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Old 03-21-2016, 07:39 AM   #1
Icelander
 
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Default 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae]

My latest game is set in northwest Aroostook County, Maine at the end of December 1988. GoogleDrive folder.

Premise and PCs.

1988 wasn't that long ago, but the more one examines the differences, the more foreign the past seems. Cell phones existed, but were huge and impractical, not to mention fairly useless outside urban areas. Personal computers were on the market, but the Internet didn't exist.

I'm told the young were not as bitterly divided on the Wham-Duran Duran Question as I'd been led to believe; shoulder pads, miniskirts, leg warmers and fingerless gloves were in; and President George Bush was about to take office as the liberal successor of Reagan, supporting federal legislation banning discrimination, having no opinion on abortion, being comfortable with same sex marriage and banning the importation of 'assault weapons' by Executive Order during his first months in office, only three months after my game is set. Not to mention that only three years before, THIS happened and we all let it happen!

I would like to keep things period accurate, not to mention featuring some characterisation and atmosphere in the form of actual brand names, real technological and social factors, etc. Unfortunately, I was five in 1988 and I certainly did not spend my time in northern Maine at this time. I have visited the US in the 80s, but some of my trips were made in utero and the rest were to New York, Boston and Florida, which are not northern Maine. Also, neither at this time nor during the early 90s was I allowed to play with cars, guns, beer, bourbon, tactical communication gear or even multitools, to name a few things relevant to adventurers.

Accordingly, I thought I'd request assistance from forumites. Ideally, if not otherwise noted, I'd like answers focused on things that would be common/available/popular in northern Maine, but I'd rather get answers about broader areas, i.e. Maine/New England/East Coast/US/North America in general, than receive no answers.

I'm after all sorts of details, even if they have no game mechanical application. Even if a military-issue Colt M16 made in 1967 and a sporting weapon from Bushmaster made in 1988 may have the same game stats apart from ROF, it can make a major difference to characterisation or even clues in the game, where and when a gun was made.

Cars

1) What would be a 1986-1988 equivalent of a luxury Hummer civilian vehicle, i.e. something a spoiled college boy from a rich family owns in order to drive off-road and over bad roads without sacrificing comfort, performance on better roads and the ability to tell chicks how rich he is without having to state it outright?

2) What is a high-quality luxury SUV made before 1989 that a mature wealthy man who lives and works where he must occasionally go off-road might own? Assume that the man enjoys nice things, powerful engines, reliable performance and comfortable interiors, but is not insecure enough to need to flash his wealth in quite the vulgar fashion his son does. American-made by preference, but will import if a foreign-made vehicle is clearly better for the purpose.
Edit: Background.

3) What are some popular four-wheel drive vehicles within a comfortable middle-class budget in the period?

4) What are the best economy vehicles made in the 1970s and 1980s to use in the northwest part of Aroostook County, Maine, assuming that the ability to drive in snow and over bad roads is sometimes required?

Guns

5) What were good options for sights or mounted optics on deer rifles for hunting in the North Woods of Maine? Presumably the same as hunting whitetail deer pretty much anywhere in the eastern US, but what were the most common, best buys, etc.?
--5a) What were good top-of-the-line scopes for deer hunting in the late 80s?
--5b) Were night-vision scopes sold commercially in any numbers before the arrival of vast quantities of surplus Soviet gear in the 1990s?

6) What are some 1980s hunting rifle brands and models that mark the owner as having good taste, some degree of knowledge and enough means to indulge when it comes to hobbies?
--6a) If an upper-middle-class hunter from Massachusetts, with a cabin in northern Maine, were buying several fancy new guns for hogs, deer, elk and bear at the end of 1988, what would he be likely to be buying?
--6b) What kind of hunting gun bought in 1986-1988 would mark a man who had more money than sense?

7) When did American police departments, specifically the FBI, but data on others would also be nice, begin to pack slugs along with buckshot as standard if they had shotguns in their cars?
[I know that slugs have been used for special purposes by the FBI almost from the first days of the Bureau, that FBI training videos from 1972 teach their use and in 1992, a police spokesman speaking about shotgun slugs referred to them as 'commonly used by the FBI'. I also known that modern FBI shotguns are often packed along with both slugs and buckshot shells. But I don't know when this started and in the 1986 Miami Shootout, no FBI agent involved used slugs.]

8) What models were Bushmaster Firearms making in Bangor, Maine (1973-1976) and Windham, Maine (1976-1988)?
--8a) When did they stop manufacturing the Bushmaster 'First Generation' rifles?
--8b) When did they start copying AR-15 designs? Was it before 1990?
--8c) What would be the most 'Tacti-Cool' Bushmaster model available in 1988?

Gadgets

9) What are nice complicated 80s gadgets for a young female FBI agent from California to own in order to characterise her as 'modern', 'rich' and lacking in real-world experience?
--9a) I'd like some sort of bizarre 80s multitool, preferably with electric components and far too big for the intended purpose, but including a lot of nifty things that a geek might enjoy having on them at all times. It can be something for a purse, not a pocket, if necessary.
--9b) Would there be any consumer electronics that might be given to a young woman leaving home to become an FBI agent (or received as gifts after leaving, as her parents continue to treat her warmly, indulge her and wait for her 'rebellious phase' to blow over)?
[She's from a very rich family, her father is the founder/CEO of a fast-growing defence contractor who makes guidance chips for missiles and she had every adventage growing up. She is a total wunderkind, baby ballerina, music recitals, gymnastics and straight As in everything, but no time for friends or normal socialisation, only organised extra-curricular activities. Computer Science degree from Stanford. Is now suffering from late-onset teen rebellion which is expressed on one hand through seeking a 'lowly' government job and on the other, through her trying to develop a 'hip', 'street' demeanour, mostly from MTV.]

10) What communication equipment would FBI agents have access to in their daily jobs?
--10a) What model radios are in their cars and how do they work?
--10b) Do they have some form of mobile phones in the cars and if so, how do these work?
--10c) How far outside a large city can they go and still have pagers function? Can they use their pagers in the St. John's Valley of Aroostook County, Maine, if they are 2-3 hours from the large towns in that county and the nearest town has around 4,000 people (30 miles away)?

11) How are records of things like criminal convictions, arrests and gun ownership likely to be stored in Maine at the end of 1988? Paper? Microfiche? Early computers?
--11a) How long does it take for someone at the Maine State Police to look up what guns are registered to a certain individual in the state? What about criminal records?
--11b) What is the chance that records from the late 1950s and early 1960s would still be in paper form? Assuming that those chances are good, what are the odds that those records are mostly haphazardly arranged in a way that made sense to the Sheriff and/or Lieutenant of State Police at that time and extremely difficult to sort through for anyone else?

Consumer Goods

12) What is the most popular soft drink in northern Maine at this time?
--12a) Are the PCs more likely to find Coke or Pepsi for sale in diners and gas stations?
--12b) Is there some local soft drink which is really common in Maine, but not elsewhere?

13) Are there any types of candy, delicacies, soft drink, bubblegum, cigarettes or other consumer goods that are characteric of 1980s America, New England or Maine?

14) What are characteristic Canadian (New Brunswick or Quebec) consumer goods that might be imported?

15) What are the popular local beers?
--15a) Are there noteworthy brands which make a statement about a character who drinks it?

16) What strong liquour do locals drink?
--16a) What is the bourbon of choice?
--16b) What do middle-class and over 'cultured' men drink?

17) What goods are highly taxed on the Canada-side of the border, but lightly taxed in Maine (or within driving distance in New England)?

18) What goods, if any, are subject to strict regulation or high taxes in Maine or the US, but are easily available and cheap in Canada?

See this post for questions 19-20, about outdoors/hunting clothes and accessories.
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Last edited by Icelander; 12-13-2016 at 07:34 AM.
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Old 03-21-2016, 09:20 AM   #2
Anaraxes
 
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Default Re: 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae

SUVs hadn't really quite become a marketing category in the 80s. You still had station wagons and trucks with 4-wheel drive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
1) What would be a 1986-1988 equivalent of a luxury Hummer civilian vehicle, i.e. something a very spoiled college boy from a rich family owns in order to drive off-road
Range Rover

Quote:
2) What is a high-quality luxury SUV made before 1989 that a mature wealthy man who lives and works where he must occasionally go off-road might own? American-made by preference
Jeep Grand Cherokee

Quote:
3) What are some popular four-wheel drive vehicles within a comfortable middle-class budget in the period?
Chevy Suburban, Ford Bronco (go OJ!)

Quote:
9) What are nice complicated 80s gadgets for a young female FBI agent from California to own in order to characterise her as 'modern', 'rich' and lacking in real-world experience?
An Apple Lisa. A synthesizer (Yamaha, Roland, Korg). A cellphone, e.g. Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (likely especially useless in rural Maine). Sony Watchman (Walkman is too plebian; everybody has those.)


Quote:
12) Are the PCs more likely to find Coke or Pepsi for sale in diners and gas stations?
Pepsi. Coke's always been strongest across the south. Also of note, the 1980s saw the introduction of the "Pepsi Challenge" ad campaign.

And 1985 was the disastrous introduction of "New Coke". (A few months later, they were selling "Coke Classic" to stave off the mobs, but the new formula remained "Coca-Cola" until 1992.) Characters that like soda might well have strong opinions on the matter.

Quote:
13) Are there any types of candy, delicacies, soft drink, bubblegum, cigarettes or other consumer goods that are characteric of 1980s America,
Most of the ones that come to my mind aren't very "adult". Skittles were new in the 1980s. They also had ads in a style that I referred to as "New Wave", which had a characteristic look with a lot of solid areas and costumes in bright primary colors. (Not so unusual in an ad for brightly-colored candy, but that that style was used in a lot of products at the time. To me, it's characteristic of the era. See also the Swatch watches.)

Quote:
15) What are the popular local beers?
The craft beer / microbrew trend hadn't taken off in the 1980s. That was more mid-90s. Something from a small brewery would be even more a mark of a hipster than it is today.

Last edited by Anaraxes; 03-21-2016 at 10:12 AM.
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Old 03-21-2016, 10:19 AM   #3
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Default Re: 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae

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Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
SUVs hadn't really quite become a marketing category in the 80s. You still had station wagons and trucks with 4-wheel drive.
Well, a logging company owner in northwest Aroostook County is likely to visit his logging sites from time to time. And that's the kind of thing that even today is noted as requiring special vehicles.

Eventually they make tracks solid enough for the big trucks that carry the lumber to market, but Clayborn Allen (the father) is a very hand-on type of manager and Courtney Allen (the son) has at least a nominal job during college vacations as an inspector for potential new logging sites, so both of them need to be able to get around where there aren't any roads at all.

Not to mention the 100+ inches of snow per year and periodic spring floods that ensure that any good roads don't remain good for long.

1)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Range Rover
I thought Range Rover had only just started their attempts to become 'upmarket' in the late 80s and their cars were still pretty rough-looking?

Hmmm..., I guess the 1988 Range Rover is a lot better than the 1980s Range Rovers I remember seeing here, which were boxy and ugly. The 1988 Vogue SE might be acceptable.

Anything made before 1984 is far too utilitarian for the son, might do for the father, though.

2)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Debuts in 1993, unless Wikipedia is wrong.

The Jeep Grand Wagoneer was apparently the gold standard of the SUV market in the 80s.

It apparently had larger and more powerful engines than the Range Rover, so might be more suited to Courtney than his father. On the other hand, I have no idea whether the Rover V8 engine in 3,528 cc (3.5L; 215.3 cubic inches) has other advantages over the AMC V8 engine, whether in standard two-barrel, 360 cubic inches (5.9 L) or the optional four-barrel, 401 cubic inches (6.6 L) configuration, to make the Range Rover a 'cooler' car for young men.

3)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Chevy Suburban, Ford Bronco (go OJ!)
Good choices. I especially like the Chevrolet Suburban in black as a 'fleet' car for the managment of North Woods Logging.

9)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
An Apple Lisa.
Brilliant. She got an Apple Lisa 2/10 while at Stanford.

Is there anything fancier in the line of ultra-compact (for the time) personal computers that came out in 1988, which would be her last birthday gift? Let's say that the parents spent up to $50,000 in GURPS money, which is what, $20,000-$25,000 in 1988 money?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
A synthesizer (Yamaha, Roland, Korg). A cellphone, e.g. Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (likely especially useless in rural Maine). Sony Watchman (Walkman is too plebian; everybody has those.)
Nice! She'll own all of them, but the synthesizer will probably not be among the effects she packs for a short working trip.

12)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Pepsi. Coke's always been strongest across the south. Also of note, the 1980s saw the introduction of the "Pepsi Challenge" ad campaign.
Right, thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
And 1985 was the disastrous introduction of "New Coke". (A few months later, they were selling "Coke Classic" to stave off the mobs, but the new formula remained "Coca-Cola" until 1992.) Characters that like soda might well have strong opinions on the matter.
Oh, yeah! Good catch. None of the PCs have been established as 'soda people' yet, but I'm sure Special Agent Frank Corelli has some strong opinions on the audacity of changing something as classically American as the formula for Coca-Cola.

13)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Most of the ones that come to my mind aren't very "adult". Skittles were new in the 1980s. They also had ads in a style that I referred to as "New Wave", which had a characteristic look with a lot of solid areas and costumers of bright primary colors. (Not so unusual in an ad for brightly-colored candy, but that that style was used in a lot of products at the time. To me, it's characteristic of the era. See also the Swatch watches.)
I'm pretty confident that Special Agent Maria Lucia Estevez will prove a Skittles fan.

15)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
The craft beer / microbrew trend hadn't taken off in the 1980s. That was more mid-90s. Something from a small brewery would be even more a mark of a hipster than it is today.
Ok, but what beer is everyone drinking in northern Maine, by the border with New Brunswick, Canada and Quebec, Canada?

Do they sell Narragansett this far north? Does it outsell Miller and Budweiser?

Drinking Samuel Adams Boston Lager in rural Saint John's Valley in 1988 is assuredly a mark of decadent urbanism, but is it a decadence that requires periodic trips to Massachusetts to stock up, or can you get a supplier closer to home, if you accept occasionally driving into Caribou, Presque Isle, Houlton, Bangor or Portland?

What other beers can you buy in the bigger towns? What are popular imported beers in New England in the 1980s?

As major adventure NPC Courtney Allen is at Harvard Business School with Rich Doyle (of Harpoon Brewery), we can safely assume that he's familiar with their first offerings, which I'm guessing are the Harpoon IPA and maybe a few more experimental brews.

What are the export beers from Quebec or New Brunswick?
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Old 03-21-2016, 03:21 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
Is there anything fancier in the line of ultra-compact (for the time) personal computers that came out in 1988, which would be her last birthday gift?
At my first job, we had a product that ran on computers from a company called GRiD Systems. The Compass was an IBM PC (4.77 MHz 8086, 640KB memory) true laptop form factor, with a flip-up monochrome LCD display over a keyboard, 3.5" floppy, and a modem. 5 kg. (The back half wasn't hinged; it was a bit narrower but deeper than the modern laptop shape.)

It was also mil-spec, so ridiculously ruggedized, operates under three feet of water, titanium case under the plastic, etc. And as you might expect, really expensive. (Though I'll have to take Wikipedia's word on the price; we didn't buy them for our own use, using regular '286 desktops instead.) But much more portable than the "luggables" like the Osborne or Compaq Portable. Plus they were tacticool enough to be used in "Aliens".

Toshiba also had something like a modern laptop before 1988 (the T1000 and T1100 models). There was an IBM PC Convertible as well.
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Old 03-21-2016, 03:38 PM   #5
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Default Re: 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae

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Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
At my first job, we had a product that ran on computers from a company called GRiD Systems.
Yup, the GRiD looked very cool. It inspired a spec a group of students I was in made up for a really survivable portable computer, which would survive anything that the person holding it would, except being struck by lightning while open. We didn't try to build one: it was obviously too expensive.
Quote:
Toshiba also had something like a modern laptop before 1988 (the T1000 and T1100 models). There was an IBM PC Convertible as well.
Those were really quite useful. The boss in a job I had 1987-88 had one, without a hard disk. He worked off the MS-DOS in ROM, plus a structured word processor called PC-Outline which was ridiculously fast and would fit the program plus a decent quantity of documents on a 720KB floppy.
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Old 03-21-2016, 11:00 PM   #6
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9)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
At my first job, we had a product that ran on computers from a company called GRiD Systems. The Compass was an IBM PC (4.77 MHz 8086, 640KB memory) true laptop form factor, with a flip-up monochrome LCD display over a keyboard, 3.5" floppy, and a modem. 5 kg. (The back half wasn't hinged; it was a bit narrower but deeper than the modern laptop shape.)

It was also mil-spec, so ridiculously ruggedized, operates under three feet of water, titanium case under the plastic, etc. And as you might expect, really expensive. (Though I'll have to take Wikipedia's word on the price; we didn't buy them for our own use, using regular '286 desktops instead.) But much more portable than the "luggables" like the Osborne or Compaq Portable. Plus they were tacticool enough to be used in "Aliens".
Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Yup, the GRiD looked very cool. It inspired a spec a group of students I was in made up for a really survivable portable computer, which would survive anything that the person holding it would, except being struck by lightning while open. We didn't try to build one: it was obviously too expensive.
That sounds awesome.

Uh, now I sound like an idiot, but what is it good for? I basically have no idea what computers did, beyond word processing, before they had Internet. For programmers, scientists or database administrators, I can make a fair guess, but what can more active, adventuring-type people, like FBI agents, use theirs for?

What could an FBI agent use one of those for while on assignment?

Also, what game stats are we looking at here?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaraxes View Post
Toshiba also had something like a modern laptop before 1988 (the T1000 and T1100 models). There was an IBM PC Convertible as well.
Quote:
Originally Posted by johndallman View Post
Those were really quite useful. The boss in a job I had 1987-88 had one, without a hard disk. He worked off the MS-DOS in ROM, plus a structured word processor called PC-Outline which was ridiculously fast and would fit the program plus a decent quantity of documents on a 720KB floppy.
If price (assuming that it's below GURPS $50,000) is really not a factor, which one of these would a recent graduate of Computer Science from Stanford rather own in 1988, the GRiD, an IBM PC Convertible or a Toshiba T1100?

She worked summers as an intern with the FBI, working on something computery, and did her thesis on the use of computers in law enforcement. She's supposed to have a good grasp of whatever the FBI are using computers for in the 80s, about which, I admit, I have no idea.

What can you use computers for in law enforcement in 1988? What was the FBI doing with them?
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Old 03-21-2016, 03:26 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Icelander View Post
...
What are the export beers from Quebec or New Brunswick?
Labatt's Blue and Molson Export are the likely exports from both provinces. If they're from Quebec, the labels will be French first and English second if at all; if they're from NB, both languages will have equal prominence.

EDIT: Image of a Labatt's Blue bottle from 1988. (Probably an Ontario bottle, considering the predominance of English on the label.) All Canadian beer was sold in bottles this shape and size at the time; we called them "stubbies". The usual quantity of purchase is 24 - everyone in Canada knew what "a two-four of Blue" was.
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Old 03-21-2016, 09:22 AM   #8
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Default Re: 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae

the distinction between 'on' and 'off' road vehicles was not as pronounced in this time period, it was not uncommon to see full size sedans and station wagons pulling horse trailers and running around out in fields.

1 and 2 - Range Rovers and Suburbans come to mind. I can't think of any real specifically awesome choices for 1 or 2 though. My dads employer at that time period had a fleet of very nicely appointed Suburbans used for everything from VIP loaner cars to hauling workers to bouncing around off road at job sites. Whenever my dad got issued one it was really fun to use the car phone that was provided

3. The Isuzu Trooper was very affordable and came in a 4x4 option. My parents bought a brand new one I believe in 88

4. Your most popular economy go anywhere option is a RWD regular cab pickup, with sand or salt bags in the bed over the rear axle for improved traction. Small front wheel drive cars like Honda Civics are also popular and some people think FWD is good for snow/ice.
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Old 03-21-2016, 11:17 AM   #9
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the distinction between 'on' and 'off' road vehicles was not as pronounced in this time period, it was not uncommon to see full size sedans and station wagons pulling horse trailers and running around out in fields.
Right. One PC, Special Agent Rene Ledoux, is driving a standard FBI fleet car, which I'm assuming in his case is a 1985 Ford LTD Crown Victoria. It will not be useful in the current conditions, as it has been snowing heavily for the past 24 hours in game time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kalzazz View Post
1 and 2 - Range Rovers and Suburbans come to mind. I can't think of any real specifically awesome choices for 1 or 2 though. My dads employer at that time period had a fleet of very nicely appointed Suburbans used for everything from VIP loaner cars to hauling workers to bouncing around off road at job sites. Whenever my dad got issued one it was really fun to use the car phone that was provided
Right, cool.

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Originally Posted by Kalzazz View Post
3. The Isuzu Trooper was very affordable and came in a 4x4 option. My parents bought a brand new one I believe in 88
Do potato farmers, hunting/hiking/tourist guides or loggers in northern Maine buy imported cars in the 1980s?

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4. Your most popular economy go anywhere option is a RWD regular cab pickup, with sand or salt bags in the bed over the rear axle for improved traction. Small front wheel drive cars like Honda Civics are also popular and some people think FWD is good for snow/ice.
I found a travelogue by a New Yorker in Aroostook County that made a point of mentioning how everyone drives pick-up trucks and teens wear caps with trucking logos instead of sporting teams.

Unfortunately, it was from the 2010s, so the brands didn't match, but his grandfather had a Chevy dealership up there and it was apparently really popular.
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Old 03-21-2016, 09:26 AM   #10
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Default Re: 1980s American Cars, Guns, Gadgets and Consumer Goods [Atmosphere, look, minutiae

Cars:
1) The kid probably has a Jeep Grand Cherokee or possibly a Land Rover.
2) Dad likely has a Chevy Blazer

Gadgets
9) Cellular phone, nominally portable computer.
9b) Pager, possibly a taser if they're worried about her safety.
11a) I don't think Maine ever had gun registrations. Certainly by 1985 they're on a shall-issue concealed carry license basis, where a CCL must be issued unless that government can demonstrate that the licensee can't legally own a firearm.
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