As it turns out, the decade wasn’t all bad!
Here are a few things we remember fondly from the 1970s:
1. Department Store Gift-Wrapping
As a child I was completely enchanted by the dazzling array of bows and shiny gift wrap displayed on the wall in the gift-wrapping department at the May Company department store near my home in suburban Cleveland. The ladies were expert wrappers, with perfectly creased corners and stripes that lined up at every seam. The bows and gift cards were like icing on the tops of beautiful cakes. It was like watching magic happen before my eyes to see an ordinary salad bowl transformed into a sparkly work of art piled high with ribbon and lace. These days, most stores no longer offer gift-wrapping service (though a handful still do). More often than not you’ll be directed to the wrapping paper aisle and told to fend for you ham-handed self — explaining the exponential growth of the gift bag industry.
2. A TV Season You Could Set Your Clock By
Beginning in the late 1960s, the television “season” ran from September through March with the typical season including 24 to 26 episodes. As predictable as April showers and May flowers were the reruns that came and then persisted through the summer months, coaxing us away from our TVs and into the Great Outdoors. Coinciding with the school year, the predictable schedule offered a way for children to settle back into the school year with their favorite shows in September: Mork & Mindy, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and even All in the Family. The season finale signaled that it was time for us to get our bikes out of the garage and commence with summer fun.
3. Sunday Drives in the Family Station Wagon
It’s hard to believe, but in the 1970s Americans actually drove for pleasure. The price of gas was $0.36/gallon in 1970 ($2.20 in today’s dollars) and even though the fuel economy of the average sedan was only 13.5/MPG, a family could still take a leisurely 100-mile drive in the country for less than $3.00. Throw in a picnic lunch and a beautiful day and you had a budget-friendly family outing or a lovely afternoon date. Though we felt guilty about our habit of chucking McDonald’s bags out the car window (thanks to Iron Eyes Cody, an Italian-oddly-turned-American Indian), we remedied that with an in-car trash receptacle and left obsessing over carbon footprints and dying polar bears to subsequent generations.
4. Simple Coffee without All the Bells and Whistles
Remember when you didn’t have to choose between 33 varieties (and three sizes) of coffee? You could just tell your server (she was called a waitress back then) that you wanted “coffee.” Your choices were “black” or “cream and sugar” and “regular” or “decaf” and the coffee was served in sturdy ceramic cups. In 1970 you could spend the better part of an evening or an entire morning in a diner with friends, drinking unlimited refills for 10 cents if you ordered something to eat along with it. Now, in addition to an almost endless array of exotic choices — and exorbitant prices — we drink our coffee from eco-friendly paper cups that sometimes add an odd compost-like flavor to the coffee. While I do enjoy a nice salted caramel mocha (with whipped cream, of course!) on occasion, sometimes pure, unadulterated coffee with no bells or whistles is still the best way to enjoy a cup of Joe.
5. Waiting an Eternity for Photo Processing
While I certainly appreciate the instant gratification and dependability of digital photography, there was something special about the anticipation of waiting what seemed like an eternity for a roll of film to be developed. We used to take our film to the Crown Pharmacy on the corner (the same counter where my mom picked up her birth control pills) and return a week later to pick up the prints. Or, if we were in a hurry, we’d splurge for the pricey one-day service at the Fotomat. Remember the adrenaline rush you felt when opening the envelope to see whether any decent pictures had emerged from the dark room? It was the Kodachrome equivalent of Russian Roulette. Sometimes the results were devastating — everyone in the senior prom pictures looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost or, worse, the black roll of death returned no pictures whatsoever. Nevertheless, that was all part of the anticipation and the adventure.