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I am beginning to fear that the world really was better in about 1995 or so. Back in the 1990s.


US Economy

All better. More human-friendly. More real.

Things were better for me in particular (at least in certain ways).

I had just moved into my first studio apartment. I was in-between relationships, having broken it off with a girl who showed me that long-distance is really hard to do, especially when student trips to Italy and boundless libido are involved. I was getting used to being ok with being alone. I would later realize that there are far worse things than being a bachelor having a dryspell in a studio apartment, though I often considered it pure hell at the time.

I would work at admin’ing UNIX servers for the auto parts company, walk or ride one of my bikes home (my “beater” bike), then hop on my ProFlex mountain bike — the one with the then-novelty full suspension. I’d ride up and down the streets and canals of central Phoenix through the early evening, usually ending up at the Biltmore Fashion Square for an expensive iced latte at Coffee Plantation. Expensive latte hadn’t yet become a cliché.

It was a charming café scene there for a while–one that Phoenix couldn’t sustain. There would be live music outdoors from little acoustic singles and two-pieces. One group featured an schizoid-looking guy in a pith helmet and glasses. One of their songs I remember was “There’ll be No Butter in Hell.” That guy drove a Citroën Mehari — which instantly put him into the category of “trying too hard.” There was also a shy and beautiful girl who played bossa nova guitar.  That place is gone now–replaced by a restaurant that sells sawgrass smoothies for ten bucks.

There was also a very active bookstore in the same mall — a location of the Borders chain. On Friday and Saturday nights the line for the checkout would serpentine through the aisles. The cashier lines were packed with chattering people, some of whom had just met. Local intellectuals would be buying their copies of Sophie’s World or something by Stephen Covey. It wasn’t the Harvard Coop, but it was as close to an intellectual scene as one could get there in Phoenix.

Phoenix is the intellectual capital of Phoenix, by the way.

That Borders was where singles who wouldn’t or couldn’t do the bar scene would go to hopefully run into someone else–someone who might actually listen. Someone they could hear over the music–unlike anyone they met while at a bar. Maybe they’d bump into them while looking through comedy albums or TCP/IP routing books. It was a good place to find people with common interests back before everyone was subsumed into a datastream and monitored.

That Borders is now gone, replaced by a rug store. Now, people meet online, sometimes.

Music and movies were better and more engaging in the 90s, it seemed. In music, the extreme grunge of the first part of the decade was yielding to something still-angsty but more mellow. It was —  if not insufferably positive — then less like a suicide note, at least.

Music was written by and for people, though I sensed that basic premise of mine was endangered one night (while standing in the aisles of the Borders) when I realised this song was not — after all — an ad for Wrigley’s gum:

Now music is written by machines to satisfy song-suggestion algorithms used by streaming services. It’s music by machines for machines.

Everything started changing after the new millenium hit. With the dawn of the new century, things started getting shaky in the economy. The Presidential election of 2000 was a bit of a farce. But it wasn’t just that: Not as much perceived wealth, not as much confidence. Then, 9/11 happened and ensured that we could never have the luxury of innocence in public life again. We gradually became data consumers and providers and turned inward. Some basic wisdom about life was replaced by a thin sheen of knowledge and superficial understanding. Everything started to get outsourced, offshored, automated. Identities and sources of meaning faded.

Things are different now.

Maybe things were better in the 1990s. . .

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Things might have been even better in the 1950s, at least for some of us. I write about it in my novel Eye of the Diamond-T. Check it out here: