Sometimes I envy modern farm kids. They text from tractor cabs, tweet while the cows get milked, and touch screens to connect with friends around the world.
It was tougher for us rural teens in the 60s; we couldn’t even contact buddies waiting for us in town if a flat tire on a grain wagon kept us in the field late on a Saturday night. But we had cars, and like the social media of today, these heavy metal devices offered apps, instant messaging, and the risk of serious hardware malfunctions.
With our social network, we could date, hang out, and cruise with friends, but first we needed a communication device–a set of wheels. A few lucky guys drove Mustangs, Camaros, or GTOs, but most of us used whatever our folks would reluctantly provide. It might be the family’s four-door sedan or—God forbid—a station wagon, but unlike today we could not go on a date in the farm pick-up truck. Back then pick-ups seemed to arrive from the dealer’s lot equipped with empty feed sacks in the back and the smell of hog manure in the cab.
Our apps were hardware, not cyberware. We installed Hurst 3-speeds on the floor, used risers to jack up the suspension, and eventually hooked up 8-tracks or some type of sound system. Then we could spread viral downloads by driving slowly through town with Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild blasting out the windows.
On warm summer nights, we’d gather to text message—verbally. With our cars parked haphazardly in lots, on streets, or along country roads, we’d share face-to-face messages about music, sports, or dating. Someone might mention an older guy who just shipped off to ‘Nam or a rebel without a cause who’d been suspended from school. Like texts today, much of it was superficial but seemed highly important at the time. “D’ya hear Bob climbed the water tower again last night?” or “Got any Aqua Velva in your car? My hands still smell like the cows I just milked.”
On weekends we might pile into someone’s ’57 Chevy and head to the “big city” of Ames. Along the way we’d blog aloud about something funny that happened in P.E. class, or we’d swap stories about the totalitarian rules our parents set for us. In the city we’d scoop the loop American Graffiti style and yell tweets to car occupants moving slowly in the opposite lane. 140-character conversations worked fine: “Nice wheels, man” or “What time’s the dance start?”
Occasionally a touch of social media harassment tainted the tweets: “You guys seen Eddie?” “Yeah sure. He just rode by on a frosted flake.” “Thanks dorkface. Meet us at the Dairy Queen, and I’ll buy ya a knuckle sandwich.” Spam could be a bit more tactile then.
Most of our old social media slang was less intimidating, and much of it came from popular culture—groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon—or car culture—poppin’ wheelies, doin’ donuts, and layin’ rubber. But the current acronym craze was not so prevalent. Instead of saying something like “YOLO,” we’d crank up a Grass Roots song and sing a line from “Live for Today.”
A social media systems crash in the 60s could be a lot more serious than losing data or having passwords stolen. With our hardware, screens didn’t go blank—bumpers got wrinkled. Texting and driving wasn’t a problem; being a goofy teen and driving could be. Too many cars ended up in ditches. This social media could leave scars.
But like smartphones today, if used wisely, cars defined teen social life—especially for kids on farms. In ways, the old system had some advantages: parents couldn’t text a curfew reminder or track us with an Orwellian GPS device. And even the best “Thunder Road app” today can’t place you in a car full of friends driving country roads on a moonlit summer night.
Springsteen is from Jersey, but he knew what a country kid was thinking: “Roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair. The night’s bustin’ open, these two lanes will take us anywhere.”
by dan gogerty (photo from bobsegarini.wordpress)