Remembering The "Miracle on the Hudson" (January 15, 2009)




It was shortly after 3:30 on Jan. 15, 2009, a bone chilling Thursday afternoon, when I first got word about a plane crash in New York.  I had just returned home from the gym where I had done my weight workout for back and shoulders (I was between jobs at the time).  Checking my e-mails I saw a New York Times Breaking News Alert reporting that a plane had "landed" in the Hudson River.  I assumed it was a small private plane; however, after reading that it was a passenger jet I wondered how many had died (it brought to mind a plane that crashed into Jamaica Bay upon takeoff from LaGuardia in March 1992 that resulted in the drowning of 27 passengers). 


I immediately tuned in to New York's cable news channel NY1 for further details and was shocked to see an intact USAirways plane surrounded by rescue boats, and then hear the remarkable news that there were no fatalities!  If I hadn't had a massage scheduled for 4:30 I might have walked over to the river to see the plane float by.  (Click here to view a news report shortly after the incident.)


Usairways plane in the icy river

In speaking with friends over the next few days I attributed the miraculous landing to the aura of positive energy created by Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration.  I joked that if this accident had happened the year before while George Bush (and his eight years of bad karma) was still in office the flight would have been doomed and the plane would have gone directly to the bottom of the river.  I thought it fitting that this "miracle on the Hudson" dominated the news cycle, pushing from the headlines Bush's televised farewell address to Congress that evening.




If you still haven't had your fill of this inspiring story you may find the first-hand accounts told in Miracle on the Hudson: The Survivors of Flight 1549 Tell Their Extraordinary Stories of interest.   


Saddam Hussein Captured (December 13, 2003)

Saddam_hussein_captured Nine months after the war in Iraq began and 4-1/2 months after his two sons were shot dead (which I heard about while on vacation in Iceland), Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was found by U.S. forces hiding in a hole on the grounds of a farmhouse about 80 miles from Baghdad.  On him was an AK-47, $750,000 in cash and some chocolate.



Although his capture occurred on December 13 it wasn't until the next day that the news was made public.  I was in the midst of doing holiday-related chores that snowy afternoon (i.e. shopping at Union Square's Christmas fair, writing Christmas cards, sending checks to favorite charities) when I turned on the TV to check football scores. Instead, a news report was on showing video of the capture.  On Monday the NY Times ran a scary/unflattering photo of Hussein front-and-center on Page One. 




Three years later, on New Year's Eve, he was executed by hanging.  The capture (which was the real reason for the war) served as a diversion for the Bush Administration from the fruitless search for the non-existent WMDs.  



President Bush Forces Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Step Down (November 8, 2006)

Donald_rumsfeld The morning of November 8, 2006 was dreary and rainy but I was in good spirits for two reasons.  First, the results from yesterday's mid-term elections were very positive as both houses of Congress returned to Democratic control.  Second, I was getting paid for a research project I had recently completed about the U.S. Hispanic market.  I went up to Chelsea at around noon to pick up my check from the research company I did the project for.  From there I walked over to my bank to deposit it and while standing in line at HSBC I heard the surprising news on CNN that irascible Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was stepping down. 


Singin_in_the_rain This news bulletin was like a beam of sunshine breaking through that day's clouds.  Even better was the fact that for some reason the president decided to wait until after the election to make this announcement.  Therefore, it was of no benefit to Republican candidates.  This news made the day's pouring rain (the most of any day this year, a record-setting 3.60") more than bearable.  In fact, as I walked home I felt lighthearted, just like Gene Kelly in his famous rain-splashing scene in the the movie Singin' in the Rain.  At long last there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel - and in two more years we would be delivered from evil. 


Gore vs. Bush: Too Close to Call (November 7, 2000)



In the early evening of Election Day, Nov. 7, 2000, I was running on the treadmill at the gym (Crunch Fitness) watching news coverage as I warmed up for my weight workout.  The early returns looked promising for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate (and my choice).  In fact, NBC had just projected him to be the winner in Florida.  This encouraging news gave me a lift during my workout.  However, by the time I returned home an hour later the state's 25 electoral votes had been taken from his column as Florida was now "too close to call".  This was quite an unusual development.



Voting results 2000 election


I stayed up until nearly 2 AM, and then for whatever reason I chose to keep the TV on as I slept.  (At least I was able to lull myself to sleep knowing that former First Lady Hillary Clinton had won her race in New York for the US Senate.)  I awoke to the same uncertainty as when I crawled into bed - the race had yet to be called.  And this is how it would stay for the next five weeks until the Supreme Court decided in Bush's favor - thus beginning an 8-year nightmare for the nation.  (Books by CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and renowned Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz discuss the standoff in Florida.) 




The craziness in Florida, with its confusing variety of ballots, caused me to reflect on how those in the advertising research field (my profession) so often disparage Nielsen for its measurement of TV audiences - using techniques which go through rigorous methodological review.  How curious that its methods are held up to such greater scrutiny compared to the jerry-rigged system used to elect the President - undoubtedly the most important individual in the world.   








Barack Obama Elected President (November 4, 2008)

Timecover_obama_elected History would be made regardless of who won the 2008 presidential election, held on November 4.  Either the US would have its first African American president, Barack Obama, or its first female vice president, Sarah Palin.  I voted before going to work and waited in line for a little more than an hour at my polling place at an NYU dorm in Greenwich Village, which was across the street from Washington Square Park.  Happily, the sun was shining and the line of voters was buzzing with anticipation.  And although I had been a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the primaries I was happy to cast my ballot for Obama. 





I watched election coverage on CNN when I got home from work that night.  I planned to go to the gym but got caught up in the very encouraging returns, especially from traditional "red" states such as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina.  Later in the evening I called my mother in Pittsburgh to talk about the impending good news.  Then as soon as the polls closed in California (11PM in the East) CNN declared Obama the winner.  The streets in my Greenwich Village neighborhood erupted in wild cheers as if the Yankees or Mets had won the World Series.  And the partying atmosphere continued all night.





Obama's acceptance speech in Chicago was somber but inspiring.  A few minutes earlier he and his family had walked onto a large stage in front of one million ecstatic supporters, a setting that seemed almost European in style with its pomp and pageantry.  At one point a crowd shot showed Jesse Jackson wiping away tears.  Meanwhile Obama's opponent, John McCain, gave a very gracious concession speech.  As usual his wife Cindy, looked stunning in a chic yellow-gold outfit (and likely thrilled that the campaign was over) - in contrast to the peculiar choice of a dress that Michelle Obama wore. 



 Obama elected usa today


Previous blog posts I've published about two other presidential elections:

Jimmy Carter Elected Over Gerald Ford (Nov. 2, 1976)

Gore vs. Bush:  Too Close to Call (Nov. 7, 2000)

Post-Season Baseball: The Agony & the Ecstasy

A few weeks ago I wrote about ten hurricanes and the memories I associated with each of them.  In this post I've chosen to write of memories I connect with ten post-season baseball games over the past 45 years (not including the 1986 World Series, which I've written about in a previous post).


1969 World Series

Game 5/Mets vs. Baltimore (Oct. 16)

I was home from school (7th Grade) with a cold so I was able to watch the entire game.  I wasn't rooting for the Mets because, despite winning 100 games in the regular season, in my eyes their rise was a fluke.  (I felt the same when expansion teams like Florida, Arizona and Tampa Bay played in the World Series.)  And I certainly didn't think they'd be able to prevail over the mighty Orioles (who had won 109 games), but not only did the Mets do it - but in just five games.  




1971 World Series

Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)

It was a Sunday afternoon when the Pirates won a 2-1 nail-biter over the Orioles to win the World Series.  My mother and I waited for the game to end before we drove my grandmother home, honking the car horn the entire way.  (My dad, never a big Pirates fan watched the day's football games on our other TV.)  We also put a big "Bucs Fever" sign in the living room window.  Since I was too young to celebrate the Pirates' 1960 World Series victory over the Yankees this one was very sweet.  The '71 Series was the first to have a game played at night, a novelty that eventually became the norm by the mid-1980s.




1972 National League Playoffs

Game 5/Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 11)

The game was still being played when I headed out to my weekly Junior Achievement meeting in downtown Pittsburgh, so I brought my transistor radio with me to listen to the closing innings.  As the bus I was riding approached the City on the Ft. Pitt Bridge I heard the Reds score the winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning on a wild pitch to advance to the World Series.  A similar crushing loss in the bottom of the 9th happened to the Pirates 20 years later when they lost Game 7 of the NL Championship Series to Atlanta.  (Then they went 21 years before their next winning season.)




1973 National League Playoffs

Game 3/Mets vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 8)

I had just come home from school and turned on the game.  As I was changing clothes Pete Rose and Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson got into a scuffle after Rose slid hard into Harrelson at 2nd base.  However, the Mets got the last laugh by advancing to the World Series.  Like 1969, I wasn't a Mets fan, especially since they barely had a winning record (82-79) and had passed my Pirates in the final week of the season to win the NL East.  Two big news events occurred during that post-season: 1) VP Spiro Agnew resigned due to tax problems and 2) Egypt attacked Israel on the eve of Yom Kippur during the weekend the World Series began.    





1975 World Series

Game 6/Cincinnati vs. Boston (Oct. 21)

I was in my freshman year at Penn State and watched the game in a friend's dorm room when it went into extra innings, so I saw the Red Sox' Carlton Fisk hit his famous game-winning home run in the bottom of the 12th inning.  This game was such a good one that almost forgotten is the fact that Cincinnati won the next day to win the World Series.  




1978 AL Tie-Breaker

Yankees vs. Red Sox (Oct. 2)

The Yankees had stormed back in August and September to tie the Red Sox for the AL East crown and played a one-game tie-breaker.   I watched the first seven innings in my dorm's TV room.  I left for dinner after seeing the Yankees' Bucky Dent (pictured with Reggie Jackson) hit his memorable 3-run homer over the Green Monster at Fenway to erase Boston's 2-0 lead.  The Yankees won the game and went to the World Series - which they won over the Dodgers for the second year in a row. 




1979 World Series

Game 7/Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore (Oct. 17)

The "We Are Family" Pirates defeated the Orioles in a carbon copy of their 1971 World Series championship over them, i.e. after falling behind 3 games to 1, they swept the next three games.  But it was a bittersweet victory for me because I was living in northern New Jersey and there was no celebrating crowd.  I called my brother who lived down the street and then my parents back in Pittsburgh to share the good news.




1989 World Series

Game 3/Oakland vs San Francisco (Oct. 17)

This World Series is forever known for the earthquake that struck minutes before Game 3 was about to start - and captured on live TV.  I had turned on the game about five minutes after the quake hit.  Since the Series involved two teams from the Bay Area it was delayed for 10 days.






2003 NL Championship Series

Game 6/Marlins vs. Cubs/Oct. 14

As was my usual habit I went to the gym late after taking a nap (around 9:30).  The game was on one of the TV monitors above the treadmills and Stairmasters, and when I left it appeared the game was in hand with the Cubs leading 3-0 in the top of the 8th inning.  If they won they'd advance to the World Series and get a chance to break their 95-year streak without a World Series championship.  However, between the time I left and got back to my apartment, about 10 minutes, the game had turned around completely and the Marlins had taken an 8-3 lead!  It turned out that an overzealous fan (the infamous Steve Bartman) had leaned over and deflected a fly ball that the Cubs outfielder was about to catch.  After that the floodgates opened.  (This was was somewhat similar to what happened in the 1996 AL League Championship between the Orioles and Yankees when 12-year old Jeffrey Maier reached out to grab a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter that was about to be caught.  It was called a home run and the Yankees won the game because of it.)   




2009 World Series

Philadelphia vs. Yankees

A novel experience was having someone to watch the games with as my boyfriend David was also a baseball fan.  However, we had different ways of enjoying the games.  For instance, David was more a student of pitching while I liked high-scoring games.  Furthermore, he found it peculiar that I often commented about the appearance of each player as they came to bat (which I thought was normal, especially for a gay man).  Lastly, I found it nerve wracking to sit through an entire game, especially if the Yankees had a lead, while David enjoyed watching the entire nine innings.  However, one thing we had in common was rooting for the Yankees, who beat the Phillies in six games.





Tina Fey Portrays Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live" (September 13, 2008)

First_fey_skit_as_pailin I hadn't planned on watching the kickoff of Saturday Night Live's 2008-09 season on Sept. 13 because I didn't expect Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps would be worth watching as guest host.  However, since I had just finished watching the 11:00 news I figured I'd hang around to see how SNL would begin.  And I was rewarded big time as it opened with a joint address by Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin.  Amy Poehler had been impersonating Hillary for well over a year and her portrayal was hilarious as usual.  However, I was mesmerized and delighted by Tina Fey's portrayal of Palin - she resembled the Alaskan governor/Republican VP nominee to a remarkable degree.  (This episode delivered SNL's highest rating in seven years.)


Sarah palin and hillary clinton on snl



Palin_playing_flute It was this skit that acquainted me with NBC.com.  As the weeks went by I'd go onto the website and watch it repeatedly (as well as other Palin skits that aired in the next two months).  I'd find myself replaying the lines in my head when I was in the shower, at the gym or on the subway.  It gave me such pleasure.  However, I couldn't fully enjoy the hilarity of these skits because I worried somewhat that the publicity they generated might actually benefit Palin, especially since, in my mind, Fey's portrayal made her seem benign - and almost likable.  Furthermore, I feared that these skits would be bittersweet if the McCain/Palin ticket prevailed over Obama/Biden in the election - similar to how the constant jokes about Bush/Cheney weren't so hilarious to me because, at the end of the day, they were still in office - and that wasn't funny at all.  Happily, my fears were unfounded and I now laugh with utter abandon whenever I watch these golden SNL clips.   



9-11 Attacks Stun the World (September 11, 2001)



On the morning of Sep. 11, 2001 I left my apartment 15-20 minutes earlier than usual because I wanted to vote in New York's primary election for mayor before going to work.  It was about 8:40 when I left my apartment in the West Village.  A few minutes later as I was walking along Christopher St. I took notice of the roar of an extremely low-flying plane overhead; however, I couldn't see it because of the trees lining the street.  Perhaps 15 seconds later I heard a loud "boom" in the distance, but didn't think anything of it, and certainly didn't connect it with the plane.  I figured it came from a construction site.


As I approached the corner of 6th Avenue and West 9th Street I saw a number of people looking intently southward so I turned to see what they were looking at and was stunned to see a large gaping black hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center with plumes of black smoke billowing out of it.  My first thought was, "how did a plane crash into the building on such a crystal clear morning?"  After 30 seconds or so of incredulous staring I continued on my way to the polling place a few blocks away (walking north).  Traffic on 6th Avenue had mostly stopped as drivers and passengers got out of their vehicles to get a look.  It was like a scene from a movie.




I voted, got on the subway and made my way to work at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, which was on East 42nd St.  (At this point this was still just a terrible accident so there was no reason not to go into the office.)  On the train I heard a woman tell someone that it was a passenger jet that had gone into the tower and not a wayward private plane.  At the office I was walking to the other side of the floor for our weekly directors meeting but found everyone crowded into the media director's office watching the TV.  A second plane had just crashed into the other tower and it was witnessed live on TV by millions (however, I didn't see it.)





This was no longer a horrible accident but something frighteningly more sinister.  I watched a few replays of the plane going into the south tower and then walked back to my office.  I called my mother in Pittsburgh who had seen the second plane on TV.  Then I reviewed a few e-mails from friends living outside of New York checking to see if I was OK.  A number of people in the office were frantically trying to get in touch with family members who worked in the Trade Center or in that neighborhood.  It seemed like every 15 minutes something unimaginably horrible was happening, i.e. the Pentagon was hit, then the plane in Pennsylvania went down.  I was listening to a live radio report from the WTC site when the south tower fell.  Shortly thereafter the office closed, largely because we were considered at risk since our office was across the street from the landmark Chrysler Building, which made it a prime target. 





I left my office and walked along 42nd Street to the New York Public Library at the corner of 42nd St./5th Ave. to meet my friend Nina.  Nina lived on Long Island and couldn't get home since rail traffic had been suspended, so she stayed with me until travel restrictions were lifted.  Not surprisingly, the streets were abuzz and crowded with people spilling out onto the streets, but it was a controlled panic.  There were long lines at every pay phone.  I think the day's bright sunshine helped to keep me calm.  




Nina and I casually walked the 40 blocks down to my apartment against a wall of mostly disheveled office workers heading north from lower Manhattan.  We stopped into a Starbucks near Penn Station to use the lavatory and while standing in line I overheard a man behind us telling someone that his sister in Chicago had called to say the Sears Tower had been hit.  Because of all that was happening it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility.  It wasn't until we got to my apartment and listened to news reports that we realized that he was just a crazy guy.




As we neared the block on which I lived we passed St. Vincent's Hospital which had set up chairs and gurneys on 7th Avenue covered in white bed sheets in anticipation of hundreds of injured who would need to be attended to - but none would be delivered.  A strong odor similar to that given off by an electrical fire pervaded the air and the southern horizon was obscured by a thick wall of black, gray and white smoke (the north tower had collapsed by then as well).  Fortunately for my neighborhood, the smoke was being blown out to Brooklyn by a northwesterly wind. 




Later that afternoon the first "Have You Seen ...?" posters of missing office workers began appearing on lamp poles and walls.  Rail service resumed later that afternoon and I walked Nina up to Penn Station (there was still no subway service).  It was eerie because there were so few people on the streets and no vehicular traffic.  The sheet-covered chairs and gurneys in front of St. Vincent's were now gone.  Before going home I stopped into the supermarket across the street from my apartment (I was surprised it was still open) and while waiting in the checkout line I heard on the radio that the 50-story World Trade Center 7 had just collapsed.




For the next few months the odor from the fires lingered and was especially noticeable on days when the wind came out of the south.  We were advised that dust in the air and collecting on surfaces in our apartments likely contained trace particles of pulverized bones from victims of the collapsed towers.  The catastrophe turned out to be the impetus for me to finally get a cell phone.  And to this day anytime the sky is clear and the temperature pleasantly warm I think back to the terrors of the morning of 9/11. 




(The 9/11 Commission Report makes for riveting reading as it goes into great detail about the missed opportunities to thwart the 9-11 attacks as well as the events of that day as they unfolded.)








John McCain Chooses Sarah Palin As His Running Mate (August 29, 2008)

Palinmccain Huh?  That was my dumbfounded response when I turned on the 11:00 news the night of Aug. 29, 2008 and heard more about Republican presidential nominee John McCain's choice for running mate.  Earlier that day (the Friday of Labor Day weekend) I thought he had selected Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.  Turns out it was the governor of Alaska he had chosen, 44-year-old Sarah Palin.  (Interestingly, this announcement was made on McCain's 72nd birthday.  Perhaps it was a way to deflect attention from this AARP fact?)  And suddenly the 2008 presidential campaign became a lot more interesting - and bizarre.  


Tim.pawlentyI was basking in the afterglow of Barack Obama's acceptance speech from the night before at the Democratic convention when I saw a New York Times News Alert in my in-box on my office comptuter  Quickly skimming it I was under the impression McCain had chosen Pawlenty - it made sense since I'd read on a number of occasions that he was a leading candidate.  I suppose my brain stopped processing once it saw the first two letters of the last name - the same as Palin's.  I had read about Palin a number of weeks earlier in an article in The New Republic, but it wasn't in regard to her being in consideration for the VP slot, just that she was a rising star in the Republican Party.





Game_Change McCain's head-scratching choice certainly injected a jolt into the 2008 campaign.  And it became a ratings bonanza for Saturday Night Live when Tina Fey impersonated her to great acclaim in sketches during the show's September and October telecasts.  The book Game Change offers a riveting account of the thinking behind the decision to select Palin and its ramifications it had on the presidential campaign (spoiler alert: Obama was elected president).


Richard Hatch Wins First Season of "Survivor" (August 23, 2000)

4ad9e10ea7a567a4_Survivor Newsweek_survivor cover storyAlthough I only occasionally watched the first season of CBS's Survivor, I was familiar with its contestants from "water cooler" conversations with colleagues at work, from what I read in Entertainment Weekly as well as a few amusing websites that dissected each episode ("TV Without Pity" was one of them).  The final four contestants were even featured on the cover of Newsweek.  This summer replacement series was wildly popular and regularly delivered an audience in the neighborhood of 25 million.  My contribution to the building excitement was coordinating a "guess the final rating" contest in my office at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding.






I didn't get to see the final episode on Aug. 23, 2000 because I had tickets that evening to see The Music Man on Broadway.  However, after the performance my date and I read on the electronic ticker in Times Square that the $1 million winner was gay nudist Richard Hatch, who had prevailed over Kelly Wigglesworth.  In a classic moment from that episode, here is contestant Sue Hawk's "Snake & Rat" speech in which she coldly explains her vote for Hatch:  





David_janssen The telecast delivered a huge audience, especially for summertime, with nearly 60 million watching some portion of it (28.6 household rating/45 share).  This gigantic audience brought back memories of the final episode of The Fugitive which also aired in August (8/29) in 1967.  It had a 45.9 household rating, which was the highest rating for a TV series until the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of Dallas in November 1980.  I remember it being on but it was my brother and sister who were giving the episode their undivided attention.  Although I was in the living room, as a 10-year old it was more or less background noise.


(If you have a yen to relive and own Season 1 of Survivor, click here.)