If you’re getting ready for summer vacation, here’s a handy checklist of things you won’t need.
A map. Remember those? I’m referring to the kind you got for free at the gas station. When spread out it covered the entire backseat, yet never had quite enough detail to indicate how many miles before the turn from Main Street onto the highway. These maps came folded in such a way that once opened by anyone other than a gas station attendant they could never be returned to their original condition.
Transistor radio. This provided the soundtrack for summer. From the 60s through the early 80s you could walk along any beach on Long Island and hear every word WABC’s Dan Ingram said—even without a radio of your own—because so many people were blasting the same station. Big Dan provided a great service by running countless Coppertone commercials and advising when it was time to roll over.
Stamps. For a short trip you might get by with a booklet of stamps, but for a month or more you would need a roll. The concept, for those too young to remember, was that you would use stamps to send postcards on which you wrote messages—usually something like: “Arrived safely, although we got lost several times. Rain is expected to let up by Friday. The picture on the other side is of the gift shop in town where I bought this card. Love, Pete.”
Coins. So many things on a vacation used to require coins: vending machines, toll booths, parking meters and, most importantly, pay phones. Finding a phone was always a challenge; finding one that worked was an even bigger challenge. But to locate a functioning pay phone and then run out of change—a disaster!
Batteries. As soon as our vacation plans were confirmed, my dad would say, “I’ve got to stock up on batteries.” You could get by with having dirty underwear or forgetting your hat, but you never, ever, wanted to find yourself on vacation without fresh batteries. The big fat ones went in the flashlight, while smaller ones powered the radio and the flash on the camera.
Camera. Before cellphones, people on vacation actually carried a camera wherever they went, plus an enormous amount of what was known as “camera gear.” Many folks got along fine with a simple Brownie. But often a family had one person, usually an uncle, who brought it all: flash attachment, lenses, filters, tripod, and a bulky case. His pictures weren’t much better than those shot with the Brownie, although taking them was always a more elaborate production.
Board games. As kids we might have flown several thousand miles for a glimpse of the Grand Canyon, yet the big attraction was sitting in the hotel playing Monopoly or Clue. Nowadays the best games are on devices that can be carried—so kids can play while walking along the Grand Canyon without ever looking up.
Travelers checks. Money used to be a major problem on a trip if you failed to plan ahead by purchasing travelers checks. The most popular kind, issued by American Express, used a distinctive blue ink so as to convey value while not being confused with actual cash. For foolproof security, you signed them in not one but two places! If you miscalculated and ran out of travelers checks you were forced to get money “wired” to you via Western Union, with branches located in the seediest part of every town.
A few more things you needn’t worry about this summer. Don’t board your dog (pets all fly free these days as “service animals”). Don’t forward your calls (the only calls to your landline are from robots trying to sell you things). And don’t ask the Post Office to hold your mail (it will only be junk—unless, of course, you decide to send yourself a postcard).