Cultural wasteland

The things you are glad you have forgotten about 1980



Gasoline was expensive. Home mortgage interest rates were stratospheric. “The Dukes of Hazzard” was a top-rated TV show and Burt Reynolds was the number one box office draw.

So what exactly do we miss about 1980?

A former B-grade movie actor landed the lead role at the White House. Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” was song of the year. The Chevrolet Citation, inexplicably, was Motor Trend magazine’s car of the year. Dixy Lee Ray became embroiled in her final year as Washington governor. Downtown Vancouver sported pawn shops, card rooms and the aroma of the Lucky Lager brewery.

Talk about cultural icons.

Speaking of icons, the phone company carried the moniker “Ma Bell” and Social Security solvency made for national hand wringing. An independent presidential candidate named John Anderson brought up gun control before vanishing from the national scene faster than a speeding bullet.

Clark County residents attended their first local recreational-vehicle show and shopped for a water bed called the “ St. Helens” $219 for a queen size at the new Vancouver Mall. The Columbian cost $5 a month and still carried full-page cigarette ads. Interstate 205 Bridge piers began rising from the Columbia River, but drivers wouldn’t fly across her decks for another two years.

We worried about the staggering cost of hospital care, mourned the assassination of former Beatle John Lennon and reeled when helicopter crashes turned the Iran hostage rescue mission into the “Debacle in the Desert.”

We bid U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas farewell, wondered who shot J.R. Ewing on the hit television show “Dallas,” and breathed a sigh of relief when home loan interest rates fell from 16 percent to 11 percent.

Gasoline topped $1 a gallon for the first time and climbed all the way to $1.22 — the equivalent of $3.14 in 2009 dollars.

Robert Redford went from acting to directing and immediately won an Oscar for “Ordinary People.” Fans made “The Empire Strikes Back” the top grossing film for the year, and People magazine named it one of the 100 best films of all time. Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff” won the National Book Award for hardcover nonfiction. “The Executioner’s Song” by Norman Mailer earned the Pulitzer for fiction.

A working-class Pole named Lech Walesa became an inspiring world leader. Billy Carter continued as a brotherly embarrassment for the outgoing U.S. president when the U.S. Senate started probing Billy’s trip to Libya. As if Billy Beer wasn’t embarrassing enough.

Time Inc. launched “Discover” magazine. Former vice president Spiro Agnew complained that Richard Nixon had snubbed him after both were forced to resign. Speaking of snubbed, Pacific Northwest electrical customers learned that their bills would soar because of the disastrously high cost of building five nuclear power plants.

The Washington Public Power Supply System’s grand plans ultimately became a grandiose failure that people remember by the nickname “Whoops.”

No wonder Mount St. Helens is one of the most memorable events of 1980.

Originally published: May 15, 2005