Tuesday, May 05, 2009


The cable network TV Land first went on the air in spring of '96. My cable system initially only aired it in hour blocks once or twice a week, alternating with samples of other start-ups of the time like The Cartoon Network. I watched it for the reruns of Hill Street Blues, which turned out to be far less interesting than it seemed in its initial run, but mostly I watched for the commercials.

In its fledgling period, TV Land went on the air without sponsors. Instead, the commercial breaks during the shows were filled with what they called Retromercials, old advertisements from the sixties and (mostly) seventies. In those pre-YouTube days, these things were not so easily available, and one of the frequently-played ads hit me where I lived.

It's not that I had great memories of Ramblin' Root Beer; I never tried the stuff. In fact, I'm not even sure I remembered this ad specifically. But something about it--the faux-folksy jingle, the seventies signifiers like Annie and roller disco, the non-ironic cheerfulness of the whole thing--conjured a very specific time and place, memories of a time when TV viewing was happily shared by the entire family, cocooned happily in our little place in the world, with me in junior high, convinced somehow that this perfect time would last forever.

I was thirty when TV Land debuted, when I taped an episode of Hill Street Blues specifically to catch the Ramblin' Root Beer ad, to watch it over and over, desperately trying to remember the innocence it seemed to represent. It seemed like a transmission from another, better life.

What did I know? 1996 itself seems like a million years ago. I wasn't married then, much less divorced, and both of my parents were alive. Chronologically, it was only thirteen years ago, but it seems like a whole other life, one I can remember in bits and pieces, but never as a whole.

And I'm not nostalgic for it, not really, or even for those halcyon days of early adolescence, or any other time. Oh, I still look back at those times fondly, but the past no longer has a grip on me, it doesn't--can't--mean what it once did. If I let memories embrace and define me, I could never function in the here and now. It's so much easier now--I watch this commercial and let it go, as I do with so much of my past, a brief reverie, then gone forever, a moment out of time.