Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deluxe Reading Playmobile

People always remember their first car. My first real car was a 1963 Rambler Classic 660 station wagon. I will always remember it with great fondness.

However, years before the Rambler, I had another "car". In 1961, the Deluxe Reading Toy Company sold their Playmobile dashboard in supermarkets and drug stores. I remember seeing it on display at what was then an A&P store at the corner of Old Richmond Road (now Bissonnet Street) and Beechnut Street in Houston. Boy, with all the shiny parts and look of a real car of the era, I really wanted this toy. I remember telling my parents I wanted it, but I also saw that it cost $19.95. To me, that seemed like a fortune. It probably wasn't that inexpensive for my parents back then either. Still, when Christmas morning came, there it was under the tree, glimmering and shiny with the colorful tree lights reflecting off of it.

The Playmobile had a car key, sun visors, tinted windshield with working wipers, rear view mirror, and all kinds of gauges, knobs, and switches. Oh man! I must have driven a million imaginary miles at the wheel of my Playmobile!

I guess I always liked driving toys though. One of my very early memories of my life was a big steering wheel that was installed in the playground of a park in Norman, Oklahoma. I must have been about 2 or 3 years old, and I still recall how much I liked playing there and pretending to drive.

Maybe that is why I still love road trips, and am somewhat a road geek all these years later!

Au Revoir, Chief Pontiac!

First it was Oldsmobile. Now the weakened state of General Motors has brought us the demise of another great American automotive brand. GM will eliminate the Pontiac from its stable of cars.

During the muscle car performance days, Pontiac said "We build excitement". The "Wide Track Pontiac" was touted as a better handling car than its competitors. The Bonneville, Grand Prix, and Sunbird gone forever. Who can forget Burt Reynolds as "The Bandit", driving his performance Pontiac Firebird from Atlanta to Texarkana and back, being chased by Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Texas?

Yet, it was the even older Pontiacs that I have a fondness for. The 1950s versions with their light up hood ornament of Chief Pontiac has to be the coolest auto decoration ever made. The very first car I remember riding in as a very small child was my parents' old 1938 Pontiac. I used to love sitting in the back, looking out the small triangular window near side rear of the passenger compartment.

So off to history Pontiac goes, joining not just the Olds, but Plymouth, DeSoto, Cord, Hudson, Rambler, Studebaker, LaSalle, and others that once owned America's streets and highways before anyone had ever heard of a Toyota or a Hyundai.

Evolving Technology and Static Words

It has been said that the only constant is change. This is very observable in our technology. A prime example is the telephone.

I was thinking about how I can still remember some of the phone numbers we had in my early childhood prior to the switch to all digits. The funny thing is, I can easily recall the early numbers that used the exchange names, but cannot recall any of the ones comprised of only digits. For example, when I was 5 years old, my telephone number was MAdison 3-9975. Later, while living in the Sharpstown area of Houston, it was GYpsy 4-2931. My paternal grandparents had ORange 7-9716, while my maternal grandparents originally had WHitney 4-2931 (later changed to SUnset 4-2931). To place a classified advertisement in the Houston Chronicle, you would call "Miss Classified" at CApitol 4-6868.

Consequently, telephone dials (remember those) had letters on them to accommodate dialing the phone numbers of mixed alpha and numeric characters. Today's keypad dials carry on the tradition, even though exchange names are no longer used in the phone number. Of course, this has proven to be a useful marketing tool for businesses, as the letters have taken on a new life in numbers such as 1-800-CAR-RENT, or 1-800-DOMINOS. With mobile telephones, the letters are used to "text" friends. (Yes, yet another example of a noun being repurposed as a verb.) This makes me wonder if young adults today have any concept of there ever having been a different reason for those letters on their phones. Or if they wonder why the punching in a number is called "dialing" the phone.

There are other examples of this phenomenon. How many people using a TiVO or other DVR, which record digitally to a computer hard disk drive, say they are "taping" a program? We still talk about "rolling down" or "rolling up" the windows in our cars, even though crank handles and manually rolling down the window has just about totally been replaced by electric windows. We even still occasionally hear someone saying "crank" the engine of a car, although cranks to start cars disappeared many decades ago, long before I was born.