My book “Stone Motel: Memoirs of a Cajun Boy” (University Press of Mississippi, Spring 2020) takes place in the early-to-mid-1970s. From the first pages, I give the reader a sense of place (a little roadside motel in Cajun Louisiana), and for context, a sense of time: This was all before widespread access to cable television, microwave ovens, fast food, and of course way before the Internet and cell phones. But it was also the decade when the seeds of some of the things we now take for granted were planted. What follows is a no-particular-order rundown of my favorite, random factoids from the 1970s. May you wallow (as I often do) in awe (and of course the nostalgia) of it all:
In the beginning of the decade a new house cost $23,400; the average annual income was $9,350; a gallon of gas cost 36 cents; a first class U.S. postage stamp was six cents; you could get a dozen of eggs for a quarter. If you needed to impress your favorite little girl, a Barbie doll could be purchased for $4.77. If you needed to impress your favorite big girl, a one-carat diamond ring was just under $300.
What was everyone rolling around town in? Well, in 1970, you could by a new Datsun 210 for $3,869; a Dodge Colt was $4,785; a new Chrysler Newport (the car Momma drove when she had to let go of the fabulous baby-yellow, tail-finned Cadillac) was $3,861. And one of those infamous green AMC Gremlins was just $1,879. You’ll be needing some snazzy accessories for your ride: An 8-track car stereo tape player: $38.99; and your CB radio (they were everywhere – “Breaker, Breaker 1-9!” would set you back $147.
So, what else was happening in the “Happening” decade?
The Technological Era began to seriously percolate:
- Boeing 747 made its first commercial passenger flight – from New York City to London.
- PONG, the first video game to have commercial success, was released. I was mesmerized by this game (didn’t take much!).
- Sony introduced the Betamax video system.
- Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft (some, including me, prefer to refer to the company as “Evil Incarnate”).
- Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created Apple, which quickly began marketing itself as more of a “lifestyle” than a mere technology company.
- The MRI scanner was first tested.
- The UPC bar code was introduced. As a stock-boy at the National supermarket in the Amy Shopping Center in Eunice, this development came too late to revolutionize my job, but soon would make much of the stocking process I did there obsolete.
- Space Invaders video game was released.
- Sony introduced the Walkman.
- Home Box Office, the first cable subscription service, was introduced.
- Apollo 13 was launched as the third mission to the moon – of course anything with a 13 attached to it was gonna be cursed: problems started when an oxygen tank exploded and thrust the viability of the whole NASA enterprise into question as a fingernail-gnawing world watched for four harrowing days until scientists in Houston (you know, those nerdy men and women whose job it was to respond to the ominous entreaty: “Houston, we have a problem…”) brought what was left of the airship’s three astronauts back down to Earth alive and with some stories to tell.
- A lot was learned – later in the decade NASA introduced the first space shuttle, the Enterprise.
And in other news:
- The age for voting was lowered from 21 to 18.
- The Beatles split up (April, 1970).
- Already shit-deep in Vietnam, America decided it would be a clever idea to invade Cambodia. (didn’t go so well.)
- We celebrated the very first “Earth Day.”
- The world population reached four billion (this is why I can’t find a seat on the subway).
- The National Guard gunned down four Vietnam War protesters at Kent State University in Ohio.
- The Watergate scandal began when White House goons were caught burglarizing the Democratic National Committee.
- The Supreme Court declared in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a constitutional right.
- President Nixon resigned from office after being implicated in the Watergate Scandal (such innocent times!).
- The Vietnam War ended.
- “Jaws” opened in theaters. It was one of the first films to be called a “block-buster.”
- In the middle of the decade, Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC.
- Pope Paul VI died and was replaced by Pope John Paul I, who also died not long after, so the Vatican had yet another wait-for-the-smoke ceremony, resulting in Pope John Paul II.
- Despite its strong association with the 1980s, Michael Jackson’s debut solo album “Off the Wall” was actually released in the last half of 1979 (the cover image shows a pre-plastic-surgery Michael).
There is so much to talk about, when talking about the 1970s – I have not yet fully delved into the amazing music, the freaky fashion, and the crazy hairstyles (Momma, in her beauty shop, went from doing Beehive bouffants, to sensual Shags, to fiercely-winged Farrah Fawcett Do’s all in the span of 10 too-short years) – all making the 1970s my favorite decade to have lived (those of you newbies who were born too late really missed out – so sad – for you.) ANYWAY – look for Part 2 of this post, in the not-too-distant future.
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