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November 19, 2007
When Life Was Cheap
The other day, while biding my time in a long line at a service station
waiting to get an estimate on a gallon of gas, I found myself wondering
about how prices got so darned high in America.
mean, nowadays there are cars on the market that cost three times as
much as my first house.
Along that same line, when I stopped at one of those fast-food
drive-through restaurants recently for a burger to go, I asked for a
glass of water and was informed the water would cost me a quarter.
Later that same day, after discovering the right front tire on my car
was a little low on air, I went to inflate it and learned some places
even charge for air.
Discouraged by those setbacks, I decided to check around and see what
prices were like in 1963, the year my wife Sally and I were married.
We didn’t have much money back then because she was making $75 a week
and I was bringing home around $50. Before taxes.
But, as it turned out, that was OK because nobody else had big bucks,
either, mostly because the average income per year was about $5,800.
Back then, gasoline – now selling for more than $3 a gallon – cost 29
cents a gallon. For a buck or two I could fill my car and spend an
entire evening cruising the drive-in restaurants in Flint, Michigan with
my left arm out the window and the fuzzy dice dangling from the
rear-view mirror blowing in the breeze.
Speaking of cars, if you wanted a new set of wheels back in 1963, you
could expect to pay around $3,200.
The average price tag for a new home was $3,160, and you could get a
loaf of bread for 22 cents.
Popular films that year included “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “To Kill and
Mockingbird” and “The Longest Day”. Going to the movies was a popular
pastime because you could get into a theater for less than a buck and
popcorn was 25 or 30 cents a box.
The last time I took my grandson Nick to a movie I shelled out $12 for
two admissions, then forked over $5 for a box of popcorn and $4 for a
cold drink to go with it.
When it came time to pay for my purchases, the nice young man behind the
counter asked “Is there anything else today?” and I told him “Yes, how
about a loan?”
Then, of course, there’s Christmas shopping.
When I was a kid, toys were relatively inexpensive. And, I might add,
relatively simple, too. My favorite playthings included Tinker Toys,
marbles and cap guns.
Although they still sell Tinker Toys, cap guns with the names of Roy
Rogers and Gene Autry don’t command much attention these days. Neither
Recently I was with several children and I asked “Does anybody play
They looked at me like I was crazy. So I decided to explain the game to
them. “To play marbles, you draw a big circle in the dirt, then the
competition begins. If you’re playing well, you get to keep your
opponent’s marbles. Doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun?”
The kids just stared at me like I was nuts.
Yes, prices are out of sight these days. My wife Sally and I went
Christmas shopping for the grandkids the other day.
Within five minutes after entering the store, I realized what Christmas
means these days. It means expensive.
One of the toys that caught my eye was an almost-life-size plastic pony
that moves and talks to its rider. The price was $250.
“How about this for Morgan?” I asked Sally, thinking our three-year-old
granddaughter would really enjoy a talking horse.
“Nope,” she replied, moving nearer to the doll department where there
were dolls that did a little bit of everything and cost a fortune.
Whatever happened to penny candy, dime novels and nickel candy bars?
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