Jukeboxes were social media, one quarter at a time

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I saw something the other day that I hadn’t seen in years: a jukebox.

I don’t mean one that plays CDs. I mean a real, honest-to-God jukebox that plays 45 rpm records.

We were out in the country, about 30 miles south of Nashville, and we stopped for lunch at this mom-and-pop place by the highway. I knew there was a real jukebox in the room as soon as I walked in and heard Alan Jackson singing “Little Bitty.” I knew because the sound was grungy and a little bleary, like the band had been out partying too late the night before.

Old jukeboxes sound that way because of bad speakers and because of the records themselves. I know guys who swear vinyl sounds better than digital, but I don’t think anyone would defend the 45.

I bought a lot of singles as a kid, and I was a disc jockey back in high school, and I don’t think there was a lot of quality control at the record plant. You’d pull a 45 out of the shuck and it might be warped, or the hole in the middle might be a little off-center, so even new records sounded wobbly.

On top of that, a vinyl record dies a little every time you play it. When the needle rides along the groove, it wears the music away. The music starts to fade. The sound isn’t as crisp. The highs and lows give way to a murky middle.

That’s the sound I heard when we walked in the restaurant.

“Look at this!” I said.

The jukebox had a window, and I wanted the kids to see how it worked, how pressing A-6 makes the mechanical arm slide down a rail until it finds the record you want then grabs it and holds it upright against the turntable. My kids, who’ve grown up with iPods and Pandora, couldn’t have cared less.

We were the only ones there besides the owner, so I played whatever I wanted – the jukebox was stocked mostly with country records, so I played some Brooks & Dunn and Alan Jackson — and I flashed back to high school and the peer pressure that goes along with playing a jukebox.

When you play a song on a jukebox, you’re telling everyone within earshot who you are.

Every song is a statement, and there is nothing worse than pressing the wrong buttons and playing Barry Manilow instead of the Boss.

Pandora and Spotify share your playlists with your friends online. Jukeboxes did that in real life, one quarter at a time.

Photo by Anonymous Account (Flickr)

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Drive-in movies turn 80, but their days may be numbered

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CIMG0121The world’s first drive-in movie theater opened 80 years ago on Thursday. According to History.com, Park-In Theaters opened on June 6, 1933, in Camden, New Jersey.

Drive-in theaters boomed after World War II, and by the late 1950s, there were about 5,000 of them across the country.

Two years ago, the last time the National Association of Theatre Owners counted, there were 366. This summer, there are surely fewer.

Our closest drive-in, the Hi-Way 50 Drive-In in Lewisburg, Tenn., closed after last season. We found out when we went online a couple of weeks ago to see what was playing. The website was gone, but we found a message from the owners on the theater’s Facebook page. It says they’ve retired but they’re hoping someone will buy it and reopen it.

I hope so, too, but I know it’s unlikely.

Drive-in theaters are a risky business. They’re at the mercy of the weather. No one goes to the drive-in when it’s raining, and no one goes if it’s sticky hot, either, but the owners have to pay a fee to the movie studios either way.

Hard-top theaters make money by overcharging for popcorn and Cokes, but it’s easy to bring snacks and pizzas and a cooler to the drive-in, so they don’t make a lot of money on concessions.

Drive-ins used to make money by showing second-run movies (which don’t cost nearly as much to rent as new movies on opening weekend), but VCRs and then DVDs, Blu-Ray and streaming services such as Netflix have pretty much killed the demand for second-run movies. The movies in theaters today will probably be at Redbox by the time school starts in the fall.

The latest threat to the drive-in, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times, is the shift toward digital projection. This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The paper says Hollywood may stop distributing 35-millimeter film prints by year’s end. Hard-top theaters have already converted, but a lot of drive-in theaters probably can’t afford the cost of a new projector. The Times puts the cost of conversion at about $70,000 per screen.

So, this summer, find the closest drive-in theater and go, and take the kids. Take a Frisbee or a ball and play in the field between the screen and the first row of cars while you wait for it to get dark enough for the movie to start. Walk to the concession stand and listen to the sound of the movie echoing from car radios and boom boxes. Take pictures.

Because this might be the last summer you have the chance.

‘Future events such as these will affect you in the future’

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Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives, and remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future.

Criswell, Plan 9 From Outer Space

I posted something the other day about a couple of old science-fiction movies set in the year 2013. Escape from L.A. (1996) was about a guy escaping from a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, I think, while The Postman (1997) was about a lone letter carrier who delivers hope in a post-apocolyptic world, one letter at a time, or something. (I never saw either of them.)

That got me thinking:

We really are living in a world that would have seemed like science-fiction a generation ago.

thingstocome

This is how we’ll dress in 2036, according to Things to Come (1936).

Smartphones. Skype. GPS. Kindles. If someone had told you 20 years ago that you could stream movies onto a 50-inch, crystal-clear TV screen hanging flat against the wall for less than the cost of a movie ticket, you wouldn’t have believed them.

Heck, even the idea of a blog would have seemed crazy a generation ago. Seriously, you mean anyone can write anything they want, and people all over the planet can read it instantly and talk to you about it?

What’s funny is that none of this feels like “the future.”

It turns out that the future sneaks up on you and is a lot less snazzy than I thought it would be when I was a kid.

This is how we dressed for work 14 years ago. (Cast photo from Space:1999.)

This is how we dressed for work 14 years ago, according to Space: 1999 (1976).

We don’t all wear matching jumpsuits or have hover cars or work on the moon. We can buy turtle-sized robots to vacuum the carpet, but we still can’t buy jet packs, and I don’t know anyone who owns a laser gun, although a few have laser pointers, for some reason.

We can put a man on the moon, but we don’t want to. We can pull in 500 cable channels, but mostly it’s just “reality” shows about silly people with daddy issues and persistent low-grade fevers (I’m guessing) doing stupid things so people will look at them.

We haven’t found a cure for cancer, but you can’t watch a ballgame without seeing a dozen adds for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction.

I don’t know. I guess I’m OK with the future not being what it was supposed to be. Things could be better, but they could be a lot worse, and, besides, if you think it through, hover cars would probably just scoot around as freely as a puck on an air-hockey table. I think we’re probably better off without them.