Earth Day Brings Flashbacks. Where was I on…?

It’s funny that a day like Earth Day has become institutionalized because I remember it as kind of a funky celebration borne out of the 1960s. Now it’s a litte like Arbor Day. But  I have images of the first Earth Day celebration in 1970  floating around in my head sometimes.

I was at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, attending Earth Day events there mainly because there was music. The only group I remember being there was Tommy James and the Shondells.

The other thing  I remember, other than tie-dye, was that there was a small race riot occurring outside the stadium. As I left with my friend, a guy named Marc, I was smacked in the ear by some dude as I ran the gauntlet of police and rioters. 

Marc was about 10 yards ahead of me.  He turned around and said, “Tim, what are you doing?”  I don’t think Marc had been taught the passive voice, since he should have asked,”Tim, what is being done to you?”  Anyhow, I escaped to continue celebrating other memorable events.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post.  Earth Day not only caused pictures of that day to pass in my head, but also those of other days.

November 22, 1963-John F. Kennedy is killed. I am a pupil at Oakland Elementary School in Roanoke, Virginia.  I recall being sent home from school, and there being a sense of dread coming from the television box.

August 5 to 8, 1968 -I am at home in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Richard Nixon comes on the television to announce his vice-presidential selection.  I think to myself ,”Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it is Spiro Agnew”.  Agnew was already a joke as the governor of Maryland. I almost fall out of my chair as Nixon makes the announcement. I kid you not, this story is true!

Tricky Dick and Spiro

July 20, 1969–Apollo 11’s lunar module, the Eagle,  lands on the moon.  That night Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step on to the Moon’s surface and the former makes his, “One small step…” statement.  That day I recall helping my cousin out at a Putt Putt golf course in Roanoke, where I was visiting at the time.  (We had moved to Baltimore in 1967). It was a sunny summer day.  That night we watched the astronauts step out of the Eagle at my aunt’s house.

August 8,  1974 -Richard Nixon announces in the evening that he is going to resign as President of the United States effective noon the next day.  I am walking around Washington, D.C. that day and enter the Smithsonian Museum.  An Associated Press teletype in a section of the musuem reserved for media-type artificats is spitting out reams of wire reports.  I look at one which announces Nixon’s resignation and his speech that night.  The Smithsonian let you rip those wire reports off and keep them. I didn’t do this. I have always regretted it.

March 30, 1981 –Ronald Reagan is shot outside a Washington, D.C. hotel in the afternoon.  I hear about it on the radio as my car pool crosses the 14th Street Bridge out of the city around 4 p.m. into Virginia to go home. 

I was on the 14th Street Bridge in DC when I learned Reagan had been shot

January 13, 1982 — Air Flight 90 smacks into the same 14th Street Bridge after taking off from National Airport.  The accident killed 78 people, including 4 motorists on the bridge. The plane took off about 4 pm, and it was entirely possible I could have been on the bridge at that time going home from work. However, 3 months earlier I had moved to Virginia Beach, Va.

By the time a plane crashed on the 14th St. Bridge in DC, I had moved to this neighborhood near Ocean Naval Air Station in Va. Beach

June 4, 1989 -at least 30 people are massacred in Tianamen Square in Beijing, China. I am enjoying a pleasant summer trip to Helsinki, Finland. I recall talking to my father-in-law, a Finnish newsman, about the incident as we walked along the harbor waterfront at the Ursula Cafe .

October 3, 1995 -O.J. Simpson is acquitted of murdering his wife. (The glove didn’t fit).  The word comes down that there is going to be a verdict, so I arrange to be in my office at Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina to listen to the radio. The live verdict is aired a little after 1 pm.

November 7-8, 2000 –George W. Bush squeaks out a win in Florida by a few hundred votes and wins the presidency, sort of.  At least that’s what I thought when I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning. I awoke the next day at my home in Spartanburg, South Carolina to find that the election was a mess.

September 11, 2001 -planes fly into the World Trade Center in New York. I am finishing my first ever class at a university in Helsinki, Finland at 5:30 pm.  We are in a computer lab, and one of my students is surfing the Internet.  He tells me that some plane has flown into the World Trade Center. I had no idea what that building was, and figured that anyway, it must have been an accident. I go down to my office, check the news on my computer, and the world has turned upside down.

I was in a classroom in this university outside of Helsinki (behind the concave-looking bldg) when the planes hit the World Trade Center

November 2, 2004 – another Election Day.  George W. Bush wins a second term.  Being the news and political junkie I was at the time, I tune into talk radio in the afternoon in my car. I am in a parking lot of Biola University in the Los Angeles area where I am a student at the time.  The announcer is talking about how the exit polls show John Kerry with a lead, but he said not to believe it. He was right.

This isn't me head over heels on Biola's campus when Kerry lost, but it could have been

August 29, 2005 — Hurricane Katrina strikes Louisiana, wreaking total destruction on New Orleans.  I am on my way across the USA and land in JFK airport in New York on my way to Saudi Arabia to take on a new job.  It is in JFK that I learn about the devastation. (One aside: I also spot a person that looks like a celebrity at a Starbucks there. A thuggish looking bodyguard confirms to me that it is in fact the actor Debra Messing, and he is none to happy to be talking to me).

I spotted this actress at JFK during the middle of Hurricane Katrina

November 4, 2008 -Barack Obama becomes the first African-American elected President of the United States.  It was a momentous event in our history, regardless of your political stance. Still, I was a little taken aback when, in my child’s class in Lappenranta, Finland the American teacher came in the next day and passed out candy to everyone. (I had held my nose and voted for the other guy.)

I was sleeping next to this window in Finland when Obama was elected in 2008

This trip down memory lane has reinforced one thing to me:  I sure have moved a lot in my life!


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