Remember the 5 & 10? Before Targets, Walmarts and K-Marts, there were human-sized large stores that sold just about anything you needed, from panties to parakeets. Harry Warren and Mort Dixon even wrote a song about them, with a line that went, “I found a million-dollar baby, in a five and ten cent store.” Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, McCrory’s: The stores were cheap, and felt cheap. That was their glory. Most 5 & 10s are gone now. But wait!! An internet site called Wards 5 & 10 — which actually grew out of a real 5 & 10 of the same name in Northern New Jersey — recreates the old five and dime experience, and is here to sell you just about anything life requires. Brilliant! I’ll be over in the aisle with the Ja-ru Fun Bubbles blower. Meet you by light bulbs. Stop and smell the popcorn.
Here are The Beatles running away from their fans in the very first shot of A Hard Day’s Night:
And here I am, running the very same stretch of sidewalk (alongside Marylebone Station in London) in an uncanny recreation:
Now relive the magic:
Back in October, I identified two things in our lives today which, against all odds, are unchanged in the last fifty years. Here’s another.
Intercity train conductors.
And thank God for them.
In this day and age, a system which requires a human to walk through a train car and physically take tickets—then put stubs into slots above the seats in order to signify who has produced a ticket, where he got on, and where he’s getting off—then walk through at each new stop to check the stubs and collect tickets from new passengers who don’t have stubs yet—then remove stubs from above the seats where previously-boarded passengers have detrained—seems antiquated. Surely there must be a “better” way! But can you think of one? I can’t.
Not only that; I can’t think of any other solution that would work at all, if railroads are not to let passengers ride free at will.
A typical Amtrak run—say, the one that starts in Washington and ends in Boston, with stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, and Stamford—during which any given car contains a mix of passengers who boarded in any of these several cities and who are destined for any of them—creates the possibility for no other solution than the train conductor. He is unchanged since 1958. Essentially, he is unchanged since 1858!
And every Amtrak train conductor I’ve ever met has been a thorough professional, well-trained in his work, friendly and helpful to passengers. In 2008, how remarkable is that? He, or she, provides one remaining contact with humanity in this increasingly dehumanized world.
Someday, someone may invent an electronic way to do what the train conductor does today. I hope that day does not come until after I’m dead.
When it comes to train conductors, I am “all aboard.”
Like a picture I posted on May 7, this one (from a wedding in 1979) shows that when it comes to fun couples, no one does it like Bill and Hillary.
Practically nothing. But–
1) Shoe repair shops. If you go in any shoe repair shop, it will look and smell exactly like every shoe repair shop did in 1957. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, all practically lacquered with pigments that have somehow migrated from the shoes; the intoxicating smells of leather and whatever the hell the chemicals are that they’re using in there; the loud machinery that would drive mad any man who had to listen to it all day; the finished shoes waiting in their plain brown paper bags for pickup. Apparently, there is no better way to repair and polish shoes than the way mankind did it fifty years ago.
2) Bakeries. The same cookies, cakes, pies and pastries; the same ladies behind the counter; the same “tak-a-number” tickets; the same intoxicating smells of butter, sugar, and flour. There is no better way for us to obtain our baked goods than existed in 1957.
Added 4/21/08: For a sequel of sorts to this post, click here.
From the 1992 campaign, I think (judging from the color of Bill’s hair and the length of Hillary’s).
This is why Democrats are better than Republicans.