This Nostalgic Life Issue #3

This Nostalgic Life issue #3 dropped today. Featured in this issue is Eric telling the story of the longest summer of his life when he was stuck in a town in the middle of nowhere in Texas. In the story, he relates how lonely the time was, and what he did to entertain himself that summer. Mixed in are fun tales of his experience with Live Aid and the theatrical release of The Goonies.

Also in this issue, I provided a Nostalgia Nugget as a backup to Eric’s main feature, and this week’s crop of Recommended Reading links. We also unveil a new feature in this issue, as an audio voice over version of Eric’s feature is available in the post so you can listen to it instead of reading it if you prefer.

I urge you to check it out, and if you like what you find, consider subscribing. We publish a new issue every Wednesday, it gets delivered straight to your email inbox automatically, and it’s free. You can also unsubscribe at any time, but I doubt you will want to. Just click the photo above to be taken to the current issue and see what you think.

TRN Time Machine Podcast: Summer Memories

The TRN Time Machine podcast is back! As a way to honor Jason’s podcasting legacy, we’re re-releasing classic episodes from the original Retro Network Podcast, as well as classic episodes from the early days of the Time Machine podcast. In addition, we’ll be releasing previously restricted episodes of Grocery Stories, Outtakes, and the critically acclaimed TRN After Hours podcast that until now have only been available to Patreon subscribers.

The Patreon-only library has almost 100 episodes that until now have only been heard by a few people. They are packed with so much Jason goodness that we can’t keep these episodes locked away any longer. While Jason may no longer be with us in person, he is still with us in spirit, and releasing these episodes will give everyone a chance to hear more stories and memories from Jason and help keep his memory alive.

If you’ve never done so, be sure to subscribe to the TRN Time Machine podcast in your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.

Here is the first release of this new round of Time Machine episodes, featuring a classing from the very early days where Jason and myself rehash old summer memories. Enjoy!

Cookin’ Cheap

Cookin' Cheap

From the late ’80s through the early ’90s, one of my daily rituals in the summertime was to go inside during the hot part of the day and veg out in front of the television and cool off for an hour or two. Back then, I didn’t have many television channels, so there wasn’t much channel surfing to be done. I could watch soap operas on the networks, or watch whatever was on the local PBS station, and boy was I lucky with what my local PBS station, Blue Ridge Public Television, was showing every afternoon.

Blue Ridge Television offered up a block of cooking shows for two hours, followed by Bob Ross. While I didn’t care much for the Julia Child cooking show that started the block, it was followed by Justin Wilson whom I enjoyed, then Yan Can Cook which was also fun, but the last cooking show in that block was my favorite, and one I still watch episodes of today via YouTube, and that show was Cookin’ Cheap. No matter what else was going on in my world on those summer days, I was intent on being inside from 1:30 to 2:00 PM to catch the show.

Cookin’ Cheap was a popular comedy cooking show that was produced from 1980-2002. For most of its run, it was hosted by Laban Johnson and Larry Bly who prepared recipes and shared a lot of laughs. The show was recorded straight through with no stops and no rehearsals so if the guys dropped or burned it, we the viewers got to see it.

In 1980, Laban Johnson, who was already an established cook on local TV came up with an idea for his own television show. He was a funny guy, but fortunately, he realized that much of his humor came from playing off of someone else, so he decided to invite a friend, Larry Bly, on to the show as his sidekick. Larry’s quick wit was already well known in the area, thanks to his radio and TV on-air shenanigans, as he was a local radio DJ.

Laban Johnson (left) and Larry Bly (right) on the set of Cookin’ Cheap in the Blue Ridge Public Television studio in Roanoke VA.

After deciding that the show could work as a comedy cooking show using mostly viewer recipes, it was decided to pitch the show to a local TV station. Shortly after that, a “pilot” was shot, shown to some local potential sponsors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What made the show great wasn’t the food. The recipes come from viewers, the ingredients from the freezer, cans, and cardboard boxes. In the poor studio light, the dishes, casseroles, meatballs, bean salads, and dips most times ended up looking like glop.

And it wasn’t the culinary skills either. The hosts were amateurs. They struggled to open zip-lock bags and fumble in their oven mitts the way you or I would. Their kitchen would get messy and sometimes dangerous, as they juggled hot trays and employed questionable knife skills while chopping. They puzzled over pronunciations, and spent a lot of time on boring prep work, because, as Larry would confess, if they didn’t, the show would be a lot shorter.

The way that they incorporated more comedy into the show than technique made it feel like they were your neighbors instead of professional cooking show hosts. What I loved most is that it wasn’t just more of that fake Southern thing, which is all around us these days, as Laban and Larry were the real deal. They were both from Roanoke VA where the show was filmed, and just 2 hours up the road from where I lived.

While the show was filmed in Roanoke VA to air on the local Blue Ridge Public Television station, it was so popular that it was picked up and syndicated by other PBS affiliates all around the country. It was the only original program of Blue Ridge Public Television that got syndicated, showing just how good this show was.

More than any other cooking show I’ve seen in my life, Cookin’ Cheap made you feel like you could truly replicate what they were doing in your own kitchen. My mom was a big fan of the show as well, and we would watch it together every afternoon. And we would end up trying a lot of the recipes we saw them cook on the show. And that might be the biggest reason I’m so fond of this show. We would attempt those recipes, and others, together. Both of us in the kitchen at the same time, each creating a dish that we would sit down and share for dinner. Without even acknowledging that we were copying the format we had learned from watching Cookin’ Cheap, we were performing our own version a couple of nights each week.

Laban Johnson passed away suddenly in 1999. Larry Bly tried to keep the show going, bringing in one of Laban’s friends to replace him, but the chemistry wasn’t there, and the experiment only lasted one season and then the show was canceled. It was the end of an era for a show that helped instill in me a love for cooking and helped to create so many great memories of cooking with my mom. If Retro Ramblings had a Hall of Fame, Laban Johnson and Larry Bly would be first-ballot entries for that fact alone.

I’m including this post as part of the Retro Ramblings Summer Vacation ’24 because it was a part of many of the summers of my youth. I wanted to feature one of their videos, and what better one to pick to go along with the summer vacation theme than this episode where they are preparing a couple of cook-out dishes. Check it out and see what you think.

Breakfast at McDonald’s Has Always Been Special

I took my family on vacation this past week, and on the drive out of town the first morning, my mind started wandering while I was driving. The sun was up in the blue sky on a warm summer day, and I was headed down the highway. So my mind wandered back to many of the trips I took as a kid with my dad.

I’ve probably explained before but my dad traveled a lot when I was young, and in the summer, I would go on trips with him if he was only going to be gone for a couple of days. There was nothing quite like climbing into the front seat of his truck and pulling out on a sunny summer morning and hitting the road for the day.

It was the trips where we headed north that I really enjoyed, and that’s because we’d always stop at McDonald’s for breakfast. Now back in the mid to late 80s, the closest McDonald’s was 40 miles up the highway. While we had a McDonald’s just 12 miles south of us, we never stopped at it when we’d go south. But when going north we’d always stop. Can you imagine in today’s world not having a McDonald’s closer than 40 miles away?

The ad above represents the breakfast I remember from those days. Back then, they didn’t have biscuits on the menu yet, only the English muffins. I remember getting the Big Breakfast and enjoying the toasted English muffin with grape jelly. And I remember sitting there with my dad talking about the things we’d see along the route of the trip and feeling a lot bigger than I was. After breakfast was over I’d grab an extra coffee stirrer to play with in the truck, and we’d climb back in, push the Willie Nelson tape into the 8-track player, and hit the road again, with smiles on our faces.

Breakfast at McDonald’s always feels special to me. Even if I’m just hitting the drive-thru on my way to work in the mornings, there’s still a little magic in it thanks to those special stops years ago. And those are the memories that came back to me as we were rolling down the highway on vacation last week.

I’ll give you one guess as to where we stopped for breakfast.

Re-Watching Backdraft (1991)

When Backdraft originally debuted back in 1991, I desperately wanted to see it. As I’ve explained before though, my parents weren’t the movie theater type. And as I was only 13 at the time of its release, I wasn’t going to be going by myself. The closest I got to it was having to hear my brother talk about how great it was after he and his friends saw it. But a year later, it was on HBO and other channels like it all the time so I got to see it finally thanks to the cable descrambler we had. My brother and I probably watched in a dozen time that summer it debuted on PPV and HBO.

It’s about a group of Chicago firefighters on the trail of a serial arsonist who is targeting various victims who are contractors who are connected to each other and a high-ranking city official.

Stephen McCaffrey (Russell) is the Lueinent of Engine Company 17, and his younger brother Brian (Baldwin) is a probationary fireman assigned to the company after graduation from the academy.  The two brothers are the sons of a legendary Chicago firefighter who lost his life battling a blaze while young Brian watched on.  As the movie reveals, the two brothers have never been close, and are at odds with each other more than on the same page.

After several firehouses are shut down due to budget cuts, the arsonist starts taking out the decision-makers behind those cuts by setting deadly “backdraft’ fires to murder them.  Company 17 finds itself as the company that ends up fighting those fires, while Inspector Donald Rimdale (DeNiro) is the one tasked with finding the arsonist behind the attacks.  It all climaxes at a large fire at a chemical plant where the killer is revealed and the McCaffrey brothers must stop him once and for all.  All while battling the huge blaze.

Growing up in the ’80s with a Dad who was the local fire department chief, I was always fascinated by firemen and firefighting in general.  Now while I was never a fireman myself, I do know more about it than most others who were not.  And what you see in Backdraft is pretty close to how things are.  The camaraderie displayed between the firemen in the film feels real and on point.  And the firefighting sequences are top-notch.  The arson investigation is pretty straightforward, but you can’t really guess who is behind it until near the end of the film when everything comes together.  The writers did a pretty good job though of trying to lead you to one conclusion of who the killer is before revealing the true villain.  

Backdraft was a blockbuster in the truest sense of the word, and everything about the movie was well executed.  The story arc of Kurt Russell’s Stephen McCaffrey may be the best thing about the film.  From being the overprotective brother to being the ultimate badass fireman, right through to the final confrontation and climax, Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey was a story well told. Kurt Russell was more than the commander of Engine Company 17…he also carried a commanding presence in his performance.

Backdraft was a blockbuster in its time for a reason and is still a yearly summer re-watch for me even now.  It was a “big” movie with a big cast who were hitting on all cylinders at the time, and it lived up to the hype with its special effects and storytelling.  There’s not much more that you could ask from a movie like this. 

4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Garfield in Paradise

Garfield in Paradise is a half-hour animated special that debuted in 1986. It was the fifth animated Garfield special and ran as a special presentation in primetime in the summers for a few years. I would scour the latest TV Guide every week in the summer looking for an air date until it would finally show up. It was appointment television for me every year. Why I never made a VHS recording of it I have no idea.

Now for me, no other Garfield special tops the Christmas one, but Garfield in Paradise was a close second for a very long time. It may still hold that spot. I’d have to sit and think on it for a bit to confirm that though. But since we are now in the heart of summer, I thought it would be a great time to watch it again. Here it is in all its glory for you to enjoy. But if you’d rather watch it on some large screen, I believe it’s available on Pluto TV.

MeTV Toons Announces it’s Daily Schedule

Last month MeTV announced they were launching MeTV Toons, a new 24/7 cartoon network full of classic cartoons. MeTV Toons has now announced its full schedule for when it launches on June 25, 2024, as the only TV network destination dedicated exclusively to classic animation.

The best part is unlike many classic TV channels that run long blocks of the same show over and over, MeTV Toons will launch with a diverse lineup of programs.

During weekday primetime it will offer classics like “The Flintstones,” “Bugs Bunny & Friends,” and “Cartoon All-Stars” with “Mr. Magoo” and “Tom and Jerry.” And during the day you will find programs like “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” and “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” You can view the full schedule below.

Introducing This Nostalgic Life

Hey ramblers, I wanted to take a minute to let you all know about an exciting new project I’m working on. It’s a new newsletter/magazine called This Nostalgic Life that I’ve started alongside my good friend Eric Vardeman. A lot of you longtime visitors will remember Eric from his time posting content here at Retro Ramblings.

This Nostalgic Life is a weekly multi-media publication where we’re going back in time to tell the stories of our lives. Through personal stories and memories, we hope to entertain you and stir fond memories of your own.

Each issue of This Nostalgic Life will be overflowing with retro and nostalgic goodness and will contain special features such as Eric and/or I sharing tales from our youth. There will also be rotating sections such as Nostalgia Nuggets…short stories that aren’t quite feature length, Do You Remember articles looking back at the best of all things pop culture, short series, and more. And if you enjoy my Weekend Reading posts where I share a list of curated links every week, you’ll certainly want to check it out as that will now be the exclusive home of those Recommended Reading links every week. There are also plans to release a new podcast series, as well as audio versions of the features we present every week so you can listen to them on the go instead of reading them!

If you’re a subscriber here (and a lot of you are) or just a regular visitor and you like the things I post, then this newsletter is for you. There will be less “articles” about things, as the focus is more on the storytelling of events of our lives. There will still be plenty of things discussed like toys, junk food, comic books, video games, music, and movies…but with a lot more personal memories attached.

Eric and I both have a lot of stories to tell, and we feel that this is the medium best suited for doing so. The best part of all is that it is completely free for you the reader. And the second best part is that you can have it delivered directly to your inbox every time a new issue drops! All you have to do is click on the subscribe button below to be taken to the sign-up page.

Even if you somehow miss an issue in your inbox, you can go to the site and read them at your leisure. As a matter of fact, you should go check out the first two issues. For a sampling of what we’re doing, check out what’s appeared in the first two issues:

This Nostalgic Life Issue 1

  • It is May 4th and This is My Star Wars Story – by Eric
  • Do You Remember? Star Wars: Droids cartoon
  • Wax Pack Flashback featuring openings of Star Wars Galaxy trading cards from 1993
  • Recommended Reading with numerous links to other Star Wars fun

This Nostalgic Life Issue 2

  • How I Almost Died at a Holiday Inn Holidome – by Mickey
  • Do You Remember? Stuckey’s
  • An acknowledgement of The Retro Network’s 5th Anniversary
  • Recommended Reading with a lot of summer nostalgia links

So if all of this sounds good to you…personal stories, special features, recommended reading, podcasts, audio posts, being free, and being delivered straight to your inbox, then please consider subscribing. We promise to try and make it worth your ten minutes to consume every week.

– Mickey

Welcome to Retro Ramblings Summer Vacation 2024

Now that we have warm weather and sunny skies throughout most of the country on a regular basis, it’s time to declare it officially summer! And with that proclamation, I’m celebrating that fact here at Retro Ramblings by sharing a slew of summer-themed nostalgia from now through August 31.

Throughout the summer you’ll find plenty of retro summer-themed posts. Plenty of summer memories to be shared, so if you haven’t done so yet, be sure to bookmark or add Retro Rambling to your favorite RSS reader so you don’t miss any of the fun.

If you do happen to miss something, you can just click on the summer vacation image at the top of the sidebar to see all of the summer-themed posts.

Odds and Ends

Every weekend, I like to share a curated list of retro, geek, & nostalgia-themed articles, stories, and posts that I’ve come across in the last week. It gives you a chance to escape the daily grind, and just sit back and pass the time reading about what I call the good old days. So with that in mind, here are some things I wanted to share with you.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)

I didn’t grow up a Star Wars fan. While I knew of the series’ existence, was familiar with how popular all of the movies were, and had even seen a little bit of Return of the Jedi at a birthday party in the mid-80s, I had just never searched out the movies out to watch them. I even played with my brother’s hand-me-down toys. I enjoyed playing with the action figures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Storm Trooper, Tuken Raider and more, along with the Ewok’s treehouse and the Millenium Falcon. But I still didn’t fell the need to try and watch the movies.

Then sometime around late 1992 or early 1993, USA was showing Star Wars on a Friday night, and I decided to make it my entertainment for that night. I really enjoyed it, but they didn’t show the other two. But in the late spring or early summer of 1993, they showed all three movies on consecutive nights from Tuesday through Thursday, and I made it a point to watch all three. Over the course of those three nights, I became a fan. I even watched all three again the following Sunday when USA ran them back-to-back-to-back throughout the afternoon and evening.

Later on, I picked up a few of the Dark Horse comic book series to be able to experience more of the universe, but that was as far as I went with my fandom. But in early 1999, I became aware that a new prequel series would be dropping, and I was excited. Not like true blue Star Wars fanboys, but I was excited nonetheless.

My local theater was relatively new having only opened two years earlier, so the technology there was still top-notch. As a matter of fact, they were one of the first theaters in the world to install the Lucas-designed surround sound system ahead of The Phantom Menace being released. Add in the fact that they would be offering the first showing of the new release at 12:01 AM that fateful Friday, and the fact that they would be playing it in multiple theaters around the clock earned it the designation of the number one place in the world to see the new Star Wars movie.

While I didn’t go to the 12:01 AM showing, I did reserve tickets for the 7:00 PM showing on opening night and bought ten tickets so that any of my friends interested in going would have seats. I found no shortage of people who wanted to go that night. The crowd roared its approval as the familiar Star Wars “crawl” rolled up the screen and we all settled in to enjoy the unique experience together.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace features Obi-Wan Kenobi as a young apprentice Jedi knight under the tutelage of Qui-Gon Jinn; Anakin Skywalker, who will later father Luke Skywalker and become known as Darth Vader, is just a 9-year-old boy. When the Trade Federation cuts off all routes to the planet Naboo, Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan are assigned to settle the matter. Along the way they meet the underwater race of the Gungans, discover a new Sith apprentice is after them, and have to help free the Naboo from the Trade Federation and battle the Sith apprentice known as Darth Maul.

Now in the years since the film was released, the prequel has caught a lot of crap. But for someone like me who was never a serious fanboy, I had no issues with the prequels in general, or The Phantom Menace in particular. I thought it was an amazingly fun film and a great experience in the theater.

Having watched the movie another dozen times since that initial viewing, I still feel the same way. What Lucas and team was able to put on screen was beautiful and captivating. While I never cared much for the character of Jar Jar Binks, I’m not overly annoyed with him like most of the fanbase. I really don’t care either way.

The cinematography is top-notch in The Phantom Menace, with every shot being epic and beautiful. The story filled in some gaps and questions from the original trilogy, and you couldn’t really ask for much more action than the film provided.

The initial battle scene between the Jedi and the Trade Federation droids, the underwater chase scene, the pod race, the big battle on Naboo between the Gungans and the Droids, the fighter battle in space, and the fantastic final showdown between the Jedi and Darth Maul were all packed with excitement.

So while a lot of serious Star Wars fans pick nits with the film, as a casual fan, I think it’s great, and recommend it to anyone who has never seen it, and urge those who have to give it another look and appreciate what was accomplished by the filmmakers.

4.0 stars.

Rewatching Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused hit the silver screen in 1993, but somehow I didn’t notice at the time. It took another couple of years for me to become aware of its existence. I was sitting in English class one day and one of my friends was quoting it. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he clued me in and stressed that I needed to see this movie. It still took me a couple of years to get around to it, but when I finally did, I was an instant fan.

Dazed and Confused tells the story of the last night of school for a group of high schoolers and junior high schoolers. A party is planned, a party is busted, and another party is planned to replace the first one. In between all of this, the many characters of the film weave in and out of each other’s storylines and spend their night cruising around, hanging out at the local game room, drinking, getting high, and thinking about the next phases of their lives. It’s hard to imagine how you could pack so many characters and storylines into a movie about a single night, but Dazed and Confused pulls it off perfectly without it seeming like too much is going on.

The movie is a good interpretation of a night in the life of a teenager in the late ’70s. In those days before the internet when people had “nothing to do”, so they spent their time hanging out with and talking with each other. What a novel concept. The fashion, the cars, and especially the soundtrack combine for an amazing cinematic experience. And the actors all pull off their characters well, and some shine as bright as the sun in theirs. Personally, Matthew McConaughey’s “Wooderson” is not only my favorite character in this movie but is one of my favorite movie characters of all time.

I was a teenager in the ’90s just before the big boom of the internet, and some of my fondest memories of those times is doing exactly what the kids in this film did to kill time. Cruising around town, hanging out with friends, and talking about everything that mattered to us, even if those things didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. This movie brings those times back to mind every time I watch it, and I connect with it on a nostalgic level.

But you don’t have to have that kind of connection to Dazed and Confused to enjoy it. It’s a great coming-of-age comedy with a fantastic soundtrack that just breezes by while you watch it.

4.0 stars for the movie thanks to the whole vibe it puts off, and the nostalgia connected to it.