Column

Village Idiot: Before it was 'classic,' it was just old

Jim Mullen
Jim Mullen

Why is a 20-year-old car a beater, but a 40-year-old car a classic? It’s the same car. The car hasn’t changed at all – the only thing that changed is its age.

When I was in high school, I drove an embarrassingly old car. I was ashamed to be seen in it, except by my friends, who didn’t have cars at all and thought it was wonderful. Today, it would win a blue ribbon at any classic car show.

New cars used to look significantly different each year. You could spot the difference between a ’64 Chevrolet and a ’65 Chevrolet from blocks away. Today, it’s hard to find my SUV in the mall parking lot because all SUVs look similar. It’s not until I wonder why my key fob isn’t opening the trunk that I look in the window and realize that all the junk in the passenger seat is not my junk, but someone else’s. There’s nothing like realizing you’ve been trying to break into a stranger’s car.

It keeps happening, too; it’s just a matter of time before someone calls the police and I’m tased in front of Costco. I dread seeing the jerky cellphone video of myself on the evening news as I hear one of my neighbors say, “He was a loner, and he kept to himself, but we had no idea he was a car thief. But come to think of it, he always yelled at my kids.” Yeah, I did yell at her kids, but only when they stole Amazon packages off my porch.

Going from junkers to classics happens not only to cars, but to almost everything – houses, restaurants, music, clothes, politics and even some religious services. Plenty of things go from hot and trendy to old-fashioned overnight. There was a time when people WANTED Formica counters in their kitchens. Now everyone wants granite. What will they want in a year or two? Terra cotta? Butcher block? It might be Formica again.

We all think fashion is trendy; we expect next year’s duds to look different. But trends happen in restaurants, too. Remember that fern bar downtown? Now it’s a ramen shop. Next year it might be a gluten-free pancake house and brew pub. In a few years, it might become a fern bar again.

The mall that was packed 20 years ago now is a ghost town. Soon it will become a medical center full of different kinds of specialists and clinics. Once it opens, you’ll find it just as hard to find a parking space as you did when it had a Montgomery Ward on one end and a Brentano’s at the other.

Flip through an old copy of Life magazine or the Saturday Evening Post, and it’s easy to tell what year it was published – from the advertising, not so much from the stories. The then-new cars look old now, the “doctors recommend” cigarette ads are laughable (unless someone you know died from them), and the underwear and deodorant ads delicately avoid actually mentioning the products they’re selling.

This was back when Victoria actually had a secret. Not anymore. Today’s underwear ads would have been called pornography then. Underwear really hasn’t changed too much, it just has come out of the drawer.

I want to have my junky old house remodeled, but do I really want the latest stuff that’s featured in all the big-box home improvement stores? Or should I get fixtures and appliances that have no style all?

I’d like to avoid the trends altogether, but it might be impossible. There’s an old saying: A fish doesn’t know it’s wet. We know it’s wet, because we’re seeing a much bigger picture than the fish. It’s the same with trends. For all I know, being anti-trendy might be the biggest trend of all right now, and in 10 years, I won’t be able to sell my house because it looks “so 2018.”

My friend, Bruce, says, “The best thing to do is nothing – just wait 40 years, and live in a classic.”

Easy for him to say. He doesn’t have to use my horrible ’80s bathroom.

• Jim Mullen is a syndicated columnist. Email him at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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