Work Life

Terror Unleashed by Poison Gas Attack in Tokyo (March 20, 1995)

Tokyo_terrotistsTokyo_sarin_attackI was starting a new job on March 20, 1995 at ad agency Foote Cone & Belding where I was hired as media research director of its New York office.  When my clock radio went off that Monday morning is when I first heard the news about the gas attacks on Tokyo's metro system during the morning rush hour.  Members of a Japanese religious cult known as "Supreme Truth" carried out the attacks by puncturing small packages containing a liquid form of the lethal gas, sarin.  They did this on three train lines; once leaked, the liquid turned into a vapor which felled thousands of passengers and killed twelve.   


Of course, this was especially chilling for the millions of us who used New York's subway system to commute to work every day. 




OklahomacityOne month later homegrown terrorism visited our own shores when a truck bomb laden with explosives tore apart the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing168.  Unlike the Japanese terrorists, one of those charged in the U.S. attack, Timothy McVeigh, was executed.


Now_and_again_tv_showThen five years later an episode of a new show on CBS, Now and Again, brought to mind the Tokyo attacks.  A villain known as the Eggman (played by Chinese actor Kim Chan) cracked open eggs filled with noxious gas on a New York subway.  All of the passengers died, but in a somewhat more gruesome fashion than those who died in Tokyo.   



World Trade Center Attacked for First Time (February 26, 1993)




It was lunchtime on a gray and unseasonably cold Friday, with a touch of snow in the air.  Our winter intern, Sherida, and I were heading to a business lunch with an account executive from the Fox TV network at Pietrasanta, a nearby restaurant at the corner of 9th Ave./46th St.  As we walked the four blocks from our office at Worldwide Plaza (we worked at ad agency NWAyer) we noticed a plume of smoke rising in the distance from lower Manhattan.  There was also a lot of noise from the blaring horns and sirens of fire trucks racing down the street.


Time magazine - first wtc bombing


After we returned from lunch I heard the news about a truck bomb exploding in the underground parking garage of the North tower of the World Trade Center and realized that was where the smoke was coming from.  It was chilling to hear speculation that the goal of the bomb was to collapse the North tower and have it fall into the South tower.  Unfortunately, as bad as this attack was (six died, more than 1,000 were injured), it was just a prelude to the horrors of the attacks on 9-11.







Space Shuttle Challenger Explodes As Millions Watch (January 28, 1986)

Challenger_explodes The morning of Jan. 28, 1986, a Tuesday, was a cold one in New York, following a surprise 1.5" snowfall overnight.  I was back at work (ad agency Young & Rubicam) after having been out sick on Monday and the previous Friday.  Shortly before noon my secretary, Voula, came clomping into my office to deliver the day's mail and blurted out that the space shuttle had exploded.  Then she made a snide comment about the teacher, Christa McCauliffe, who was on board, let out a little cackle, and walked out.  I left my office and walked over to the office of a broadcast buyer to watch the unending replay of the shuttle's disintegration against the clear blue Florida sky.  What was chilling was the crowd reaction at the launch site because at first they didn't understand what they had just witnessed but as the realization came over them their excited gasps of wonder turned to sobs of distress.  




Crrazy_eddie This date also sticks in mind because after coming home from work I went to electronics store Crazy Eddie near my apartment in Greenwich Village and bought my first color TV - a 14" Sharp.  I paid $329 for it, at the time the largest single purchase I'd ever made.  I was really looking forward to watching that evening's episode of Moonlighting in color.




(The book Truth, Lies & O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster provides a detailed account of what led to the shuttle's tragic demise.)  



Air Florida Flight 90 Crashes Into Potomac River During Snowstorm (January 13, 1982)


Plane.crash.in.potomac.1982 Airflorida.logo

January 1982 was particularly cold and snowy in the Eastern half of the US.  On Jan. 13 a snowstorm paralyzed the Southeast and then moved into the mid-Atlantic states.  The storm proved deadly for passengers on board a Ft. Lauderdale-bound Air Florida jet flying out of Washington, DC in the middle of the afternoon.  Not properly de-iced, Flight 90 was unable to gain sufficient altitude and crashed into the Potomac River after taking off from National Airport, its tail wing clipping a nearby bridge just a few miles from the White House


Dramatic TV footage showed rescuers desperately trying to reach some passengers in the icy waters.  Unfortunately, unlike US Air Flight 1549's "Miracle on the Hudson" 27 years later, very few passengers survived since this was a crash and not a water landing.  Only five passengers survived - 78 others (and four motorists on the bridge) were killed. 


Although my office (ad agency Young & Rubicam) had closed early because of the snow (which began during lunchtime in New York) I was still in my office when I heard the radio bulletin reporting on the crash late that afternoon.  Because I briefly worked on the Eastern Airlines account at Y&R I knew the repercussions a plane crash had for media planners working on any airline account.  All media outlets carrying airline advertising had to be contacted to make sure all ads were pulled.  (Although most outlets knew to do this without being contacted, the calls still had be made).  However, this time no one at Y&R had to scramble because the agency had lost the Eastern account four months earlier (after 17 years).   




Milli Vanilli Fraud Rocks the Pop Music Industry (November 15, 1990)

Milli_vanilli In mid-November 1990 I was away on a business trip in Los Angeles visiting my company's office there for the first time (ad agency NWAyer).  That evening, a Thursday, I was in my hotel room (the newly renovated Biltmore) getting ready to drive into West Hollywood for a bite to eat when I heard a breaking story on the evening news about Grammy-winning vocal duo Milli Vanilli (Best New Artist of 1990).  It was revealed that they hadn't done their own singing when recording or performing!


Milli_vanilli_albumcover Despite this deception I couldn't understand why a class-action lawsuit was filed to obtain refunds for those who purchased MV's CD/record Girl You Know It's True (which sold nearly 10 million units and produced five top-5 singles).  After all, the wildly popular songs were unchanged, with the same great hooks and beats, so if fans previously liked hits such as Girl I'm Gonna Miss You why would they no longer enjoy them now?  Of course, MV had to give back their Grammy.  And unlike Vanessa Williams, whose career took off after a scandal (nude photos) forced her to step down as Miss America in 1984, the fledgling careers of Rob and Fab were largely over (and, sadly, Rob committed suicide in 1998).


The fascinating clip below shows them accepting their People's Choice, American Music and Grammy Awards. 






Americans Taken Hostage In Iran (November 4, 1979)

Iranian_revolution_1979A new pope, the Village People and the 3-Mile Island meltdown all upended the world order in 1979.  But the year's biggest news story was the revolution in Iran, which had major implications for the U.S. since the revolutionaries considered us its greatest enemy (the "great Satan") because of our support of the Shah during his 27 years in power.  To retaliate they instituted an oil embargo, worsening America's already floundering economy.  Their enmity towards us worsened in late October when president Carter allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. to receive cancer treatment.  


American_hostages_iranHowever, the year was a momentous one for me as I graduated college (Penn State) and joined the workforce, hired at New York ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves where I worked in its media department.  Seven months after beginning my job a furious mob broke into the U.S. embassy in Tehran (in response to the Shah coming to the U.S.) and took 54 American employees and diplomats hostage. 


TIMEMagazine_HostageCrisisEndsI was anxious over this turn of events because there was talk that the U.S. might reinstate the draft and go to war.  (And less than two months after the hostages were taken the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.)  However, after a number of months that possibility seemed to have passed, even if it took more than a year before the hostages were released (444 days, to be exact, with their release occurring the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981).


Ben_affleck_argoAll of my feelings of anxiety from this grim time in U.S. history came flooding back in 2012 when I went to see Ben Affleck's new movie, Argo, about six Americans who managed to escape the U.S. embassy in Tehran when it was overtaken.  The film perfectly captures the pervading sense of despair, impotence and anger felt in America at that time.  





Wall St. Tanks on Black Monday (October 19, 1987)

DSCN1190 For the five years leading up to today Wall St. had been in the midst of a bull market.  However, after reaching its all-time high at the end of the summer the market began heading south.  Then on the afternoon of October 19, a Monday, a number of friends called me at work to report that Wall St. was experiencing a meltdown.  Stock prices had plunged and the market was forced to close early because the huge volume of selling was just too great for the trading floor to handle. 


At the closing bell the Dow had plummeted 508 points, a decline of nearly 23% (this was on top of 235 points lost the previous week.)  This percent decline was nearly twice that of October 28, 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression.


DSCN1189 I was 30 years old at the time and had been kicking myself for not investing during this bull market (I didn't open my first mutual fund until the following year).  However, on the upside, since I didn't have much at stake I wasn't shaken like many of my older colleagues were.  My boyfriend at the time was very concerned as he was chief counsel at EF Hutton, a brokerage that had been under investigation for various financial improprieties.  Today's market collapse quickened its demise and in less than two months it merged with Shearson Lehman/American Express. (Happily, he kept his job.)


DSCN1188 From work I went home and tuned to the CBS Evening News to try to grasp the enormity of it all.  Wondering how much further might this collapse go was cause for anxiety as Tuesday dawned.  Trading that day was characterized by wild swings, so much that the market closed for a brief time at mid-day in hopes of regaining its bearings.  Thankfully, the market rebounded in the afternoon and half of Monday's losses were regained in the next few trading days.  This rebound was in stark contrast to the Black Mondays of 1929 and 2008 which presaged the beginning of grim economic times.  By contrast, this turned out to be merely a market "correction".




51WJYTDCK0L__SS500_ Although the number of points lost on this day in 1987 was 270 fewer than the 777-point plunge in late September 2008, the percent change was much greater because it was off a much smaller base (back then the Dow was only in the 2,000's compared to 11,000+ in 2008).  By comparison, '08's one-day decline was a drop of "only" 7%.  (A behind-the-scenes account of what transpired on October 19-20, written by a former reporter for the Wall St. Journal, is provided in the book Black Monday: The Stock Market Catastrophe of Oct. 19, 1987). 


Somewhat lost during that week in 1987's financial turmoil was the acrimonious confirmation hearings for President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court, Robert Bork.  At the end of the week the U.S. Senate would vote down his nomination by a 58-42 vote.


Anita Hill Testifies Against Clarence Thomas (October 11, 1991)



Oct. 11, 1991 was a Friday, and that afternoon I was sitting in my office at ad agency NWAyer when I heard on the radio news of the rather contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.  Anita Hill, a former colleague of Thomas', had made allegations about lewd comments he made and sexual harassment she had been subjected to when they worked together (he was her manager at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)  Curious, I walked down the hall to the office of the director of national broadcast buying to watch some of the live testimony on his TV. 


I was taken aback by Hill's frank testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, e.g., Thomas' comment about a pubic hair being on a can of Coke on his desk during a meeting with her (perhaps the most ignominious brand mentions of all time?).  Never before had words such as these, or for that matter, "penis" and "oral sex" been talked about so openly in a public forum.  (This was seven years before the references to the semen stain on Monica Lewinsky's blue dress.) 


The riveting "he said/she said" testimony continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening (when Thomas got his chance at rebuttal).  In addition to watching some of it at the office I continued watching the coverage at home before and after I went to the gym and then after traveling out to New Jersey to spend the night at my boyfriend's apartment.




Four days later Thomas was approved in a very close vote in the Senate.  In fact, the 52-48 vote was the closest confirmation vote of the 20th century.  (By comparison, Elena Kagan was confirmed this summer by a 63-37 vote, Sonia Sotomayor by 68-31 and Chief Justice John Roberts by 78-22.)  The book The Prince & the Pauper: The Case Against Clarence Thomas provides an essay that offers background into Thomas, an analysis of his confirmation as well the political process that resulted in his selection. 




In 2018 this unpleasant skewering of Hill was brought to mind when another Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of attempting to rape her in 1982 when they were teenagers in Maryland.


Brett kavanaugh





Superstar Pope Makes First Visit to U.S. (October 1-6, 1979)

Pope_with_prez The world was wild about Pope John Paul II.  Less than a year into his papacy he made a triumphant visit to his Polish homeland in June and a few months later the U.S. got its turn when he spent the first week of October 1979 in the Northeast visiting Boston, New York, Philadelphia and D.C. (he was the first pope to visit the White House).  During his visit to New York I managed to see him twice. 


Mys first sighting was during lunchtime on Tuesday, October 2 as I waited with three co-workers (the "3-M's": Marina, Maria & Marian) at the corner of First Ave./49th St.  We saw him drive past after he left the U.N., which was a short walk from our office on 3rd Ave./50th St. (ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves). 


Pope_lifemag I saw him again the following morning and this time it was pure happenstance.  I was walking to work in a downpour when he came riding past in his "popemobile" down 5th Ave. on his way to Madison Square Garden after saying mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral (see video clip below).  Not a bad way to start the day I must say!  And it seemed that the good feeling generated by JP-II's visit extended to much of the nation (or, at least, among Roman Catholics) but the euphoria would last for just a month because on November 4 the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overtaken and 52 of its American staff were taken hostage.  This turn of events, combined with tough economic times (e.g., double-digit inflation), created a national malaise that would be instrumental in bringing down Jimmy Carter's presidency. 




Hurricane Gloria Smashes Long Island, Lashes New York City (September 27, 1985)

Glorianewsday At one point earlier in the week Hurricane Gloria was a formidable category 4 storm with winds approaching 145 mph.  However, by the time it made its way up to the Mid-Atlantic region (after making an initial landfall in North Carolina) it had weakened somewhat, but was still a worry since hurricanes make so few landfalls in the New York metro area.  And although a hurricane warning had been issued for Manhattan at 4 PM on Thursday, it didn't keep me from attending a cocktail party that evening hosted by Travel & Leisure magazine to promote its jungle safari-themed November issue.  The event was held at The Safari Club, a few blocks north of Bloomingdale's. 



For whatever reason, I wasn't feeling alarm over Gloria so when I arrived home I was surprised to hear on the news that the World Trade Center would be closed the next day as well as New York City schools.  Furthermore, residents of high-rise buildings were advised to tape their windows to keep glass from showering sidewalks below if they were blown in.  I didn't worry about that since I lived in a basement/garden apartment, but I had concerns about potential flooding. 




To get in the spirit I went to the supermarket and bought candles (not that there were any above-ground power lines in Manhattan to be blown down).  It was the first time I experienced panic-shopping and hoarding.  Since a hurricane was a novelty in these parts few of us knew what to expect as we turned in for the night. 


On Friday morning (Sept. 27) I got a call from my boss at 8:00 telling me that the office (ad agency Young & Rubicam) was closed because of the storm.  However, not everyone got word and after coming in they were stranded when rail and subway tunnels were closed due to flooding.  I ventured out to pick up the paper and breakfast but I mostly wanted to experience the storm.  As I walked along Bleecker St. in the West Village I saw awnings tested mightily by the rain-blown gales and a few trash cans blowing down the street.




Manhattan was spared hurricane-force winds as the storm stayed to our east.  Gloria's "eye" moved over the Nassau/Suffolk county line (50 miles east of Manhattan), with Suffolk Co. bearing the brunt of the storm.  My friend Nina was impacted because she lived in a beachfront condo in Long Beach.  Another friend, Marina, had just moved to Southampton in Suffolk Co. and her yard suffered extensive tree damage and power was out for more than a week.  And out on Fire Island, Calvin Klein's oceanfront home in the community of the Pines lost part of its roof which landed in the swimming pool of the property behind it.




More than three inches of rain fell in Central Park that morning but skies cleared rapidly early in the afternoon. (This was much needed rain as New York was in the midst of a serious drought.)  I went out for a jog to survey the damage, which was minimal.  All I came across was a small tree blown down in the plaza of the World Trade Center.  The storm was a quick mover so it spared us from more wind damage or flooding.  I was relieved that disruptions were minimal because I had a date that night.


For a fascinating first-hand account of what it was like to experience Gloria out on Fire Island, you may want to read John Jiler's book Dark Wind: A True Account of Hurricane Gloria's Assault on Fire Island.