One of the great things about getting old(er) is that you get to tell young people about the way things used to be “back in the day.” It’s fun to play the numbers game with them.
When I got my first car, gas prices floated between 29.9 cents to 31.9 cents per gallon. In 1973, I was dating my future wife who lived in Orange County which meant driving up to see her every weekend. I started to worry about the future of our relationship the day I saw gas prices hit 53 cents per gallon. How could I possibly sustain this? Long-distance phone calls were very expensive, so we wrote each other at least once or twice weekly, which I described here. The earliest of those letters carried a 6¢ stamp.
I declared my independence from my parents on July 4, 1973 when I moved into my first apartment, a one-bedroom place in a four-plex just 10 minutes from San Diego State University where I would finish my degree and credential programs. It was a delightfully seedy place called the Aloha Garden Apartments because there was a couple of unkempt palm trees on the property. My rent was $95 per month.
A covered wooden porch/deck ran around the front of the four attached units, and I put a chair that my parents gave me out on it but never used it. Apparently, it got taken over by neighborhood cats. When I finally met the two girls who lived next to me, they told me that (because of the cats) they had decided that I must be a warlock.
By 1977, Mary and I had been married for three years and were ready to jump into the housing market (sort of). We had $2000 and some change in savings and found a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom place in Spring Valley for $40,000. We each borrowed $1000 from our parents to come up with the down payment and signed the papers on August 16, the day that Elvis died .
We were oblivious to what a dump it was, because it was OUR dump. We did what amounted to a slow-motion flip of the house, taking three years to paint and wallpaper every interior wall in the house. A friendly neighborhood carpenter volunteered to come over and put up cedar planking on one wall in our dining room, creating a cool feature wall before we ever knew such a thing existed. We replaced all of the flooring. We painted the exterior. We had every intention of staying there longer but when a garage band that we had battled over noise for all three years we had been there moved back in across the street for the 10th time, we put it on the market and it sold in a matter of weeks for $75,000.
With that profit, we bought the house in which we still live for $108,000 (3 bdr, 2 bath, 1600 square feet) but were saddled with a whopping interest rate of 11 3/4%. Interest rates were absurdly high in the early eighties.
When I landed my first (and only) teaching job at Valhalla High School in 1976 my salary for the year was $10,000. Since the district could not figure out how to spread that over 12 months, it meant that I got paid monthly from September to June–no paycheck for July or August. Veteran teachers coached me on saving 1/6 of every check to get through the summer since I had no intention of working at a temp job for two months. My wife tried it and lasted one day as a tele-marketer. We were happy to tighten our belts and simply enjoy the summer being poor.
The numbers just seem ridiculous to me now. It was a long time ago. The cool thing to think about is that in 30 years, my kids will get to do the same thing to other youngsters. And, come to think of it, it will be most unlikely that I will be there to see it. How’s that for perspective?