Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK - Where Were You?

Those of us alive and aware of life in 1963 remember precisely where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of the assassination. I know I do.

I had been lounging on the beach in Acapulco, Mexico with friends.  (Before Cancun or Puerta Vallarta there was Acapulco.) Enjoying a well earned, long awaited holiday planned months earlier. We were all involved in the media business in some way or other; NY dailies like the NY Journal American (defunct), CBS, and the East Village Other (defunct), Museum of Modern Art.

Anyway, we enjoyed sunning, scuba diving, drinking, dancing, and no ringing phones or deadlines to break the spell. Friday was our last day together.  A few had flights back Friday night, but most of us were booked on flights Saturday or Sunday;  Determined to squeeze whatever sun and sand we could out of those final hours. 

We had a favorite luncheon waiter who took very good care of us; joking about politics in general and NY politics in particular.  A well informed, no nonsense kind of guy. We met  for lunch as usual at the hotel's outdoor restaurant facing the beach on Friday before noon. The usual snappy patter, political bantering and laughter followed as he related current events from the NY papers. 

Suddenly, in the middle of our meal the waiter appeared white-faced, 
looking grim. He blurted out, "the president has been shot and the governor of Texas has been killed." At  first we thought this was the opening line of one of his lengthy jokes/tirades about US policies, but as he stood rigid, frozen in his tracks, staring at us it became clear that something was wrong.

Resort Hotels back then didn't always offer TV in individual rooms - it wasn't that important when one was on holiday - we made our way to the lobby (the only TV sat on a high table in the corner of the room) to join other visitors already there, hands cupped over mouths, eyes glued to the flickering black & white images.

Some with tears in their eyes had already heard the story was now reversed. Connolly was wounded and Kennedy was dead. Few available phone lines - and fewer open long distance circuits - made it difficult to get through to NYC, but one of our group finally did.  She returned to us confirming the worst. She was a copy editor at the Journal American and her boss told her the borders were closed (at this point we didn't know this), but to get to the office as soon as she got back to NY. 

No one moved or spoke for a while and then, almost as one, everyone attempted to reach airlines to change flights to get back as soon as possible. However, all flights into and out of the country were grounded until further notice.  Borders closed! What were we thinking? Nothing, really.  It was an automatic reflex.  "Borders Closed" hadn't sunk in yet.

Stranded, helpless (not that we could have done anything), powerless, angry, but mostly in deep pain. The following days are a blur. We were like zombies moving through the hours and days. By the time airlines rebooked us, we were essentially on auto-pilot drifting along on cigarettes and booze, and running on empty.

The short hop from Acapulco to Mexico City was quick and painless. Mexicana Airways personnel were sympathetic, offering kind words in broken English as we departed. 

The flight from Mexico City to NYC was hushed, reverent. Back then of course,  there were no diversions like music or inflight movies. No one ate much, but we sure drank plenty (in those days everything was free) and Eastern Airlines spared no expense in that department. The flight was otherwise uneventful, we landed on time.

Idlewild (now JFK) was eerily quiet and ghostly. There was an unending queue of shuttle buses waiting to take arriving passengers to the city, Long Island, even Connecticut. There were no Skycaps. I just wanted to get my luggage and get safely home.  Why?  I didn't know. But it was important.

A few days later a couple of friends and I met at Penn Station, took an empty train to DC for the funeral. It was sunny, windy, and cold in DC, but we had to be there to see for ourselves. Even then, it was hard to believe it was all painfully real; the president was dead.  

Back in NYC the numbness, confusion, and too many unanswered questions lingered for a very long time. Some would say they linger even 50 years on.


1 comment:

  1. I was in 4th grade (catholic school). we were sent home early with no explanation. my mom spent the weekend in front of the old b&w tv.

    and in our lifetime, we will NEVER know the truth.


Your comments are welcome if they are positive and/or helpful.
If they are simply a tirade or opinionated bullshit, they will be removed, so don't waste your time, or mine.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...