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OJ Simpson Freeway Chase Mesmerizes The Nation (June 17, 1994)

White-bronco The evening of June 17, 1994, a Friday, was warm and muggy and I had just returned to my apartment in Greenwich Village after a five-mile run in Hudson River Park.  Before showering I turned on the TV to check the score of Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.  Instead, what appeared on the screen was a white SUV speeding along a highway.  I thought that perhaps it was a scene from a repeat of NBC's Law & Order, but when I changed channels it was also on ABC, CBS and CNN. 

 

I soon learned that the white Bronco was carrying OJ Simpson on LA’s 405 Freeway, and it was being pursued by a phalanx of LAPD police cruisers.  It seems OJ, who was the prime suspect in the murder of his 35-year-old wife, Nicole, and her male friend earlier in the week, didn't turn himself in, as he had agreed, and was now sitting in the back of the vehicle holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot himself.

 

OJ_Simpson_Chase 

 

The chase was so mesmerizing I couldn’t pull myself away to go to the grocery store to get dinner.  I watched for at least two hours waiting for the moment when, befitting this perfect Greek tragedy, OJ was going to end it all.  What sticks with me was the circus-like atmosphere as cars pulled over on the freeway and crowds lined the road and overpasses cheering (or jeering) as he drove by.  And when the Bronco finally pulled into the driveway of OJ’s home another surreal thing happened.  An eyewitness claiming to be across the street from OJ’s house was interviewed on the phone by ABC News’ Peter Jennings but he turned out to be a crank caller who made an inane comment about his allegiance to Howard Stern.

 

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In happier days ...

 

 

Fast forward sixteen months to Oct. 3, 1995, the day of the verdict in OJ’s murder trial.  I was eating lunch in my office (at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding) and turned on the radio to listen to the live coverage of the jury’s verdict.  I had decided not to watch the coverage on TV in the conference room with others because I didn’t want to see which co-workers might be happy if he was found innocent.  When I heard the not-guilty verdict I got up and closed the door to my office and sat for a while with my eyes closed trying to process the jury's decision before continuing with the rest of my day.

 


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Thinking of Keeping a Personal Journal? A Veteran Offers Some Guidance

Rob_holding_journalsFor most of the events I've written about in History As You Experienced It, my personal journals (some of which I'm holding in the photo to the right) have proven invaluable as a reference.  However, keeping a journal is a leisure pursuit that most people aren't well-suited for because it requires dedication, an affinity for writing and a fascination with the details of one's day-to-day life.  I've kept a journal since the late 1970s, and friends often ask in wonderment about my discipline.  If I were to conduct a class about the journal-keeping process, here's how I might outline it:

 

  • Start Simple.  Your goal isn't to write a best-selling memoir.  I enjoy writing in my journal because, once I've written down a thought, observation or experience, I no longer worry about forgetting it, thus, freeing my mind.  My early journals were relatively dry as I tended to express myself in headline fashion without going into a lot of detail.  However, as the years went by I began going into more detail, something that just happened.  (This early stage is where most people stop because they lose interest.)

 

  • Keeping_a_journal2Write About Day-to-Day Life.  I start each day's page with a brief description of the weather (another hobby of mine) and then proceed from there.  I write about whatever strikes my fancy, e.g., interesting things that happened to me or to friends/family; personal milestones; dreams; arguments; news events; movies I've seen; vacations and business trips; health issues; even activities of an intimate nature.  It's the sort of stuff you might find yourself writing as Status Updates on your Facebook page.

 

  • 11oclockMake it a Habit.  Choose a set time when you write in your journal; ideally, when there are few distractions.  For me, that's around 11PM.  And try to do it every day - it doesn't take very long, usually 10-15 minutes.  Many aspiring journal keepers stop when they let days go by without making any entries.  

 

  • Dirty_laundryTell-All or Self-Censor?  Because keeping a journal enables you to get things off your chest, it can serve as an inexpensive form of therapy.  However, you might find yourself censoring your entries if you're concerned that others may one day read what you've written.  (For example, my father discovered I was gay when he read some entries in my journal during a visit home.)  Of course, it's up to you to decide if you want to air your dirty laundry, but don't obsess over it because it somewhat defeats the purpose of keeping a journal.

 

  • Typing_on_keyboard JournalPen & Paper or Computer Keyboard?  Most of my journals are the paper-and-pencil kind, but I've done a few years in the form of a Word document.  Doing it in Word frees me to write more because there are no space limitations.  However, one advantage of keeping a pen-and-paper type of journal is that you don't need to fear snooping by the NSA (snooping by friends and family is another matter).
If you keep a journal for an extended period of time in book form, you'll have to contend with storage issues (I've managed to find places to store 30+ years of journals in my tiny Greenwich Village apartment.)  You don't need to find an official journal with dates on each page, but try to get one with a sufficient number of pages (I aim for at least 400 pages).

 

  • Opening the Time Capsule.  The payoff comes when you revisit what you wrote.  You may be surprised by what's slipped your mind; how recollections differ from what actually happened; or how your handwriting has changed over the years.  These journals can also serve as great resources for settling arguments (or used, gulp, as supporting evidence in a trial). 

 

Now, Get Started!

 

Starting_line

 

 

 

 

 


American Airlines Flight 191 Crashes in Chicago - Deadliest U.S. Aviation Disaster (May 25, 1979)

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May 25, 1979 was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.  For me, it was the first paid holiday of my working life as I had begun my career in advertising just six weeks earlier (at New York ad agency Scali McCabe Sloves).  I was going out to Hicksville on Long Island to spend the holiday weekend with a friend.  As I was on my way to Penn Station after leaving the office, I saw the headlines of the New York Post and Daily News reporting a plane crash in Chicago a few hours earlier.  American Airlines Flight 191 crashed less than a minute after take-off from O'Hare Airport.  All 279 on board were killed, making it the deadliest air crash in US aviation history.

 

What made this disaster even more chilling was the fact that there were photos of the plane as it crashed and exploded.  This was less than a year after another deadly plane crash was photographed, the mid-air collision between a Southwest Pacific passenger jet and a private plane over the skies of San Diego on September 25, 1978 (pictured, below).  And in later years there were a number of crashes captured on video, e.g. the crash landing in July 1989 of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, and the deliberate crashing of United Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9-11, an event witnessed by millions on live TV.

 

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Years later I was reading an entry in Wikipedia about the singing duo McFadden & Whitehead, who were scheduled to be on Flight 191 but ended up not boarding because they were asked to stay in Chicago a few more days to promote their disco hit Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now.

 

Mcfadden and whitehead

 

Another tragedy also occurred on May 25, 1979, and it occurred in New York City.  That morning, six-year-old Etan Patz vanished while walking to school alone in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood.  He was never seen again and his disappearance hung heavily on New Yorkers for the rest of the year.  But as the 33rd anniversary of this unsolved case approached in 2012 there were indications that a resolution might finally be at hand.

 

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Johnny Carson Steps Down As "Tonight Show" Host (May 22, 1992)

Bette_midler_johnny_carsonJohnny Carson's final week as host of the Tonight Show in May 1992 coincided with me packing and moving into the Greenwich Village apartment (where I still live in 2014).  My official move-in date wasn't until June 1, but the apartment had been vacant for a number of months so I was permitted to move in early.  While packing during the first half of the week, I tuned in to Tonight and watched a stream of honored celebs pay tribute to Johnny.  On the penultimate telecast, and the first night living at my new address, I watched Bette Midler sing her charming version of You Made Me Watch You to Johnny while she sat on his desk. 

 

 

These episodes were more uplifting than the last somewhat somber telecast that simply had Johnny reminiscing about his 30 years as host - with no guests.  Not surprisingly, it delivered a stupendous (for the Late Night time period) Nielsen household rating of 28 and a 63 share of viewing; 41 million persons tuned in (compared to a typical 6.7 million). 
 

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After Johnny left Tonight, it was almost as if he had died as he largely disappeared from public view until his death in 2005.  the Tonight Show's Jay Leno era began three days later on May 25.  Leno remained host until February 2014 when Jimmy Fallon took over the helm (Leno's reign was interrupted briefly in 2009 when Conan O'Brien was appointed host and Leno moved to primetime).  An enjoyable book about Carson's Tonight Show reign is Here's Johnny: 30 Years as America's Favorite Late Night Entertainer.

 

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Three other notable TV events occurred that week in May 1992.  First, Vice President Dan Quayle castigated actress Candice Bergen's Murphy Brown character for having a baby without the benefit of marriage in the show's last episode of the season (Monday, 5/18).


 

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The following day, the names Joey Buttafuoco and Amy Fisher became part of the nation's zeitgeist after 17-year-old Amy (aka "The Long Island Lolita") shot Buttafuoco's wife Mary Jo in the face at the front door of her home.  This tawdry affair was made into three TV movies that aired within weeks of each other at the end of the year (one starred 18-year old Drew Barrymore).  Finally, on Thursday MTV premiered The Real World, which started TV's "reality" craze.

 

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One more thing I remember about this week is that New York experienced an early heat wave - including a sizzling 93° on the day of Carson's last show.  It turned out to be one of the few hot spells during an unseasonably mild summer - apparently, the result of the cooling effect of clouds of ash from the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines the year before.

 

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Final Episode of "Newhart" Airs - One of the Best Ever (May 21, 1990)

Newhart_opening Final episodes of long-running shows often get high ratings, but rarely do they have memorable storylines.  For instance, the final episode of Seinfeld was derided for being a huge disappointment (especially considering the hype).  And although they delivered huge ratings, does anyone recall much that was memorable about the last episodes of M*A*S*H, Cheers or Friends?  However, the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show was an exception - as was the sendoff for Newhart which aired the night of May 21, 1990.

 

Earlier that afternoon I had attended ABC-TV's "upfront" presentation.  (I worked in TV research for ad agency NWAyer, so attending it was part of my job.)  The big news was about Twin Peaks, which had become a sensation the previous month.  It was renewed for next season and was scheduled on Saturday at 10:00 (what a different world it was back then).  At the party held afterwards I had my photo taken with one of the show's stars, Madchen Anick. 

 

Newhart_final_episode After taking my leave from the raw bar, I rushed home to watch Newhart.  Like everyone else, I was taken completely by surprise by the delightfully zany ending in which Bob (after being hit in the head with a golf ball) wakes up in bed with his wife, Emily (played by Suzanne Pleshette) from his classic Bob Newhart Show from the 1970s - it turned out the Newhart Show was a dream!  This topped the episode's other surprise when the silent brothers "Darrell and the other Darrell" finally spoke.  The telecast posted an 18.9 household rating/29 share (7 share points above the series' season average). 

 

   

 

Tom_poston Suzanne_pleshette Mary_frann Twenty-five years later Bob Newhart is still with us at the age of 85.  Sadly, cast members Mary Frann, Pleshette and Tom Poston have all passed away.  As have the careers of Julia Duffy and Peter Scolari (although he has had a recurring role on HBO's Girls as Hannah's father and Duffy as the mother of the lead character in Looking, another HBO series).

 


Mount St. Helens Blows Its Top (May 18-23, 1980)

Of all the natural disasters that wrack our planet, a volcanic eruption seems the most exotic, something I expect in the Andes or Pacific islands (or Pompeii) - but not in the U.S.  But on the morning of May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens, a largely inactive volcano straddling the border of Oregon and Washington, erupted.  And although it was a frightening occurrence for those living in the Pacific Northwest, I don't think many of us living in the East appreciated how serious the eruption was.  One photo etched in my memory showed a young boy who had been asphyxiated lying face-up in the back of a pickup truck covered in ash.  In total, more than 60 people died from the eruption.   

 

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Provincetown_postcardMy memory of the disaster is linked to my first visit to Provincetown, a largely gay resort at the tip of Cape Cod.  It was Memorial Day weekend and I drove there with my boyfriend Gordon.  We left from Poughkeepsie (he lived there and I took the train up from New York after work) and drove there on Friday night.  This holiday trip was memorable because it was the first time I tried marijuana - and it wasn't a pleasant experience. 

 

Pepperidgefarm_logoRather than smoke it Gordon put the pot in a Pepperidge Farm chocolate sandwich cookie (which I don't think they make anymore).  I became paranoid, which wasn't a nice feeling, especially in unfamiliar surroundings, and I remember thinking that two female friends of Gordon's were witches.  (Alas, because of how I reacted I never became a regular user.)  The trip back on Monday afternoon was stressful because of heavy traffic on the only road off the Cape.  Throughout the weekend the news reported on the effects of the eruption of the volcano.   

 

 

 


Final Episode of "Seinfeld" Airs, Frank Sinatra Dies (May 14, 1998)

Seinfeld_characterture FranksinatraUntil today the biggest event to occur on my birthday was in 1967 when Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run.  And in 1981 I feared the pope might die on my birthday after he was shot the day before (happily, he survived.)  But then on May 14, 1998 two big pop culture events occurred: the final episode of Seinfeld and the death of Frank Sinatra.  I watched the disappointing one-hour finale (from a mostly dissatisfying last season) with my friends Matthew and Gary at Matthew's apartment on West 57th St.  Although it was my birthday they weren't aware of it, so when our Chinese take-out arrived I felt odd saying "hey, it's my birthday, are you expecting me to contribute?", so I kept quiet.  (A week earlier I figured I'd be spending this day with my boyfriend, but that relationship suddenly unraveled during a rainy weekend out at Fire Island.)  When I woke up the next morning is when I heard the news that Sinatra had died the previous evening. 

 

This episode of Seinfeld telecast delivered a 41.3 household rating/58 share, making it the second highest rated show of the season (behind the Super Bowl).  A powerhouse performance for sure, but it was 9% below the last episode of Cheers five years earlier. 

 

 

 

Bing_family_ties Moonlighting Other shows that aired their final episodes on my birthday include Family Ties (1989); West Wing (2004); and Moonlighting (1990).  However, only Family Ties had much of a ratings sendoff (20.8 rating/35 share).  

 

Rita_hayworth 220px-B_ward01 1939-glinda In addition to Sinatra, some other notable deaths on May 14 were those of Billie Burke (Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz) in 1970; Hugh Beaumont (the father in Leave it to Beaver) in 1982; and 1940s va-va-voom actress Rita Hayworth in 1987.

 

(If you're a Seinfeld fan but have overdosed from watching it in syndication, a refreshing change might be reading about the show in Seinfeld, Master of its Domain: Revisiting TV's Greatest Sitcom.)  

 


Kent State Shootings: 4 Dead in Ohio (May 4, 1970)

Kentstate_shootings It was a mild but sort of hazy Tuesday afternoon.  Rather than take the bus home from school (7th grade at Sto-Rox Middle School) I walked because I stopped off for a haircut.  When I got home I saw that morning's paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the hassock in the living room.  On the front page was a photo (now iconic) of an overwrought young woman kneeling over the body of a student shot dead at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard.  The shootings occurred the day before during an anti-war demonstration protesting the US invasion of Cambodia at the end of April.  Guardsmen opened fire on students, killing four and wounding nine.  Although it was in neighboring Ohio, I had never heard of the university. 

 

 

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The four students who were shot dead

 

Perhaps because I was just 12 at the time (and somewhat preoccupied by the onset of puberty) I don't recall there being much talk about this incident among schoolmates or teachers, and at home we usually didn't discuss news events at the dinner table.  But the constant coverage of the Vietnam War was plenty worrisome for my parents since my brother, Darrell, was nearing draft age.  (A lasting memory of the war was hearing the weekly casualty report on the radio while I was getting ready for school.)  

 

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However, once the anti-war song Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young became popular during the summer the shootings had more resonance with me.  The song begins with the line: "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming, we're finally on our own.  This summer I hear the drumming. Four dead in Ohio." (The CD Steal This Record provides a collection of some other notable protest songs from the 1960s).  By the time I turned 18 in 1975 the US was out of Vietnam (the fall of South Vietnam to the Communists occurred two weeks before my birthday) and teen boys were no longer required to register for the draft.

 

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Rodney King Verdict Sparks Deadly L.A. Riots (April 29, 1992)

Time_la_riots1992 With our lease up for renewal at the end of May 1992, my roommate had decided to move in with his boyfriend and take a new apartment.  Although I didn't want another roommate situation, I couldn't afford to keep the apartment on my own, so I decided to look for a new apartment.  On April 29, a Wednesday, I left work at 4:00 to see two apartments, one a garden apartment on Christopher St., the other a small one-bedroom in the Sheridan Square area of Greenwich Village, both a few short blocks from where I lived.  Largely because of the amount of light it got (it was on the top floor), I decided to take the second apartment (where I still live).

 

 

After seeing the apartments I got a haircut and then arrived home shortly before 6:00.  I switched on the evening news and heard the breaking story that the LAPD officers involved in last year's Rodney King beating had been acquitted.  The verdict was met with frightening fury by Los Angeles' black community and rioting began shortly thereafter. 

 

Rodney_king_cant_we_allgetalong Later that evening a news-copter showed a truck driver being pulled from the cab of his semi at an intersection in South Central LA.  He was kicked repeatedly in the head and bashed with a cinder block.  Like the beating of King, this video clip was aired endlessly.  Two days later an overwrought Rodney King addressed the media and delivered one of the decade's most quotable lines, "Can't we all just get along?"

 

 

 

Two days later, a Friday, I signed my new lease before going to work.  Then later in the day as I was walking back to work after lunch it seemed that everyone from my office (ad agency NW Ayer, located on West 50th St. at Worldwide Plaza) was walking in the opposite direction.  It turned out the office (like many others) had closed early because of wild stories of looting and transit disruptions. 

 

These rumors turned out to be untrue (e.g., Macy's was being looted, the Brooklyn Bridge had been blocked by rioters), but since no one knew it at the time, my commute home on the subway was made with trepidation as riders wondered what might be occurring above ground.  Indeed, some of the stores in my neighborhood were closed and a few had boarded up their windows. 

 

Later that afternoon I was curious to see if there had been any further problems in my neighborhood so I went for a run but found nothing out of the ordinary except for a larger police presence.  That night President Bush addressed the nation to assess the situation and assure viewers that calm would prevail and justice served.  

 

La_riot_fire The inconvenience suffered by New Yorkers on that day paled by comparison to Angelenos who struggled through nearly a week of unrest.  More than 50 persons were killed, thousands were injured or jailed and property damage was close to $1 billion.  Since the turmoil threatened to spread to affluent neighborhoods, some residents there stood on rooftops with guns.  Sporting events were cancelled, freeway and air traffic was disrupted and restricted.  It was the worst rioting in the U.S. since the assassination of Martin Luther King 24 years earlier.

 

 

Bill_cosby_showThis unrest coincided with the final episode of the Cosby Show on Thursday.  NBC considered postponing the telecast until the following week, but Cosby was against the idea because he felt airing it as scheduled would maintain a semblance of normalcy.  (He asked NBC if he could address viewers in Los Angeles to plead for calm.)  The episode posted a 28 household rating/45 share (nearly double its season average), making it the 6th highest rated telecast of the 1991/92 season.

 

 

 

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INS Takes Elian Gonzalez by Force, Reunites Him with Father (April 22, 2000)

Elian_gonzalez_time_coverI was visiting my mother in Pittsburgh for Easter in 2000 when little Elian Gonzalez was forcibly removed from his relatives' Miami home by an INS SWAT team.  6-year-old Elian had become an innocent, and adorable, political football ever since he was rescued from a piece of flotsam off the coast of Florida during Thanksgiving weekend in 1999.  He, his mother and twelve others set off from Cuba but their boat capsized and Elian was just one of three to survive (his mother died).  Elian's U.S. relatives wanted custody of him but his father in Cuba demanded his return - and he was backed by the U.S. judicial system.  The little boy's relatives, however, resisted and put up countless legal challenges.  Finally, having lost patience with the family's willful ignoring of court orders to turn him over, the Justice Department took action the day before Easter.  In the pre-dawn hours an INS SWAT team swiftly and forcibly removed Elian from the relatives' home in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood and reunited him with his father, who had been allowed into the U.S.

 

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Justified as this action was, I found it a bit jarring coming as it did during Christianity's most sacred time of year.  And as we dyed Easter eggs it was hard to get the above image (seen on the front page of every newspaper) out of my mind.  A few months later, after more legal attempts by his unreasonable relatives were exhausted, he and his father quietly returned to Cuba.

 

From the time of this incident Florida has regularly been the center of various controversies.  Later that same year it was the focus of the disputed presidential election.  Then in 2002 Rosie O'Donnell brought attention to the state's gay adoption ban.  2005 saw the political grandstanding over the pulling of the plug on comatose Terri Schiavo.  After the nation's financial meltdown in 2008 Florida was one of the states hit hardest by foreclosures.  And then just a few months ago the Trayvon Martin shooting caused a nationwide uproar followed recently by a backlash by Cuban Americans after Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team, made pro-Castro comments.    

 

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