Niagara Gazette

November 10, 2013

SINGER: The decline of outdoors?

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Young (and even not so young) America used to be a more outdoors contingent than today.

Ballplayers of the “Golden Era” (1950s, ‘60s, early ‘70s) invariably recall their childhoods as ones where parents couldn’t pry them off local diamonds or fields for constant pick-up games. Youthful tennis players who became Connors or Everts vied for once-jammed courts. In brilliant falls, many of us baby boomers recall throwing and catching spirals on the streets or at parks, imitating Johnny U. and other heroes.

Now indoors is more appetizing — air conditioning grown routine, and “flipper TV” permitting one to remain on the couch, rather than being forced to get up and adjust sensitive “horizontal” or “vertical” holds for the few channels we got back then.

Not to mention today’s routinization of computers (with Twitter, Facebook, and much else findable there); plus ever more sophisticated smart phones, etc. As well as snacking at all hours, since family meals aren’t as time-predictable as they used to be. And — to be fair — more current awareness of melanoma-inducing sunshine in warmer seasons, bits guaranteeing us beneficial Vitamin D; but too much potentially dangerous and formerly underestimated. Pale ballplayers like Al Kaline peeled plenty on the way up to the Tigers and so did many who never got close to the big time.

What about being outside in winters — generally real ones in these parts? Oh, it’s too “COLD,” you often hear, partly due to today’s dire, dramatic, and frequent weather casts. So when flakes billow, people remain inside more these days. Back in a ‘50s or ‘60s youth during winter, there was much outdoor shinny (it could be hockey sticks and tennis balls), sledding, snowball-flinging, and the rest; then a return home to providential hot chocolate, or dinner featuring homemade soup.

Spring? Happiness came with the realization that winter was finally done, allowing one to take out one’s beat-up bike, grateful that it still worked, or throw up some hoops.

For young women back then there were outdoor pursuits I scarcely understood, such as jump rope, hopscotch, or jacks. In winter they sauntered forward on toothy white skates very different from mine. And was it all better?

Well, we’ve recently had scads of media enlightenment concerning the problem of youthful obesity, and a consequent increase in diabetes, cholesterol, and so on. Besides better diets, we keep hearing of the need for more frequent and sustained forms of exercise. There are campaigns galore on all this.

But it was easier for baby boomers like myself to get out and sweat, not only due to fewer diversions mentioned above; but also because we had many professional leaguers as role models, some akin to gods. And we were grateful for access to simple things — a bat, ball, and Rawlings glove, a basketball ring without netting, etc. In the Big Apple, there was hallowed stickball, where kids inspired by Mantle, Mays, or the Duke, argued incessantly about how many sewers one had gone beyond with a “hit” — primitive stuff compared to today, but prized as much as egg creams were.

Even if you didn’t engage in sports on certain days, home was basically to elude, and it was fun simply to be out with friends in the neighborhood, or maybe at a nearby convenience store for a 10-cent treat. There wasn’t an indoor “virtual world” to outdo the real one.

Now no amount of channels, apps, or computer games seems quite enough, and I’m not sure these myriad, push-button choices — truly inimical to exercise – are good for any age contingent.

Finally, there used to be family vacations where outdoors was the whole ball game. I remember my mom at a rented cottage one summer enjoining us to stop playing Monopoly inside and hop in a canoe or something. Today’s family vacations are pound for pound, less outdoorsy — there’s often this museum or that play land, and of course iPads and the rest go along, too. Not to mention the same air conditioning or multi-channeled TV at hotels as are found at home.

Oh well, one denies the drift in vain and I guess complaining about it makes one sound like a fuddy-duddy! Baby boomers behind the times? It wasn’t supposed to happen!

B.B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.