It's 1979-82, you're 19-25, you live in a small Midwestern city...
December 11, 2018 5:07 AM   Subscribe

...but you're not in college, and you're middle to lower class. If this was you, I want to hear your recollections concerning your daily life: hobbies, habits, patterns of socializing, etc.

I've done general research about the time period in the U.S. and the region. Now I want to hear from those MeFites who lived it, since I was a bit too young to have a sense of this stuff.

1- What city was it, and can you estimate its population at the time?

2- How would you characterize your social circle? Gearheads, wastoids, etc. (if I may paraphrase Grace from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). I don't really need to know fashions re: hair/clothing, because that's researchable; I'm more curious about attitudes, ways of interacting—like, how "real" would you and your social circle get about stuff like feelings? What was your preferred style/level of profanity? etc.

3- What did you do in your spare time? Feel free to be detailed. My sense is that (apart from the perennially popular "hang out in bars") this was a time of backyard barbecues, outdoor sports and sporting events, and…maybe hanging out at your friend's house because they had a hi-fi? Did you drive around aimlessly for fun? Were you too old for roller rinks? How frequently did you go to a movie theater? And was disco dying, if not dead?

4- What music was in heaviest rotation among your social circle and on your radio/stereo?

5- I have the impression that beer and cigarettes were the coin of the realm, substances-wise. Was wine simply not cool yet? Which more "exotic" substances than alcohol were common, and how easy were they to obtain?

6- What was your job like-- specifically, in what ways did the day-to-day experience of that job differ from how it would be now?

7- What effect did the bad economy have on you? My sense is that it was generally difficult to find a job, but I don't know the patterns w/r/t individuals' life circumstances insulating them from that.

8- Did people generally just try not to talk about nuclear armageddon in casual social situations, like we do now about Trump and/or climate change?

(This is for a GURPS campaign that I'm starting soon. I want to create a plausibly-historically-accurate feel before the paranormal stuff starts happening.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I’m too young to remember that time period, but my parents were the right age, grew up in Kansas, and they were married and had three kids by 1984. So, probably, lots of babies in that age group. And smoking around babies.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:23 AM on December 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

All of my 5 siblings were of that age in that time period and only one of them were in college. All but one were in Aurora, IL; my eldest brother was in the Navy and I believe he was stationed in the Philippines at the time. The one who was not in college and the one who was pregnant at 17 were the only ones not married by the time they were 21. 4 of the 5 had at least one kid by 22, some had two or three.

As far as I know, their social lives mostly revolved around their spouse and kids and family. Not much hanging out with friends after high school. There wasn't much "free time." My brothers both had two jobs each and my sister was a single mom. My brother who was in the Navy was on ship most of the time. He probably had the most "free time" of all of them and the way he tells it, there were lots of drugs and lots of alcohol, even on ship.

I don't know the answers to the rest of your questions. I was the youngest by far (I was 9 - 12 in your time frame) and what I've told you comes from random conversations we've had over the years.
posted by cooker girl at 5:43 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You're describing my parents, pre-kids. They were married and lived in a town in Iowa, population of about 25,000 to 30,000. Manual labor jobs and office jobs. Heavy, heavy partying on the Mississippi during the hot weather. Proud "river rat" lifestyle. Hunting and fishing were a year round pursuit. Lots of hard drinking, smoking, and TONS of weed grown by randos on their own land. Pink Floyd and Creedence were on. Everyone had weird nicknames. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Somehow it led to my sister and I!
posted by Temeraria at 6:48 AM on December 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can't answer from experience but please watch the movie Breaking Away if you haven't seen it!
posted by nantucket at 6:48 AM on December 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I was a stay at home Mom in that age group during that time period living in Lawrence, Kansas, and Columbia, Missouri. We didn't have a lot of money, but my ex was a college graduate and we both came from more upper middle class families, so I'm not sure I'm in your demographic. I was so wrapped up in my kids then, I'm not sure what else I was doing, though I remember lots of card playing. In my social circle, there was absolutely not smoking or smoking around babies. I never in my life was a person who hung out in bars, though some people did. We couldn't really afford to go to movies very often. We didn't talk about nuclear war because we just didn't think about it much - except for when The Day After was filmed in Lawrence (which was a bit later, I think). I think there's this impression that people my age spent our whole early lives terrified of nuclear war - and in my experience, that is just not true. We had bomb drills in school, but that didn't make me worry about war any more than tornado drills had me in constant fear of tornadoes or fire drills had me terrified of fire.

My job as stay at home Mom would be different from the way it's experienced now in large part because there was no internet, so while there was some competition about how to raise the very bestest baby, it wasn't exacerbated by constant exposure to whatever other moms were doing.

I did some working at McDonald's around then, but I don't know what that's like now, so I don't know how it was different.
posted by FencingGal at 6:48 AM on December 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was 16 in 1979, but had 4 older siblings. This is Chicago suburbs.

My sister's boyfriend and his crowd were really into muscle cars, at least 2 of them had 1969 Chevy Chevelle's that they were always working on. One of them was in a cover band and wanted to be a rock star (songs like "My Shirona" and "Invisible Sun" come to mind).

My oldest brother did one year of community college and quit to become a shoe salesman at the mall. He wore platform shoes and a white polyester suit, and was quite the ladies man, until he met his wife in a bar.

My other brother was a security guard for a while, and he was always into fixing up his beater cars, and dating girls. He also went up to the Playboy Club in Wisconsin to see bands like Cheap Trick.

Booze was either beer (Budweiser in a can), or Riunite (which we called "Ruin-ur-night" or the really disgusting Boone's Farm wines, usually Strawberry Hill). Drinking age at the time was 19 for beer and wine, and 21 for hard liquor, didn't stop any of them from doing peppermint schnapps shots and coming home and tossing their cookies in the bedroom garbage can ("don't tell Mom and Dad!").

Going to Florida was a big deal, everyone either did or wanted to go to Florida in the winter, one of my brothers went for 6 months and worked in construction.

Malls were still big places to hang out, going to the movies was also big, and being 19 and up meant you could get served beer and wine, so yeah, bars were a thing also, but everyone worked, and jobs weren't that hard to come by.

When I turned 21, going to clubs and dancing was a big thing. Usually on a Friday night, but some bars had ladies' nights during the week, so once in a while I'd go to those, then it was almost required to stop at White Castle for sliders on the way home. Rum and Coke was a popular drink, because people said white liquor wouldn't give you a hangover. Disco was made fun of (tho' they did play disco songs at the dance clubs I went to, my brothers wouldn't have been caught dead doing disco dancing and my sister wasn't into the club scene). I remember the big Disco Demotion put on by Steve Dahl, that seemed kind of extreme to me, but shock jocks were the big deal (he destroyed a Steve Miller album, and well, I had The Best of Steve Miller on vinyl, so screw him).

Music was mostly vinyl and 8-track, although cassettes were around, one of my brothers had Red Octopus on 8-track, and I thought that was cool, so I bought the vinyl album for my JC Penney record player (with a smoke-colored plastic top and blue case with matching blue speakers). My sister bought me a Neil Sedaka album, which I thought was not cool, and I got into stuff like Adam Ant and The Clash (and dressed up as a punk rocker on Halloween). Red Octopus came out in 1975, but I guess I would have bought my album a few years later. Billy Joel was popular, and the Bee Gees, as were The Beach Boys. We also listened to the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, whatever was on the radio, and we would make recordings from the radio, using a cassette player.

I remember getting into a few bars when I was under age, places my sister's friend's band played, someone would get their hand stamped, and then come out into the parking lot and lick their hand stamp and press it on the back of my hand so I could get in.

We used to go to a lot of concerts in an outdoor venue with a big band shell, but we always had the cheap seats on the grassy hill, and if it rained, we just brought garbage bags and sat on those and used them as rain coverups. Tailgating in the parking lot was a given, until a lot of places banned it.

If there was cruising, you usually ended up at a Denny's or a similar place, to eat cheap food and hang out and goof off.

People did a lot of crafts like, oh those bean mosaics glued onto the board in the shape of a rooster, or rug hooking, even one of my brothers did a hooked rug with the logo of his favorite sports team (Black Hawks? something like that). Usually everyone had an acoustic guitar lying around their house, and we had a piano as well. Everyone ate at McDonald's, and my brothers would have contests to see who could eat a Big Mac in the fewest bites (winner: 2).

Eventually, everyone settled down and had kids, but we still did stuff like get together and play card games.

Nuclear stuff was talked about, everyone was aware of it. I remember watching The Day After movie and we were kind of freaked out by it. You couldn't get away from it, with movies like WarGames, and Red Dawn. Also Land of Confusion by Genesis, but that was 1986, still, it captured a lot of the zeitgeist of the time.

I don't know that people talked about feelings all that much, I mean, if someone got wasted and started crying and talking, sure, you listened to them, but we all pretended it didn't happen the next day.

Smoking pot was a big thing, as long as you kept it on the down low. Lots of people drank and drove, and many cracked a beer while they were driving (not me, but I knew people who did). Our crowd didn't get into coke, it was mostly pot and cheap booze and sometimes LSD, but not on a regular basis. Mostly people wanted to have fun, that's the time when you break free from your parents, and do stupid stuff, then after a while you meet someone, and like I said, most settled down and had kids, so partying was something you did while watching football on Sunday with having friends over.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:50 AM on December 11, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: You're catching the tail end of my mom. She was 25 in 1979, in Springfield, Ohio (about 75k people). I wouldn't call her lower-class; both of her parents had gone to college, although she and several of her siblings did not.

From the stories she and my dad told, I don't get the sense that the town was big enough to have well-defined social groups. I'm sure that there were some kids who were jocks and some who were nerds, but it seems like you'd still see all of them at parties. Both of my parents have commented on how realistic the social fluidity in Dazed and Confused was. My impression is that she and her friends didn't talk much about feelings; they sound much too hedonistic.

She doesn't tell a lot of stories about profanity, although she swears a lot now and I'm sure she did back then too. She has a hang-up about the F-word, so I doubt she used it often, but she does this almost Clay Davis-like "sheeeeeeit" that probably sounded more normal then than it does now LOL (more emphasis on the "she" part than the "it" part, unlike Clay Davis). One thing she has mentioned on several occasions that she and her friends spent a lot of time coming up with synonyms for vomiting, and then applying them to other people as nicknames. This seems to have been sort of a pastime.

I'm skeptical of any of my mom's musical recollections, because they're universally good, and I find it hard to believe that she only listened to music that I would end up liking decades later at a time when there was so much bad music around. She rarely talks about any sort of dance music even though she has admitted to going to discos. One very specific musical memory I have was visiting her younger brother and him being really into ZZ Top's "Legs", which would have been 1983.

Wine seems to have been mostly an older-person thing. Wine was what my grandparents served when my parents would go over for dinner. Beer was more common, as was reefer. Both seem pretty ubiquitous from her stories. Quaaludes seem to have been the next-level thing at the time; she talks about the availability of ludes like people talk about ecstasy now. It sounds like cocaine was around, but it didn't play a huge role.

That's about all I know in any detail. Like, I know my mom worked as a secretary for a real estate agent before I was born (1980), but I don't know anything about her day-to-day life in that office. There's another MeFite on here from my hometown who's probably around the same age (she actually went to school with my uncle) who could confirm most of this.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:22 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Marie Mon Dieu
That was beautiful.
posted by james33 at 8:01 AM on December 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

Not the Midwest, but in his memoir "Townie" Andre Dubus III talks about growing up in a depressed Massachusetts mill town at this time. It really resonated with some of the more sinister and even terrifying memories I had of growing up in the 70s and early-to-80s in a lower middle class suburb in Canada.
posted by JamesBay at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Bud! You guys were fancy. For my uncles, more or less in this zone for much of this period, it was Pabst or the Beast. (I can't tell you how weird it is now to see hipsters drinking "drunk uncles playing pinochle in the finished basement" beer.)
posted by praemunire at 11:26 AM on December 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was 19 to 22 in 1979-1982, my brother was 2 years older, but we lived in a New England city. I was in college during that time, but my brother wasn't. He got jobs working as a bar tender, but mostly hung with his friends smoking weed and drinking beer. They went out to clubs most nights to hear local and national punk and progressive bands. I remember that there were so many more rock concerts in those days and they were way cheaper than they are now, and you actually had a decent chance to buy tickets before they were sold out. Sometimes they would hang out overnight on the street outside the ticket agents if it was a super desirable or infrequently-touring band. We went to lots of concerts in all different venues ranging from small local clubs to huge arenas. We all listened to the radio to hear new bands and artists and then you'd go to the record store and buy their records (or cassettes). Everyone toured back then, huge groups and smaller ones. Because he lived in a city, few people had cars, but they loved to all pile into a car for spontaneous middle-of-the-night road trips. They would maybe go to a beach and skinny dip or visit some far-flung (well, maybe up to 3 or 4 hours away) friend, or drive down to New York City and go to the great punk clubs, like CBGB. They'd have big blow-out parties a lot in their tiny, shitty apartments. It was a cool time to be a young adult.
posted by primate moon at 12:01 PM on December 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

That lines up with my age almost exactly, but big midwest city.
We were much more independent than people are of the same age contingent today. Most people didn't live with their parents but lived in crappy apartments with friends. We weren't inclined towards marriage, but most of my memories are drug and booze related so I may have been in the minority. There were punk clubs to dance at, we'd dance at parties and it was the early heyday of gay bars being dance clubs that were considered open to dance friendly straights as well. Seeing bands in clubs was a weekly thing at least so it must have been cheap because I didn't have any money.
Another thing that I remember existing all over was Art House Movie theaters. This was before any availability of home video so people went to movies and even mid size cities (especially if a college town) would have a theater that gave out poster size calendars on newsprint with what was showing that month and there was most likely a different movie every night, often with a theme like Thursday night is noir night. There was a robust distribution system that had a lot of prints of older movies in circulation. You could see Metropolis one night and Raging Bull the next.

And everybody smoked.
posted by readery at 2:55 PM on December 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Small/medium town life for young men: long hair & denim (this dress code was the LAW!), beer & reefer (wild boys drank Jack D, psychs were available but not as common), Led Zep & Rush & Black Sab, bars & house parties, random driving around in Trans Ams & Camaros & Chevy Vans, drink til you puke, crappy jobs, smoking cigs, etc. (Nuclear strife mostly ignored)

This entire scene shifted quite a lot into the 80s when punk & other cultural influences filtered in.

'Dazed and Confused' is okay, but there's some rather Texas specific stuff in there.
'Breaking Away' is a decent overview for teens that don't hate their parents.
'Downtown Owl' is a novel by Chuck Klosterman about Dakota in the early 80s that seems fairly accurate.
posted by ovvl at 4:20 PM on December 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I was so wrapped up in my kids then, I'm not sure what else I was doing

This inspires a follow-up question:
When you were in a sexual relationship, what was the status of birth control, and open discussion thereof? How dissimilar from today?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:48 AM on December 12, 2018

Best answer: When you were in a sexual relationship, what was the status of birth control, and open discussion thereof? How dissimilar from today?

It was pre-AIDS, so guys could be pretty anti-condom. A common saying among men was that wearing a condom was like taking a shower wearing a raincoat.

The book Our Bodies Ourselves was a great source for sexual information, including everything you needed to know about birth control. This edition was current then. I'm not sure who exactly was reading it - I found out about it in college.

I think people were pretty open about discussing sex. But as I said above, I'm in your target age group, and there was no sex education in my school years except for one movie girls saw in fifth grade.
posted by FencingGal at 7:30 AM on December 12, 2018

Best answer: Small town male youth culture in that time & place were rather macho & homophobic. Lots of frequent "fag" teasing among friends. Anyone who did not conform heteronormative simply disappeared: left small town for the big city to restart their life. (The concept of Coming Out as we know it back then was virtually incomprehensible).

Dating & courtship were awkward. Guys met girls at parties and events, and sorta fumbled around socially. A relationship that evolved into something more serious than going steady often implied detaching from the scene somewhat as a prelude to marriage. Guys almost never discussed relationship feelings seriously, except for commiserating on break-ups, and vague generic gossips, depending on who you were talking to.

(Another drug thing kinda specific to that time period: Hot Knives, mostly in weekend drinking parties in crappy rentals. Sticking kitchen knives into electric stove elements to smoke hash. It's weird).
posted by ovvl at 6:04 PM on December 13, 2018

When you were in a sexual relationship, what was the status of birth control, and open discussion thereof? How dissimilar from today?

I was using a diaphragm and all the stuff related, spermicide, etc. But I still got pregnant!

I didn't use the pill because it was widely said that it was bad for estrogen. So I used barrier methods like the diaphragm which obviously didn't work.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:19 PM on December 13, 2018

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