26 Things That Used to be Better, According to my Old Man

26 Things That Used to be Better, According to my Old Man

This is my father’s list, every single one except #18. Even though he thought up all the items and explained them to me when necessary, I did the writing. Whenever I could, I quoted my old man from a series of very-brief emails he sent me to explain a few on his list.

I’ll be interested to see if this sounds like your dad a time or two.

1. Gasoline “Now has ethyline in it that fouls small engines, takes more energy to produce than it provides, drives up the price of food and attracts water to gasoline.”

2. Air travelFlying used to make someone feel pretty fancy; it was expensive and people couldn’t afford to fly as much.

Sadly, like many things in American society, air travel has undergone a Wal-Mart-ification in the last 20 years. They took a once-fancy concept, stripped off every conceivable bell and whistle, and sold it at as a low of a price as possible.

You know how other nations say we have no culture? This is what they mean.

3. French fries – “No fat no taste.”- answered my dad in his email. And it’s true, they just tasted better when made with beef tallow or whatever animal fats that were used by the fast food restaurants.

Oh, “healthified” food will be seen again on this list.

4. School lunches– Pizza as a vegetable? Multi-national corporations continuing to dictate what enters the bodies of our obese schoolchildren? No and no, irrespectively.

5. Thoroughbred horses– Let’s compare two horses you’ve heard of: Seabiscuit (last race: 1940) and Smarty Jones (last race: 2004). Smarty won the 2004 kentucky derby AND preakness and was the overwhelming Belmont favorite before losing to 45-1 Birdstone. That was Smarty Jones’s 9th and final race, whereas Seabiscuit raced 89 times.

With a career nearly exactly in the middle of the aforementioned two, the mighty Secretariat raced only 21 times (last race: 1970). Shorter careers make for less time to get to know any athlete, human or horse. It just makes for a worse fan experience. Imagine if Larry Bird or Michael Jordan played only three NBA seasons.

And do you wanna know the biggest reason we haven’t had a triple crown winner since 1978? Racing three races, that far, in that quick of a succession, at that age is much harder for today’s thoroughbred (Smarty Jones) than in the ’70s (Secretariat), which was much hard compared to the 30’s (Seabiscuit). The thoroughbred breed has grown weaker, after generations of being built for explosive speed moreso than for durability. As a result they are simply unable to race as much.

6. Peanut butter– “No salt no taste”. I guess you can’t find salt in peanut butter anymore.

7. Saltines crackers – “Now called Premium Crackers ; low salt low taste.”. My dad is the only person I could ever imaging noticing that and pointing it out to me.

8. Newspapers/magazines– Newspapers used to be fat with real-life local journalism, now newspapers are pamphlet-sized and they feature stories from the AP about the Kardashians.

9. Light bulbs– The new, twisty halogen bulbs somehow are neither as soft nor as bright (as far as purchasable wattage goes) as incandescents.

Glad we fixed all that.

10. Household air quality– My dad had an interesting theory that with all the efforts taken to make houses air-tight for heating and cooling efficiency, the air in our houses has grown more stagnant. A generation ago our houses were draftier, thereby ferrying in a steady stream of fresh air.

11. Antibiotics – “Over-prescribed and not taken as directed has lead to resistance of the drugs to many formerly useful antibiotics.”

12. Baked goods – “No fat no taste.” He doesn’t drink light beer, and he doesn’t want to eat a light confectionery treat either.

13. Cigarettes– Their taxes are ridiculous. Chicago just tacked on another dollar per pack. And cigarettes were taxed over 100% before that. My dad doesn’t even smoke and he listed this.

14. Canned corn – “Low salt low taste”. I don’t know if this means no corn canners in the country sell regular-sodium canned corn, or if it’s just that the grocery store my mom goes to doesn’t carry regular-sodium canned corn. Or somewhere in betwixt.

15. Apple cider – “Now pasetrized so now it tastes like apple juice.” Great point and it’s a shame. Tupac once rapped, “you let the ghetto get the best of ya, baby that’s a shame.” but this is more like, “you let the government get the best of ya, baby that’s a shame.” when it comes to Apple Cider.

16. Ice cream and Orange juice – “No longer comes in half gallon containers –
smaller containers to ‘avoid’ price hikes.”.

17. Cost of attending pro sports– My dad and I had this conversation in 2001 about my brother who was living in Boston and is a huge Red Sox fan. This was right after the Red Sox signed Manny to a $160 million contract for 8 years. My dad and I agreed that player contracts, and the price of attending games was way too high.

He then said, “Your brother doesn’t think that players are overpaid. But then a minute later he was complaining about how high the prices were for the cable sports package required to watch the Red Sox every night.”

And that’s just to watch from home.

18. Internet buffering: We all hate when websites have surprising and unlwecome videos randomly start playing in some currently-off-screen corner of their page. So you finally locate it and press the Pause button. But that just pauses the video it doesn’t stop it from buffering. What makes less cool is that it’s draining data and energy as a result. It seems unnecessary, and also a little creepy because it’s buffering against my will.

Alas, my prayers used to be answered: a few years ago there was a Stop button next to the pause button, and pressing that would end the video and the buffering. The Stop button doesn’t seem to exist anymore and I miss it at least once every week of life.

(note: this is the only one of this list I thought of)

19. Getting gasoline– Another victim of Walmartification. Getting gas used to be known as Full Service instead of today’s ubiquitous Self-Service.

Back then you wouldn’t have to get out of your car; guys filled up your tank with your choice of gasoline while another guy washed your windows and another checked your tire pressure. Sure the extra service made the prices a bit higher, but having properly inflated tires is important- it improves your gas mileage and safety; and you didn’t even have to get outta your car!

This was bad, how?

20. Paint – “VOCs eliminated (volatile organic compounds ) paint not as durable
nor long lasting.”

21. Fertilizer – “phosphorous use is banned in (state where my dad lives) and I assume other states as well.” I guess phosphorous was awesome in fertilizer.

21B. Diswhasher soap “The latest issue of Consumer’s Report that I received today has an article about how the lack of phosphates in dishwasher soap (taken out 2 summers ago ) has caused a white stain and build up problem when hard water is involved.”

Here is a scientific run down of Phosphorus, which means essentially the same thing as Phosphates in this case. It sounds pretty unsafe.

So tell me, were you surprised he subscribes to Consumer’s Report?

23. Water pressure– As a kid I remember my grandma’s shower had the strength of massaging jets. Now 25 years later, with today’s energy efficient showers and faucets everywhere, it takes her grandson about 19 hours to fill up a pint glass with water in his sink at home.

24. Education– Between today’s ever-increasing price of college, predatory loans and the unfortunate growth of for-profit colleges, getting an education is more treacherous on personal finances than ever.

So it’s particularly disheartening to know the actual education being offered is far inferior to what it was a generation ago, and standardized tests verify that.

But look on the bright side, the generation responsible for all of the evils in the first paragraph just drove today’s college grads into a double-dip recession, so they won’t get hired anyway, thereby keeping their ineptitude a secret.

25. Highways- They’re way too congested because they weren’t built for this many cars. Driving was both common and pleasurable for families once upon a time. Also upon that time, roads and bridges were maintained.

26. Fireworks– For some reason my father doesn’t appreciate the government assuming he is too stupid to enjoy fireworks correctly, and as a result of that pejorative and incorrect assumption, his 4th of July at home isn’t as enjoyable. He is funny like that.


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  • 1. Yes, and I can no longer use ethanol in my mower.

    2. I remember the old Ozark airlines when the flight attendants not only served us great meals that filled us up and gave us left-over sandwiches to take with us they also entertained us with games during the flight!

    5. The year Ruffian died during the Breeder's cup really brought me to the reality of the downfall of the Thoroughbred. They don't breed them for strength and health, only for speed.

    19. Those gas attendants also checked your oil for you.
    23. Water pressure: YES! It only takes longer to rinse out my hair so how is that saving water?????

    24. When I went to college, a State University, my parents paid my way. They could afford to. No one could afford that now.

  • I've hated Nabisco Saltines since I was a kid in the 1960s, because they weren't as salty as Keebler and other brands . Then, my mother decided once that we needed to get healthy and bought no-salt saltines. When I sat eating crackers out of a bowl, sprinkling salt on the crackers, she realized she was going to far.

    The removal of phosphates from dishwashing detergent explains why my new dishwasher and my plates and silverware have a white buildup. Of course, it could be a conspiracy by everyone to get people to buy rinse-aid and use heated drying settings.

  • Your dad and I would get along just fine. By the way, I believe Secretariat was born in and not race in 1970. He began racing as a 2 year old in 72' and as a 3 year old he went on to win the triple crown in 1973. Not being a picky here just giving due respect to one of the greatest.

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    I really like your dad. I noticed the low salt saltines too. They are called "saltines" for a reason. They are supposed to be salty. Ask your dad if stadium preztels have as much salt as they used to. I can barely find one with 5 salt chunks on it.

    Thanks for the nod on the cigarette taxes. I do smoke and it's ridiculous.

    Fireworks. Yes, they have yet to ban sparklers and snakes, but they are trying.

  • i understand that it was more fun to ride on planes when it was fancy and the meals were nice. but how can that be "better" than now when flights are much more affordable and people can travel more often to more places? i don't really care if people are wearing pajamas on a plane or the food is terrible. i'm on a plane to get to a destination. if i want a nice meal, i'll go to some place that specializes in meals... like a restaurant.

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    In a discussion of phosphates to use elemental phosphorous as an equivalent to the phosphates used in cleaning supplies tells me that not only had you not paid any attention in high school chemistry you actively heckled the teacher. Perhaps in the discussion of salt you could have linked to the article on chlorine as an equivalent.

  • In reply to Caohaoim:

    .....said the oft-heckled chemistry teacher.

  • Let's make a Top 20 of all the things curmudgeons complain about!

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    How about adding journalism to the list? This article is like something a seventh grader wrote for class. If you're going to publish this junk, the least you could do is proofread it first. How amateurish.

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    In reply to Virgil Starkwell:

    27. People used to be a lot more polite back in those days, cause they knew that being a fucking asshole was a good way to get punched in the mouth.

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    In reply to Virgil Starkwell:

    Virgil, exactly what I was thinking.
    "Over-prescribed and not taken as directed has lead to resistance of the drugs to many formerly useful antibiotics."
    Is he talking about Pb? Or is he using the present-tense form of leading someone? And the second half of the sentence makes no sense at all. The drugs are resistant to antibiotics.

  • In reply to Virgil Starkwell:

    Virgil, this is a comedy blog. Grow up.

    TR, can you ask your dad if losers on message boards were a big problem in the '60s?

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    and vent windows in cars....

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    Anybody arguing with your dad's points on any of the above are probably just soulless drones.

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    Not surprising that phosphorous is being left out of fertilizer and household cleaners - the world's supply of it is nearly gone and it's absence will eventually devastate the food supply. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/20/peak_phosphorus

    But Education will be the biggest change from this generation to the next. A public school education will soon need to be supplemented or replaced by cheaper private or correspondence options.

  • "So tell me, were you surprised he subscribes to Consumer's Report?" No, your dad sounds like he is well-informed and I'll bet he's a really interesting guy to talk with. :)

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    What absolute nonsense! No phosphorus in fertilizer? Someone needs to study some basic gardening/biology/ plant nutrition. If there was no phosphorus in fertilizer plants would be in a world of hurt. Like nitrogen, phosphorus (P) is an essential part of the process of photosynthesis. Involved in the formation of all oils, sugars, starches, etc. Helps with the transformation of solar energy into chemical energy; proper plant maturation; withstanding stress.
    Effects rapid growth. Encourages blooming and root growth. Jeeze. Something that definitely used to be better was our education!!!!!!!!

  • I can't believe anyone would argue that air travel getting cheaper is a BAD thing. Does your dad also long for the days when he could oggle sexy stewardesses and laugh at all the poor people who are stuck on land? And give him a salt shaker..clearly, he needs a lot more salt in everything.

  • 2. Be careful what you wish for! During the days you glamorize safety took a backseat to luxury. Crashes and deaths were commonplace in the era you so long for. Today airlines spend that money on safety and thus we are experiencing the safest, most carefree era in the history of aviation. Seems a fair trade to me!

  • #17 sure hit home for me. Back in the mid-to-late 80's I had Cubs weekend (and then weekend & night when the lights went in at Wrigley) season seats, and the AWESOME seats I had (probably the best of Terrace Reserved) were only $5 a ticket ... 2 seats for both games of a weekend home stand costing a mere $20 ... when I finally gave them up, they were at least 3x that.

    Same with the Bears ... used to be able to buy them off of a widowed friend of my Mom's (her husband's old seats that she'd kept the season package on), but those got WAY out of my price range long ago. I seem to recall that back when the USFL was playing, their seats were only about $10 ... but I had great seats for the Blitz (about the 40 yard line, half-way up).

    These days, I'm lucky to get out to a Cubs game once every 2-3 years (maybe I'll suggest it for Fathers' Day again this time), but it's long since moved from a "pocket change" option to being a MAJOR expense.

  • In reply to BrendanTripp:

    By the way ... I found an inflation calculator, and those $5 Cubs seats in 1986 would be $10.32 today ... the Cubs have gone to FIVE different pricing levels (!), depending on date, start time, and opponent, ranging from $12 to $47 for those seats ... and an equivalent package (yes, I just looked up what they were charging for all the weekend and night games) would average $30.83 now ... a constant-dollar TRIPLING over 25 years (which is not as bad as I was thinking, having held that $5 "price point" in my head all these years).

  • LOL! I think it's HILARIOUS that people are taking this so seriously as to actually criticize your dad's points. However, I also think it's sad they are being so rude and disrespectful to him.

    Your dad is a very wise man and I think it would be fun to have a chat with him. :-)

    BTW - Do you use Firefox? They have an add-on that blocks autoplaying audio and videos on websites. I don't know if that stops the buffering or not, but it really speeds up my surfing.

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