OK Boomer, How Did You Manage to Get to This Age?
November 22, 2019 12:57 PM   Subscribe

There was a time when new mothers were allowed to bring their newborns home from the hospital without a car seat. Then there were other dangers common to the era when Boomers were babies...like the use of dry cleaning bags as a waterproof crib liner. Not to mention those moth balls Mom stashed in the closets that looked temptingly like candy. If Mom only knew then what we know now...
posted by Oriole Adams (158 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ignorance is bliss.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Fizz at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lot of them didn't a lot of them died. Dang government overreach, lack of carseats and other dangers only killed 3 of my friends, it didn't kill MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [28 favorites]


When I was a kid, we used to drive out into the forest, with the kids in the back of the pickup truck, cut down trees, chop them into small pieces and then load them into the back of the truck to take home for firewood. On the way home, we kids would sit on top of the firewood, holding onto the chainsaws and the axes to keep them from falling out of the truck.

And that was probably safer than when we did the same sort of thing to get to the beach, because at least it wasn't at highway speeds.

It's honestly kind of a miracle that only a couple of kids I knew died before we finished high school.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:04 PM on November 22, 2019 [38 favorites]


I continue to be flummoxed that baby/child car seats have expiration dates.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:05 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


I remember riding in the back seat of our cool new car with front bucket seats. I was in the middle of the seat looking forward when pop hits the brakes. A sudden lesson in inertia.....I flew forward and hit my head thankfully on the padded dash. Those were the good old days when seat belts were nary to be found. Ashtrays in the armrests too.
posted by diode at 1:06 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I currently have two enormous expired car seats with no local program for disposing of them. I look forward to having two more soon.

I will say, if anyone needs one installed I basically have it down to a science. You just need to avoid rookie mistakes like using the LATCH/isofix mounts.
posted by selfnoise at 1:09 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Lot of them didn't a lot of them died.

Time makes people forget that regulations are largely written in blood.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 1:11 PM on November 22, 2019 [105 favorites]


The expired car seat thing just came up via kottke. Apparently it's entirely a way to sell more car seats.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 1:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


I continue to be flummoxed that baby/child car seats have expiration dates.

Those are probably bullshit.
posted by Etrigan at 1:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


There were deaths, but also people drove fewer miles per year, and possibly slower average speeds (varies by road quality and gas price), and when there are more dangerous things in the house the children aren’t left alone as much. The caution is getting shifted from local to industrial effort.

Adults do the same to themselves - we drive safer cars more recklessly.
posted by clew at 1:13 PM on November 22, 2019 [10 favorites]


My dad took some plywood, screwed some little wood legs to it, and placed it across the floor of the back seat of the car, so my brother and I could lay down and sleep on our way home from relatives or somewhere. I have, in my dotage, met others of my age whose fathers did the very same thing.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [16 favorites]


Oh wow I completely thought the expiration on car seats was due to the degradation of the plastic or something. But glad to know I was wrong.
posted by toastyk at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


On the other hand, after a couple of years the car seat has probably built up a thick enough layer of Cheerios, spilled formula, and baby vomit that it’s no longer possible to latch all the seat belts anymore, so there’s that.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:15 PM on November 22, 2019 [28 favorites]


Needs "survivorbias" tag.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:16 PM on November 22, 2019 [24 favorites]


I recall with astonishment the so-called bicycle child seats in which my Dad lugged me and my kid sister around NYC in the ‘70s. They comprised two pieces of thin pressboard wrapped in thin foam and thin plaid-printed vinyl, with thin metal arms to hold us on and nothing to keep our feet out of the rear spokes except our own feeble sense of self preservation. If you saw a kid in one of these now – hell, if you saw one for sale – you’d call Child Services forthwith.
posted by nicwolff at 1:17 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Not a boomer (late Gen X) but - we used get rides to the mall in the back part of the truck that a friend's dad used to deliver meat. It was like a 10ft box truck with a loose chest freezer just stuck in the back and like 4-8 of us would climb in and cling on for dear life for the 20 min ride in 95% darkness with a 300lb box filled with meat and whoooo.

Sometimes I wonder if I am actually a ghost.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 1:17 PM on November 22, 2019 [46 favorites]


Oh man, the fuss when I went to visit India with my two year old and insisted that my parents install a carseat in their car before I got there. They complied in the end but I had to listen to lots of stuff about "we don't drive at high speeds here so accidents aren't so bad", "it will be very uncomfortable in the car with the carseat taking up all that space", "no one here knows how to install it correctly so it's worse than not having one" ad nauseam.
posted by peacheater at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


My uncle has a story that he refuses to tell and gets upset about whenever his brothers (my dad and other uncles) bring up. It has to do with a game of "bear trap" he and his buddies would play as ten-year-olds. I haven't ever pieced together the whole thing, but the facts seem to be extremely fucked-up and one kid seems to have definitely died. This was during a time when parental neglect was normal and when fifth-graders had hours and hours to just roam the neighborhood and enact Lord of the Flies situations in city parks, and nobody batted an eye.

And that's a totally separate incident from the children chasing clouds of DDT in the streets, or all the firecrackers that seem to have been present at all times, or all the lead paint and asbestos, or... (a hundred other horrifying tales of life in Eastern North Carolina in the early 1950s, which many but not all kids survived, and which may have caused a number of chronic health conditions that cohort is now dealing with as senior citizens)
posted by witchen at 1:20 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


Lot of them didn't a lot of them died. Dang government overreach, lack of carseats and other dangers only killed 3 of my friends, it didn't kill MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.

There was "a sharp drop in deaths from unintentional injury or accident. Among children under five, deaths from these causes dropped from 44 per 100,000 children in 1960 to 18.6 per 100,000 in 1990. Among children five to nine, the mortality rate from injury or accidents fell from 19.6 to 9.8 per 100,000." There's certainly been a further decline in the last 25 years.

There are, very roughly, about 4 million kids for each single year of age in the U.S. So that reduction (of more than 25 per 100,000) just from 1960-1990 means more than 5,000 kids under 5 who didn't die last year. Plus whatever improvement occurred since 1990. Plus many, many thousands who weren't injured.

What would you do to make more than five thousand dead babies, toddlers, and young children come back to life?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2019 [39 favorites]


Anyone remember the Subaru Brat? You could get it with two rear-facing seats in the bed. That was not the place to sit when your buddy decides to go off-roading.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


My dad took some plywood, screwed some little wood legs to it, and placed it across the floor of the back seat of the car, so my brother and I could lay down and sleep on our way home from relatives or somewhere. I have, in my dotage, met others of my age whose fathers did the very same thing.

MY dad:

a) actually installed plywood and a low-pile indoor/outdoor carpet in the back of the pickup with camper shell,

b) rigged up a wooden barrier across the middle of the cargo bed, so the dog and I could ride in one half and whatever luggage (usually camping/picnicking gear) could ride in the other half, and the stuff wouldn't fall on the dog and me when braking. The luggage section was typically the half near the tailgate, so my standard method of entrance/exit was crawling through the sliding window between the camper shell and the cab.

I had one of those pillows with armrests (I'm told, years later, that this is called a "husband") and I rode and read happily in the back of that truck for HUNDREDS of miles from ages 6 to 12 (1978 to 1984) or so, from southern Illinois to Michigan (twice), New Orleans, Florida, Arkansas, etc.

I am none the worse for wear. And some of my most intense sense-memories are of the interior of that truck.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:25 PM on November 22, 2019 [25 favorites]


My dad took some plywood, screwed some little wood legs to it, and placed it across the floor of the back seat of the car, so my brother and I could lay down and sleep on our way home from relatives or somewhere. I have, in my dotage, met others of my age whose fathers did the very same thing.

Back when my two younger brothers and I were still in elementary school, my Dad built what he referred to as "The Platform" - our family car at the time was a Checker sedan, which had a huge amount of space between the back of the bench front seat and the back seat (room was necessary for the two "jumper seats" that the car came equipped with). Anyway, The Platform made the back of the Checker similar to the tailgate of a Station Wagon...Mom made a quilted, cushy topper for The Platform, and we kids would alternately sit up0 and look out the windows or nap as we drove to far-flung destinations on annual Summer vacation trips.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:27 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


It is odd to me that the generation that grew up eating lead paint and moth balls somehow chose to draw the line at Tide pods.
posted by davros42 at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [39 favorites]


The expired car seat thing just came up via kottke. Apparently it's entirely a way to sell more car seats.

On the other hand, it's just about impossible to find new 1930s baby cages, the used market seems to be the only source available.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


(As I think about it, a weird contrast comes to mind: despite allowing me these luxury transport accommodations for all those years, my dad was, conversely, VERY safety-minded when it came to actually riding in the seats of the car or truck. He was firm on wearing his seat belt and having me wear mine (and I griped a lot about that), and he was an early evangelist for air bags. Paid extra for the passenger air bag when driver's side became standard and passenger didn't. He had been in a car accident--probably before I was born--and hit the windshield. To my knowledge he was never in an accident again, but he was converted to passenger restraint ever after. Except when it came to travel in the truck bed or "the way way back" of a station wagon.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


I looked at the age-specific mortality rates in the US in 1967 and 2007. The reduction in mortality rates was by far highest for children; in particular infants (under 1 year old) who were less than 1/3 as likely to die in 2007 as they were in 1967. Kids under 14 had similar drops in mortality; meanwhile, everybody 15 and older had smaller reductions in mortality; between 1/2 and 2/3 as likely to die in a given year.

Using 10 year mortality rates, at 1967 rates I estimated life expectancy as 70.56 years. If you kept the rates the same except you could give everybody 75 and older 2007 mortality rates - give all seniors our current advanced health care, life expectancy increases to 72.12 years. If you could give everybody under 15 2007 mortality rates (and then everybody goes back to 1967 mortality rates), life expectancy increases to 72.22 years.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


The only thing that gave me the real punch in the gut culture shock feeling in Japan was seeing all the bike riding parents with the kids in a seat mounted on the handlebars facing forwards (and maybe the second kid in a backpack). I'm sure it works fine and once I got used to it I thought it was cool, but whoa did that break my American brain first time I saw it.

In general, of course, lots of things work great if nothing ever goes wrong. It is a persistent urban legend that some people rode the shuttle landings standing up.
posted by BeeDo at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


My parents brought me home from the hospital in a wooden beer box. That led to a lot of funny stories!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:36 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


There is kind of an "old parenting standards Steve" flavor to a lot of the handwringing about How We Ruined Childhood. Why can't kids just play like they used to? Why are parents always complaining about being overstressed? Well-meaning non-parent friends have asked me why I can't just switch off with another family to do school pickups like they used to, and I have to point out that it's not really a possibility when car seats are required until age 8. (And of course they can't walk even if you live like two blocks from school.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


Oh, and why are little kids' birthday parties so fancy and expensive? Well, parents aren't just going to drop off their kids with some strangers like it's 1981, they're going to come to the party too, and then you might want to provide them with something to eat and a place to sit...
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


There is a popular Facebook meme with a vintage photo of smiling 1970s kids in the back of a pickup and text proclaiming some stupid point about how we are all a bunch of over-protective crybabies nowadays. Makes me crazy.
posted by LarryC at 1:43 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Even in the late 1980s in New Zealand on the way home from youth group in a mini van, the pastor would let us play "surfing": we'd stand on the floor or seats (!) of the van without holding on and try not to fall over when he went around the corners.

Probably still safer than in summer when we'd do the same on the open back of the ute, coming back from swimming at the river.
posted by lollusc at 1:46 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


Some of the free range kid safety issue is also self-perpetuating. I could walk to grade school, and there were enough other kids around that if anything happened, there were likely multiple other kids within earshot to help or run for help. The more parents decide walking to school is unsafe, the fewer other kids are around for mutual defense and the more distracted drivers are cruising in school zones. (Finding parking, wrangling a kid, etc. are all distracting.) It may well be less safe now.

We did have seat belts when I was a kid in the 70's because my father was a member of the local rescue squad and was rather firm that he "never cut a dead man out of a seatbelt." That was combined with the opinions of my grandfather, who was a pediatrician and worked the emergency room before windshields were made of safety glass. I genuinely thought there was a circuit that would not start the car if everyone did not have a seatbelt on. (My parents said "the car does not start until everyone has their seatbelt," and were consistent enough that I thought it was fact and not policy.) We were a little ahead of the trend with that.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:50 PM on November 22, 2019 [32 favorites]


The Schwinn Stingray (1963-1981) — The Bike That Changed Cycling. The original Schwinn Stingray was made between 1963 to 1981. This page provides year by year images and information quoted from Schwinn catalogs. Here is how Schwinn described the Stingray bicycle...
posted by cenoxo at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


My dad took some plywood, screwed some little wood legs to it, and placed it across the floor of the back seat of the car, so my brother and I could lay down and sleep on our way home from relatives or somewhere.

That's basically how D. Boon of the Minutemen died. I mean, his girlfriend was driving, not your dad, but he was thrown out of a van and killed when he was lying down asleep in the back and his girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel.
posted by holborne at 1:58 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I genuinely thought there was a circuit that would not start the car if everyone did not have a seatbelt on. (My parents said "the car does not start until everyone has their seatbelt," and were consistent enough that I thought it was fact and not policy.)

Ha, my Dad did this too
posted by thelonius at 2:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


infants (under 1 year old) who were less than 1/3 as likely to die in 2007 as they were in 1967.

Vaccines. Sure not all. But I'd put money on that saving lives of many, maybe even most. I have so many stories of kids my age with who had their lives changed because of disease.
posted by bonehead at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2019 [14 favorites]


99% Invisible:

In the past fifty years, the car crash death rate has dropped by nearly 80 percent in the United States. And one of the reasons for that drop has to do with the “accident report forms” that police officers fill out when they respond to a wreck. Officers use these forms to document the weather conditions, to draw a diagram of the accident, and to identify the collision’s “primary cause.”

For the more than 30,000 fatal car crashes that happen each year, information gathered on the side of the road goes from the accident report form into a federal database: the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


Never actually did it, but by god, was I ever tempted to pop one of those moth balls into my dumb mouth every time I stumbled across one while spelunking in my grandmother's walk-in closet as a child.
(And the smell did nothing to dissuade me. Back then my favorite smells were: rubbing alcohol, gasoline, Marks-A-Lot ink, and plastic pool toys.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2019 [21 favorites]


That's basically how D. Boon of the Minutemen died. I mean, his girlfriend was driving, not your dad, but he was thrown out of a van and killed when he was lying down asleep in the back and his girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel.

Id never heard of this incident, but in defense of the girlfriend, wikipedia suggests that it was actually the back axel that broke, not her falling asleep, that caused the accident.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]


We were a little ahead of the trend with that.

From ages 4-10 I was best friends with the daughter of David Wilson who, among other things, was probably the first person in the Boston area to wage a war against smoking in the early 1970s. (He dragged my friend to all sorts of anti-smoking campaigns, which led her to some mixed feelings about the whole thing.) As he was the first on his block, it was truly baffling to see him take a stand against something that was so ubiquitous. (I remember when people smoked at the reception after church every Sunday.)
posted by Melismata at 2:19 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I genuinely thought there was a circuit that would not start the car if everyone did not have a seatbelt on. (My parents said "the car does not start until everyone has their seatbelt," and were consistent enough that I thought it was fact and not policy.)

Ha, my Dad did this too


My dad had a 3-step checklist before starting the car as early as the late 70s
Dad: Doors locked?
Kids: Yes
Dad: Seatbelts on?
Kids: Yes!
Dad: Faces funny?
Kids: Nooooo!
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:23 PM on November 22, 2019 [22 favorites]


"I recall with astonishment the so-called bicycle child seats in which my Dad lugged me and my kid sister around NYC in the ‘70s. They comprised two pieces of thin pressboard wrapped in thin foam and thin plaid-printed vinyl, with thin metal arms to hold us on and nothing to keep our feet out of the rear spokes except our own feeble sense of self preservation."

The second I read those words I thought of the almost-forgotten Rerun Van Pelt (younger brother to Linus and Lucy from Peanuts) who is almost always pictured on one of those.
posted by komara at 2:23 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


In the mid-80s, when around kindergarten age, my mom briefly had a Triumph TR6 As you can see from that picture, that car is a two seater. As we were a family of three, I sat in the space for the folded soft top. To my dad's credit, though, he did manage to install a lap belt back there.

Actually, when I was three, my mom drove to the hospital in that car, with me on her lap, so I could get emergency reconstructive surgery after splitting my face open on a bar stool.
posted by Ruki at 2:24 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Plus think of all that uncooked cookie dough.

And stuffing in the turkey. WHERE IT BELONGS.

We still violate a lot of modern food safety advice, including the above.

We require seat belts and bike helmets though. I guess everyone has their own risk calculus to work through.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


What would you do to make more than five thousand dead babies, toddlers, and young children come back to life?

Yeah, zombie toddlers, what could go wrong, he asks on the way to buy all the shotguns.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:48 PM on November 22, 2019 [36 favorites]


Oh man I still want a Schwinn Stingray so bad. Also I slept so well on that back bench seat coming home late at night from a long weekend fishing. How about when it was totally fine to let your kids go putting around in a leaky dingy with a 4 horse motor and no life vests? Or tool around in a sports car sitting on Dads lap while he "let you drive" down the freeway, see how fast you could go?
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


When I was little, I would ride on the luggage shelf behind the back seats in a VW Bug, right over the engine.
posted by octothorpe at 3:01 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


When I was a kid, the playgrounds were covered in concrete. Breaking a wrist or concussing yourself falling off the monkey bars was just a thing you were expected to avoid doing.
I was a teenager the first time I saw wood chip.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:05 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


> In the past fifty years, the car crash death rate has dropped by nearly 80 percent in the United States.

If you look at the list of motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S., you'll see it first hit 36,000 in 1936.

We hit 36,000 again in 2018.

The difference is, in 1936 there 252 billion miles traveled.

In 2018?

3223 billion.

Per mile, driving in 1936 was 13X more fatal than 2018.

(Of course, we need to reduce the fatality rate another 13-fold--car crashes are right up their with firearms deaths as leading causes of early and completely unnecessary mortality and serious injury in the U.S.--and we probably need to cut the miles driven back to 1936 levels as well, if we want to avoid melting the planet.)
posted by flug at 3:10 PM on November 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


Anyone remember the Subaru Brat? You could get it with two rear-facing seats in the bed. That was not the place to sit when your buddy decides to go off-roading.

Funny you should say that… Our next door neighbor owned one when I was a kid, and I have actually been off-roading in a Brat—in the back seat,  13-year-old me shouting throughout it in a mixture of terror and fun.  I can still vividly remember the experience.   That photo doesn't show it, but the seats each had a handlebar at either side you could hold onto, and a lap belt.

Safe it certainly was not, but I can't lie, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 3:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


In the early 80s we carpooled to school in a VW Bug stadium seating style: kids on the back shelf, on the bench, and in the wells behind the front seats. It truly was a clown car. Seatbelts existed by then, and yet...
posted by Flannery Culp at 3:15 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


A couple years ago I had a job managing playground design and construction, and the older engineers I worked with took safety really seriously. They knew the horror stories behind most of the "silly" rules.
posted by sepviva at 3:18 PM on November 22, 2019 [26 favorites]


My siblings and I once road from Kent Ohio to Seaworld in the back of a pickup.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 3:19 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I remember a trip from NJ to Virginia i was maybe 7 or 8 where I'm pretty sure I spent every minute in the car laying down above the back seat pressed up against the rear window, while my older brother and sister sat below me on the back seat with no seat belts, both parents chain smoking the entire ride.
I also remember a station wagon we had where the wagon part had a backwards facing bench seat. Where as kids, we always were made to sit. I always assumed this was so you could look the on coming driver square in the eyes as they crushed your legs in what was basically a empty trunk space where your feet were.
I had a Schwinn Apple Krate 5 speed growing up in NJ. I can't tell you how many times I slid off that banana seat both forwards into that gear shift and off the back onto my ass while doing wheelies.
Lastly it was not unusual for us to be left alone for hours and hours at at time especially in the summer. The only real rules I believe we were ever given were: be home in time for supper, don't come crying to me, and stay away from "Charlie Powder Puff".
posted by HappyHippo at 3:22 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


One more, in High School in 1980, I had a 1962 Ford Falcon van. The engine is between the driver and the passenger seats. Both front seats located above and slightly in front of the front wheels. If you had three good sized dudes up front with no one in the back you could hit the brakes really hard, and if two guys leaned forward at the same time, the back wheels would come right off the ground a good 3 or 4 feet tossing the third unsuspecting person right into the windshield. This never failed to create endless joy and laughter for the two dudes in the know......good times
posted by HappyHippo at 3:35 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


My parents brought me home from the hospital in a wooden beer box. That led to a lot of funny stories!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 1:36 PM on November 22 [2 favorites +] [!]

It also explains the hat.
posted by notyou at 3:47 PM on November 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


Sidestepping the car seat issue in 1949 or 1950, my Mom used to walk me and my baby sister Liz to the grocery store a few blocks away. When we arrived, Mom would parallel park Liz's baby buggy in front of the store, alongside several other occupied but unguarded buggies, so my mother and I could shop for the week's groceries without the nuisance of an infant in the aisles.
posted by cooper green at 3:52 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


alongside several other occupied but unguarded buggies, so my mother and I could shop for the week's groceries without the nuisance of an infant in the aisles.

I am reminded of this scene
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:01 PM on November 22, 2019


I am pretty sure I remember being surprised that a car had seatbelts in the rear seat.

A friend of mine and I occasionally discuss all the ways we could have died as children. Or teenagers.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:09 PM on November 22, 2019


My dad was childhood neighbor's with Ted Kaczynski. One of the background details Dad strongly remembers is that the Kaczynski family had the first car in the area with seat belts. It was a custom order, and they had to pick it up special when it arrived.
posted by jazon at 4:36 PM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


And of course they can't walk even if you live like two blocks from school.

That is madness. We live two blocks from the middle school and all morning and afternoon it’s a steady stream of kids down the block. Thankfully.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:41 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


meanwhile zoomers be juulin'
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:44 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


That is madness. We live two blocks from the middle school and all morning and afternoon it’s a steady stream of kids down the block. Thankfully.

What age, and how big of a city?

In Montreal, I feel like we're virtually considered criminals for letting our six year old cross the street on her own to visit her friend who lives one block over. And, having lived in Toronto, Montreal is definitely the more relaxed of the two when it comes to this stuff.
posted by 256 at 4:49 PM on November 22, 2019




The Escort wagon that my mom drove had two seatbelts in the cargo area, but no actual seats. The back of the rear (non-folding) seat was pretty much vertical, so it kinda strapped you against that.

When my dad got his baby Benz, something about it made him a relatively strict seatbelt enforcer. The well designed belts meant they weren't so uncomfortable that they induced a lifelong aversion to wearing them. Until sometime in the 90s, the vast majority of seat belts seemed like they were designed to be annoying to wear. I never particularly liked riding in the back of a truck, as they were way too bouncy on dirt roads unless they had a thousand pounds of other people or stuff also in the bed.

Airbags still scare the shit out of me. The lack of them was one of the things that kept me driving that 1991 Accord clear through to this decade.
posted by wierdo at 5:00 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just a click away at Amazon

Although that is a decidedly un-faux-metallic-sparkly banana seat.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 5:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


I remember star gazing through the windshield on long night drives laying on the front bench seat with my head on my Dad's lap. Saw the northern lights once. Also back of the pickup and way back in the station wagon. No criticism of the current views on these activities, but the memories are cherished.
posted by calamari kid at 5:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


What age, and how big of a city?

Middle school, large suburb. Pretty sure our elementary schools also still have walkers, but we’re not close enough to ours to walk. I think around here a six year old walking unaccompanied to anywhere but school would be unusual, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:14 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


In the mid-90s we still regularly rode in the bed of a pick up truck on the freeways in LA. Twice or three times a week for a 30 minute ride. No one blinked an eye. I think the last time I rode in the bed of a pickup was about 10 years later in SF at a music festival and even people 10 years younger than us were all "Nooooo, don't do it!! You'll dieee!!! you'll go to prison!". Spoiler: we did not die, it was a music festival at Golden Gate, we did not break 4mph all the way to my friend's place in Sunset. But there was a real break in age in who thought that was a reasonable choice.

when there are more dangerous things in the house the children aren’t left alone as much

That is true. I hear about kids being lonely these days and I would have sold my kidney for some precious time alone as a kid. There were kids fucking everywhere in those days, you couldn't turn around without tripping over a sibling or two and their annoying friends. We never went anywhere in a pack of less than 4. Also many moms either didn't work, worked weird hours or worked from home like mine and a lot of dads and unmarried older siblings were always around because it was farm country and everyone regarded kids as convenient free labor. I had to hide on the roof to be able to read in peace. There was very little time to get into trouble as a small-small since so many people were tasked with watching you. Many more opportunities as a pre-teen though.
posted by fshgrl at 5:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yeah, there sure is a lot of confirmation bias in some of this stuff--i.e. "Well, I survived all this crazy, safety-last childhood stuff"--and, aside from not knowing the real statistics, there's also the matter that survivors were often institutionalized and kept away from mainstream society. If you were in a wheelchair, weren't no curb cuts or handicapped parking, and forget school, no ADA either. When I was a kid, our next door neighbors had a child with cerebral palsy, and we saw him once. Later, as an adult, I found out that I had an uncle on my mom's side who was developmentally disabled, and was institutionalized and died while still in his adolescence. (Of what, exactly, I still don't know; being isolated from their families and mainstream society, lots of these institutionalized kids died of neglect or worse.)

I mean, I had a free-range childhood, and played in the local woods for hours, ran an afternoon paper route on my bike for years with nary a helmet on the head of any kid in sight, etc., but some of the counterfactual stuff that gets memed and bandied about is just ridiculous. One of these perpetual Facebook favorites talks about chewing and licking lead paint on cribs. Sure, genius, you bet, it's not as if the deleterious effects of lead poisoning were noticed in ancient Greece, or even that its effects have been linked to the rise and fall of violent crime in the U.S. And I sure as shit wear a bike helmet when I'm out riding, especially with something that wasn't a factor when I was a kid: all these fucking SUVs.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2019 [15 favorites]


Lot of them didn't a lot of them died.

In a very real sense, I died alone and afraid in my crib. My parents, both of whom worked full time, had no idea what to do with this child forced into their midst. They were Catholics, you see, forced to breed with no idea of their obligation to this newborn. In my earliest years, I was nothing more than a burden to them, and they made this very clear.

I struggle now, as a public servant that actually cares for children, to bring to the attention of "management" to these kids most at risk and in need. It's hard, because they refuse to look beyond their spreadsheets and income projections.
posted by SPrintF at 5:43 PM on November 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


1950s era car seats were built of scrap metal and put kids upfront and center, perfectly positioned to be launched through the windshield (perhaps, thrown to safety?) in the event of an accident.
posted by she's not there at 5:52 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


The "this car doesn't start unless the seatbelts are buckled" parents mentioned upthread-- in 1974, all cars sold in the USA were required to be sold with seat belt starter interlocks. (There was a weight sensor under the passenger's seat ...if no one was sitting there, the status of the seatbelt on that side was disregarded.) So, parents might have been telling the truth or have been embellishing based on existence of a real thing. By 1975, public protest over the "nanny state" aspects of this resulted in the requirement being dropped.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:04 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


> I recall with astonishment the so-called bicycle child seats in which my Dad lugged me and my kid sister around NYC in the ‘70s.

Awww, I was in the same plaid car seat at the same time, but in Helsinki.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:26 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


> There were kids fucking everywhere in those days, you couldn't turn around without tripping over a sibling or two and their annoying friends.

Houses were smaller, too, at least in the US. My neighbor lives in the house she raised her four children in; two bedrooms, one bathroom, and that was perfectly normal for the block. All the newer houses are two or three times the size of hers.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:29 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


Seat belt starter interlocks may not be with us, but incessant beeping if you leave a handbag on the seat is certainly present.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:30 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Here's pictures of the cardboard box my parents were given by the hospital to transport me home in.
posted by peeedro at 6:34 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


incessant beeping if you leave a handbag on the seat

I have absolutely buckled in a stack of pizzas to get the damn car to shut up about it.
posted by Weeping_angel at 6:37 PM on November 22, 2019 [17 favorites]


But there was a real break in age in who thought that was a reasonable choice.

It would be interesting to graph by age people who recognize the term "the way back".
posted by thelonius at 6:41 PM on November 22, 2019 [13 favorites]


I fell out of the car in 1957, after dance class, wearing a leotard, no tights. That got my Dad's attention. I had never seen him so worried. He was taking a left, and I went out the door to the right. I knew better than to ride behind the fog truck. Cheap purple suckers gave me headaches, the food dye for them tasted like gasoline smells. We knocked on stranger's doors and asked for drinks of water, when we wandered too far, which was our regular thing to do.
posted by Oyéah at 6:44 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]


Omfg my shitheel of a father would load some of us kids into the back of his pickup truck (with a cap!) for the 5 (FIVE!) hour drive to the family cabin. Or the many hours longer drive to Florida. During which he drank beer like a fucking fish.

This was in the goddamn 90s. He didn’t want to hear us whining that we had to pee or were thirsty or upset that he’d hit a deer.

Obviously I’m still mad about it. I have a fucking panic attack when I get in a taxi and haveto explain to someone that they will wear a seatbelt or I will get out of the car.

The NYC emergency rooms see an injury called partition face. Partition being the part of the taxi that separate the driver from the passengers. Cars terrify me.
posted by bilabial at 6:54 PM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


My dad used to drive a few miles through town on his tractor each year to get a load or two of manure for his gardens. For years when I was young, I rode along standing on the tow bar for the trailer and hanging onto his seat.

He used to use my brother and me for weights on top of loads of loose hay, same tractor. Two kids, slippery load, 10-12 feet above the ground or road.

We also used to play ice hockey on a distant pond unsupervised.
posted by vers at 7:09 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


Houses were smaller, too, at least in the US. My neighbor lives in the house she raised her four children in; two bedrooms, one bathroom, and that was perfectly normal for the block. All the newer houses are two or three times the size of hers.

By the early 60s a second bath or at least an extra half bath was becoming pretty much universal in new construction, even before the third bedroom became a thing outside particularly fancy neighborhoods. By the 70s, most new construction aimed at families were 3/2, at least in the city I grew up in (and a few I've lived in since)

That's not to say there weren't outliers in both directions, but those were the noticeably large or small houses in the developments of the time and I'm completely ignoring apartments.
posted by wierdo at 7:10 PM on November 22, 2019


Our family went on summer vacations camping. When the DDT mosquito fogger would drive through the campsites, my father told us kids to run behind it in the fog, so we wouldn't get bug bites at night.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


By the early 60s a second bath or at least an extra half bath was becoming pretty much universal in new construction, even before the third bedroom became a thing outside particularly fancy neighborhoods. By the 70s, most new construction aimed at families were 3/2, at least in the city I grew up in (and a few I've lived in since)

If you grew up in a fancy new neighborhood. We grew in the 70s in a house built around 1910 in a neighborhood all built at the same time. Almost no one had two bathrooms and some of the families had as many as ten kids. We shared one full bathroom with no shower, just a bath and there were five of us.
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 PM on November 22, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have many dumb stories I am surprised I have survived, but this one seems appropriate: my dad used to let me and/or my brother ride around the back of an empty, seatless Ford Econoline cargo van we used for work.

While skateboarding. In the van, while in motion. Sometimes it wasn't even empty and we were bouncing around with cargo.

We also used to do a lot of van surfing which involved trying to remain standing in the back of the van (without a skateboard) and maintaining a stable foot-planted surfer/skateboarder stance in the middle of the center axis of the van where you didn't move your feet to keep balance but tried to anticipate centripetal forces during stops, starts and turns like carving on a surfboard or skateboard. IE, dad would be whipping around some surface street turn and I'd be leaning at some crazy, extreme angle inside the van.

I still sometimes do this on empty transit buses but I usually pretend I'm holding on to the hand rail.

I also don't think I even owned any kind of bicycle helmet till I was an adult. I still don't always wear my helmet.

Heck, I'm suddenly remembering the bike cart my mom had, which was basically a half strength wire grocery shopping cart on two solid rubber tires that tipped over rather often. I remember getting dumped out of that thing more than a few times.
posted by loquacious at 7:27 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not a boomer (grr, Year 8 student explaining to their friend what a boomer was- "Miss is a Boomer" - I AM NOT) but I grew up in Bolivia, and know the term way-back and what it's like to ride in the back of a truck.

A story that I will always remember was of a family friend- took out his truck (not a pick up, a proper truck) to pick up a load of stones. On the way home, his sons were sitting on the back, but he had a funny feeling and pulled over. Despite their complaints, he insisted that they all squish into the cab, even though it wasn't as comfortable. Five or ten minutes after they got going again, the truck rolled. They escaped with minor injuries. If they were still on top of the rocks they wouldn't have survived.
posted by freethefeet at 7:28 PM on November 22, 2019 [6 favorites]


> Vaccines. Sure not all. But I'd put money on that saving lives of many, maybe even most.

FWIW my great aunt lost four daughters to whooping cough in the space of three weeks, as recently as 1910. 6 year old, 4 year old, two month old, and two month old. From perfectly healthy to dead and buried in three weeks.

In less than a hundred years, we've forgotten that these contagious diseases regularly led to mass fatalities of that type--multiple family members, many people in a small town or neighorhood, gone just like that. And the effects are concentrated in the most vulnerable populations, the very young and the very old.

It gives me very little patience with the anti-vaxxers in my family (of whom there are far too many--I've talked about them before on MeFi).
posted by flug at 8:17 PM on November 22, 2019 [18 favorites]


baby/child car seats have expiration dates

Sorry, what [the fuck]?
posted by so fucking future at 8:41 PM on November 22, 2019


As another member of the "But of course, the way-back refers to the rear facing seat up against the back window of a station wagon; coincidentally right over the gas tank in many models. That is where you put your young children." age cohort...
Back when I dated, one of my go-to getting-to-know-you questions a couple drinks in was to widen my eyes, lean in, and say "OK then...PLAYGROUND SCARS." Not always from the playground, but there wasnt a one who didn't have at least a chipped tooth from faceplanting on asphalt during recess, or a crease in their lip from going over the handlebars, or a broken collarbone from jumping off the garage roof holding a patio umbrella. And this was the women.
posted by bartleby at 8:48 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]


On the serious side, you know what made us serious about not drinking and driving in high school? The two juniors who died our freshman year.

And here's a regional oldie. During autumn in the Northeast, all those pretty leaves have to go somewhere. When we got wise to air quality and stopped simply raking them into a pile on the front lawn and setting them on fire, the new routine was to rake them into a big pile just over the curb, and the town would come by every week and hoover them up out of the street.
But to a little kid walking home from school, a big pile of lovely crunchy leaves is irresistible for diving in and rolling around submerged. Nearly a meter into the roadway. And to a suburban driver on a narrow street, a big piles of leaves is an obstacle you can drive right through...
It's odd, the feeling when you hear a bunch of children down the block a generation later caution each other "Hey! Don't, my mom said some kid once died doing that" and you think "oh yeah. Pete's little brother. Donnie? Dougie?"
posted by bartleby at 9:07 PM on November 22, 2019 [5 favorites]


And perhaps just slightly out of range, but on the subject of vaccines, my mom made her two childhood best friends at a Chicken Pox Party. (before cheap and available vaccines, when a kid in class got a common childhood disease, parents would send you over to their house to play and get infected yourself, to get in over with and make you immune going forward. Go play checkers with Billy, he's got the mumps, you don't want to get it for the first time as a grownup.)
posted by bartleby at 9:16 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm not quite a boomer but I know that I got to my age largely by making improbably critical rolls at pivotal moments. Which is to say "sheer luck" because my character sheet is dismal and I still don't even have magic armor....or any armor at all. Except for bicycle helmets which saved me from head injuries on two occasions. Oh and I guess Ontario's Health Insurance Plan and the UK's National Health Service were pretty magical spells.
posted by srboisvert at 9:22 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


I was raised as one of Harlow's monkeys, devoid of human contact for years. I work in a school district now, and it tortures me, the things some of these kids go through every day.
posted by SPrintF at 9:23 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]


Another graph I'd be interested to see:
You know the 'Stop that or I will pull over right now and you can walk home!' cliche?
1- if they actually did it
2 - which parent
2 - how far from home
I only got it once, from mom, about two miles. My older brother was a real little shitstain though, his record was 5 from dad.
posted by bartleby at 9:34 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


When I was little, I would ride on the luggage shelf behind the back seats in a VW Bug, right over the engine.

We had 2 VW Bugs when I was a kid. My mom used to leave me sitting in the car with the motor running in the winter when she was selling Avon. Carbon Monoxide poisoning was only avoided because the entire bottom of the car was so rusted out that there was no actual containment of the fumes possible.

When we would go drive anywhere my parents would yell "Don't step on the running boards!" when we went to get in the car because if we did they would fall off and then my Dad would have to wrangle them back on somehow before we could go anywhere. We could also see the ground in the back seat footwells because the floor was rusted out. Which could have been handy Flinstone style because the gas gauges were busted and we would run out gas all the time and have to push the car home.

My parents would regularly drink a liter of wine at the Mother's Pizza in the neighbouring town and drive us home drunk enough that we had to keep them awake. On the highway. In the winter.

There was also the kind of René Lévesque-esqe relentless chain smoking that Quebecers know about (I swear I once saw him with multiple cigarettes in his mouth at once but it was probably a political cartoon).
posted by srboisvert at 9:57 PM on November 22, 2019 [12 favorites]


My father drove wrecker for years when I was a child so I have lots of counter stories for the "and we all grew up fine" crowd. 60s cars were deathtraps, riding unsecured in a vehicle is basically intentionally dismissing all car safety innovations. I mean people still ride motorcycles but at least most of us look at the riders with disdain if they don't wear helmets and leathers/safety clothing. Riding unsecured in an automobile is essentially the same thing as riding a motorbike.

the back wheels would come right off the ground a good 3 or 4 feet tossing the third unsuspecting person right into the windshield.

The Ford used the same platform for the Econoline pickup and they were very capable "stoppie" performers. This despite the large dead weight Ford added behind the rear axle (though the linked video is with weight removed and the effect helped along by modern tires).

Also bizarrely Ford made two wildly different pickups on the Falcon platform; the Econoline and the Ranchero.
posted by Mitheral at 10:59 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]


Boomer or otherwise, be the first kid on your block to get OCC Schwinn Stingray Chopper Bicycle Motor conversion kits & accessories to build your own Customized PedalChopper (Photo Gallery).
posted by cenoxo at 11:03 PM on November 22, 2019


paper bag



septic tank
posted by philip-random at 11:38 PM on November 22, 2019


My dad put seatbelts in our 1951 station wagon, years before they were even an option in new cars. These were big, wide military-surplus airplane belts, with the lever-and-hook buckles. Serious seatbelts. Very safety-conscious of him.

Then for our cross-country vacations, he rigged a heavy nylon sheet across the back of the car, behind the front seats and all the way back to the tailgate. It was stretched tight on hooks mounted on the roof pillars. The back seat was folded down, and covered with luggage and camping gear. On top of the nylon went the three kids, perfectly positioned to take out our parents' heads as we flew through the windshield like torpedoes. Fortunately, dad never hit anything while we were loaded there. Dad always drove, of course, even though mom was a perfectly capable driver.

Concrete playgrounds, of course. Coaster brakes on the bikes. My favorite drink as a kid was eggnog, home-made with raw eggs. I had it a lot.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:55 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Every generation's standard parenting practices become the next generation's felony child abuse.
posted by tommasz at 5:08 AM on November 23, 2019 [20 favorites]


The reduction in mortality rates was by far highest for children; in particular infants (under 1 year old) who were less than 1/3 as likely to die in 2007 as they were in 1967.

While a lot of these deaths were prevented by things like seatbelts and car seats, many many more were prevented by things like the decline in cigarette smoking around infants (higher risk of sudden infant death) and especially by the widespread adoption of vaccination for deadly childhood illnesses and expansion of things like prenatal/postnatal care. Even in the same time and place, participating in a dedicated program for maternal and infant health reduces the odds of neonatal and infant death to 0.74, and the map of states that did/did not expand Medicaid is almost identical to the map of states with high/low infant mortality (about twice as high in non-expanded Medicaid than expanded).
posted by basalganglia at 5:47 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


I remember the child seat: enamelled folding metal frame, celeste blue vinyl over hardboard, thin nylon straps. Its main functions seem to be wipe-clean-ability and it could fold up so the seat was still usable by a sibling if they weren't too tall. Crash protection? About the same as the Morris Minor 1000 Traveller it was inside that was roughly 60% rust/rotten wood by weight when we bought it — none at all.
posted by scruss at 6:22 AM on November 23, 2019


FWIW, I also live a couple blocks down from an elementary school (in downtown Ottawa, on a one-way side street with a bike lane and a fair amount of rush hour traffic) and see kids walking to school without adults in the morning. Not masses, but more than a handful.
posted by quaking fajita at 6:36 AM on November 23, 2019



It would be interesting to graph by age people who recognize the term "the way back".

Ahahaha yes, "the way back." Gen X, b 1971, we would FIGHT over the way back of my parents "buzzard puke green" AMC Hornet station wagon. Piled with blankets, it was truly the only way to ride in style and comfort.
I last rode as an adult in the way back of an absolute boat of a station wagon in the mid 1990s. I forget the exact make and model of The HMS Jon J. but I recall one particular detail which delighted us tremendously; THERE WERE ASHTRAYS IN THE WAYBACK. Presumably so the kids could smoke too.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


Anyone else spend long summer drives in the very back end of the family station wagon, sitting in the rear-facing seats, breathing-in all the heady gasoline and exhaust fumes seeping in?

.......
Houses were smaller, too, at least in the US. My neighbor lives in the house she raised her four children in; two bedrooms, one bathroom, and that was perfectly normal for the block. All the newer houses are two or three times the size of hers.

Yup. Grew up in a house built in 1960. Three bedrooms, one bath, one ghost, living room, eat-in kitchen. All in 1,300 sq.ft.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:42 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's seems very perversely American that families have shrunk in size but houses and cars have ballooned in size.
posted by octothorpe at 6:45 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


I once rode in the back of a Caprice wagon all the way from South Dakota to Michigan next to my great - grandmother's casket (she wasn't in it yet). It was too heavy to slide around much.

Growing up in rural early 90s SD was just an amazing exercise in minimally supervised children. Kids would learn to drive tractors before cars, and that's considering you could get your learner's permit at 14. And then there were all the old barns and bridges to climb around in, and trees to climb and roofs to jump off of. I probably put 10 miles on my BMX bike every day in the summer. And everybody had a pellet gun. From my perspective at the time it was paradise.

And there are memories of other insane things, like getting the Wilderness Survival merit badge at Boy Scout camp. "Here's a knife and those are the woods. Don't come back until tomorrow morning."
posted by Dokterrock at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


I flew forward and hit my head thankfully on the padded dash.

Padded dash? Not shiny steel with a giant slide out steel ashtray?
posted by JackFlash at 9:54 AM on November 23, 2019


Padded dash? Not shiny steel with a giant slide out steel ashtray?

Lets not forget the control nobs that could easily get pulled off or fall off, revealing sharp spiky steel shafts just right to put an eye out.
posted by octothorpe at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2019


Three bedrooms, one bath, one ghost

please elaborate
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:03 AM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]




Kids would learn to drive tractors before cars...

The hazards farm kids deal with are much more frightening than the ones we urban/suburban kids faced.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:23 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I was born in 87, and I got chicken pox from a chicken pox party. I had to have a baby tooth pulled because I had a sore on my gumline and it got infected.
posted by captain afab at 10:31 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


About the same as the Morris Minor 1000 Traveller it was inside that was roughly 60% rust/rotten wood by weight when we bought it

In fairness, that's how that came out of the factory.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 10:35 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've enjoyed all the stories about adults in the 1960s and 1970s who recognized some risks of driving, but not others. So obviously they weren't infinitely risk-tolerant, or incapable of changing behavior. Why doing what seems stupid to us?

Because cars were relatively new, for one thing, and car omnipresence and dependence even newer. It takes a while for emergent effects to come up, and then longer to decide collectively whether the tradeoffs are OK, and then longer to find a fix that works and install/enforce it everywhere. I assume in a generation or so our current use of social media is going to be equally obviously unacceptable, and many of us will be whining about how we were all right at the time. (Lots of other things than social media, but that's the new one with emergent effects, not the cumulative/tontine problem of resource exhaustion.)
posted by clew at 11:00 AM on November 23, 2019


Boomer or otherwise, be the first kid on your block to get OCC Schwinn Stingray Chopper Bicycle Motor conversion kits & accessories to build your own Customized PedalChopper (Photo Gallery).

Your post reminded me of when I was a kid, and two - count 'em, two - other kids on my block had one of those Schwinn Stingrays (one had the green one, the other the red Apple Crate). Believe me, they were all that and a bag of chips and the envy of the neighborhood!! The rest of us had to be content with after-market banana seats and such to "pimp our rides".
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:02 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


Because cars were relatively new, for one thing,

I'm not sure what you are meaning here. The Model T was introduced in 1908. By the time it went out of production in 1927 Ford had cranked out 16.5 million of them; approximately 1 for every 7 Americans alive at the time (there is a reason practically every DIY mechanical project in magazines from the 30s, 40s, and 50s uses some part from the T, they littered the landscape). The Interstate highway system started in 1956. The vast majority of American adults in the 60s and 70s had grown up with cars and those that hadn't had been immersed in a car culture for decades.

But people are bad at conceptualizing drawn out death tolls. If all the annual US traffic fatalities happened on a single day or at a single location we'd loose our collective shit addressing the problems. But because they are diffused in time and space they are mostly ignored. And a not insignificant percentage of the population decries government regulation put in place to dampen the blood toll of automobiles.
posted by Mitheral at 11:31 AM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


As a toddler in the late 1950's in California, Mom used to put me in my playpen in the back yard, but I would get bored/fussy. So, she put in the playpen in the front yard ... alone ... unsupervised. She said I liked to interact with the neighbors/dogs that went by (did I say I was pretty much unsupervised!!)

My sister and I also walked or biked to/from school from a pretty young age unescorted. (If you lived closer than a mile to the school they would not bus you there; I think that rule still applies in that school district). We had an extra long lunch hour in elementary/middle school and so when I was 11/12/13/14 I used to bike home to have lunch and then bike back (you could have lunch at school or go home, your choice). No escort, and my mother had gone back to school so there was no one at home. We never used bike helmets either.

I also was hanging upside down from the monkey bars and fell and hit my head on the concrete(!), though I do remember my school installing play equipment in the mid-1960's that had softer material under the equipment rather than concrete. One of my friends had a scar under her chin from when she accidentally started to drink some Draino stored under the kitchen sink (no child safety locks) and it burned through ... things ....

On the other hand, Mom managed to find and have installed in the back seat of the car some kind of harness/seatbelt contraption for me in the early 1960's. I hated that thing with a passion, because it felt like being caged, but she insisted I be harnessed in when we were in the car. She was always an early adopter of car safety stuff, like seatbelts, airbags and such. She made us close all the windows when the DDT fogger truck came around and would not let us go outside. And, she had had polio at age 3, and recovered (with some lingering effects) so she was always first in line with us when any new vaccine came out. I remember getting the polio vaccine via a sugar cube at a very young age.

Smoking though ... both my parents smoked, and my father was a chain smoker (though my mother did not smoke when she was pregnant with me). I was one of those kids who got carsick at the drop of a hat, and begged and begged my father not to smoke in the car when I was in it, because it exacerbated my nausea. He finally reluctantly agreed, stopping the car periodically to get out and take cigarette breaks. Many years later, after he finally quit, he admitted he was pretty mad about that at the time, but that in retrospect it was probably a good thing for my sister's and my health.

My parents usually managed to find houses with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms (sometimes 2 1/2 baths), though the kid bedrooms were often pretty tiny, but they did that on a modest government worker salary, so we were usually what is described as "house poor", and there was little money for anything except for the occasional takeout pizza. I well remember Mom sitting at the kitchen table every month listing out income and expenses and trying to make it all come out even.
posted by gudrun at 11:42 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


A hundred years is new for cultural omnipresence! And one of the reasons there were so many Ts made was that they broke down all the time -- they weren't all on the road to raise the per capita use.

The US didn't average one car per household until 1950. And with one car per household, not all adults in the household might drive. So developing safety laws in the 1960s is not so surprising.
posted by clew at 11:45 AM on November 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


The vast majority of American adults in the 60s and 70s had grown up with cars

By the same token, though, lots of adults in the 60s would have been kids in streetcar suburbs and would have grown up in a time where, yeah, cars existed and weren't rare, but where it was also common to not have a car, and before car-oriented suburbs had been built.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 11:52 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I didn't ride a bike from 1971 to about 1984, so I find it weird to wear a helmet. When did that become a thing?
I understand, and I wear a helmet if I'm going to be out in traffic, but it's still strange.
OTOH, I've worn seat belts since 1961, and feel weird to even move the car 10' without the belt on.

paper bag
...
septic tank

? Need more information.
posted by MtDewd at 11:56 AM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm still curious about the ghost. Consequence of worse home safety standards? It all hangs together.
posted by clew at 12:08 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Besides modes of transportation, there were also plenty of hazards at home. I’m pretty sure this has been posted on the blue before:

15 Mid Century Modern-
Dream Homes That Will Kill Your Children


I recall a very swanky teak wall storage unit, my dad’s pride and joy, that was nothing but sharp edges and corners, one that stuck out right at the bottom of the stairs.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 12:30 PM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


paper bag
...
septic tank
? Need more information.


a reference to this Monty Python sketch concerning the art of exaggerating how bad you had it when you were young. And I got it wrong. It's not a paper bag, it's a rolled up newspaper.
posted by philip-random at 1:17 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


it's just about impossible to find new 1930s baby cages

You can still get them, they're just for cats now.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:34 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


> You know the 'Stop that or I will pull over right now and you can walk home!' cliche?

I have actually said that, as a parent! And followed through! But because we were 3,000 miles from home, I also got out, leaving Mr Corpse and the Well-Behaved Child to drive the rest of the way to where we were staying while Misbehaving Child and I walked.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'd never heard of this incident, but in defense of the girlfriend, wikipedia suggests that it was actually the back axel that broke, not her falling asleep, that caused the accident.

Huh. According to Michael Azerrad's book Our Band Could Be Your Life (an excellent book, btw, if you like books about rock), the van crashed and flipped becausethe girlfriend fell asleep. So who knows. Either way, the moral of the story is: don't lie down in the back of the van.
posted by holborne at 3:02 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


> In less than a hundred years, we've forgotten that these contagious diseases regularly led to mass fatalities of that type

On the wall above me I have a photo of my grandfather at Camp Devens during WWI. There'd be a thousand cases of the Spanish Flu there soon after the photo was taken, and hundreds of deaths. It seems so distant, but he survived and I knew him when I was little.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:06 PM on November 23, 2019


I shudder to think that in 1972 we drove across the country with my 2year old son sitting on my lap, or napping on the couch my husband had built in the back of our Dodge van. When he got the van it only had one seat, so he built a passenger seat for me as well. Of course no seat belts, and it did not have air conditioning. We also drove from Salt Lake to Phoenix, AZ in August for my brother's weddding. Towards the end of the trip we stopped at every place that had ice and water and poured it over mine and my son's head as well as driniking. Somehow we survived. We did not have to have car seats to bring babies home from the hospital, I just held them. My youngest was born in 1980. My grandbabies live in a more restrictive but safer world.
posted by mermayd at 3:19 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


I feel like it's possible that new safety features are great and parents today are over protective at the same time.
posted by bongo_x at 4:23 PM on November 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


I have shared the story of the time some guy thought it would be cool to bring a tiger to our block before. Look at that leash. My 32-pound dog could snap that for the right cookie.
posted by Mchelly at 4:32 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I also fell out of a car (fortunately on a slow curve onto a fairly empty road, only a few scrapes) because my friend's dad had cut the seatbelts out of the car because "The goddamned government can't tell ME what to do with my goddamned car." And that was already in the early 80's.
posted by Mchelly at 4:34 PM on November 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


15 Mid Century Modern-
Dream Homes That Will Kill Your Children


Have you ever been to Falling Water? That place is terrifying.
posted by octothorpe at 4:36 PM on November 23, 2019


> my friend's dad had cut the seatbelts out of the car because "The goddamned government can't tell ME what to do with my goddamned car." And that was already in the early 80's.

I had a friend who did that in the late 1980s, for the same stupid reason.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:52 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


she's not there: “1950s era car seats were built of scrap metal and put kids upfront and center, perfectly positioned to be launched through the windshield (perhaps, thrown to safety?) in the event of an accident.”
A co-worker told me, "Every ticket I've ever got was for seatbelts. I'm 38 damn years old. It's my decision whether or not to wear 'em! I don't want to be trapped inside a wrecked truck. I want to be thrown clear." This was last week.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:27 PM on November 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


If he's 38 damn years old and he still thinks like that, he should damn well wake the fuck up. Thrown clear more often than not becomes killed instantly. Or is that the outcome he damn well prefers?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:02 AM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


This may be a bit of a tangent but even though we have a vaccine for chickenpox since 1984 (Wikipedia sez available in the US since 1995) and it's still not mandatory... almost anywhere afaik? Which is insane. They *just* made it mandatory here in Hungary like two months ago.

I got chickenpox when I was 7 or so and I do not have fond memories of it, to put it mildly.
posted by KTamas at 5:56 AM on November 24, 2019


(FWIW I'm Gen Y, so back when I was a baby they didn't have the vaccine yet in Hungary or almost anywhere. But now we do!!)
posted by KTamas at 5:57 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’ve known a “thrown clear” person, too, although a much older one, and I don’t understand their thinking. Do they imagine that the door will pop open and they’ll gently land on the grassy side of the road?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:56 AM on November 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Actually, seat belts do cause people to be crushed sometimes. I've personally seen crashes resulting in..less than sufficient..space for a driver to have survived had they been belted, but since they weren't, just cuts and bruises. Despite that experience, I still buckle up every time I get into the car.

The statistics are quite clear. There are rare cases in which at least one occupant would have been better off without wearing a seatbelt. The far greater chance, however, is that wearing a seatbelt will save your life or at least a lot of pain and anguish. Better still, improving crash safety performance, especially in the offset frontal and side impact tests, continues to decrease the chance of wearing the seatbelt leading to greater injury. It was already a tiny risk, but in most modern cars it has been made even smaller.
posted by wierdo at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Older cars (say 50s), the passenger compartment used to crumple around the occupants in even relatively minor accidents generally killing the occupants. In a man bites dog sort of way everyone had heard of someone who'd been thrown from the vehicle and survived, and everyone had seen people crushed inside a wadded up ball of a car. So certain death inside the car and some small chance to survive if thrown from the vehicle. Also when someone is saved by a modern crumple zone car + seat belt the participants often walk away, nothing to see, no gravestone to visit. A story that goes "they had an accident and just walked away" is rarely gripping.

Also tractors with no roll over protection (ROPS) rolled over a lot and being thrown clear of those in the roll over was vastly superior to been killed by the tractor rolling over on you. A roll bar and seat belt pretty much eliminate that danger or at least reverse the relative risks (it's a lot better to be strapped to your ROPS equipped tractor rather than be thrown from the seat and often have the tractor roll over you).

So because it can be hard to change views due to changing conditions or new information the "thrown clear" theory which had some validity at one time persists.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Like, yeah, you might get really lucky, but more than anything you're dramatically increasing the chance that your forehead will be oozing glass for months.

I've noticed a strong correlation between people who believe not wearing a seatbelt will allow them to be thrown clear of a crash and those who manage to make it through life driving around three sheets to the wind without catching a DUI charge.
posted by wierdo at 8:43 AM on November 24, 2019


I wonder what the crossover is between the “I’ll be thrown clear” set and the “I actually drive better when I’m a little high” set.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:36 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Snopes — Seatbelt Risk: Do seatbelts cause more deaths than they save lives?
Claim: People shouldn’t wear seat belts because they might not be able to escape from their vehicles in car fires.

FALSE
...
The false belief that it’s safer not to wear a seat belt in case the vehicle catches fire persists despite the mountain of evidence countering it. Death by incineration or drowning accounts for less than one-tenth of one percent of motor-vehicle-related traumas. Most passengers who are ejected from vehicles die, and the majority of them are thrown through the windshield. The chances of injury from hitting the pavement, a fixed object, or a moving vehicle (including your own) are also much greater if you are not wearing a seat belt.
...
Additional details in the post.

Other potentially fatal opinions are debunked in Why Should You Wear A Seatbelt?, GEICO, November 4, 2019:
5 Common Misconceptions About Seatbelts

#1. Seat belts are uncomfortable and restrict my movement.
#2. Seat belts trap you in your vehicle during a crash.
#3. I’m just going up the block for groceries. I don’t need to wear a seat belt around town.
#4. I don’t have time to put on my seat belt.
#5. My car has air bags, so I don’t need to wear a seat belt.
GEICO has a nice summary of seat belt history (see also Wikipedia's > Seat belt article).
posted by cenoxo at 11:47 AM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the crossover is between the “I’ll be thrown clear” set and the “I actually drive better when I’m a little high” set.

My guess is that people in group B are more likely o be in group A, but not the other way around.
posted by thelonius at 11:47 AM on November 24, 2019


Apologies for not RTFT (I skimmed!) but my understanding of car seat expiration was that it has to do with the hard foam that’s used for shock absorption. Like the foam in bike helmets, it degrades over time and becomes less shock absorbent and therefore less safe. Plus the amount of jostling and singing it experiences in ita lifetime mean it’s subject to normal wear and tear like anything else. I mean, they’re good for 5-10 years anyway, well past the time a kid needs it.
posted by stillmoving at 11:49 AM on November 24, 2019


Yeah, I have one that combines being utterly mortified and completely bonkers unsafe.

My parents had one of those big honker station wagons popular in the late sixties. When we went on trips, we were three kids mostly sitting in the back seat (without seat belts - what are those, some communist plot?)... except when one of us had to go to the bathroom. At which point, we had to climb into the back end where my mother had PUT A PLASTIC BUCKET WITH A TOILET SEAT. yup, in traffic, moving or stopping, there we were peeing into a plastic bucket.

I know, it's nuts.
posted by bluesky43 at 11:56 AM on November 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


My parents were super strict about seat belts. Always had to wear them, weren't allowed to take rides in friends' cars without. But everything else was up for grabs. We had an open well in our back yard and were told that whoever drowned, the other would be beaten. Mutually assured destruction kept us both safe.

One day we were playing frisbee with metal paint lids when I man stopped and told us we'd decapitate someone. Strangers were allowed to reprimand you in those days so we said "thanks Mister!' and found something else to do.

We lived in an ex industrial area full of fascinating decaying old infrastructure and I do remember hearing about kids being killed or badly injured playing in a lift on a building site. It was considered sad but in a 'well what did they expect' kind of way. We did stupid shit but not that stupid (said our father who survived a childhood playing in the brick pits, it's amazing my branch of the family tree exists at all).
posted by kitten magic at 2:48 PM on November 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Actually super strict didn't extend to other people's kids. Dad's scout troop used to ride in the boot (trunk).
posted by kitten magic at 2:49 PM on November 24, 2019


As I understand it another benefit to the (driver's) seat belt is that it keeps you in front of the steering wheel where you are able to continue to affect the behavior of your vehicle. Little help in the worst accidents, but in a variety of other situations it can be of great benefit.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:09 PM on November 24, 2019


"another benefit to the (driver's) seat belt is that it keeps you in front of the steering wheel where you are able to continue to affect the behavior of your vehicle"

I have heard the story of my friend's dad who was driving an early 70s Ford LTD on the beach somewhere. He hit a bit of a dune and next thing you know he's on the passenger side staring at the steering wheel like "well that won't do me any good from over here."
posted by komara at 9:51 PM on November 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


In 1976 I was 10. A guy that lived a couple houses away owned a field behind our house. He would fly his little airplane from there and would often do take-off and landing exercises. One day I got a great idea to go down and ask him if he would give me a ride in the airplane. We didn't really know this neighbor at all, so he was likely surprised to see me. Anyway, he gave me a ride and let me fly the plane, steering and altitude. We went up and down and around and around. Was very fun! At dinner that night I told my parents about it. They just chuckled and said I was pretty brave for doing that, and that was about it.

I cannot imagine in any way shape or form what I would do if my 10 year old daughter told me this. The mindset of my parents is so very different than mine, to let something like that go is striking to me now.
posted by waving at 10:57 AM on November 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


... but then again, 6 kids in a three bedroom ranch probably makes a weary parent pretty accepting of all kinds of mischief.
posted by waving at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2019 [2 favorites]


OK, I was born in '57 so I'll play.

My family lived in a small rural town and we still have a farm about six miles out of town. I drove my first tractor at 12. The big safety instruction was a firm one. Never, never, never get near a power-take-off while the tractor or auger is running. This was all but beaten into us. But: ridden in a pickup bed - check, hung off the back of a moving tractor - check, climbed high into barns or explored vacant outbuildings - check, explored vacant outbuildings and stumbled on a sleeping bobcat - CHECK, shot .22 at vermin with no gun safety training - check, climbed a fifty foot ladder into a grain elevator with no guard rails - check. Some day I should sit down with my cousins and discuss all the ways we could have and should have died.

Small town life was utterly unsupervised and there's a lot of that going on in this town again. All summer long I've enjoyed watching the same pack of kids roam up and down the street with no supervision. I see kids walk to school all the time (though they're not expected to brave extreme weather like we were). We rode bike everywhere and stole fruit and carrots from neighbors gardens. As teens we thought nothing of driving 100-200 miles to riotous concerts with again, no supervision. When we were out of town, like a trip to the Twin Cities, we still had a ridiculous lack of supervision. The back seat of dad's sedan had a metal plate that stretched out from the passenger seat and we'd sleep on it like a bed when a road trip got late. Seat belts were very uncommon when I was in grade school and only enforced by the time I was ready to graduate from high school. It was common practice in the sticks for your parents (when visiting out of town) to leave the car running and go into a bar while you were expected to amuse yourself for a couple hours. This was not considered neglect.

Yeah, it's a wonder any of this cursed generation lived at all.
posted by Ber at 4:50 PM on November 25, 2019 [5 favorites]


I have a former brother-in-law who says he was thrown clear of a car (not just a what-if) and would have died if he had a seat belt on. I suppose it's true, and I was willing to give him a pass on wearing belts, but only him.
I know sometimes someone wins the lottery, but that doesn't mean it's a solid economic plan. I tend to go with the overwhelming percentages.
In my teens, I read an article about someone who went through a windshield and survived, and I decided I didn't want to do that.
posted by MtDewd at 10:37 AM on November 26, 2019


GM during the late 80s just before air bags experimented with glass-plastic windshields (An essentially conventional windshield with a layer of plastic on the inside surface). The windshield glass would be contained by the additional layer rather than spray all over the place so if you were thrown into the windshield you were less likely to go through it and their would be reduced glass flying around.

They were sued by a woman who was involved in an accident in a plastic windshield Cadillac, hit the windshield, and didn't sustain any facial damage. She was then in another accident in a the same/similar Cadillac but not equipped with a plastic windshield. She sued after the 2nd accident because of facial injuries she sustained from hitting the windshield.

GM stopped experimenting with plastic windshields in part because air bags in conjunction with seat belts were a much better solution to preventing injury without the much larger cost of the plastic coated windshields and lower durability.
posted by Mitheral at 6:43 PM on November 26, 2019


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