For a child it was an age of freedom. I’m sure there were predators and pedophiles and kidnappers then too, but we didn’t know anything about them. We felt safe and acted like we were safe. That meant that as soon as you were smart enough to not get hit by a car you could pretty much roam your neighborhood at will, checking in at home for meals, and beating your nightly curfew. I walked several blocks back and forth by myself to kindergarten, making detours as I saw fit. When my mom wanted me to come home she stuck her head out the back door and shouted my name. On a summer night you would hear women bellowing out their children’s names all over the neighborhood.
Children’s TV was something that happened for a few hours on Saturday morning and maybe an hour or two after school. Electronic games only existed in arcades in places like Coney Island or the Jersey Shore. So we spent our time outdoors. We hung out with friends. We played pick-up baseball or basketball games, rode bikes or built stuff in the woods.
Even small cities were vibrant entertainment and shopping centers. A kid could get on a bus and go to Paterson or Hackensack or Newark and hang out there. There were multiple movie theaters and most had both a morning and evening newspaper that competed. Best of all, the stores and restaurants were almost all independently owned and one of kind. The modern mall can’t compare. By contract they are characterless and redundant.
If someone was making a phone call in public they went into a phone booth and closed the door. No one was pulling a phone out of their pocket and loudly blowharding in the middle of the sidewalk, on the bus or in a store. Granted that made it tougher to immediately identify douche bags, but I’ll take that tradeoff.
Exercise was free and outdoors (Growing Up in the 50’s: The Gym). It involved walking, running and biking and was usually done outside. The serious fitness enthusiasts might do sit-ups and jumping jacks or lift weights. What it didn’t involve was memberships, equipment or special gear.
Sports venues had names you could remember because they meant something and lasted as long as the facility. There was the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field and Connie Mack Stadium. Fenway Park is named after the neighborhood where it was built and has had the same name for 100+ years. The arena in Philadelphia, the Wells Fargo Center, used to the Wachovia Center and before that the First Union Center (affectionately known to Philly fans as the FU Center) and before that the CoreStates Center.
Christmas shopping was something you did the week before Christmas (Growing Up in the 50’s: Christmas Time in Paterson). Same with putting up lights or getting a tree. There was no Black Friday (not to mention Cyber Monday). You focused on Christmas at Christmas time, but that was a week or two. Marketers had yet to overwhelm our day-to-day environment.
Even though I lived in a developed, populated and industrialized part of the country you could swim and boat and fish in our rivers and lakes. They were clean, fish lived in them and you could eat the fish. They were close by, readily accessible and mostly free.