That ‘70s Paper
A 36-year-old newspaper affirms that the 1970s were awful.
I open my mail to find a carefully wrapped, slightly yellowed newspaper. It’s a copy of the Charlotte News from Sept. 1, 1977. I’m momentarily mystified why anyone would send me such a thing until I see that this is the souvenir Elvis edition. I’d recently dressed as Elvis at an impersonator contest (as one does), so a friend of mine apparently decided to expand my collection of Elvis memorabilia by 100 percent. I sit down to read this relic and discover, based on this one-day window into ’70s life, that ’70s-themed parties should consist of people hanging around being bummed out that they won’t be able to buy an iPhone for 30 more years. Also, the ’70s were really pretty gross.
While the front page features a story about the Rev. Jim Bakker, a few pages later you’ve got movie listings for the local drive-in porno theaters (yes, that’s plural). They say the Internet has in some ways severed our interpersonal connections, but I think it’s the VHS tape that ended the era of getting in the ol’ Buick and going to see a community showing of CB radio-themed porno Breaker Beauties. How did that work? Did you say, “Honey, I’m going out. I’ll be back in three days. I want to see Breaker Beauties, but I need to drive to Iowa to make sure I don’t run into anyone I know.”
The classifieds section, is, as expected, the ’70s version of Craigslist. The first page includes ads for two private detectives, the Las Vegas Showgirls massage parlor and a gay escort company—“Men for men only, women for women only, swingers welcome.” One legitimate massage place sounds a little bit aggravated to be lumped in with the more dubious establishments, its ad reading, “Massage service only.” That’s right—in the ’70s, you’d need to specify that your massages did not automatically segue into a scene from Breaker Beauties.
At least the sports section wasn’t all about sex, right? Wrong! The front page of Sports includes a two-part story titled “Groupies: Athletes Use Them and Use Them Hard.” Based on the Charlotte News’ thorough reporting, 1977 sounds like it was a great time to be a major-league baseball player. Or stock car racer. Or even a member of the Charlotte Checkers hockey team, affirming once again that I really should’ve learned how to skate. The sports editor, Ron Green, writes, “When the touring golf pros come to town, some of them go to town.” On the NASCAR front, “One girl paid several of the drivers visits all in the same evening at a recent area race, making pit stops down a row of motel rooms. They called her ‘The Smoker.’ ” I apologize if you’re just now realizing that your mom used to live down South and her friends call her the Smoker.
Was anyone left out of this festival of free love? Yes: minor-league baseball players. Wham-Bam Pam and the Smoker weren’t wasting time on the Orioles’ AA team, although Green’s source on the team did say that merely being an athlete meant that “girls seem impressed by that and you can run the good lines on them.” Lines like, “Hey, I have a time machine. Let’s go to a year when we can buy a TV bigger than 25 inches.”
That happens to be the largest TV advertised in the paper, a Quasar with its tiny screen peeking out of a wooden console roughly the size of a Monte Carlo. And, at $689.95—about $2,700, adjusted for inflation—that state-of-the-art piece of equipment cost as much as many of the used cars for sale at dealers. Which were also uniformly horrible—Cordobas and Volares and Grenadas and a fleet of other cars so miserable that their names got permanently retired, in the manner of a devastating hurricane. Even the grocery coupons are, in the main, repulsive. Lipton Iced Tea that you brew in a coffeemaker? Good idea, 1970s food scientists, but I’m pretty sure I could pour Château Lafite into my coffeemaker and it would come out tasting like coffee. I think if you were a foodie in the ’70s, that meant maybe you bought the family-pack of chicken legs rather than the candidly named “Tub O Chicken.” Nowhere in the paper will you find the word “arugula.”
Of course, there’s a little bit of news in the newspaper. For instance, the story entitled “Life’s Unkind to Hitler’s Cousin.” An intrepid wire-service reporter found Adolf Schmidt, Hitler’s cousin, working at a factory in Gmünd. Poor Schmidt was not pleased to be discovered, declaring, “I have had it up to here with that cousin of mine.” I think I would’ve written the headline as “Hitler’s Cousin Prone to Understatement.”
As for Elvis, he’d exited the scene about two weeks before. I can’t say I blame him.