A reflection on what’s changed in the last fifty years, other than me…


1. The NYC boroughs all use the 212 area code (and you don’t have to dial it)

2. Touch tone phones are a novelty

3. Phone numbers begin with letters—XX4, FA5

4. The telephone operator makes person-to-person long distance calls for you

5.“Let your fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages”

6. Mail is delivered twice a day

7. Newspapers have evening editions

9. CBS, ABC, NBC, WOR (local), WNEW (local), WPIX (local), WNET (public TV)—and UHF, if you hold the antenna just right

10. There is only one phone company—Bell Telephone



11. There is an actual milk man in the Bronx
(“…Ask me about our buttermilk, sour cream, sweet cream, orange juice, skim milk, chocolate drink, butter, eggs, yogurt, margarine.— Your milkman, Bill”)

12. A full-size Snickers bar costs $.15 when I am in grammar school

13. A slice of pizza is $.25 and then skyrockets to $.35

14. I purchase cigarettes for my mother after Sunday Mass (2 packs of Virginia Slims Menthol for $1.00)

15. McDonald’s hamburger=$.25, and Ronald McDonald is slightly creepy

16. Gas is $.64 per gallon when I learn to drive

17. A subway ride costs $.20

18. Stamps are $.06

19. Frozen TV dinners

20. The two dollar bill



21. The Beatles break up is all over the news, though I’m not quite sure who they are

22. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated, and my kindergarten class is brought to the hallway to listen to the radio

23. Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated, and my kindergarten graduation is almost cancelled because mothers are so distraught

24. “That‘s one small step for man one giant leap for mankind”

25. Watergate—listening to Nixon’s resignation speech while I shopped

26. Busing and integration

27. John Lennon’s murder

28. The Vietnam War ends

29. The Thrilla in Manilla

30. Bill Gates founds Microsoft



31. TV shows that are in color announce, “Brought to you in living color” at the beginning, since color TV is still a novelty

32. The Brady Bunch and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood are first run shows, not reruns

33. My sister and I tune in to Laugh In and The Smothers Brothers, although we don’t understand either

34. Disco rules/sucks

35. The Burt Reynolds “nude” centerfold in Cosmo

36. There is only AM and FM radio

37. “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?”

38. If you wanted to “download” music, you put your cassette player on “record” and wait for the song to come on the radio

39. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…”

40. The Sony Walkman 2 is cutting edge, as is the VCR



41. Cars have seat belts in the front only—maybe

42. Taxis have jump seats in the back

43. Our family doctor makes house calls

44. People smoke at the movies and on airplanes

46. The surgeon who operates on me in high school has a cigarette before our follow-up appointment

45. The dentist cleans your teeth himself, and you get a lollipop when he’s done

47. Rapidographs, waxers, Spraymount, T-sqaures… sigh

48. Sending out for type (to Haber, or to Photolettering if you want to get fancy)

49. Ronn Campisi buys a Mac SE for the design department at The Boston Globe and says, “I really think this is going to be the future”

50. Fred Woodward picks up the phone himself one evening in 1987 when I call to ask if he’d look at my portfolio


Illustrations by Ren-Julius Reyes

17 thoughts on “Fifty/50

  1. Caner

    OK – Who took Greg Biffle? – I have been greeting him psenorally (ok the life size card board cut out) since I started here – Ok I have never been a NASCAR fan, but I am now especially with my PDX Winners Circle team on the site – The water bureau has nothing on us – c’mon Greg’s a local boy and he gives blood – try to drink water without a blood supply?????? Back to the subject – lucky us to have to have a personal visit from Gail – p.s. where are the pics from the pic – nic 🙂

  2. Richard

    For the last decade or so, Beloit College has been providing a “mindset” snapshot of the incoming freshman class. It enumerates their world and experience(s), and how they compare/differ from those of us born in the dark ages (e.g. “John Belushi has always been dead.”) It’s worth reading every year, especially for those of us in higher ed. You can even go back to earlier years to see just how quickly things have changed. Here’s the link for 2012, if you’re interested—

  3. Anne Twomey

    I think I’m older than you. I remember all of this and more. Most notably, I remember being in grade school when JFK was assasinated,  drive ins, smoking in theaters, and the British invasion of the Beatles, the Dave Clark five and the Rolling Stones. I was old enough to covet, Beatle boots, and all the fashion of Carnaby Street. To this day I love lowcut boots of every kind.  Please don’t forget all fuss about the space age and the cold war, so much of the early 60’s and the year of free Love, 1969 which changed everything.

  4. Gail Anderson Post author

    I remember our address being Bronx 66, rather than 10466, but I had no idea about the subway numbers and letters being introduced in my lifetime. All I can say is, YIKES.

  5. John D. Berry

    A little puzzling until I realized that it wasn’t meant to be all stuff that dated from 50 years ago, but instead was things that had happened or had been true sometime between 50 and 25 years ago. (You got me looking up the history of WNET, though, which was more complicated than I remembered.) 
    You could have added the debut of the Zip code for mail, and the introduction of letters & numbers to designate the subway lines in NYC.

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  7. Siebert Tenseven

    38. If you wanted to “download” music, you put your cassette player on “record” and wait for the song to come on the radio
    I had completely forgotten that one. It was worth it since 45’s cost a dollar each (price of TEN comic books).

  8. Jill Lin

    This is so much fun to read as a foreigner because I start to think about what have changed in my country(Taiwan).
    Still remember there was a guy who would ride his bicycle with all his knife sharpening tools on the street to sharpen knifes for people. And the icecream man would constanly press the tiny horn in front of his bike which has a unique “ba-bu” sound to atract customers. But these scenes are all gone, kind of miss the simple life style.
    Btw, during the Korean War, USA supplied Taiwan with lots of flour, and many mom used the flour bags to make clothes or pants for kids, my dad still keep them in his antique collections. 

  9. Gail Anderson Post author

    The big privilege for seniors at Cardinal Spellman High School (Bronx) was entrance to the “Senior Lounge,” a cold room with open windows where you were allowed to smoke. Really. —1980

  10. David Pohl

    I was just talking with a friend the other night about smoking lounges for the kids in high schooland how my dad would send me to the neighborhood drug store to pick up smokes for him. Yes, 50cents a pack! When I was 16, I’d get served in most any bar in town, too. I remember when the fax was cutting edge technology. And those anxious drives to Fed Ex trying to make it before they closed at 9pm.