It's hot today, I mean HOT! "Oh, pshaw!" I hear you scoff, "You people up there in your little green paradise don't know what hot is!" Don't believe me, just ask.
"Okay, I'll bite. How hot was it?"
It was hot, okay? Record-crushingly hot, not just the hottest day of the year, not just the highest recorded temperature for this date, but the hottest day EVER RECORDED in these parts since geeks with thermometers started recording temperatures around here about 118 years ago.
103 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise.
That's pretty darned hot, by anyone's standards; just to put it into context, that's roughly 25 degrees hotter than the average this time of year.
And we're being told to expect more of the same tomorrow, another day in triple-digits, before it starts "cooling down" into the 90's and upper 80's for the weekend, where it will apparently remain for some time.
I never thought I'd say this, but being in Chicago next week is going to be an actual relief.
July 20, 1969 was a few months shy of my 9th birthday, but I still recall that day vividly; actually a greater part of that week, since the TV networks pre-empted whatever was on at the moment whenever a television transmission was beamed down from Columbia/Eagle. It's something I think a lot of people born in the modern era of total global media saturation don't fully comprehend: the Apollo 11 mission was the first truly world-wide media event, with literally one quarter of the four-odd billion human beings listening to or watching every detail of the journey as it occurred in real-time.
Here in the Pacific Northwest it's still light at 8:00 p.m. in July, when Armstrong crawled out through the Lunar Module hatch and onto the "porch" just prior to the beginning of the live TV transmission. I was laying on the floor of our living room, watching one of those gigantic old color console TV's; my dad sitting in his lounger behind me, and my step mom and younger brothers sort of wandering around, maybe paying attention, maybe not. My entire focus was on that TV screen, so any peripheral activity going on around me was pretty much blanked out.
The landing itself had occurred some seven hours earlier, around 1:00 p.m. local time, so this had literally been an all day event, what with the CM/LM separation, the pre-burn visual inspection, then the actual de-orbit burn and landing. The networks had essentially cancelled whatever regular programming had been scheduled for that day (a Sunday, as I recall). Most of this of course wasn't seen by the television audience, but the network commentators (or, if you wanted the "real coverage", just CBS's Walter Cronkite - R.I.P.) were backed up by teams of reporters staking out every facility in NASA's network, from Mission Control in Houston, to JPL in Pasadena, even the contractors if I recall correctly, and of course everyone had some sort of model, or graphic representation, or animation available to illustrate every maneuver and activity.
So, we're sitting there, glued to the tube, watching the pictures come in from mission control, and listening to the eerie, occasionally echo-ey audio, when suddenly this ghostly, grainy black-and-white image pops up with a crawler scrolling across the bottom saying "Live From The Surface Of The Moon". Frankly, it was pretty hard to make out at first, since the LM had intentionally come down facing into its own shadow. But then, in that darkness, there was movement, and after a moment or two you could just make out the image of a puffy figure climbing down the ladder attached to the LM's front leg; Armstrong making his way down slowly, testing his ability to move in the bulky 300 pound space suit in one-sixth earth gravity; hopping up and down from the bottom rung to the landing foot-pad (because, as it turns out, he'd landed so softly, even despite having only a few seconds of fuel left, the shock-absorbing landing legs hadn't depressed as far down as had been expected), all the while describing his actions as we're watching them, which helped clarify things a great deal since he really was hard to make out in the low-contrast image.
Then, suddenly he gets still, and you can hear the tension in his voice: "Okay, I'm going to step off the LM now", and there's a slight side-ways movement; "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I've seen this footage literally scores of times since that day, and despite his intention of including that additional "a" before "man", I can say with full confidence that it wasn't there. No glitch in the transmission, no halting pause - he just forgot to say it, period. Don't let the revisionists tell you otherwise. It's not like he wasn't a bit preoccupied at the time.
And at that moment, I think the entire world must have let out a collective sigh of breath - I know I did. Because, as tension-filled as the landing itself had been, this was THE moment, what we'd all been waiting for since Kennedy's Rice University speech in 1962 when he made the challenge to "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth" before the end of the decade. Like Columbus (or maybe Erikson, or some unknown Chinese sailor) setting foot in the new world, Amundson at the South Pole, Hillary on Everest's summit, it's that one step, that physical touching of the unexplored place that seems to matter most to us, and here we were watching the most important step to occur in our lifetime, perhaps in any lifetime, live in glorious black-and-white television.
Cronkite, removing his glasses and wiping obvious tears from his eyes, with a grin as wide as the moon itself is also a memory that sticks with me. Anyone who grew up in that era, in the States at any rate, recognized him as one of our most trusted authority figures. He was the one on the news every night, telling us about the world, about our own country, the daily body counts of U.S. soldiers killed, the protests and unrest, the triumphs and tragedies of mid-century America; and here he was, unapologetically shedding tears of joy and relief, expressing how most of us felt at that same moment TO us. So sad that he had to pass just a few days short of this momentous anniversary, of which he was such an integral spectator.
After that, the rest of the moon walk is a bit of a blur in my memory. Once Armstrong set up the second, tripod-mounted TV camera, things were a little easier to make out, since it was out of the LM's shadow and showing considerably more detail and contrast. There were images of Aldrin coming out of the LM, down the ladder and onto the surface; magnificent panorama shots of the desolate, yet surprisingly smooth lunar landscape; two marshmallow encased figures bouncing up-and-down on the lunar surface; the setting up of the U.S. flag; Nixon's telephone call to the astronauts (another now taken-for-granted notion, that one can just pick up a phone and call someone, not just anywhere on the earth, but on another planet as well!); the unveiling and reading of the plaque attached to the LM landing leg intoning a message of peace and unity, ironic for a mission originally conceived in an era of paranoia and military competitiveness.
And then two and a-half hours later, they were crawling back into the LM. The TV transmission ceased, there were a few final comments from the reporters, and it was all over. I remember my dad getting us ready for bed, but who could have slept after a day like that? I lay wide awake in bed for hours, while those grainy black-and-white images continued to replay in my head. staring at the Revell 1/96 scale Saturn V model that stood In the corner of the bedroom I shared with one of my younger brothers. My dad and I had built it together (well, he did most of the building!) a couple of months prior; at nearly 4 foot tall it was bigger than me, and it loomed there in the darkness like a protective totem. I imagined myself, as I had done numerous times before, occupying that tiny silver cone at the very top, racing through the inky black sky toward the dull grey orb that even now was visible in the darkness above, wondering what it must have been like to travel down to its surface. But, I didn't have to imagine - I'd seen it with my own eyes, watched two men from planet earth traverse its landscape as if I was there standing next to them as they shuffled and hopped their way into history.
Hard to believe it's now 40 years later. Even harder for me to imagine why we stopped going, just when we'd made those first few tentative steps out into the darkness. After a handful more missions - it all just ended. Sure, we had Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz (finally making friends - in space at least - with our Russian adversaries), but then another six years would pass before the first Shuttle mission - none of which has ever gone beyond 400 miles altitude above the earth's surface. All sorts of rationalizations have been put forth to explain the step-back: the public lost interest in the seemingly routine nature of the event (the near-catastrophic events of the Apollo 13 mission notwithstanding); politicians couldn't support the enormous costs, especially with a full-scale war raging half a world away; we'd reached the goal of beating the Soviets to the moon, so the race was effectively over. But, I'd seen the images of Von Braun and Bonestell, of Kubrick and Clarke; the moon was supposed to have been just the beginning, not the end. We were supposed to have giant space stations, and permanent lunar bases, and leviathan-sized ships traversing the dark solar sea to Mars - and beyond. By the first decade of the New Millennium going into outer space was supposed to have been as routine as taking a long plane flight; instead of a few hundred astronauts, there were supposed to have been thousands of us, perhaps tens of thousands, regularly leaving the surly bonds of earth and venturing out into the void. And yet, here it is nearly 2010, and we're only just now talking about going back to the moon, maybe, in another ten years or so.
I just hope to live long enough to see it happen again.
What a sad irony; Walter Cronkite, the last of the "Murrow's Boys" and the literal symbol of objective newsreporting for the past 40 years died today at the age of 92, just on the eve of the 40th Anniversary of what was perhaps the greatest story he ever covered as a news anchor.
For those of us who grew up in the '60's and '70's Cronkite was the ultimate authority figure: wise, usually somber, but not afraid to let a wry delight escape when appropriate. He was on television just about every night for decades, reporting on tragedies and triumphs, showing us the good, the bad, and sometimes the horrifying, but always informing us, teaching us more about our world and our place in it.
I was going to save posting this link until Monday, the actual anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, but in honor of the late Mr. Cronkite, now seems like an appropriate time to put it up:
Celebratory events are being held across the nation. Unfortunately, only a few events are happening locally, but I would highly recommend checking out Monday's event at Northwest Film Forum, where they'll show the original televised EVA event at 7:00 p.m., followed by a presentation by filmmaker and sound artist Joe Militus.
In the meantime, for those of you who have never experienced this incredible footage, enjoy.
I baked 50 of these little morsels, all from scratch. Mixed and rolled the dough, grated the meat & vegetables, stuffed, folded, & sealed each and every single little pie (and found the dough press I bought this afternoon to be completely worthless - good thing it only cost me $6) and brought them all to hot, flaky perfection.
I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride It Where I Like
So, I bought a bicycle a couple of months ago - nothing fancy, A used Raleigh Mojave 2.0 that a friend needed to sell for quick cash. But since then, I haven't really had time to do anything with it until yesterday, when I added a few doo-dads and gee-gaws to make it a little more road-worthy (pedal stirrups, mud guards, a new lock, & lights), and finally took it out for a test-drive down to the Theatre for our monthly late-night cabaret.
I'm still a little sore.
First off, I haven't been on a bicycle in, well, I'm not exactly sure how long, at least 9 years by my estimate. I haven't owned a bike since I moved onto the boat, which would have been back in July of 2000, and it was stolen right off the bike rack at the marina shortly thereafter. I can't recall having been on one since then.
So, there's that period of adjustment, getting used to the new center of gravity, and balance, and all that. Fortunately, several years of scooter riding helps somewhat, but not completely; you're much higher up in the air, so the center of gravity rises accordingly. Also, the balance feels very different because the bike itself is so much lighter in comparison.
Then there's simply the act of pedaling; getting the seat and handlebars adjusted to balance between comfort and efficiency. Right now, the seat feels about right, but the handlebars need to come up quite a bit, so that will get fixed today.
Seattle is a city of hills (seven, according to the local history, just like Rome; you can spot the newbies when they try to name them, and get into arguments with the natives over which of Seattle's currently existing and/or long-vanished promontories qualify as the "original seven") and I happen to live on the back side of one of the larger ones, while just about everything I need to get to is on the other side. Fortunately, I'm close to the top, but getting to the summit is a somewhat steep climb for those few blocks; going over the first time, I ended up switchbacking over a few side streets that have a little gentler slope than the main street, although I did manage to make it up Union on the return trip. Still, it was huffing-and-puffing all the way to the top; but then, that's sort of the point, isn't it?
Of course, riding on hills also means dealing with gravity - going both directions - and having prior experience in terms of being hit on these same hills on "Little Nellie", I'm just short of paranoid when it comes to traffic, particularly coming off side-streets, alleys, and driveways. So, I probably won't be doing any speedy descents anytime soon, given that I know what it feels like to fall off a scooter at 20 mph, and that I'm sporting even less in the way of protective gear (the obligatory helmet aside) which means I can anticipate major "road burn" - or worse - in the event of a crash. And it's a given that, until I get in better shape, climbing is going to be the hardest part of the deal for a while.
But, still, it's a start. I may not get up to the level I was at back in high school, when I could do 70 miles in a single go, climb two-mile long hills without getting winded, and looked not unlike those bike racers from "The Triplets of Belleville": legs thick as Douglas Fir trunks, and a toothpick-skinny upper torso (why, oh why did someone not explain to me the benefits of upper body training back in those days?). But, if in the process it increases my lung capacity, improves my cardio, and burns off a few pounds, well I won't be complaining.