Sunday, February 02, 2003

Kevin Drum asks of a number of seminal events in recent history: Where were you when they happened?

In order:

:: Nixon's resignation. I was one month shy of my fourth birthday; the earliest I recall even knowing there was a person called "The President" was in 1976, when our teacher told us about the election that year. Thus, I was pretty much totally unaware of Nixon. (A funny story in my family is that my sister, who was in second grade in 1972, managed to get her classmates so riled up by badmouthing Nixon -- my parents supported McGovern, and to this day are proud to have done so -- that the teacher had to call off the class's mock election.)

:: President Reagan's shooting. I was in a fourth-grade classroom when my teacher walked in and told us what had happened. I don't recall the time of day, but the event was still so fresh that she informed us that "the President's press secretary" had been killed. (James Brady was seriously wounded, but not killed as was originally reported.)

:: Challenger. I must be the only person I know who didn't see any footage of this event in school. One of my classmates told me about it in the hall between classes. (He was laughing, which is perfectly in character because he was, well, an ass.) I didn't see the coverage until I got home around 4:00.

:: The OJ Simpson verdict. I was in a training class with the company I worked for at the time, in a conference room in another town. Someone slipped down the hall into another office during a coffee break to find out what the verdict was. (I've often wondered if that court reporter, the one who read the verdict, is ever annoyed that her "big moment in history" has been recorded with her stumbling on the pronunciation of "Orenthal".)

:: 9-11-01. I was in my car, driving to work, listening to NPR's Morning Edition. The event was still so fresh that Bob Edwards had not even broken into the show's regular features for the day at that time, although he had done so by the time I got to work. I remember someone speculating that LaGuardia's radar-guidance systems had gone horribly awry, and I remember my thoughts turning to the premiere episode of The Lone Gunmen, the spin-off television series from The X-Files. In that episode a government plot to smash a jetliner into the World Trade Center is averted. (Even though the show only lasted a single season, I wonder if that episode will ever see the light of day again.) Like the Challenger disaster, I saw no footage of this event until I got home later that day, as our office had no television. One of my coworkers went to a previously-arranged lunch meeting with a client at Applebees, and she came back in the afternoon to tell us how horrific it all was. In the morning, our work day began at 9:30 am, so when we all arrived at work the Twin Towers were both burning. We got a slightly later start than usual, with a moment of silence, and then we began our work (but kept the radio on). Just when the awful reality of what had happened was only beginning to set in...the radio announcer broke in with news of the strike on the Pentagon. The job I had at the time was a telesales job, and I recall the instructions coming from our managers: "Do not call accounts in New York City; for the foreseeable future we cannot ship via next-day air."

:: Columbia. I had just got our daughter out of bed and was turning on the TV so she could watch cartoons, and I noticed a news anchor on ABC, which struck me as odd since there generally is no news coverage going on at that time of morning. I channel-flipped to CBS and saw a talking head there as well, and thus knew that something was up; then I saw the CBS headline, "Contact lost with space shuttle".

Kevin wonders why we always seem to wonder why we remember the bad events but not the good ones; I do remember some good ones, but by and large he's right: it's the horrible events that sear into our consciousness.

:: Princess Diana's wedding. I actually remember watching this, because my mother has a long-standing fascination with the British Royal Family.

:: Princess Diana's death. I was working the night shift at the restaurant; it was close to midnight when my wife called and told me what had happened.

:: Oklahoma City. Another phone call from the wife, but during the day shift.

:: The release of the hostages in 1981. Fourth grade; we had the classroom television on so we could watch the inauguration of President Reagan. Cheers broke out as soon as the announcer broke in and announced the hostages' departure from Iran.

:: Three Mile Island. I don't recall the exact breaking-out of this event, but I recall clearly the incredible tension on the news each evening. We lived in West Virginia at the time, about a three-hour drive from TMI.

:: The fall of the Berlin Wall. I genuinely don't recall where I was, but it was a month or two into my freshman year in college. I seem to recall it was Music Theory class, but I could be wrong on that point.

:: John Lennon's murder. The news of this was on Good Morning America as I got ready for school.

:: Frank Sinatra's death. I couldn't sleep, so I got up and went to the living room to watch some TV for a bit. When I channel-flipped by CNN, I caught them in the middle of one of those "life retrospectives" of the sort that are only done upon the passing of a significant person.

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