John Bartus

There are a lot of people alive today who won’t be able to remember any of the things I’m going to write about here, because they just aren’t as “chronologically experienced” as a lot of us Baby Boomers. And I’m not saying things were better back then, either – just simpler.

There used to be only three channels on a TV set that a person would actually have to get up off of the sofa to manually change. Sure, those channels often ended their broadcast day just after midnight, but the programming came in via the airwaves for free. The TVs in those days were powered by vacuum tubes, which would get squirrelly after a while. TV watchers would have to remove the tubes from the back of the TV console and take them to a shop that had a large standup Tube Tester, which would send some sort of electrical juice through the plugged-in tubes and reveal the malfunctioning ones. (Only us electric guitar players have any idea what tubes are today.)

Telephones were two-way communication devices that were always attached to a wire coming out of the wall. Touch-tone service cost extra on the monthly bill from Ma Bell, so a lot of us used the rotary dial to call our friends and neighbors. Long-distance was never included in any “plan” and was always expensive. There was only one ringtone, and it came from the actual bell inside the telephone. And nobody owned their own telephones, either – they just rented them from the phone company. I’m not even going to start on the communications disaster known as “party lines” here. If you remember them, well, simply thank God and the phone company that they don’t exist anymore.

The idea that sparked this column was one I wrote a few decades back about what was the best fast food chain. I had always liked Burger King the best, probably because they had the better-tasting burgers – “flame-broiled” as opposed to griddled. Anyway, fast food choices were like TV choices – not that many, but you knew what you were going to get. 

Burger King had the Whopper, the Whaler (the old name for their fish sandwich, not so politically correct these days) and a small burger. McDonald’s had the small burger, the Big Mac, and their Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a horrible little creation with a slice of cheese on the fish, and no lettuce anywhere near the sandwich. I once got into an argument at a McDonald’s counter when I asked them to hold the cheese and add lettuce to the fish sandwich, and was told by the employee they couldn’t do that. I asked if they had lettuce, and he said yes. I said to just put some of the lettuce on the fish sandwich. “We can’t do that.” Why? “It doesn’t come that way.” After five minutes of this jerk’s circular logic, I strongly resisted the urge to punch him in the face and went to Burger King.

Kentucky Fried Chicken was around back then, with only one kind of fried chicken and an old Kentucky Colonel (Sanders) who bragged on his secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. (I wish he would have taken as much care with the recipe of the mashed potatoes, which I’m sure are as strange today as they were then.) There were other smaller fast food franchise operations around then as well, like Burger Chef, Maryland Fried Chicken (the saltiest fried chicken on planet earth), and the mini-burger purveyors like Krystal, White Castle and Royal Castle.

If there is a point I’m trying to make, it’s this: when you went to a fast food joint, you knew what you were going to get. There weren’t so many choices. Now, there are so many choices and sandwich varieties and different price points and combos, and it’s amazing that anyone can actually make a decision in the time constraints of a typical drive-thru lane. Burger King offers close to a dozen variations of the burger, as well as myriad chicken sandwiches, fish, fries and sides, desserts, kids’ meals, and the “Value Menu” that now exists at all fast food joints. Wendy’s has a rotating lineup of different burgers, as well as chicken and fish sandwiches to accompany their single/double/triple burgers, plus salads and baked potatoes and chili made with yesterday’s hamburgers and today’s beans. McDonald’s is now McCafe and offers coffee drinks, smoothies and a host of “healthy” choices to accompany the standard burger and fries. How is today’s consumer expected to make a rational decision when presented with all these choices?

Life used to be simple.

– Catch John live every Monday at Boondocks, Wednesdays at Brutus Seafood, and Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. •

John Bartus
Very few towns or cities could ever claim that their Mayor was a smokin' hot guitar player. The island city of Marathon in the Florida Keys is one of those towns. While politics is a temporary call to service, music is a life sentence. John Bartus, a more-than-four-decade full-time professional musician, singer, and songwriter, continues to raise the bar with his groundbreaking solo acoustic show. It’s easy to catch John on one of his more than 200 shows a year throughout the Keys on his Perpetual Island Tour. His CD releases include After The Storm, Keys Disease 10th Anniversary Remaster, and Live From the Florida Keys Vol. 2. John’s music is available wherever you download or stream your music.