It is a fact of life that at one time or another, and definitely more than once we will all get hosed. Hucksterism is human nature and some humans seem to have that natural ability to part you from your money with effortless grace and a warm smile. These reptilian opportunists have been around since the dawn of time and have always had ample supply of rubes to take advantage of.
The modern age's exponential increase in technology and readily available information has taken the art of the scam to new heights. It seems that every mundane transaction has become an exercise in futility, double speak and flat out bullshit. It was not always this way. I will not get nostalgic or lament the passing of the so called good old days. The 1950's, alluring as that decade is to many, had it's shares of social problems. Cars polluted way more, stereos kinda sucked, there was no cable, no remotes, limited medical care, and everything must have taken to damn long.
Several experiences over the last few years have put me right in the middle of of ridiculous bureaucratic situations that are a product of this brave new world. Parting with your hard earned dough did not used to be physically painful or cause blood vessel-popping anger. I think that in that respect, folks in the fifties had it easier. Here are a few observations about thing that people from that decade never had to go through.
1. I need pants.
If you needed pants in the 50's, you went to the pants store. I have a vivid memory from when I was 4 or 5 years old of buying jeans. I got them from the very same place that my father got them in the fifties; the local denim store. My dad took me there so that we could both get Levi's jeans and and jean jacket. The aged haberdasher would adeptly find the right size for you. You would then proceed to try them on. The were dark as night and stiff as plywood, but you were assured that they would soften up. The old gentleman would cuff them for, you would pay and leave.
The only place that has the 501's that I like ( and are required by the International Rockabilly Regulations) are only available at the Levi's store. It is located downtown on Fashion Victim Boulevard squeezed in amongst all the other cookie cutter designer stores. I have to fight my way through throngs of stunned shoppers desperately looking for the next purchase that will define their identity.
As I enter the store, I am greeted by icy stares from the skanky young clerks who immediately proceed to ignore me. I make my way through the dizzying array of jeans' styles to the shelf where my particular 501's lay ( they keep changing it around, just to add to the confusion). Already knowing my size, I proceed to the cash register where I must patiently wait for the cashier to finish her vapid phone conversation as I try to block out the loud dance music. I lay my cash down as the cashier eyeballs me with disdain and blurts out an insincere, nasal than you. This frustrating experience invokes the desire for a real cold beer. I walk past the array of trendy restaurants and wine bars and I realize that it will take a while to find a regular pub.
2. Have I got a Buick For You.
The stereotypical oily used car salesman has been around since about the time of the very first car crash. Some of these guys have probably been around longer, most likely having switched form selling diseased horses to defective vehicles.
Cars were much simpler in the 50's. They had carburetors, drum brakes and a clutch. It was pretty straightforward; you would test drive car, negotiate the price and wait as the garishly dressed salesman would pretend to ask his manger for a lower price. Chances are you got a pretty good deal, but sometimes there was the odd exception where the brakes would completely fail and someone would get badly mangled.
The complex nature of today's cars has led to equally complex bullshit from used car lots. The under-educated salesman will attempt to insult your intelligence with simplistic transparent ploys. "Gimme 6 grand right now, I got another guy interested for 7 grand and he'll be here in half an hour."and other types of inarticulate fast talk and unabashed greed. Attempting to sell a car to a used car lot is very similar to picking up soap in a prison shower.
You will hear all types of objections laced with incomprehensible ( and more than likely, made up) techno-babble. "I dunno man, your deframmer is out of sync", "Your rigor mortis oscillator is broken" or a bunch of ridiculous allusions to mysterious codes spewed out by the car's computer. Whether buying or selling, it's gonna hurt. You might as well take your chances with Craigslist and all the neurotic people that you will meet.
3. Can you Hear Me Now ?
Of all the modern day scams, cel phone providers have managed to devise the most convoluted and devious ways of hosing you in ways that have never even been imagined by the most evil of despots.
Phones in the 50's were pretty simple. A technician would arrive at your home one day and do some mysterious things with wires. All the tools, wires and gizmos dangling from his belt just added to the mystique. A few hours later, a phone would magically appear on your kitchen wall. you could then call your friends to your heart's content, each call taking five minutes to execute on the rotary dial and listening to all the busy signals and calls that would ring ad infinitum when no one was home.
These days you have to suffer the indignity of standing in line for an hour and having some company indoctrinated idiot repeat the corporate sales spiel. Direct questions such as exactly what it will cost are deftly avoided and only serve to increase the amount of subterfuge. You can yell as much as you want, your $17 dollar plan will cost upward of $ 75, you will not be able to decipher the cryptic phone, so just pay it and move on.
4. Take Off.
Traveling in the fifties was an entirely different experience. For those brave souls who decided to drive across the country, it became an adventure. The train was still a gracious, albeit time consuming, way to travel. These mobile booze cans even had a smoking car. For those that could afford it, a plane was a viable option. Airline food was actually edible, every seat had it's own tiny ashtray and the stewardesses ( as they were called in those days) even handed out packs of complimentary cigarettes with five smokes in them and the airline logo on it.
Airlines are the masters of subterfuge, you will never get a straight answer for anything. Next time you are on an airplane ponder the fact that not one person has payed the same price for their tickets. The amount of bullshit that you have to hear when you are purchasing them is bad enough, but nobody is ever able to satisfactorily explain all those arcane surcharges.
The fun really starts when you get to the airport. You will be greeted with that efficient, yet so insincere, airport demeanor. The tried and true cliche about being treated as cattle is apt. You will be led through various line ups, asked a bunch of fool questions and unceremoniously searched. You will drink outrageously over-priced drinks as you await your turn to be crammed on to that airplane. More money will be required as the attendants try to peddle over-priced crappy headphones, expensive domestic beers in a can, movies and 6 dollar sandwiches which bear a suspicious resemblance to the ones that they hand out to the bums downtown.
Upon your return, you may experience the euphemistically called "bump". They have no intention of letting you on the plane, yet will string you along as they mutter shit like," The captain's weighing the plane". It slowly dawns on you that you ain't goin' nowhere, jack. Then you realize that "bump' means "we took your money, we ain't giving you nothin', thank you and go fuck yourself. They will try to appease you with $ 200 dollar vouchers that you will never use and a night in some dingy airport hotel ( if you're lucky). You will get home two days late, tired, haggard and dirty and you will vow to never take a plane again. Trust me, there are no alternatives as a 35 hour each way Greyhound bus trip to Vegas once taught me ( see older post: Greasy Traveling).
Caveat Emptor ( buyer beware) keep rockin' and try not to get hosed.