Hot Pants, Landlines & the Way it Was

Kids, gather around.

For you are not going to believe what I have to tell you.  In fact it’ll shock you because it’s crazy but true.

When I was a kid we didn’t have cell phones.  No one did, not even in our wildest imaginations, unless you count Maxwell Smart of “Get Smart” fame and his talking shoe. There was no Verizon or Sprint.  There was only AT&T, which we all called Ma Bell because it was a monopoly.

Flip Wilson, Tim Conway

Flip Wilson, in character as “Geraldine,” put the hot in “hot pants.”

AT&T phones were tethered to our homes. Now we call these phones landlines, but back then they were just phones. Black phones. Pink Princess phones came later.

These phones were stuck in your home, which meant you couldn’t make any calls once you left home. Unless you had spare change for the phone booth.

Long distance calls were super expensive.  Sometimes when I was in the city with friends, I’d call my mother collect—do you even know what that means?—-and she’d refuse to take my call.

The intention was not to actually talk to her, but to beat the system. In other words, I was using the call to signal that I was safe and would be coming home soon, and that was enough for her. Sometimes we’d shout at each other in Spanish real fast before the operator got wind of it, that we were talking without paying for the call.  My entire family knew better than to accept a collect call.

Guess what? We didn’t have Kindles. If you wanted to read a book you could buy a paperback for 75 cents or you could go to the library to check out a book.  I’d walk to my library which was a mile away to check out books using my library card. Walk. Sometimes my mother would drive me but still, I had no Kindle.

No computer or laptop either. Forget iPads. I had to type all my reports for school on an old-fashioned typewriter. And if I made one mistake I’d have to start over or use liquid whiteout and type over it which usually made it look smudged and messy.

I was a fast typist.  I honed my skills in typing class, which I took Pass/Fail because that was the only option. Either you passed it or you couldn’t type to save your life and you were a failure. All the keys were blank which made it, um, punch-drunk challenging. My father got me my first typewriter and it was a Spanish typewriter. It had an “ñ” and an upside down “!” but, frankly, I never had any need for them.

I couldn’t wear jeans to school until sometime in junior high when they changed the rules. Before that girls could only wear dresses or skirts to school.  Try hanging upside down from a monkey bar in a dress. I pinky-dare you.

When culottes came in style I wore them like crazy but they were soon replaced with hot pants, which looked cooler with a pair of platform shoes.  I don’t know why, but hot pants, to this day, still remind me of Flip Wilson, when he’d play Geraldine on his variety show.

In those days, girls wore their hair long and straight. Mine was thick, curly and 100 percent unruly so having long hair was out of the question for me. Worse, there was no product I could put in my hair to help manage it and all the Jean Nate eau-de-something cologne, which I’d pat down on my arms and neck, couldn’t make people forget my woe-some hair.  Shoot, I looked like Phyllis Diller and if you don’t know who she is, Google her.


On good days, this is what my hair looked liked. Me and Phyllis Diller, what a team we could’ve made.

I didn’t have Google. Or the internet, for that matter. If I wanted to learn more about something, I perused our 28-volume encyclopedia, where everything was listed alphabetically.

Encyclopedias were sold by door-to-door salesmen.  Seriously, a man would come up to your front door to sell you all these volumes on a payment plan which would take the rest of your life to pay off.  But everyone needed encyclopedias.  They came in handy for homework assignments.

We watched TV like the rest of America did. Without DVRs to record our favorite shows, and if you missed an episode, you were out of luck.  We didn’t even have cable or satellite TV.  We only had about five channels and we watched them all, including the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights on CBS.  It was a family variety show with something for everyone, including the lamest puppet with the cutest voice, known as Topo Gigio.  But that little guy was my hero, so not a word about him, okay?

My generation didn’t have video games, Snap Chat, Twitter or Facebook. We didn’t text our friends or send them emojis. Instead, we’d pick up the phone, call them and talk. For hours at a time.  Or we met up and talked in person, face-to-face with no distractions from non-existent cell phones.

We also had drive-in movies, all-you-can-eat fried chicken at the HoJo’s on Monday nights, board games, bike rides, trampolines, miniature golf and outings to see live theater.

Parents couldn’t hover over us because they had no way to reach us when we were out with our friends. It was a different time, without all the techno gadgets we have today, but it was my time and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Those were the days, my friends. We thought they’d never end.

But they did.

So how about you? What do you remember of life before technology?

4 thoughts on “Hot Pants, Landlines & the Way it Was

  1. Monica, truly we lived in the best of times! No worries over kids being abducted, global warming, pesticides in our foods, and so forth. I never heard of a kid dying in a locked hot car, never heard of a parent drowning their own kid. Rarely did we lock our doors. Companies didn’t have to put inane warnings on their products because folks just knew better than to use a hair dryer in the bathtub. The doctor came all the way out to your house when you were sick; there was a hairdresser (not a stylist!) in our own neighborhood.

    I remember those typewriters, too, and perfectionist that I am, I often yanked an entire page out when I made one mistake (because it was faster typing the whole thing over again than it was using white out!). Nobody wore hot pants better than Geraldine, and I, too, loved Topo and his big sad eyes! Thanks for a delightful trip down Memory Lane!

    • Kids today just don’t appreciate these simple things we had. How a small ball of silly putty could entertain us for hours. Or the joy of hop scotch and Archie comics. And of course, writing letters, gone by the way of the milkman. I still insist on writing letters. They’re the best!

  2. Ah the good old days Monica.

    How did we cope without modern gadgets, I mean the very thought of buying a paperback to read, I ask you that’s so yesterday!!

    Funny enough the one thing I miss from those good old days is the demise of face to face communication with friends. To pop round each others house and have a chat. Now people just send a text message.

    Another thing that puzzles me is how people can claim on social media to have so many friends when they never go out and meet anybody? As for calling it social media, I think unsocial media would be more accurate.

    But the one thing I am grateful to modern technology for is that it enabled me to discover your blog, and I think in some small way my life is better for having done so. Without it I would never have sampled your whit, your writing skills and your story. If that had not happened then it would have been my loss. Having said that of course I would not have been aware of the loss! But that’s splitting hairs and at my age I don’t have that many to split.

    • Aw, Robert, that’s the sweetest thing anyone in the blogosphere has ever said to me. Shucks, I’m verklempt. Of course, leave it to you to complete a compliment with a hair-raising joke, turning my sentimental feelings into a rip-roaring guffaw!

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