My parents were high school sweethearts and that meant on more than one occasion they would squabble about something from the old days.
They grew up in Waukesha, traveled around the country in the Army as my dad got trained to fight in World War II, then lived in Watertown and Oconomowoc for a few years before settling in Wauwatosa.
Invariably, they would disagree about what store was on what street, who lived in what house, what the name of some restaurant was, or some other point lost to posterity. On countless occasions, my dad would slap his hand on the table and declare, “Let’s get into the car!”
He was ready to drive to the city in question to prove to my mother that he was right and she was wrong, or perhaps to find an answer when neither of them could remember. Maybe once or twice they actually made the trip, but my dad was never afraid to dangle that solution as a gambit to get my mom to concede.
My parents were long gone before the era of Google reached its pinnacle. Had they been born in this era, my dad might have said, “Let’s go to Google!” to drive home his point. They would have found Google Maps or some other tip to help them unravel the riddle.
As I got older, many a bar discussion disintegrated into a dispute over some bit of trivia like who was on the top 10 all-time home-run list, was “The Wizard of Oz” an Academy Award winner, how many ears on a stalk of corn, or what were the words from the Blatz beer jingle?
A lot of beer was drunk and spilled over such disputes. It made beer drinking fun.
Now, we just call up Google, get the right answer and the fun disappears in a poof.
When I quit smoking 35 years ago, I finally gave into my wife’s nagging and did one of the smartest things I ever did; I went cold turkey. But before I did, I made my wife promise that we would take the savings (back in the day when a pack was 50 cents) over the course of the year and buy myself a reward.
What did I buy? A really nice set of golf clubs? A trip to Disney World? Season tickets to the Badgers, Brewers or (somehow) the Packers, or one of those new stereo TVs? Nope.
I bought a brand new set of World Book Encyclopedias. We invited the salesman to our place and he was a little surprised. He had his sales pitch honed for young families and how this could help them be better students. But he did not have any spiel for a guy in his 20s with no kids yet. Luckily, I did not need to be sold. I just bought the cheapest bindings and wrote the check. It was a nerd dream come true.
For years, I was fascinated with them and would open them up just to do something geeky like finding out about how honey is made, or what the capital of Uganda was or using those cool clear sheets that showed layers of the human body like circulatory, nervous, muscle and digestive systems. I bought the yearbook update every year like a faithful puppy, to keep the collection fresh.
And then Google came along, and my beloved encyclopedias went into hibernation. A lot has happened since 1985 and when all you have to do is type a question and you can get an answer to anything. It means those blue and gold volumes are not likely to lose that layer of dust anytime soon.
I imagine I would ask for a new computer or phone or something like that if I wanted a reward again these days, knowing full well that I could access Google and get all of my nerdy questions answered in a flash.
But there are a lot of days, I think to myself, that life would be a lot more fun, if we could do what my dad always wanted, “Let’s get into the car,” and roll down the windows, feel the fresh air in our faces and head on an adventure to a place where my wife and I used to have so much fun.
Yes, Google is cool, but I miss living on the edge, and having a fresh batch of World Books and the fun of self exploration.