"Hands Across America" took place on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in 1986. It was a "kumbaya" type event in which participants nationwide held hands to form a human chain extending across the U.S. (although it bypassed large chunks of real estate, such as New England and Florida). Taking its cue from the "Feed the World", "We Are the World" and "Live Aid" humanitarian events of the previous two years, "Hands" raised money for hungry and homeless Americans. Rather than collect money from sponsors as walkathons did, each "Hands" participant paid a $10 tax-deductible fee/contribution.
By nature I'm not a "joiner" so I didn't participate, but I was curious nonetheless to be an observer, so after spending the early part of the afternoon getting some sun in my tiny garden/patio I walked over to the West Side Highway in Greenwich Village to watch part of Manhattan's link of the chain form. Although the event was dripping in media hype, it was happening so near by that I controlled my eye-rolling and strolled over to the highway at 2:30 to observe the chain forming at 3:00. I bumped into a friend, Skip, and we walked along the line of participants getting in position to see if we might know any of them.
With so much of a build up, it was surprising that it was over in just 15 minutes, and the crowd dispersed rather quickly. (As Peggy Lee might have queried, "Is that all there is to an over-hyped charity event?") All told it was estimated that 7 million participated nationwide, with 100,000 of the participants coming from the New York metro area.
On the walk back to my apartment I stopped into a shop called the Statue of Liberty Gallery on Hudson St., which had recently opened to capitalize on the statue's centennial celebration. I bought myself a little 4-inch rubberized Lady Liberty. Once home I changed into my running clothes and headed up to Central Park (via subway) where I ran around the roadway that circles the park (five miles).
April 23, 1985 was a Tuesday and I had taken the day off from work (ad agency Young & Rubicam) because I was having a chest of drawers, platform bed and bookcase delivered from The Door Store to my new apartment in the West Village. That morning, as I waited for the delivery truck, I heard on the radio about Coke introducing a new formulation for its flagship brand.
I grew up drinking Pepsi - there was a Pepsi bottling plant in my hometown with a huge illuminated bottle cap on its roof and as a child I thought it was Pepsi's headquarters. However, I was still curious and bought a can of New Coke the next day. I didn't detect much of a difference in the taste. (The idea behind the change was to make it closer in taste to Pepsi). However, the reaction by Coke drinkers was swift and furious. Because of this backlash "Classic" Coke was brought back during the summer.
Despite my longstanding preference for Pepsi I found my affinity weakening as we entered the 21st century. I was a longtime diet soda drinker (ever since reading Sugar Blues in 1982) but rarely drank diet Coke because I thought it tasted more artificial compared to other brands. However, Coke began dabbling in line extensions that piqued my interest.
An array of flavors were introduced, e.g. lime and cherry,that to my taste buds masked the artificial taste, so I found myself drinking diet Coke more frequently. (By the way, whatever happened to Vanilla Coke or Coke Blak?) Then the introduction of Coke Zero in 2005 reeled me in further as I found it tasted very similar to regular Coke. While I still occasionally drink diet Pepsi I think Coke Zero is by far the best tasting diet soda on the market.
The U.S. bombing of Muammar Gaddafi's headquarters in the Libyan capital of Tripoli in the spring of 1986 triggers memories of my first visit to Los Angeles. The day of the airstrike, April 14, was a Monday and my first full day playing tourist there. I was staying with a former colleague from ad agency Young & Rubicam who now worked for McCann Erickson on Wilshire Boulevard. Elsa lived in Sherman Oaks, which was over the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley.
I rented a white Dodge Colt from Rent-A-Wreck and drove to Venice Beach in the morning. Later I walked around West Hollywood, visited a few stores on Melrose Ave. and stopped by the International Male store on Sunset Boulevard before heading over to the Beverly Center a few blocks away. It was there during the early evening that I came upon a group of shoppers milling about in front of an electronics store watching President Reagan's address to the nation. He explained that our surprise attack was in retaliation for a bombing at a German disco a week earlier linked to Libya that killed one American soldier and injured hundreds of others.
(Unfortunately, Libyan sponsored terrorism would continue and culminate in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotand two-and-a-half-years later.)
Because of the military action I had some concerns about the security of my return trip to New York at the end of the week. It turned out my worries were justified as my red-eye flight was delayed by five hours due to a bomb threat. This included an hour delay after boarding as our luggage was taken off the plane and searched again. We didn't take off until 4AM.
Spring had arrived two weeks earlier, the 1982 baseball season had begun the day before and Easter was less than a week away. Yet here it was April 6 and we were under a blizzard warning, the first ever issued for New York in April. Rain began overnight, changed over to wet snow by the morning rush hour and then the blizzard's full fury set in from 10 AM until 4 PM. Most offices closed at noon, and the Mets and Yankees postponed their home openers. I stayed at the office (ad agency Young & Rubicam) until the usual time because I lived in Manhattan and getting home wasn't an issue.
That evening when I emerged from the PATH station in my Greenwich Village neighborhood I turned the corner onto my street and was amazed by the drifts I had to trudge through to get home. However, despite the snow the bowling league I participated in at Bowlmor Lanes still met.
Although Central Park had 9.6" of snow many suburbs reported a foot or more (Albany had 17.3"). It was New York's biggest snowfall in four years. By midnight the temperature had fallen to a record 21°. Not much in the way of snow melt occurred the next day as the temperature stayed below freezing - as opposed to a typical high in early April approaching 60°. (By contrast, on the same date 28 years later New York would report its earliest 90-degree reading.) Three days later I flew home to visit my parents in Pittsburgh for Easter and it was snowing there (two inches fell). Thankfully, this wasn't a precursor to an unusually cold April as a string of mild days occurred mid-month and then on April 25 the mercury hit 82°.
If you love reading about snow, I've written five other posts about New York snowstorms:
And if you'd like to read about other New York City snowstorms, I've written a post on my weather blog, New York City Weather Archive, that recaps the snowstorms we've experienced since 1950. To go to it please double click here.
It was Friday night and after work (I was an assistant media planner at ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves) I poked my head into a few bars in the vicinity of my office on Manhattan's East Side. At Cowboys & Cowgirls on 53rd St. I was idly chatting with an older fellow (I was 22 at the time so most everyone qualified as "older") who teasingly mocked my choice of cocktail, a Tom Collins, as being an "old man's drink". That may have been, but I was a novice and still familiarizing myself with mixed drinks.
While standing at the bar we overheard that the U.S. hockey team had beaten the Soviet team 4-3 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid (which made the victory even sweeter). It was a huge upset and took some of the sting from the the Russian basketball team's controversial defeat of the U.S. at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Shortly afterwards I met up with a few friends from work and we went to the dance club Stix (formerly the Barefoot Boy) which was a few blocks north of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel on 2nd Ave. Two particular songs I remember dancing to were Vertigo/Relight My Fire and Don't Cry for Me Argentina (from the classic Disco Evita album). We stayed until the wee hours and since I lived in New Jersey at the time (Bayonne) I slept over at my friend Phillip's place in the Lower East Side.
Although the U.S.'s victory over the Russians was a huge accomplishment it wasn't the end of the story. In order to win the gold medal they still needed to win one more game. That match was played two days later on Sunday - and they prevailed over Finland. This provided a huge boost to a nation whose pride had taken a serious hit a few months earlier as a result of the Tehran hostage crisis - which continued for nearly another year.
Although I have 9,000 songs on my iPod just a few have the power to trigger "a-ha" memories (e.g. I equate In the Year 2525 with the first Moon landing; The Night Chicago Died with Nixon's resignation). The earliest I remember were novelty songs when I was a wee lad of 3 or 4, e.g. Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop;Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini; and Alley Oop. What follows are some songs of summers past that bring to mind memories from my personal history.
Hearing Judy's Turn to Cry(Lesley Gore), Nat King Cole's quintessential summer song Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer or the popular Australian folk song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport takes me back to the summer of 1963. I was 6 years old and remember those songs playing on the car radio while I sat in the front seat of our Rambler station wagon as we drove to Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo. My sister Linda, two of her girlfriends and my brother Darrell were in the backseat. At the zoo a baboon took a liking to me, followed me around and constantly showed me his multi-colored behind.
The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction was the first rock song that registered with me. It got plenty of airplay in August 1965 when my parents bought a new car, a steel blue Dodge Coronet sedan. It replaced our 1960 Rambler station wagon which on two occasions lost its front wheel - once in the parking lot at Kroger and the other time at an intersection as we waited to pull into traffic. But despite this potentially fatal defect (for both us and the car) I had a sentimental attachment to the car (in lieu of the dog I never had). On the evening we left it at the dealership I sat in the car and cried. We had the Coronet for 8 years until the fall of 1973 when we got an Oldsmobile Cutlass (for $3,300, the same price I'd pay for my plasma TV in 2003).
Then in the summer of 1966 my sister Linda swooned for the guy group Wayne Fontana & the Mindebenders and their hit Groovy Kind of Love (another guy group, The Association, got her attention as well). That same summer I got creeped out by the novelty song They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha), about a man going mad and being taken to an insane asylum. In a chilling coincidence, later that summer a young man in Austin, TX snapped, climbed a water tower and randomly shot to death 15 people on the ground.
During the summer of 1976 I visited New York City for the first time. The songs burnt into my memory were Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John/KiKi Dee); Kiss & Say Goodbye (Manhattans); and Turn the Beat Around (Vicki Sue Robinson). I was 19 at the time and drove to NYC with my brother who had begun working in Bayonne, NJ the year before as band director at the town's high school. It was also the first time I stuck a toe in the ocean, at the beach in Belmar, NJ.
Skipping ahead 6 years, I was in the middle of vacation with my boyfriend Rick in August 1982. We were on our way to Provincetown after having spent a few days in Ogunquit, ME and were stuck in traffic in downtown Boston (my first time there). The New Wave song Kids in America (Kim Wilde) came on the radio and it was followed by Billy Idol's first hit Hot in the City (not to be confused with Nick Gilder's Hot Child in the City from 1978).
Whenever I hear Every Breath You Take (The Police) or Safety Dance (Men Without Hats) it brings to mind the birth of my nephew, Corry, in July 1983 (on the very same day as his father's 30th birthday). Curiously I don't have any such tuneful memories from when nephew #2, Nick, was born in December 1985.
Music sounded just a little better to me when I was floating on a raft in the pool at my weekend share at Fire Island. In the summer of 1999 one of my housemates, Matthew, loved No Scrubs by TLC and played it incessantly. And Cher's comeback song Believe was the dance anthem of that summer. I also recall that during my first visit out there in 1982 ABBA's Lay All Your Love On was big in the clubs and the summer of my first share, 1996, the debut CD by Kristine W. (a club star rather than mainstream) was a popular one at our house.
Finally, during the 2000's my summer share at Fire Island had XM Satellite Radio which introduced me to a lot of great songs from the 1960's and 1970's, largely R&B, that I was unfamiliar with. Ultimately I purchased a few hundred of them on iTunes. Some of the best were Edwin Starr's Headline News; Eddie Kendricks' Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need; and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes'Satisfation Guaranteed.
We've just experienced one of those headline grabbing events that years from now people will ask each other "Where were you when ...?" Of course I'm referring to Michael Jackson's death on June 25, 2009. When I started my blog at the beginning of this month little did I know that such a major event would occur while I was mining memories of momentous events from years past. What made it memorable for me was the fact that it was the first "oh wow!" event to occur since I joined Facebook (10 days ago). Immediately upon reading of his death online via a NYTimes News Alert, I checked my Facebook account to read reactions of my roster of "friends" and to contribute a few poignant comments of my own.
As a small tribute to MJ's passing I thought it fitting to write about what I was doing when I heard about the deaths of two other music icons: Elvis Presley and John Lennon. And although Jackson was taken too soon, he outlived Elvis and Lennon, who were 42 and 40, respectively, at the time of their deaths
Death of Elvis (Aug. 16, 1977): I was listening to an afternoon baseball game between the Pirates and Cubs at home ( Pittsburgh) during summer break between my sophomore and junior years at Penn State when the play-by-play announcer reported the news. (Looking back I'm shocked at how young he was, but at the time I thought of him as a washed-up has-been.)
John Lennon Shot (Dec.8,1980): I was living in Bayonne, NJ where I first lived when I started working at my first job in New York. I was watching Monday Night Football on my little black & white set when Howard Cosell interrupted the play-by-play with the startling news of John Lennon’s shooting death. (You can watch the following link to see the video clip of Cosell's announcement: John Lennon)
Some Other Notable Singers: I was home sick from school (2nd grade) and playing in the living room while my mother was ironing and watching the 12 o’clock news. One of the stories was about Nat King Coles’ death on Feb. 15, 1965. (I believe it was the first time I heard the term “lung cancer”.) I heard the news of Karen Carpenter’s death (Feb. 4, 1983) on the radio in my office (at ad agency Young & Rubicam) which was tuned to oldies station WCBS. (I had some sentimental attachment to her as my first 45-rpm "single" was by the Carpenters.) News of Marvin Gaye’s shooting death (by his father on April 1, 1984) was heard on the evening news as my boyfriend and I were preparing dinner on Sunday evening. (After the news we watched the ABC mini-series The Last Days of Pompeii.) I found out about Kurt Cobain’s death (April 5, 1994) from a co-worker, but it wasn’t that big a deal to me since I didn’t follow his group Nirvana (I was only vaguely familiar with their song Smells Like Teen Spirit); however, my younger staff was more shaken. Finally, I read of Ella Fitzgerald’s death (June 15, 1996) in the Sunday NY Times while out at Fire Island. (Ella happens to be the only one of the eight singers discussed here whose life wasn't cut short, as she lived to be 79.)