Craig Shoemaker


Trip to Generation Gap


I just finished a minivancation with my wife and three sons. After a few hours of road monotony in the loser cruiser and running out of “I spy with my little eyes,” the kids started displaying their various forms of cranky and I began to turn into an old codger. The more miles we went, the more I realized how many miles are on me. As much as I think I’m hip, I’m shot down by my middle schooler telling me how un-hip I am, and that actually using the word “hip” is also un-hip.

I use the phrase “in my day” with them too. I say it as if I have some sort of ownership on that period of time in our history. These three words are usually accompanied by some dismissal of what my children are doing that I don’t care for, like: “in my day we had to work for our allowance.”

I swore I would never talk like my mom, much less my grandmother, but this is one phrase I find myself saying all too often when I want my kids to consider alternative behavior. I’ve also been known to throw out a “money doesn’t grow on trees,” or a version of “I’m doing this for your own good.” Fortunately for the children, I haven’t resorted to whoping them and telling them “this hurts me more than it hurts you.”

What I observed throughout our thousand mile drive through northern California was some amazing landscape and unique activities, but between the mountain vistas and rolling water was an Americana that seems much too manufactured and inorganic. I travel a lot for a living, and it now seems as if town councils in all 50 states got together and created a universal franchise, kicking out the mom and pop and replacing it with mondo and popular.

In my day, coffee was not offered every two street corners, and certainly had far less menu options than today’s cocoa bean chains. Choices were: black, cream and Sanka, and that’s it. Whipped cream was used for fruit, which is what you would have been called if you ordered Miracle Whip on your cup o joe. A coffee shop had a waitress with big, flabby arms that resembled a quilt hanging on a clothesline. They wore glasses on the end of their nose and called you “hon,” and never said; “My name is Skyler and I’ll be your server today.” Besides, if I need your name, I’ll read your friggin nametag!

In my day, there was no Google to fact check me if I make something up. You either asked someone smarter than you or rifled through your set of Encyclopedias, which were purchased from a man in short sleeves with a long tie who knocked on the front door. Your parents, even if they were wrong, were the most knowledgeable people in the world, but now with a 4G search by my smart-ass child, I am reduced to a lying moron within seconds.

In my day, you stopped at a local Italian restaurant, not an “Olive Garden.” When I order, I still say “spaghetti” and not “pasta.” Ok, I occasionally use the word “pasta,” but reluctantly. I have no idea who made the change or when it took place. We need to bag the pasta and bring back spaghetti. It rolls off the tongue with an automatic marriage to meatballs. “Pasta & meatballs” for dinner? Come on! Plus, it’s a load of fun to listen to our two-year-old try to pronounce anything over three syllables. As a young boy I called it “Biz-ghettis.” Chef Boyardee was our Emeril, and the chef gave us “Spaghetti-O’s” in a can, not “Past-O’s.” Besides, pasta sounds too much like paste, which was a kindergarten delicacy when I was a boy, but nothing I want to bite into now.

During the two thousand-mile minivan journey, I got lost several times (but wouldn’t admit it). Our teen son kept harping on me to use the navigation system on my smart phone. No! I like pulling over and asking real, live people, and they will never drop reception if I approach them in a wooded area. They use expressions like “go down a piece” or “over yonder,” and that adds to the charm. A robot voice will never mention a fillin station, and certainly won’t tell you to stop in and try some pie at Dot & Eddies. Plus, they can settle a bet and tell me how to pronounce “pecan.”

I did however garner a few laughs from the family when the voice recognition for the GPS apparently couldn’t understand my Philly accent. Asking it to give me directions to “King’s Canyon California,” it would somehow register as “Porn Kings.” I never did see if there really was a town called this, but might some day when I’m alone.

I will not use an “app” on my phone either. It’s a miracle I even operate it for anything beyond a phone call. There is now an app for farting, and my kids press it like it’s Morse Code. To my dying day I will laugh at farts, but none of them will be of the IPhone variety. The reason for the chuckle on a real puffer, is you waiting for the smell to waft over to someone’s nose and then see his or her startled reaction. Plus, it’s your creation, not some stranger’s from the Silicon Valley.

I still say “dial” a phone and remember actually doing so on a rotary “Princess” model. I had speed dialing down on a rotary phone when speed dialing was when you tried to reach a radio station fast enough to be the 10th caller and win a prize. It took skill to nimbly move that hole clockwise to the little curved metal finish line. We always hated when people had “8s” and “9s” in their number. And if they were long distance that added a “one” and an area code, well, dialing them could make your fingers bleed.

When I was really young, there was no such thing as even a cordless in our house. The best we could do for mobility was a very long cord on our wall phone. Privacy came from going inside of a closet with the twisted wire extended to its fullest, eventually pulling the casing from the mount. Call waiting was a busy signal. Caller ID was an instinct on whose ring you just knew it was.

If you talked to someone in another part of the country, you were bound to use the phrase, “I’m talking long distance,” and be conscious of the cost of the call. You limited the call length, and went through the itemized bill at the end of the month, frequently yelling out, “Who called Wisconsin?!”

Speaking of fingers, I miss the ads for the phone book that had a hand model’s fingers finding numbers in a large white book and a big yellow one for businesses. Those phone books had many uses too, like giving a short boy a boost when he was too short to eat at the grownup table. I will not rely exclusively on a device to find numbers because I’m always afraid of one of my technological outlets breaking down, so I keep a book. As long as I eat food, there will be plenty of battery life too.

By the way, we challenged our brains and took great pride in remembering numbers, whereas now if you lose your cell with the stored contacts, you’re screwed and can’t even call your own sister to come help you. Now, I’m not even sure what my sibling’s area code is, much less tell you the first three digits. Perhaps it’s TU6, meaning “Tulpehocken” 6, a region in Philadelphia in which she lives. Isn’t that easier to remember than a series of numbers?

Okay, there goes the codger again. Back to our trip.

Despite the stops in strip malls and self service gas stations where you pay for air, we did have a great time exploring regions of the Golden State that remain untouched by neon. There are some amazing spots to visit and fun for all ages. Natural beauty is a must for anyone and there is plenty of that to be found. It is important to find these moments of family bonding, without the distractions that cause us to veer off of what is in the present. Simplicity holds the most value.

As least in my day…

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