturday mornings. I love Adventure Time, the Amazing World of Gumball, The Clone Wars, Young Justice, Batman: The Brave & the Bold, and others. Now if only an educational short on par with Schoolhouse Rock would come along, we’d really be in business.
The other half of this nostalgia is missing the holiday specials that shows used to have, back in the day. Like He-Man * She-Ra, Christmas in Eternia, or what have you. It’s nice to see this slowly coming back. Kung Fu Panda made a charming and heartwarming holiday special, to say nothing of the Venture Brothers Christmas Sepcial. And there are both Halloween and Christmas episodes of Adventure Time coming up this year. Very excited for those.
I could go on and on about things I’m nostalgic for, but I think I’ll wrap-up with one you might think odd. I really miss the pre-internet days of gaming stores.
Allow me to explain.
When the RPG hobby had pretty-much just started, or at least my late-70s participation in it, the internet wasn’t around to get me connected with the gaming scene. There was no website to look at for info about what games were coming, no eBay to buy hard to find gaming goods at, and so on. So every store I found that sold D&D stuff was a treasure, and every one of them was different.
When you go into a gaming store now, you can pretty much guess what you’ll find. A selection of the popular games, many some minis, some dice, and so on. Maybe your store will vary by what third party D&D products they carry, but that’s about it.
In the old days, however, every store was like a wizard’s lab. They were all different, carrying bizarre small press games, modules you’d never heard of, Dragon Magazine back issues, minis, paints, and so on. In one store, you might find a trove of Judges Guild products. In another one, a Thieves World setting from Chaosium. In a third, that treasured boxed set of Grenadier minis. You had to make the rounds to get everything you wanted. And you could always look at the bulletin boards to see what people were looking for in terms of games to join or games needing players.
I remember many of those stores. Hobby Center and Eric Fuchs Hobbies (where I later worked) in the Burlington Mall; the Spare Time Hobby Shop in Marlborough; Hobby Town in Framingham; Excalibur Hobbies, at first in Arlington and later in Malden; the Game Master in Arlington, where I befriended Ford Ivey and joined NERO, my first LARP, and on a rare trip into Boston, the Compleat Strategist, which also had a branch in New York and was able to afford to advertise in Dragon Magazine! Woo!
Of those, only a handful survive…Spare Time is still there, as is Hobby Town, but both barely carry anything for RPGs, or at least so it was last time I was there. The Compleat Strategist is still in Boston, but it has moved, and I haven’t been to the new store yet. Excalibur Hobbies is now Hobby Bunker and still near where it once was. But the others are gone. Long gone.
Now don’t get me wrong…I love me some internet, and I love me the way the internet has made it possible for me to know what’s out there and connect with the gaming community as a whole. But I also acknowledge that the internet has helped to kill the Friendly Local Gaming Store. Why go someplace when you can get it cheap online? I think part of it is the community, and part of it will always be the crazy small press products that vary from store to store, or the plan bizarre stuff that you might find there.
Many stores that remind me of those stores of my youth linger in my area. Pandemonium Books & Games, which has been around a long time now, and where I also worked, is in Central Square rather than Harvard Square these days, is still my go-to store for gaming stuff. When I’m in other areas, however, I have to give it up for Hobby Bunker (usually for minis, terrain, or bonkers items, since their selection is pretty huge and not just RPGs), That’s Entertainment in Worcester and Modern Myths in Northampton, MA are both great, but they’re more comics/collectibles than RPGs.
I fear the internet has done too much damage to the FLGS for it to recover, but I hold out hope.
Well, I’ve rambled on for far longer than needed. What about you? Is there something nostalgic that you’re pleased for the return of? Something that you hold out a secret hope will come back? Tell us about it.