All day today members of the media will be posing the question – do you remember where you were when man first stepped on the moon – July 20, 1969? And, I do – I’m really lucky I have any memory of those times – really lucky to have a few brain cells left from that time.
July 1969 was the summer after high school graduation for me and my group of friends seemed to have been celebrating since graduation in early June. A lot of drinking and what not.
That summer my family’s home was the party house. My parents were spending a lot of time in northern Michigan – sometimes two and three weeks at a time and almost every weekend. My dad was a big fisherman. So the group of guys I hung out with were practically living at my house – when they were not at summer jobs, but every evening no matter what – my house was the focal point.
We were big card players back then and the game that summer was In-Between or High or Low. This was a game where everyone playing would put a dollar in the pot and the dealer would place two cards face up and each player could make a bet if the next card would fall in-between. Like if you had a two and a king – chances are the next card would fall in-between, but if it was an ace, two or king – you were burned and you had to put in the pot what your bet was. Depending on how good your chances were – was how much you bet. If you got really good cards – like a two and an ace – with aces you could call it high or low – if this was a high ace – you might bet to cover the pot. Most saw that as a sure bet, but when you’re drinking a lot, there’s a large group and a lot of distractions – you might forget that there are still some twos or aces that have not been played yet in that deck – and get burned when the next card came up. You’d be amazed on how many people got burned on a so called sure thing.
And, then there were some that were so crazy or felt so lucky that they would bet – a lot of money that the next card would be in-between an eight and a king or even less of a spread. We were a crazy bunch back then.
We would play this game all night long or until someone won everyone else’s money. After one of those nights a bunch of us were still chillin’ out – another word for suffering from our hangovers – and watching TV – watching Neil Armstrong get ready to make the first step on the moon. After he did it and didn’t blow up or something or a hand reach out from the ground and grab his foot we cheered – like the rest of the country was doing and started saying – this is big, this is something and before you knew it we were saying – we need to do something – something big. It was, “One small step for man,” and we were going to take one too.
What we came up with was a train trip to Montreal, Canada. Our school’s French club had gone there on a school trip and we heard it was great so we figured that would be a big trip for us. As my memory goes, five guys came up with the money we figured – to the penny – we needed to make the trip – train fare both ways, hotel fee, and some for “entertainment”.
I won’t go into the details of the trip – mostly because I can’t remember them all and what I do remember is a little fuzzy, but we did it and for me – my parents didn’t even know I had left the country. A point of pride throughout my life – it was called independence.
I will tell you a little about the train ride that seemed to last forever. In 1969, as you graduated from high school as a young, healthy US male, we were required to register for the draft and then wait for the draft lottery when your birth-date was assigned a number – mine was 127 – not good, not totally bad, but that’s another story altogether (See the movie Across the Universe). I can bet you that every US male of a certain age group can tell you what their draft number was – to this day. We’re talking Viet Nam folks. On the train, the Grand Trunk Railroad, as we passed into Canada, a conductor came to each of us and asked to see our draft cards and asked – “are you guys really coming back to the US?”. At that point it was never a thought in our minds – we were all headed to college in the fall. Also, at the time, we didn’t know what our draft number would be – that came later that summer – good thing too – I might have ended up living with some of my old distant relatives in Canada.
We all made it back to the good old US of A – penniless, but we had done something – something that to us was big.
Back then America was a can-do society, president John F. Kennedy had thrown down the challenge to Americans and we stepped up. The summer of 1969 was also the summer of Woodstock. I recently watched the movie and felt a little sad about how my generation let a great opportunity slip by to really change our nation and the world. It seems these days we’re more like the – well, I don’t know – it sounds good but maybe we shouldn’t take the chance generation.
Maybe it’s time we did something big – something special for American and maybe, one day we can get ourselves back to the garden. But then, maybe that’s just a line from a song from once upon a time in America.