Sixty-one years ago today I was born at the old Hotel Dieu hospital in downtown New Orleans. I was the first of four children born to Carolyn and Buddy Boudreaux, who were at the time of my birth 20 and 23 years old, respectively. Virtually children, as it now appears to me.
My parents, although never materially wealthy by American standards, were – like so many unheralded men and women – damn good people who, as far as I recall, never once gave any sign of envying those with more material wealth.
I had the good fortune of knowing – and knowing them long enough to remember each of them well and with love – all four of my grandparents.
My mom, five months shy of her 70th birthday, died in 2008; my father followed her one year later, six weeks shy of his 74th.
Two days after I was born, a Texas Instruments engineer (Jack Kilby) invented the microchip . This invention – and an unlistably large number of other innovations since then – have improved the lives of ordinary people immeasurably.
How lucky I am!! How incredibly, stupendously lucky I am – at least not to have been born earlier or in any of many elsewheres. At the time of my birth, my oldest grandparent – my father’s father – was 58 years old. Living most of his life in New Orleans, Adrian Boudreaux, Sr., never set foot outside of the deep south. He barely went to school, although he did somehow learn to read.
None of my grandparents ever set foot outside of the continental United States.
Yet I have traveled, and continue to travel, widely. And –
– I have never known a world without air-conditioning in buildings (an especially happy reality, given that I spent the first 22 years of my life in or near New Orleans).
– I corrected my once pathetically poor vision with the modern miracle of soft contact lenses and, as of last year, had the even more astonishing miracle of artificial lenses replace my cataract-scarred natural lenses, thus now giving me 20/20 vision.
– All the marvelous electronics and appliances of my childhood would be regarded by my own 22-year-old son, Thomas, as primitive monstrosities – as indeed they are compared with the cornucopia of almost-miraculous devices that today are standard fare in most American households and in most American pockets and backpacks.
– Forty or so years ago, when I first started to read serious books, books were affordable, but expensive by today’s standards. I’ve lived to download books on to e-readers, to order hardcover and paperback books – new and used! – on this stupendous thing we call “the Internet,” and to have these books delivered to my doorstep, sometimes within 24 hours of my ordering them. (I remember back in the late 1970s ordering books by mail from the paper catalog of Laissez Faire Books in New York City. I was pleased to receive any of my orders as quickly as three weeks after placing them.)
– I haven’t paid a long-distance telephone charge in years. Who in 1958 – or, for that matter, in 1988 – would have guessed that domestic long-distance would one day not be a thing? Who back then could have imagined that a middle-class person standing in the sand of a Cape Cod beach can call, even “Facetime”!, another middle-class person standing in the sand of a southern California beach and talk for hours without paying a cent more than they would pay had the phone call or Facetime call never been placed.
– I learned to drive in 1973 in a 1969 Chevy pick-up truck that had no power steering, no power brakes, no air-conditioning, and for entertainment only an AM radio. This vehicle did have seat belts, but no shoulder belts, no airbags, and no collapsible steering column. It had manual crank windows and a standard transmission. I cannot recall when I last rode in an automobile so primitive, uncomfortable, dreary, and dangerous.
– In my life I’ve seen the proliferation of personal computing and of cellular telephony; I’ve seen dramatic decreases in the costs of food, clothing, and transportation. Foods that I’d never heard of when I was 21 are now standard fare in my diet. The quality of coffee today is far higher than it was even as recently as the mid-1980s, and the quality and varieties of beer even more so.
– Supermarkets were super (by the standards of the day) when I was born; since then they’ve become much superer.
– Music! Oh my. Among my first memories is of the Beatles first coming to America. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah! But to compare the sound quality and accessibility of music today to that of 1964 or even 1984 – or, hell, to that of 2004! – is almost comical. Listening to music today is so, so much easier and better.
– Television and movies. Ha! If my son or any of his contemporaries suffered the curse of being cast back to more than just a few short years ago, they’d die of boredom, not having access to the approximately 76 trillion sources of entertainment and information that they today have – many free of charge – at their fingertips.
The bottom line is this: despite my life not being terribly out of the ordinary from that of most Americans in 2019, my life has been, and continues to be, among the finest that any human being has ever lived. I live – and because you’re reading this post, you too almost certainly live – a life bursting with fabulous riches and comforts, and nearly stripped of many of the dangers, fears, and sorrows that were common to almost all of our ancestors.
I hope that I live for at least another quarter century – and, because I live when and where I do, that hope will likely be realized. But even if I’m struck dead tonight, I will have nothing to complain about. Already I am fortunate beyond my ability to express.
Thank you, modernity. Thank you, market-tested innovation. Thank you, private property and the rule of law. You all, for 61 fabulous years, have blessed me beyond what would have been my, or anyone else’s, most far-fetched dreams of 61 years ago.