Monday, July 12, 2010

They Don't Make That Any More

“I'll have a Crystal Pepsi. Or, wait ... let me try that New Coke.”

It may be hard to imagine, but the time may come when today's young people lament the passing of some of the brands they have gotten so accustomed to seeing as they grew up. (“Remember Twitter? What were we thinking?)

Of course, many of us have already experienced that feeling. Advertisers bombard us with perfectly good reasons why we just can't live without a particular product, but sometimes we collectively say, “No, thanks.” That doesn't mean they were bad. It just wasn't their time.

Here are a few ill-timed products that had such high hopes, only to be tossed onto the scrap heap of American consumerism:

Simca Cars
My family had a 1962 powder blue Simca, which was the sort of “economy car” that made the Volkswagen Beetle look like a Ferrari 250 GTO. We did have quite a few adventures in that car, though. Some were performance-related … it climbed hills like the last kid to finish the mile run at fat camp. Some were the result of pilot error … we once found ourselves driving the wrong way on the Schuylkill Expressway. So, to be honest, I have a soft spot in my heart for Simcas. Just the same, the last car bearing the Simca name was unleashed on a disinterested public in 1980. Simca was also the name of Latka's girlfriend/wife on the classic sitcom Taxi, but that's probably just a coincidence.

Tareyton Cigarettes
This brand took a physically harmful product, combined it with a grammatically incorrect slogan (“Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch”) and added a politically incorrect image (women sporting a black eye). Naturally it was a huge success. English teachers across America cringed as they could find no sanctuary from the paraphrased slogan that was on everyone's lips ... “Us [Yankees fans, Catholics, homosexuals, fill in your group here] would rather fight than switch.” Technically, you can still find the brand around, but the market share has dwindled to the point of near extinction. It could be that Tareyton smokers lost most of those fights.

Salvo Concentrated Detergent Tablets
There was a definite military theme to this first detergent to dispense with the bother of measuring out the proper amount of soap for your laundry load. Besides the name itself (defined as the simultaneous discharge of artillery or firearms), the commercials showed a woman in a World War II vintage airplane dropping these tiny, white “dirt bombs” into her washing machine. Maybe the women-in-the-military theme was ahead of its time. Or maybe preventing customers from using too much detergent proved to be a revenue-losing proposition. For whatever reason, Salvo disappeared from the detergent shelves after just a few years on the market.

Ortlieb's Beer
An elderly couple lived across the street from us when I was a kid. (And by “elderly” I mean somewhere between 40 and 80 years old. You can't really get more specific than that when you're under ten yourself.) The man was called “Whitey” and his wife was “Petey.” I remember two things about them: They had two parakeets, also named Whitey and Petey, and Whitey drank Ortlieb's beer. A lot of people drank Ortlieb's then, but I remember being impressed by his refusal to drink any other brand. Sadly, there must not have been many like him because the last of the true Ortlieb's beer was produced in the late 1980s (the name was bought by Schmidts and then Heileman, but the formula was changed) and they demolished the brewery building itself in 2002. I'm kind of glad that Whitey (probably) didn't live to see that.

The Polaroid Black-and-White Camera
Today is sounds a little like a painful medical condition, but at one time a Polaroid was a downright marvel of scientific achievement. You could take a picture and it would very slowly develop itself in the camera in a slimy, larva-like condition of not-fully-doneness. There was a sort of chemical smell that added to the experience, too. In the early 60s, we took this state-of-the-art device to Hershey, PA to watch the Philadelphia Eagles train and got a picture of my brother Dan and me with the great Sonny Jurgensen! This is still one of my favorite captured moments.

But it's not only products that fall by the wayside. Sometimes it's perfectly useful jobs like these that get “progressed” out of existence:

Elevator Operator
Now you can see them only in old movies. But there was a time when “elevator operator” was an actual job. In fact, my grandfather had this job at a General Electric building after he retired as a Philadelphia police officer. I'm not sure whether people back then were just too technologically inexperienced to push the correct floor on the wall panel, or it was just a way to keep more people employed after The Great Depression. If it was that last thing maybe we ought to think about bringing this career back into the workforce.

The disappearance of these professions (except the iceman, for obvious reasons) baffles me. We're all about convenience these days. And you can still get a pizza or a cheese steak delivered in most areas of this great country. So why not the bread or donuts or cakes and pies that the breadman brought us? Why not the plain, chocolate or strawberry milk that the milkman so gently left on our doorsteps each morning? I may contact Google to see if there's something they can do about bringing these services back. After all, they already know where we live, what we buy and how often we move our bowels.

Gas Station Attendant
Oh, there are still people working in gas stations … usually behind a bullet-proof piece of plexiglass … but they don't attend to anything except scowling and making change. Real gas station attendants were always very concerned (perhaps even obsessed) with the state of our cars. They asked to check the oil, the radiator and our tire pressure, all while wiping the windshield clean and giving us free maps and/or perfect directions. And one more thing ... they pumped the gas, too.

So as new jobs are created, and new can't-do-without products introduced, you might want to save a small place in your memory for the poor unfortunates who don't quite make the cut. And can anybody tell me where I can get some Fizzies drink tablets or some Bonomo Turkish Taffy?


  1. In fairness to old-school elevator operators, the older elevators just had an up/down lever, which the operator pushed one way or the other, and they had to manually line up the doors when stopping.

    However, in the late 1970s I worked at a hospital which had an operator whose job consisted of pressing the buttons on a modern elevator (as you described above)! To help her get through this strenuous task, there was a fold-down seat in the elevator where she could rest up.

  2. I hadn't thought of those earlier elevators, Jim ... thanks for the information. Now I'm appreciating the skill my grandfather had to have to keep people from having to jump up or down off the elevator!!