(Osama bin Laden’s death, tied to the memory of September 11th, will for many be an indelible moment. “Where were you when you found out?” Eliminating both of those events from the equation, this week’s Five For Friday looks back at Fully Reconditioned’s personal choices for unforgettable breaking-news moment.)
Magic Johnson announces he has HIV (November 7, 1991).
This probably only hit me immediately because my parents, former SoCal residents, were huge Laker fans, but in a strangely reassuring, especially at this point, moment of humanity, nearly all of my childhood friends, either Bulls or Pistons fans at this point, united in talking about how great Magic Johnson was.
Joe Strummer’s death (December 22, 2002).
The first death of a musician that affected me. I believe I read the news from America Online, and afterwards went for a long drive while listening to London Calling. In time, The Clash would become one of my all-time pantheon desert-island bands. Streetcore, the Strummer solo album (along with his Mescaleros) released ten months after he died, may well be the best new-material posthumous LP in the history of rock.
Kurt Cobain’s death (April 5/8, 1994).
The truth is that I don’t actually remember when or how I first heard about it. Though I had been a bigger fan of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden at the time, Kurt Cobain’s suicide was a good check to rock star idol worship. It woke me up to the fact that being a star or a great musician doesn’t preclude you from being miserable.
Tupac Dies (September 13, 1996).
I was at Burger King with some peoples, and as I went up to order, one of my older former grade school mates told me the news.
Ken Griffey, Jr. traded to Reds (February 12, 2000).
Griffey’s acquisition was break-in news on all four local Cincinnati channels. Each aired helicopter footage of Junior being driven from Lunken Airport to Cinergy Field by then-team-owner Carl Lindner, who drove his own Bentley for the occasion. This was the high point of Griffey’s tenure with the Reds.
Tearing Down of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989).
My mind recalls people with sledgehammers banging away on the wall, but that’s probably an after-the-fact image. The destruction of the Berlin wall is the first time that I remember being confronted with world politics that didn’t directly involve America. The most striking thing about it was the celebratory nature.
1989 World Series Earthquake (October 17, 1989).
This was in my deepest depths of watching every single baseball game aired on TV, and keeping score of every game in a big spiral-bound notebook of 12-inning sheets. I sat down to do that on my birthday, but the Loma Prieta earthquake happened instead.
Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates on re-entry (February 1, 2003).
I had a dream out of left field that a space shuttle had crashed. I woke up to a phone call from my father that Columbia had fallen apart.
War with Iraq begins (March 20, 2003).
A war with Iraq had been a looming possibility for a while, but hearing news of it on TV while taking my seat at a Mexican restaurant while dating my wife, was surreal. I wondered how long it would last and what it would mean for the future of the country. And after learning of this news, I ate a burrito. What else could you do?
2003 Iraq Invasion (March 20, 2003).
I was in the least-desirable possible location to witness the initial Iraq invasion in 2003: a college newspaper office where everyone already had a fully-formed view of what was happening.
Armando Galarraga throws a perfect game that isn’t (June 2, 2010).
The surging Reds were playing the Cardinals, who’d dominated the NL Central for some billion years or so. It was a Wednesday night game, a real national-TV get for a Cincy fan living expatriate in Chicago. They may not have even killed an inning before the updates from Detroit began, that some long-armed nobody named Armando Galarraga had a perfect game going, what would have been the second perfect game in a week and third in a month, outlandish coincidences prefaced only by Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive pair of no-hitters for the 1938 Reds, a meek feat by comparison.
Galarraga got to the ninth and I couldn’t give a fuck about Reds-Cards. ESPN had abandoned it. A frenzy of text messaging, baseball obsessives like myself and friends with tangential interest in the game. Is this going to happen? Whoever heard of Armando Galarraga? A perfect game, slotted nice and easy into prime-time? Nobody sees perfect games. There had been eighteen in baseball history before this one and its recent partners (Roy Halladay for Philadelphia and Dallas Braden for Oakland). The kid was throwing junk, good junk, and the Indians had no interest in mucking up history. Galarraga put down two outs and it sure well felt like it.
The footage stings me, watching it. A kind of nausea.
Scotty Bowman Retires After Wings Win Cup (June 13, 2002).
The 2002 Detroit Red Wings were a powerhouse for the ages. They boasted all-star players from Steve Yzerman to Dominic Hasek. The laundry list of great players was one thing, but Scotty Bowman, perhaps the greatest coach in hockey history, was behind the bench. He had been coaching for over 30 years and had won with Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Detroit. While the Wings were celebrating their most recent Cup victory, news of Bowman’s immediate retirement spread across the ice, player by player until it reached us watching at home. It was the bittersweet end of an era.
The OJ Chase (June 17, 1994).
I remember very clearly watching the basketball game that night, because my mom was watching something in the living room, so my dad and I were banished in our sports-watching to the parents bedroom TV, until the chase was in full effect. I also remember the d-bag reporter on the channel we were watching commenting on the people gathering on the shoulders of the highway by saying, “Attica, Attica” long before I ever saw Dog Day Afternoon.
My dad explained what he was talking about, and happily explained how stupid the reporter was for bringing it up.
Columbine (April 20, 1999).
The invasion by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris of their own school, an indiscriminate assault on peers who meant them no harm nor dishonor, culminating in a dual suicide that left no real human inquiry into “Why?”
To an overwrought sophomore in high school, it was rather a striking event.
Space Shuttle Challenger explodes (January 28, 1986).
When I came home from school that day, the footage of an exploding spaceship was on TV and my mother was watching it. They played it a lot. The image of a spaceship blowing up is enough to impress any 5 year old child, but more than the footage itself or my own personal reaction to it, I remember my mother being distraught.