The Golden Years

by Eric Peters Recently by Eric Peters: Barry & ‘People’      

Back in the ’80s, you may have had to “Drive 55″ on the highway — but in other ways, things were pretty damn good. At least, a lot better in a number of ways than they are now. For instance, you could:

Fill up a V-8 muscle car’s 22 gallon gas tank for about $25.

Imagine that! Unleaded regular for about a buck a gallon. Premium — without ethanol – for a few cents more.

This made it economically conceivable to drive a V-8 muscle car every day — even as a high school kid working part-time at a fast food place. It also helped that V-8 muscle cars were relatively cheap back then. At least, the used ones. The ’80s were close enough in time to the ’70s — and the ’60s — that used V-8 cars from those eras were still abundant on car lots and in the classifieds. A high school friend of mine bought a ’71 Plymouth GTX with the big block 440 (375 hp) in 1986 for $2,700. That’s about $5,700 in today’s Fed Funny Money — about what you would need to spend to buy a so-so used Civic or Corolla. That ’71 GTX my buddy bought for $2,700 back in the day would cost you at least $30,000 today.

Nowadays, there is no way you’re driving a V-8 muscle car as a high school kid — period — unless someone else is paying the gas bill. Most adults working full-time can’t afford to feed (or even buy) a V-8 muscle car.

So, it’s four cylinder Civics with fart can exhaust for the kids — and FWD V-6 Camrys for Mom & Dad.

Electronic voices may have told you, “the door is ajar” — but costumed goons didn’t threaten you with guns to “buckle up for safety.”

The state was not your mommy — or your wife — not yet. It actually left you alone — for the most part — unless you had committed some sort of external violation. Something that at least plausibly (however thinly) could be argued impinged upon the rights of other people.

You could ride in the bed of pick-up trucks — and hang a shotgun rack loaded with actual shotguns (loaded shotguns) on the back window of your pick-up truck and no one batted an eye. Much less any worries about being thug-scrummed by a dozen black-clad Ninja cops fretting “officer safety.”

You could “sleep it off” in the back seat — and cops would not only leave you alone, they’d commend you for being responsible.

Today, Big Brother is married to Big Momma — and we have been reduced to a sort of second childhood, enforced at gunpoint.

It was still legal to have an open beer on you — so long as you didn’t have too many beers in you.

Drunk driving was illegal — but you weren’t considered “drunk” simply because you’d had a beer. Either in your belly — or in your hand. These days, you will be crucified without mercy if caught with an open beer in your hand while driving — even if you’ve only had a few sips and even if a single beer cannot possibly render you “drunk” — even by today’s demented standards — under the law.

Zero tolerance — for common sense.

It was easier to “speed” — because it was easier to get away with “speeding.”

Today’s cars — including economy cars — are much quicker (and faster) than the cars of the ’80s. The problem is using that capability. In the ’80s, a good radar detector made you almost invulnerable. Today, cops have instant-on radar as well as laser — which neutralizes the advantage of having a radar detector. By the time it alerts, you’re already caught.

And of course, there are automated speed cameras today. These didn’t exist in the ’80s.Or even the ’90s — mostly. (When I worked in DC in the mid-1990s, I routinely banshee-ran down Constitution Ave at warp speed; do that today and you’d find your mailbox stuffed with payin’ paper a week later.)

Also, the consequences if you did get pinched weren’t as over-the-top and punitive as they are today. Mostly, you just had to deal with a relatively small fine and maybe some DMV rigmarole. Today, the fines are not small — in part because of all the add-on “fees” (such as “contributions” to the state’s “safety awareness” program). Some states will slap you with several hundred dollars in fines over a simple speeding ticket. And mere speeding can, in several states, very easily become statutory reckless driving — a huge bust with life-changing consequences. It has sapped the fun out of driving — and cowed the populace into submission. Even if you want to drive fast, it’s often hard to drive fast because everyone else is driving at a snail’s pace — out of fear of The Man.

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