Then and Now

By | May 19, 2023

As I sit in my trusty electric wheelchair, looking out the window, I am in awe, at my past – as it flashes in front of me – of what I’ve seen, what I’ve done – who I’ve known, what I’ve enjoyed and what I’ve tolerated.

The good old times were mostly good. I think I have earned the right, or wrong, to give my twist on life – as it was and as it is. So here goes – 94 years of living – the good and not!

I miss –

  • The wonderful sound and smell of burning and crackling leaves every fall – no longer legal, an environmental no no.
  • Downtown Dayton’s store – they sold books and toys and clothes and lunch – everything! Personal service was everywhere and the highlight was the Nicollet Ave decorated Christmas windows.
  • Miss Vogels’s neighborhood pharmacy where I could buy my choice of penny candies and a nickel chocolate ice cream cone served pleasantly by Miss Vogel herself.
  • The stately Greyhound Bus Depot now “First Avenue nightclub and entertainment complex”
  • Liemandt Men’s store on the Nicollet Mall. Jack Liemandt and little Danny Karatz tried valiantly but not always successfully to fit me – the wrestler with a 19 inch neck measurement and a 29 inch waist.
  • The overnight trains to Chicago – the uneasy feeling of sleeping on the top bunk as the train rumbled around curves or stopped abruptly at a station to pick up or let off a single passenger.
  • When both Democrats and Republicans were elected to sit on the Minneapolis City Council – sometimes partisan, sometimes cooperative, usually cordial!
  • Trips to Woolworths and Kresges – true 5 cent and 10 cent stores, and the predecessor to Home Depot – Warner Hardware. The world at my fingertips but cash was always sparse.
  • The smell of the elephants at the Shrine Circus in the majestic old auditorium – and the nimble aerialists who performed magically in the cavernous spaces far above the excited crowd.
  • Mr. Heard’s neighborhood grocery store on the streetcar line on Bryant Ave. – long before Hove’s and Lund’s and Byerly’s – Mr. Heard displayed fresh fruits and vegetables when they were in season. His store was almost dingy – but he personally and proudly helped bag the purchases – and he delivered!

I remember –

  • Sports – We had Bernie Bierman coaching national champion Gopher football – we had the champion Minneapolis Lakers led by George Mikan and Harmon Killebrew’s Twins.
  • Charming Plymouth Avenue before the 1968 riots. The Homewood theater served the neighborhood as did Brochins delicatessen with their corned beef and dill pickles. Old bearded Jewish men mixed easily on the avenue with African Americans and Irish – with everyone.
  • Central and South High School – in inner city Minneapolis. All of my 4 kids received real life education there. So did I! Real, honest diversity! True friends of all colors!
  • I remember when I would pick up every penny that I saw on the ground. Now, even if I could stoop over, I would not bother picking up a penny – maybe a nickel, surely a quarter.
  • Gas stations on every thoroughfare and in every neighborhood – Standard oil, Pure oil, Sinclair and Shell, etc. Gasoline cost less than a dollar per gallon and every station provided free full service – cleaned windshields, checked oil levels, filled tires with free air – even in a heavy thunderstorm.
  • The autos were all American – no Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, or Mitsubishi – just Dodge, Ford, Edsel, Buick, Pontiac etc., and unlike today’s cars, they all looked very very different.

However, all was not better back Then!

  • We didn’t know how to anticipate the weather. The Armistice Day blizzard in 1941 killed unprepared hunters. The heat wave in 1936 forced us to live in our basements without air conditioning. Now we have snow emergencies and several days notice of incoming inclement weather.
  • Long distance phone calls were excruciating to arrange, requiring operators to assist – and each call was expensive! Now calls are quick and free.
  • Dogs could run loose – no leashes required – unwanted gifts left everywhere, a few dog and cat fights and ruined gardens.
  • We mostly ignored the handicapped – made few accommodations to make living easier! No curb cuts, no help to access trains or buses, etc.
  • We didn’t have “social media,” instead we had endless meetings, printed brochures, installed billboards, and filled the telephone lines. Yes, communication was primitive and expensive before email and texting became available and popular.
  • Halloween was not a panoply of little elves and costumed goblins. It was an annual night for urchins (mostly boys) to tip over garbage cans, set every pile of leaves on fire and write soap messages on screen windows. “Tricks or Treats” meant exactly what it said.
  • Health care is much more successful and efficient today than it was yesterday. But I remember and miss the arrival of our family doctor who made house calls when we were sick!
  • Baseball is different also! Should it offer padded suites and every kind of sweet imaginable or should a hot dog, coke, and popcorn, and folding chair be enough. We’re spoiled – Baseball should be less expensive and uncomfortable.

I could go on and on remembering!

Many people come to mind – I was and am so lucky to have always been surrounded by wonderful characters, friends, colleagues, and family.

Along the way there were some special people –

A couple of Barbaras, a couple of Tonys, and a couple of Davis’ –

  • Barbara Carlson “Babs,” Ms. Brash to say the least – accompanied by a loud voice, a smile and too many cutting remarks.
  • Barbara Flanagan – MPLS version of the famous urbanologist Jane Jacobs, who stressed walking and no automobiles.
  • Tony Mastrey – the all time best pizza maker.
  • Tony Bouza – a great police chief – daring – a tough gentleman.
  • Harry Davis – The former African American prize fighter, the successful “go between” who cooled tempers during the 1968 riots and long thereafter.
  • John B. Davis – the leader of the MPLS Public Schools – a smart, cultural gentleman with a ferocious commitment to kids.
  • Mike Monahan – the city traffic guru, who didn’t allow any problem/challenge to get in the way of cutting red tape towards progress.
  • Gibson Carothers – an uptown regular, who loved to bet on the horses.
  • Hallie Cowan – the Cedar Riverside madam who sold to me her property and “business”.
  • Movie impresarios – Ted Mann, Ben Berger and Ferris Alexander from first run to slightly porn to really porn

More from Then –

  • Bicycles did exist back then! I had the classiest in the neighborhood. My “Schwinn” cost $72.00 and had thick tires (one was always in need of air) – and only rear wheel brakes – activated by my feet. It did not have any gears, and no lock. (Why would I need one?)
  • Eating has always been popular – and necessary. But not always convenient – to buy, store, and prepare. The handy microwave did not yet exist and frozen food was just arriving. Fresh fruits and vegetables were only seasonal (I hated canned peas every winter).

Back in those days –

  • Almost everyone smoked – everywhere. The air quality is much better now.
  • When the snow came, we hauled out our hand shovels – powered by sweat and elbow grease. Snow blowers were not yet a “figment of anyone’s imagination.”
  • When the grass in our yards needed cutting, once again, hand powered grass cutters were used.
  • Air Conditioning did not exist. We opened our car windows and often moved to the cooler basements during hot spells. Sleeping outside was common and attendance at several feature movies in a row was a temporary solution.
  • When a train trip (no planes!) was taken, every passenger had to carry his or her luggage. Wheels on luggage did not exist!

I drooled at the wonderful aroma emanating from –

  • The all-beef sliders from White Castle (5 for 12 cents during specials).
  • The doughnuts popping out continuously at the 8th and Nicollet Mayflower Shop.
  • The “Challah” bread sold by Lou Abrams on Friday night at Abrams deli.
  • The “Original” pizza prepared and served by Tony Mastrey at Mama Rosa’s on Cedar Ave.
  • My favorite Butterscotch pie on Thursday at the Rainbow Cafe in Uptown

A lasting memory is airplane trips to everywhere. We could casually purchase a ticket at an airline office. Then on the day and time of the flight – not three hours earlier – we could board the plane and take our seats. No lines! – no luggage search! No hassle! Always a pleasant experience!

To compare and rate Then vs. Now will not satisfy everyone, maybe nobody. Each has their good attributes and not so good ones.

Now, can be characterized as our lives were slower and we weren’t always in a hurry. We gave service and received it everywhere when we shopped and at the gas station. We socialized when and where we could. We respected others in our dress and our actions. We felt safe. Profanity was not acceptable. Our community, our neighborhood was extremely important to our lifestyles. We probably had fewer but closer friends. We valued things more – repair not replace.

Now, we have much better and quicker sources of knowledge. Most everything we do is mechanized or requires computers to operate; in fact life can be almost robotic – almost. We are becoming a number instead of a person. We prefer not to communicate as social animals; we text! And life goes on.

If I had to choose Then vs. Now, my choice would be Then! No AR-15s to kill innocents. If we had disagreements Then, we would use our fists and once in a while enhance our fists with brass knuckles. We felt safe in our neighborhood and our home.

Finally, just as we can count on death and taxes, both Then and Now – we should add two more constants to our life – mosquitoes and potholes!

Photo Sources:

Economon, Barb. “Old Minneapolis.” Facebook, 21 Feb. 2014,

eCommerce, Hip. “1962 Nicollet Ave, Street Scene F.W. Woolworth, Kresge, Minneapolis, MN Postcard: United States – Minnesota – Other, Postcard.” HipPostcard, Accessed 18 May 2023.

“Old Minneapolis.” Facebook, Accessed 18 May 2023.

“The Rainbow Cafe.” Nokohaha, 15 June 2020,

“Photo History of Minneapolis.” Reddit, 11 March 2023, Accessed 18 May 2023.

“Photo History of MInneapolis.” Reddit, 12 Oct. 2022,

4 thoughts on “Then and Now

  1. Elizabeth Ryan

    Best wishes to you. I enjoyed reading some of your favorite memories. Thank you!
    Elizabeth Ryan

  2. Joe Nathan

    Thanks. Yes, you’ve certainly earned the right to comment. Thanks for your many accomplishments and insights.

  3. Mark J. Oyaas

    So loved the people section. I knew everybody one way or the other except Hallie Cowan, and I bet I missed a special person given the comapny she is in!

  4. Joan Shapiro

    Dear Ray this blog and others should be put in book form so all can enjoy your wonderful wisdom. You write so wonderfully the reader is transported. Please consider publishing g a book. Love. Joan

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