Kennedy: 20th century 'survivors' provide comfort

Kennedy: 20th century 'survivors' provide comfort

December 9th, 2018 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

In the antique car world, autos that have not been repainted or mechanically altered are called "survivors." They are highly desirable precisely because they have not been fiddled with.

For example, installing air bags on a 1960s-era Volkswagen Beetle would make it safer, but it would also make it sort of awful. In the "survivor" world, rust is a virtue and low-tech doesn't mean low worth.

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

As an aging baby boomer with plenty of personal rust, I'm much more aware of the "survivors" in popular culture — those mid-20th-century icons that have stood the test of time. A 60-year-old with two school-age sons, it does my heart good to have moments that seem to bridge my childhood and theirs.

There are times when the full weight of our generational separation hits me hard — like last Sunday night when my 17-year-old son, born a few weeks after 9/11, was baffled by a guy on TV named, um, Garth Brooks.

Holy moly.

In just one 24-hour period last week, I made notes of some mid-20th-century throwbacks that have wormed their way eternally into American culture. Each, in its own way, lifts my heart and makes me feel more planted in the here and now.

Here's my list:

» "60 Minutes" stopwatch: I was folding clothes in the bedroom Sunday night when I heard the familiar "60 Minutes" stopwatch intro wafting in from the family room. Like a metronome on double-time, the chick-a, chick-a, chick-a cuts through the air like a family of crickets under the front porch on a summer night.

It reminds me of the 1960s, shag carpeting and our first Magnavox color television, which my father mounted on a swivel stand inside a bookcase so we could watch it in adjacent rooms.

» McDonald's cheeseburgers: Sorry, Ronald, but there's nothing much to recommend a McDonald's cheeseburger except tradition. Still, several times a month I feed a craving by whipping through the Golden Arches drive-through.

A McDonald's cheeseburger feels like it has been teleported from 1970. The paper wrapper feels slick and faintly greasy. The bun is predictability doughy, and the meat patty is completely unremarkable, except as a nest for a sprinkle of onions. But — and this is important — it tastes exactly the same as it did when I was 12. And that makes it special to me.

» Elvis Presley: I've often wondered if Elvis mania will ever truly die. I'm too young to remember the apex of his career, but I vividly remember the deep mourning that followed his death. For years — maybe, still? — his birthday and death day were marked by vigils in Memphis.

The other day, I was charmed by a TV commercial that features Elvis impersonators from around the world using FaceTime to sing the Elvis ballad "There's Always Me." Anyone under 30 probably wonders who these strangely dressed guys are. To me, the commercial was literally music to my ears.

» New York Jets uniform: The modern NFL is fond of dressing its players in so-called "throwback" uniforms. My favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are sometimes forced to wear gold-and-black striped uniforms that make them look like giant bumblebees.

I've always admired the New York Jets, whose present-day uniforms look remarkably like they did in 1969 when quarterback Joe Namath led them to a victory in Super Bowl III. There's something about that hunter green oval on the helmet with Jets written in a sans serif font that looks both old and new.

» Jeep Wrangler: Part of my job is writing auto reviews. Recently I spent a week in a new Jeep Wrangler, which shares significant styling cues with the first-generation Jeeps that rode to victory in WWII. It's little wonder then that Jeeps hold their value better than most other vehicles on the road. There's something to be said for being considered a classic.

» NASA: Watching NASA workers last week trade high-fives for the Mars probe reminded me of the 1960s, when the space program — specifically the Apollo missions — was the pinnacle of national pride. A mission to Mars, in my children's lifetime, might be just what America needs. Turning our attention to the heavens would be a nice break from screens and memes.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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