April 19, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday - Vol. 17

I'm sorry if this is a sad one, but this week it will be "7 Somber Takes Friday." Whenever there's a major tragic news event like the Boston Marathon bombings or the Texas fertilizer company explosion, people often ask, "Where were you?" when you found out. There's nothing special about what I was doing when these two tragedies occurred. But this does make me reflect on other major news events in my lifetime. So for my 7 Quick Takes, I will share where I was and what I was doing at seven select moments in history.

--- 1 ---
Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster, February 1, 2003: I was driving northbound on I-35 in Austin and saw something unusual in the sky. It looked like a very silvery and reflective object flying through the air with what appeared to be a white trail behind it. It was similar to when you see an airplane with a vapor trail, except this object was flying much lower in the sky than a plane with a vapor trail. It definitely looked strange, but apparently not strange enough to know there was something terrible happening. I got home shortly thereafter and saw a frightening news report on TV that NASA had lost contact with the Shuttle Columbia somewhere over Texas.

Space Shuttle Columbia Crew: God bless them

--- 2 ---
World Trade Center Attack, September 11, 2001: I was asleep when the planes hit the Twin Towers. That year, I worked an afternoon/evening shift for an Austin TV station. I was awakened by my pager with a message that said something like this: "All staff report to work immediately." The first thing that crossed my mind was that a passenger plane must have crashed at the local airport since that's the type of emergency that TV newsrooms always used to prepare for. But the next thing I did was turn on the TV and see what was really happening. I hurried off to work and was there for a long time.

The Survivor Tree in NYC (Courtesy: WABC)

--- 3 ---
Death of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, December 12, 1998: Governor Chiles was nearing the end of his last term before retirement. On this day I had worked an exhausting early shift, something like 3 a.m. to noon, at a fledgling statewide news network in Tallahassee. After I got home, I fell asleep while watching news coverage of the Clinton impeachment proceedings. For some reason, I woke up right as a news anchor interrupted the coverage with word that Chiles had died while working out. I shed a quick tear then headed back to work. About 12-hours later, Lieutenant Gov. Buddy MacKay, who had just lost the governor's race to Jeb Bush, arrived back in Tallahassee from an out-of-state trip and was hastily sworn-in to serve as governor for a few more weeks until Bush's inauguration. It was kind of emotional for us sitting in the TV station control room watching this because the emergency swearing-in ceremony made us think about the swearing-in of Lyndon Johnson after JFK's assassination. Yes, I know, these were much different circumstances. But it was still a very powerful image.

Florida Governor Lawton Chiles 1930-1998

--- 4 ---
Atlanta Olympic Park Bombing, July 27, 1996: I was home watching overnight Olympics coverage after finishing my shift as the producer of the weekend 11 p.m. newscast for Tampa's NBC station. My employer was spending big money on the Olympics and had numerous staffers (but not me) temporarily relocated to Atlanta to work our main newscasts from there. While I was watching the regular coverage, NBC announced something about an explosion with multiple injuries in Olympic Park. As a dedicated news person back then, I immediately hopped in the car and went back to work since I knew our newsroom wasn't staffed during the overnight hours on weekends. It was a frightening time because I was getting many phone calls in the newsroom from relatives of some of my coworkers in Atlanta wondering if their loved ones were okay.

Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta

--- 5 ---
World Series Earthquake, October 17, 1989: I was sitting in my college dorm room watching the World Series pre-game coverage from San Francisco on ABC, hosted by Al Michaels and Tim McCarver. McCarver was in the middle of a sentence when suddenly, the picture and sound went out, and ABC put up a green "World Series" graphic on the screen. Then the network showed an episode of the sitcom Roseanne until they were able to get news coverage on the air. (As a huge baseball fan, I had to include this one.)

ABC's 1989 World Series graphic

--- 6 ---
Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, January 28, 1986: Coincidentally, I was in ninth grade science class when the shuttle exploded shortly after liftoff. I recall someone coming into the classroom to let the teacher know what happened. Lunch was right after that class, and I vaguely remember hearing some younger kids (I went to a school that spanned from kindergarten to ninth grade) at lunch laughing and saying, "The space shuttle blew up!" Yes, that sounds repulsive. But I think we can write that off as children not realizing the severity of the situation.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew: God bless them

--- 7 ---
End of the Iran Hostage Crisis/President Reagan's Inauguration, January 20, 1981: This one's different than the others since it marked the end of a tragic event. But I remember the day well. I was in fourth grade, and the teacher let us watch TV coverage of the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan which also included updates about the end of the 444-day hostage crisis in Iran. It's not so much the "where was I?" factor that stands out for this one. What I really remember was the front page of the Palm Beach Post the next morning. There were two large photos-- one of the freed hostages and one of the new president being sworn in. Above the photos was a large headline which said, "Day 444 - Day 1." It's possible that I may still have this newspaper wrapped in a bag and buried in a closet somewhere in our house. I'll have to look for it.

Hostages arrive home

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary.

(All photos in this post are from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.)

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