Canadian humorist Stuart McLean died yesterday at 68, after a career of storytelling. His show, the Vinyl Cafe, was an acquired taste, described in the CBC obit as “part nostalgia, part pithy observations about everyday life — and folksy, familiar delivery made him a hit with audiences for more than 20 years.” The closest American equivalent might be Garrison Keillor. But before he had his own show he worked on radio great Peter Gzowki’s morning show, doing very funny bits.
I listened to one from February 17, 1986 known now as the “Sleeping” Cricket, where McLean’s assignment was to see how much stuff he could buy for one dollar. He bought the cricket for a dime, and it became famous as Gzowki and McLean started laughing so hard that they had to pause the show; McLean thought he might get fired.
But before the cricket, there is a bit where he describes buying 25 gallons of water; this is long before bottled water was as much of a thing as it is now, but the words are prescient about how we treat our water. Remember, this is 1986. It’s at 5:14 on the audio here if you want to listen instead.
The City of Toronto will sell you a thousand gallons of water for two dollars. Now think about it, they will install a delivery system right to your house, they’ll get the water to you, cleaned and purified, whenever you want it, delivered to you twenty-four hours a day, no reservations, no advance warning, you can do what you want with it, no questions asked. And when you are finished with it, no matter what you have done to it, they take it back.I bought twenty-five gallons of clean, purified water, it cost me a nickel. And for those who cannot visualize it, twenty-five gallons is enough to fill up a phone booth. Lie the phone booth down, fill it up with water, you can buy that much water from the City of Toronto for five cents.
Now Gzowski responds by saying “I don’t think 25 gallons would fill a phone booth.” And since we no longer have phone booths, we will just leave it there.
Today, not much about water has changed; the average cost of tap water in the states in 2013 was the same as Toronto in 1986, two bucks for a thousand gallons. The cost of a gallon of domestic bottled water averages 1.21 per gallon, or 1600 times as much. I bet Stuart McLean and Peter Gzowski could have had some fun with the stupidity of that.
Stuart McLean, dead at 68.