When I was a kid growing up in Akron, I really liked going to Bob’s Big Boy. Grandma and Grandpa Neal used to take UJ and me there for lunch. I was a roly-poly kid who enjoyed a good cheeseburger, so I identified with the statue of the jolly, tubby boy in checkered overalls with lacquered hair who obviously was overjoyed to be holding a cheeseburger.
The statue was great, and so were the cheeseburgers and french fries and Cokes, but what I liked most about the Big Boy was that it had those tabletop song selectors at every table. They were just about the coolest, most futuristic thing ever. The song selectors were highly polished, gleaming metal, like all futuristic objects such as rocket ships were supposed to be. You could use a dial to flip the pages of available songs back and forth–which was fun in and of itself–to find a song you liked, read the selection code, and punch in the number right at your table. Your song then played on the big jukebox in the corner, which meant everyone in the whole place was hearing your song. My favorite choice was Nat King Cole’s rendition of The Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.
In those days, the tabletop song selector seemed like extremely impressive technology, as mysterious in its inner workings as TV sets with their rabbit ear antennas and transistor radios that somehow pulled images and music out of the very air around us. But that was all to be expected, because we were on a relentless march into the future, and the future was going to be a wondrous place, just like the New York World’s Fair and the Disneyland World of Tomorrow ride promised.
Now, almost 60 years later, the future that has come to be is a pretty wondrous place in some respects, when you reflect on it. I’m listening to music that I’ve selected using an app on a phone that also serves as a camera, calendar, newspaper, library, mailbox, and message sender, among countless other functions, and fits easily in my pocket, to be carried anywhere and everywhere. I’m typing this entry into a laptop computer that will transmit my musings into the ether, where they will be published for anyone in the whole world to see. I’m pretty sure the little kid who marveled at the song selector at Bob’s Big Boy would marvel at those devices, too–but of course we tend to grow out of our sense of wonder, and eventually take these things for granted. That doesn’t make them any less amazing.
Thinking about this, I’m glad my laptop has a gleaming metal finish, because my youthful self would have expected that of such a futuristic item. And the next time I buy a cell phone I might check to see whether they’ve got an aluminum case, too.