The Heatley CliffLife B.S. (Before Starbucks)Amy Foster

Friends, cast your mind far, far back, into the distant past… before Starbucks.

Can you remember this time? Some of you might not have been alive during this time, but that’s okay, stay with me. What did you do when you wanted a cup of coffee? Did you actually, heaven forbid, make it yourself? At home?

Yes, I know, I too have difficulty remembering this period of history when a coffee was just a coffee and not a half caff triple soy with a quarter vanilla shot. When I wanted to meet friends for coffee, I had actual coffee with cream and sugar. This usually happened at a donut store or my local cafe. And by cafe I mean, like, a greasy spoon type of establishment or a deli. There were no plush seats or couches or lovely music. Only hard chairs and a pissed off waitress who (rightly so) after a couple of hours wanted these annoying kids who didn’t tip out of her establishment.

Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s of my youth things were very different. Below is a list of how things have changed. And for those of you born in the ’90s (or later), this is true. I am not making this up, so brace yourselves.

  • When my friends and I wanted to study, we went to these large, quiet places called libraries. When we wanted to locate a book, we used a catalog system. This meant we had to go to the bibliography section of other books, find out the authors and then look through actual paper cards held in cabinets to find out the locations of these other books. Now these cabinets are sold in antique stores or on Etsy.
  • Eventually by the mid ’90s, we used a computer to locate books, but books were all we could search for on said computer, whose display was either green and black, or black and white.
  • There was no Wikipedia. There was no Internet. Gathering information was an active verb.
  • When we wanted to know someone’s phone number, we used the Yellow or White pages or we called 411. We needed the number because we actually had to physically call the establishment to find out their hours and ask for directions. If we were unsure of the directions, we used A MAP. Made of PAPER.
  • When we wanted to communicate with a friend, we called them and spoke. On the phone. We had real conversations. There was no texting. In the ’90s, some people got pagers. But this meant if you got a page and weren’t at home, you had to use a pay phone. And no, not a pay as you go phone, but an actual pay phone in a booth or on a wall in a public place.
  • When we wanted to find out when a movie was playing, we looked in the newspaper, or we called movie phone – remember that? “Hello and Welcome to Movie Phone!
  • It was a common practice that if we wanted an outfit but could not afford it, we put it on something called layaway. For example, I want a dress. It cost $50 (an outrageous sum back then to a teenager, by the way)and  I only have $10. So, every week or so, I would go back to the store and give them whatever I could until it was paid off and then, finally, I could take it home. Some weeks I could only afford $5, but it was okay. I didn’t expect instant gratification all the time because again, we had no internet. It also meant that I was not a spoiled brat and got whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. It would never have occurred to me or any of my friends to see something in a store and then just ask our parents for it. We waited until our birthdays or Christmas. And let me tell you, I had some rich ass friends.
  • In the ’80s, we listened mostly to music on cassette tapes. In the ’90s, we listened on CDs. If an artist came out with a new record, we had to buy the entire thing. We did not have the option to just buy the songs we liked. If we wanted to just listen to the songs we liked, we had to create a mix tape or mix CD. This is a truly lost art. Kids nowadays rely on Pandora to do their mixing for them (meh). But nothing was as romantic or meaningful in the world as getting a mix from the person you liked. We would spend hours listening to every lyric and trying to interpret what that person was trying to tell us. Conversely, making the perfect mix for someone else could take weeks and gave us a temporary obsessive compulsive personality disorder.
  • If we wanted to take a picture, we used a camera. We did not use the camera on our phones, because we did not have cell phones. We had to buy actual film, put this film in the camera, use the film entirely and then drop it off to get developed. In other words, we had no other way of knowing whether or not we had gotten a good shot until the moment was over. Crazy right?
  • After high school, our parents expected us to either go to college or go to work. They didn’t give two craps what the economy was like. Adulthood started at 18, not 25 or 30. If we were going to live at home, we had to pull our own weight.
  • In the beginning, email was not free. There was no WiFi. Our phone line jacked into our computers. If we wanted to browse the “web” as we called it then, we had to pay. We had to sign on to Web Villages that were self contained little online islands like AOL and Earthlink. These villages were not designed for browsing. They did not encourage you to go to different places. You stayed there and got your email and news and weather and joined forums where you talked about, I don’t know, breastfeeding or something. Google and Yahoo were just these teeny tiny little sites that helped you look for the 50 companies that had websites and the various online Star Trek/Wars fan forums, who were the only type of people who really got the concept of an Internet. Your parents may have grasped it in the abstract, but your grandparents, no way – it was a space language.
  • People actually bought things out of the catalogs that come in the mail. They used their phone and made an order with an actual person.
  • People became famous for doing things.  People did not become famous because cameras followed them around their houses, recording their arguments and bathroom breaks. For good or bad, if you wanted to make a record, you needed a record label. If you wanted to make a movie, you needed a studio; if you wanted to write a book, you needed a publisher. Computers and technology have changed all of that, and leveled the playing field. This means that some great indie artists are getting their work out there, but it also means that the curating and gatekeeping process has gone to shizz.  We are so deluged with mediocrity that mediocrity has become the norm.
  • HBO was a channel where you could watch movies uninterrupted. It did not have it’s own programming. In fact, it was only one channel. The truth is, “cable” was confined to about 40 channels all in. And that was the deluxe version. Also, if you wanted to watch something, but weren’t going to be home, there was no DVR. What there was, was a moronic system of operations created by Japanese Mensa members (Japanese as in, lives in Japan and does not speak English)  for programming your VCR to tape the show you wanted to watch. Heaven help you if there was another show on a different channel that same night.
  • People ate processed foods and gluten. They drank and smoked and didn’t recycle. No one really had any idea what global warming was. We were more concerned with the Soviets and nuclear bombs. Only “health nuts” or people who lived in California worked out. It would have seemed obscene to go on a juice fast when people were dying of famine in Ethiopia. Nowadays, people actually haven’t changed that much (just look at the obesity and diabetes rates), they just hide their non-PC/bad habits and do them at home.
  • The Kardashians were just a normal family who lived in the San Fernando Valley (not even the cool part) of LA.

Now I’m not saying I want to go back to the old days, but there are parts of it I miss. The pace was slower and people were more patient. We’re talking cafe culture at the Heatley Cliff this week, so come and join us and please feel free to tell us what you miss (or don’t) about the olden days.

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  • Adrianne Benzion

    Remember when you had to put those tapes or cd’s into a walkman. You had to by a shock resistant disc player if you wanted to run with it.

  • Amanda Tejón

    Now, my friends and I go to vintage cafeterías to feel real!!

  • Clara Tenny

    Thank you for this trip down memory lane! This article makes me feel old, but I still connect with it. I like to tell the younger generations about this bygone era using my “old-lady voice” and beginning my sentences with “Why, when I was your age….” I don’t really miss film cameras, though. I love being able to take a zillion photographs (or videos) and instantly delete the bad stuff. When it comes to computers, I quite enjoy listening to my dad’s stories about when computers filled entire rooms or when he programmed computers using punch-cards. Those were the days…

  • Valerie Jones

    I love everything about this. One of my favorite things was if you wanted to check your email, this meant you could not use the phone until you were done. Its so crazy how things have changed, and I do miss the simplicity of life then.

  • AJ Gloner

    I think that depending on when you are born you are always going to view your generation as being better than another generation, less spoiled, and harder workers. The fact is it is not fair to judge people in the nineties for living with our parents, studying at Starbucks, and not having real conversations. It is easy to say that parents did not care what the economy was like back then because the pressure to go to college was much less. When I was a freshman in college (2008) my class was the first class ever to have the most people go to college because society expects you to go to college. The Class of 2015 is supposed to be the most competitive class in college history. This means that our parents and students are paying immensely for our education in some of the best schools and expect us to get good jobs afterwards. When we don’t, because the economy is so poor, they support us because they don’t want to see years of our life/their money go down the drain so that we can work underemployed for 10 years of our life. The fact is that you can rant about our imperfections and how we study at Starbucks, but that is how we grew up just how you grew up with card catalogs and “real conversations.”

  • Carrie Waibel

    These places called libraries = still incredibly relevant. They’ve moved beyond the card cataloging system to becoming community centers with bountiful free resources for job help, homework assistance, education, and programming for all ages. Just pointing that out. :)

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