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— When I started writing this Now and Then column two years ago, I was thinking of the title not as signifying an occasional piece of writing, but as comparing things "now" to how things were "back then." Since I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, those years tend to be my points of reference.

I don't intend to idealize those years, or any other period in the past. I have welcomed many changes through the years. I also don't want to come across as being against change. I look at life as full of change and growth, as we pursue a better life as a people.

At the same time, changes may have downsides as well as upsides. Sometimes changes bring us gains and losses at the same time, and we are led to ask how to remedy the downsides and draw more good into the way things go.

The other day I was in the bank dealing withsetting up a PIN number and activating my debit card. I have been a check writer since the 1950s, and I am not thoroughly convinced that debit cards and credit cards are better than checks. For example, I find it easier to keep up with my running bank balance with checks than with debit cards or automatic bank bill payments. Of course there are conveniences with plastic payments, if I can remember to jot down the record when the payments are made. Then there are ATMs! One of the fine achievements and conveniences of the electronic age! They are so great! And I hate them so!

Back in 1958, when Ineeded cash from my checking account, I would stop in at the Bank of Pea Ridge, downtown, step to the teller's window, and Eufala Abbot would greet me by saying, "How are you, Jerry?" My ATM never says that to me. It just seems better to me to go in the bank to talk to a real, live teller. I don't even like talking to a teller over the intercom, as great as that is. I like to go inside the lobby, where people say "Hello" to each other, and "How are y'all doin' today?" Then I can make a dumb joke about needing some longer-lasting cash, not that flimsy money that evaporates in a day or two.

The teller may not appreciate my dumb joke, but it is still better than talking to an ATM.

I remember as I grew up that we commonly stopped in at Floyd Hall's filling station for gasoline and oil. Floyd knew just abouteverybody, and buying gas started out with a "How're you, Russell?" or a "How's it going, young man?" Then he'd ask us how much gas we needed. It might be a dollar's worth, or $4 worth Or you might tell him "fill'er up!" Back then "fillin'-er up" could cost you as much as $5 for 16 gallons Floyd would pump the gas for you, clean your windshield, wipe your mirrors, check your engine oil and maybe check your wiper blades and your tire pressure.

You also got service like that when you stopped in at Jack and Joe Lasater's Garage and Station. Back the mid-1950s, Jack and Joe moved their business about a mile south of town to the Arkansas Highways 94 and 72 intersection. Some of us wondered why they were moving so far out of town!

They must have known something, or at least they were able to start something! Today that intersection has become the center of Pea Ridge.

These days, when we go shopping in the stores, it usually means running a cart up and down the isles, scanning shelves, selecting stuff, checking sizes and brands; then we cart our stuff to the checkout stand. If we can't find something, we may or may not be able to find a store employee to help. Most of the checkout counters still have human "checkers," but I notice that some stores are putting in these "self-checking" stations where you scan your items yourself, swipe your debit card, bag your own stuff and off you go without so much as speaking to a single soul.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'll probably avoid those self-checker stations; not because I can't handle the technology, but because I still like speaking to thoseliving souls, human beings behind the counters.

I liked it when you entered a store, and the storekeeper or sales clerk stepped up and asked, "May I help you?" Then they would go get things for you and bring them to you. Those were the days!

Did I mention telephones? What a great invention! You could talk to someone without traveling all the way to where they were. So, now we call a business, and a recorded voice says, "Please press one for administration, press two for customer service, press three for accounting," and on and on.

I liked it better when you reached a live human operator who could say a few words that you understood and then connect you to your party.

Contact Jerry Nichols by e-mail at joe369@centurytel.net, or call 621-1621.

Community, Pages 5 on 09/30/2009

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