When I was producing movies, which I did for 55 years, every time I was able to show a profit I invested it in my own company rather than the stock market. However, I do enjoy watching the numbers go up and down.
But I have developed my own indicator of how healthy the American economy really is and it is easy to track inflation as well. It is simply the cost of a stack of pancakes in a restaurant. I will present some concrete evidence to substantiate my claim.
I have been working on my autobiography and last night I uncovered a 1930 newspaper grocery store advertisement:
Flour, 10-pound sack, 25 cents.
Oleomargarine, two pounds, 15 cents.
Butter, 28 cents a pound.
Peanut butter, two pounds, 19 cents.
Hamburger, 5 cents a pound
Bread, 6 cents a loaf
As a child this pretty well constituted the ingredients for my meals except for the occasional liver on Fridays. But let’s get to the restaurant pancakes. I first became aware of what they cost in the café at San Onofre when I started surfing there in 1940. You could get a stack of pancakes with plenty of butter and syrup for 25 cents. I settled for a short stack because two pancakes only cost 20 cents. This left me a nickel to buy a Snickers.
By 1950 pancakes were at the unbelievable price of $1 for three, but they gave me the strength to keep my right foot on the throttle and my eyes on the road until I got to my next show several hundred miles away.
It seemed that overnight a stack of pancakes doubled once again to $2 a stack and they have been spiraling upwards ever since I bought my first stack in a restaurant 70 years ago.
So I guess it should not have been surprising last weekend when my wife had gone to Seattle to the symphony and I stopped by a local restaurant for a Sunday morning stack of pancakes. I was casual about ordering and did not even look at the menu. When the bill came the stack was $13.75! Fortunately I had my credit card with me but that stack cost 55 times as much as the one I bought in the cafe at San Onofre in 1940!
I am certainly not an economist or an accountant but a 1940 bottle of Root Beer cost 5 cents, and now costs $2, which is 40 times as much. At this current rate, my grandchildren, when they are my age, will be paying $40 for a candy bar, maybe even more? It doesn’t really matter. If you want it, put your money or your credit card on the counter and buy your brief moments of enjoyment.
In the early years that I have written about, when things were a lot cheaper, those prices were burned into our brains and I almost subconsciously compare them to everything I purchase. I reluctantly come to the conclusion that prices are 40 or 50 times what they were. Then, the take-home pay of most families was between a $1,000 and $3,000 a year.
Happiness is not counting the cost of stuff; rather it is in the amount of fun and freedom we are able to earn. Time to catch a fish, fly a kite, sail a boat, do any manner of things without a score or a court. Which of course is why I play a lot of golf and I don’t keep my score and I don’t waste a lot of time looking around in the pucker brush for a used golf ball I only paid 25 cents for. Am I a cheapskate? I don’t know. I rather think that I, and millions like me, grew up with the absolute necessity of being frugal so that is what I call it.
What I have left has to last until I am ready to leave and I plan to spend the very last dollar on my very last day!
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