Rotary phones and other ancient stuff

FLINT – Now that we’re past 50, I’ve noticed that the world wastes no opportunity to let the lovely yet formidable Marcia and I know how ancient we are. Most recently it happened when she was using our oldest son’s car to drive our youngest son’s friend home.

Henry’s friend Josh, who is 13, said, “It’s stuffy in here.”

Marcia replied, “Open the window.”

There was a moment of silence then he said, “How?”

At first she thought he was kidding but his face told her it wasn’t. Sam’s car is seven years old and has crank windows, which clearly Josh had never seen before.

“Just turn the crank,” Marcia said.

He looked at her blankly as if to say, “OK, but what’s a crank?”

“That handle there,” Marcia said. “Turn it.” She pantomimed the motion for him, after which he turned the crank, the window lurched downward and a huge smile spread across his face.

“That’s so cool!” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

That seems impossible but then when I think about it I haven’t owned or ridden in a car other than Sam’s that has crank windows for 15 years.

And it’s been 20 years since I last owned a rotary dial phone, which, for those of you reading this under the age of 25, was how phone calls used to be made. The phone was mounted on the wall and it had this dial with a little hole for each number. You’d stick your finger in the hole for each digit in the phone number you were calling and rotate it all the way back to zero, which was very, very strenuous. Sometimes after dialing, I’d have to go lie down for a while.

It’s been even longer since the days when long distance calls were so expensive that my dad would hover next to me with his hand an inch from the receiver, ready to yank it away the second my allotted one minute for telling grandma what had happened in my life the preceding month was over.

If I want to horrify my kids, I tell them about life before remote controls. “What did you do when you wanted to change the channel?” they’ll ask. I’ve told them a dozen times that I used to get up out of my chair, walk across to the TV and turn a dial, which would make a loud, satisfying “thunk” sound, if I felt the need to switch from ABC or NBC to CBS.

“Not that we did that very often,” I’ll say. “Back then we watched entire shows end to end because surfing hadn’t been invented yet.”

They still never believe me.

“But what did you do without MTV, the Disney Channel, HBO or the Food Network?”

“We read books, played games or talked,” I’ll say, and they just look at me funny.

Time moves on, I guess. It’s a funny thing, though. No one who is 50 or older thinks of themselves as “old.” They tend to think of themselves as they were when they were 25 or 30. The years pass but they’re not aging. Only the world around them is.

That’s how I feel, anyway. As I say, though, the world has a way of not letting me forget that I’ve been around for half a century.

The other night, for example, a TV talking head was nattering on about Jimmy Fallon taking over from Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”

“Advertisers love it,” he said, “because Fallon does better with the all-important 18- to 49-year-old demographic.”

Of which I’m no longer a part. It was enough to make a young-at-heart old guy wanna cry.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. Write to Andrew Heller at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.