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.

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.

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.

Suddenly S’Mores

Suddenly S'mores

Nabisco unleashed Suddenly S’Mores on the world in 1990, and I was in on them early on. I had seen the commercial numerous times and was on the lookout for them at the grocery store every time we went. Growing up in our rural area, we were always behind other parts of the country when it came to the timeliness of receiving new junk food on the shelves.

So after a while, we finally got them in our area, and I was elated. I remember when we first opened them. They were such a novelty at the time, that the whole family wanted to try them, so there we were, all four of us gathered around the microwave to watch the magic. That’s because the gimmick of Suddenly S’Mores was that it was an uncooked s’more basically. There were the two “graham crackers”…really just two graham-flavored cookies, chocolate on each one of them, and some kind of dehydrated marshmallow sandwiched in the middle. You had to microwave them and then you’d have fresh, warm, gooey s’mores.

Back then, microwave doors were a little harder to see through than they are now, and my mom was a big proponent of how a microwave would destroy your eyes if you looked into it while it was cooking, so she was trying her best to keep my dad, my brother, and me away from the door. All of this took place in like 15 seconds because that’s about all the time they needed to do their thing.

Clipping courtesy of the Sun Herald June 06, 1990

When the first one was ready, I got the honor of trying it. At the same time, my brother was putting one in to try. That first package we had didn’t make it through the first night. We liked them so much, we ate the whole thing!

Of course, Mom was much more willing to part with the money they cost on the next visit since Dad asked her to get more. Our enthusiasm waned a little and the second pack lasted two nights. Things went on like this a couple of more times before the novelty really wore off for everyone in the family but me. I loved those things and was enjoying them on a regular basis.

Then one afternoon I was too lazy to microwave them and just opened a pack and ate one. I found that they were just as delicious as the microwaved version but in a different way. It’s hard to explain, but I really liked them straight from the package. I started taking them to school in my lunch as my dessert and soon found another redeeming quality about them…they were incredible trade bait at lunchtime. Since they came two in a pack (I think), I was able to enjoy one and trade the other for things like a pack of Shark Bite fruit snacks, half of a fruit roll-up, or any number of other tasty treats.

It’s hard to dig up much information about how long these lasted on the market, but I don’t think they made it past 1990. It was a heartbreaker when I finally accepted the truth that they were gone and wouldn’t be coming back. It’s still one of the junk foods I miss the most all these years later.

Hog Tied Board Game

Ever since I was a young retro rambler, board games have been one of my favorite types of toys. While not a “toy” in a traditional sense, board games still made up a large part of my playtime through the years. I’ve written before about several of my favorites, but I’ve yet to talk about Hog Tied, the game of chase and chance. Let’s remedy that travesty here today.

To start with, let me tell you a little bit about the game. It was produced by Selchow and Righter. You may recognize the name as the one behind classic games Parcheesi, Scrabble, and Trivial Pursuit. They would eventually be bought out by Coleco in 1986, who in turn went bankrupt and had their assets purchased by Hasbro. But in 1981, they released Hog Tied.

Hog Tied is a two-player game, where the object is to capture all of the opposing player’s pigs and/or hogs. Each player has five pigs and five hogs, but only the pigs are in the game at the beginning. The five pigs start the game on the starting row, and advance their way across the board, trying to reach the opposing player’s starting row. If they reach the starting row, a pig becomes a hog. Pigs can only be captured by hogs, so getting your pigs to the other side of the board is the first goal of the game. Once you have hogs, you can then start capturing your opponent’s pigs. Hogs can move in any direction, backward and forwards, while pigs can only advance in a forward direction.

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Holiday Inn Holidomes

As you may remember, for most of my life, my dad traveled for his business. In the summer when I was out of school, there was nothing I liked more than to go with him on his trips every week. While I really enjoyed the road trip itself, most of the time it was the hotels and motels that I got the most enjoyment from.

We didn’t have cable at home, so staying somewhere that did was awesome. Being able to watch AWA Wrestling on ESPN, or catch an episode of The Brady Bunch on TBS which was a TV show that I never knew existed until I saw it on cable in a hotel room. Then there was the fact that dinner most nights while traveling was pizza ordered from Dominos, which we also didn’t have in our area. We stayed in every hotel imaginable. From Best Westerns to Motel 6’s, to mom-and-pop roadside dives, my favorite place to stay was Holiday Inns which had a Holidome.

The Holidomes were like mini amusement parks within the hotel. They all varied somewhat from each other, but some of the common features they had were things like swimming pools, hot tubs, putting greens, air hockey tables, and arcade games. A kid like me could find plenty to do in a Holidome.

The Holidome kind of came in existance in the late 60s’ or early 70’s as some of the Holiday Inn chain owners in the north searched for a solution to their swimming pool problem. That problem being that were were pretty useless nine months out of the year in colder climates. At one Holiday Inn location in North Dakota, the owner built a dome over his pool so it could be enjoyed year round. It didn’t take long for other owners to do the same, and from there it wasn’t long before those owners started adding other little attractions inside the dome to go along with the pool.

Holiday Inn itself took notice and branded these add-ons as Holidomes, and started building them big enough to not only house pools and games, but large spaces that could be rented out for buisness conferences, reunions, and whatever else required a space big enough for a large gathering of people.

After becoming a success in the north, the idea was adopted in other parts of the country too, and became quite poplular in Florida. I guess families going on vacation to Florida could book a stay at a Holidome, and if the weather outside was crap, they could still turn the kids loose in the Holidome for all kinds of fun instead.

I can remember staying at several Holidomes around the country when I was traveling with dad, but one sticks out in particular. I can’t remember the city or town we were in, but I do remember that it was in Pennsylvania. After a dinner that was most likely Domino’s pizza, I headed to the main area of the Holidome for some play time. I can’t recall everything this particular one had to offer, but I certainly remember the pool.

I didn’t know how to swim, so whenever I got into a pool I made sure to stay at the shallow end. There were no diving boards and the like for me. Nope, I pretty much just waded around in waist deep water for the most part. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I fell into the pool on this night. I can remember falling in and flailing away, and then I remember waking up with my brother crouched over me by the side of the pool and he was dripping wet. I had taken water into my lungs I guess and blacked out. He had pulled me out of the pool and pumped the water from my chest just like you see on TV shows and movies.

That event pretty scarred me for life when it comes to water, and I still haven’t learned to swim. From that point on, I never had the desire to go underwater. Hell, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have the desire to go under on that night either. But I don’t hold any of this against the Holidome. I loved those places too much to hold a grudge.

Holidomes started going out of style in the late ’80s, and by the early ’90s almost all of them had seen their better days. So when I started traveling for a living in the 2000’s, even though there are still a few scattered around, there were none to be found on my travels. But if there had been, I would have surely stayed at them. ANd it would have been a great time too. Eating DOminos pizza for dinner, and then hitting the Holidome for air hockey, video games, and putting greens.

Here is a home video taken in 1991 of a Holidome in Sharonville OH

The 1992 Topps Baseball Card Project

I’ve always been a big fan of trading cards. Ever since I first laid eyes on my brother’s collection of Elvis cards when I was really young, I’ve been fascinated by them. That fascination only increased when my friends were bringing the original Garbage Pail Kids cards to school.

I think my first foray into that world was actually Panini sticker albums instead of cards. The first one I remember having was the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe one. I followed that up with several others including more licensed ones and even the generic ones like the exotic animals album.

If my recollection is right, the first packs of actual trading cards I bought for myself were Awesome All-Stars and Greatest Gross Outs. These were imitation baseball cards that depicted weird aliens as baseball players in comic form. I loved those things, and my passion for cards only grew stronger.

Fast forward a few years and I was an avid collector of cards of all types. Baseball, basketball, football, non-sports, Panini stickers…if it was out there, I was interested in it. But 1992 may have been the peak of my fandom in my early years. It was that summer that a group of friends and I spent most days just trading cards amongst ourselves. It was also the year Topps released the 1992 version of their iconic baseball cards.

I was buying a couple of packs every week, and would proudly proclaim to my card trading friends that I was going to get the whole set. They were behind me and even gifted me their doubles on a regular basis. But what I didn’t calculate at that time was the sheer size of the set. Combine that with a meager allowance and you have the recipe for a failed attempt at collecting a whole set. Needless to say, I didn’t even come close.

Fast forward many more years to where I got on eBay and picked up a few packs of some random non-sports cards. Just the act of opening those packs once again got my juices flowing, and I started buying more and more old unopened packs. Before I knew it, I had an impressive collection of them. Figuring that there were more people out there in the world like me who enjoyed that feeling of ripping open a pack of cards and rifling through them to see what they had got, I took to filming the openings and sharing them on YouTube. You’re probably familiar since I’ve posted several of those videos here on Retro Ramblings.

One of the packs I happened to pick up then was the 1992 Topps baseball. When I opened a pack of those cards, so much nostalgia came flooding back to me. Memories of summer days and a promise I made long ago. Now we’re about two years removed from that day, and I had the itch to not only open some more cards but try to assemble a set.

The cards I started opening were Dick Tracy cards based on the movie from 1990. I had about 25 packs of them and I thought I might have a whole collection there. I opened them, put them in pages, and came up really close. It turned out to be a really fun evening, and then a thought hit me. What if I once again tried to assemble the complete 792 card set of 1992 Topps baseball cards?

All of my original cards are long gone, but what I did have was about ten unopened packs, plus the cards from three packs I’ve opened recently. I ran the idea by my friends at The Retro Network, and they’ve been really supportive. So much so that Karen’s dad has offered to send me a bunch of his doubles from the set!

So I’m going for it. It’s a project that I’d consider to be 30 years in the making. I ordered 100 trading cards pages from Amazon, bought a heavy-duty 3-ring binder, decorated the cover of it with a package from a pack of the cards, and wrote all 792 numbers down in a small notebook for keeping track of the cards I’m still looking for when I’m out and about.

While this is mostly just a personal goal of my own, I thought I would share it with you in case you’ve got something you’ve been holding off on starting for a while. Don’t wait. Go out and get started! As this project matures, I’ll probably share more of the journey with you here on Retro Ramblings. But for now, I’m going to go open another pack of cards.