Where were you when you heard the news?

Editor’s note: I’m not sure about you, but I look back on my life and know exactly where I was on certain milestone events.  Some are world events and some are personal. Recently, we’ve had several milestone events that we will look back on and know exactly where we were when we heard the news.

I was sitting in my recliner, holding my 19-month old grandson Friday morning when I saw the news on CNN. Henry Aaron was dead at 86. Another huge piece of my youth gone.

Immediately, I thought back to April 8, 1974. On that evening, I was sitting in the living room of a friend in Mena, Ark., watching Aaron and the Atlanta Braves play the Dodgers. Hammerin’ Hank hit career home run No. 715 that broke Babe Ruth’s record early in the game. It was a milestone that had long been anticipated and marked by a lot of racist ugliness because Aaron was black.  I felt relief that it was finally over.

Aaron’s record HR and his passing were both personal and national milestones that got me to thinking of other big national — and personal — events of my lifetime: where was I when I heard the news?

So, I sat down and compiled a list of what comes to mind.

Nov. 22, 1963 — JFK assassination. This was an incredibly traumatic event both for the nation and a 10-year-old me. I was sitting in a 5th grade classroom at Crockett Elementary in Bryan, Texas, when we all heard the news. My teacher, Ms. Skrivanek, cried. I thought of nothing but that event for weeks.

April 4, 1968 — Martin Luther King assassination. I was a ninth grader living on the island of Okinawa with my military family. I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. I do know it was traumatic for both the nation and for the thousands of Americans living far from home.

June 6, 1968 — Robert Kennedy assassination. I remember this moment because my family and I were about to board an airplane that would take us to Taiwan for a week of vacation. I kind of felt like the world was coming apart because the MLK assassination happened only weeks before.

July 20, 1969 — The moon landing. This was huge. We got to stay home from Sunday night church to watch the first man step on the moon. My dad was in Vietnam, and I watched it with my mom and my sister in our living room in Fort Smith, Ark. I’m pretty sure we still had a black and white television.

Dec. 6, 1969 — Richard Nixon visits Fort Smith. This is purely personal, and I’ve written about it before. But I was at the airport to greet Nixon as he passed through town on his way to Fayetteville for the Arkansas-Texas football game. I got to shake his hand.

August 16, 1977 — Elvis has left the building. Time marches on and I was in college in Abilene, Texas, working at a small clothing shop. A neighboring merchant came into the store and told us that Elvis was dead. If you aren’t old enough to remember, Elvis was a pretty big deal.

December 8, 1980 — John Lennon murdered in NYC. This one hit me almost as hard as JFK’s death. I was in the living room of a friend in Roland, OK. We were switching back and forth from Monday Night Football to some other show, but Howard Cosell broke the news and we heard it. Devastating. Until that moment, I was still dreaming of a Beatles reunion. No more.

April 19, 1995 — The OKC Bombing. I was a reporter for The Oklahoman sitting in a meeting of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission on NE 63rd Street when the building was rocked by the compression from the bomb about 5 miles south of us. Someone speculated a gas explosion. Someone else an airplane crash. Then someone came into the room and said a bomb had exploded at the federal building. It seems that everyone in OKC knew someone who lost their life or was directly impacted from the bombing. We are still living with the fallout of it.

September 11, 2001 — The Twin Towers. I was about to take my 5-year old son to his pre-K class at Washington Irving Elementary when the Today Show reported that an airplane had hit one of the towers. I thought it must have been a Cessna or something. Little did we know how devastating and traumatic it would turn out to be.

July 4, 2016 — Kevin Durant signs with Golden State Warriors. If you aren’t a Thunder fan, this is no big deal. But I am and it hit me hard. We were at my mother in-law’s house near Hammon, and I was refreshing my computer over and over on KD’s Players’ Tribune page. Finally, there it was, in black and white. Our favorite player was ditching OKC after 8 years. We were devastated.

Jan. 6, 2021 — A day that will live in infamy. Like most of America, I was watching the debate over the Electoral College certification when the mob broke into the Capitol. Insurrectionists, white supremacists, traitors, all the same to me. They are egged on by a would-be dictator not grounded in reality. 

Jan. 20, 2021 — Free at last! Started the day at 6:30 am from my living room watching Trump slink out of town. Then watched and celebrated Biden’s inauguration. A day of promise.

A salute to 1971, the coolest year, from a cool kid wannabe

From the cool year of 1971, a cool kid wannabe peers out from his high school yearbook

I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article the other day that outlined what a watershed year 1971 was in many, many ways. (You can read it here with a WSJ subscription.) 

It was the year that Nixon/Kissinger reached out to China and opened the U.S. to an important trading partner that had only been seen previously as an arch enemy.

It was the beginning of the end of AT&T’s monopoly of the nation’s telecommunications industry, with an FCC ruling that opened the door to a second long-distance calling provider.

It was the end of the link that tied the U.S. dollar to the value of gold, opening the way to what are known as “floating exchange rates.”

Walt Disney World opened in 1971, as did a little coffee business known as Starbucks, as well as the Nasdaq trading market. The 26th amendment passed that gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Intel introduced the 4004 chip, considered the first “computer on a chip” and launching a wave of technology innovation that continues today.

The Journal article pointed out that all of these events happened in a single year exactly 50 years ago.

Then it hit me. I graduated high school in 1971, which means I’ve been out of high school for half a century.

The thought almost brought me to tears as I was hit by a wave of nostalgia.

I’m not nostalgic for my high school class, because I never, ever sat at the cool kids table. I was a cool kid wannabe, but never made the cut.

I was mostly invisible to my classmates at Southside High School in Fort Smith, Ark.

So, why did this article hit me so hard? I think it’s because I had never really given any thought to how many years had passed since Graduation Day in 1971.

And how I’ve lived sort of my own version of Forrest Gump’s life in the intervening 50 years, still trying to be one of the cool kids and never quite making it.

But I’m proud of the newspaper career I pursued for more than 30 of those years, a career that brought me to OKC where I would meet the woman who became my wife, the kids we raised, yada, yada, yada.

Enough of that.

Just know that 1971 was a really, really cool year. I’m proud that it’s the year of my high school graduation.

Even if I wasn’t one of the cool kids.

Baseball deaths and the passage of time

Colt Stadium in Houston was the locale for my first Major League baseball experience

The death of baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan this week took me back to the early 1960s and a rickety old stadium in Houston where I saw my first Major League Baseball game. I was there with my Little League team from Bryan/College Station.

We all wore our uniforms, as did about 5,000 other Little Leaguers that day. The outfield stands were a splash of rainbow colors from so many uniformed youngsters sitting together.

While I don’t remember anything about that game from 1963, I do remember that Joe Morgan was a member of the Houston Colt 45s, who were playing the St. Louis Cardinals. Jimmy Wynn, known as the Toy Cannon, also was a member of that team.

Bonus memory: We could see the Astrodome under construction right next door to Colt Stadium, so the baseball future held a lot of promise for a 10-year-old.

Of course, Morgan eventually was traded from Houston and built his Hall of Fame career as a key player with the 1970s Big Red Machine in Cincinnati. The Houston Chronicle published a story this week about how he was the one that got away. Read it here.

That 1963 Houston Colt 45s experience pretty much ensured I would be a lifelong baseball fan.

Like most kids of the time, I collected baseball cards and memorized the starting lineups of the teams. I even made up my own stats-based game that mimicked the APBA baseball board game but used a spinner instead of dice.

Joe Morgan as a Cincinnati Red

Fast forward more than half a century to the awful year of 2020. Morgan and Wynn both died this year. They are among a host of former Major League players who passed away in 2020, a list that includes all-time greats like Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Tom Seaver, Al Kaline and Whitey Ford.

Baseball Reference publishes a running list of every former player who died this year. You can see the list here.

The deaths of Seaver, Ford, Brock, Gibson and Morgan came in rapid succession. It hurt. As a child of the ‘60s, it’s painful to watch my heroes pass into history. 

Each death hammers home the passage of time, but I’m hanging on to the distant memories. It’s all we have left in the end.

My 2007 test drive with the original iPhone

Steve Jobs holds an original iPhone at the Apple launch event in 2007.

Editor’s note:  In honor of Apple’s special product event today, I’m reprinting a column I wrote as technology reporter at The Oklahoman in 2007 after using the original iPhone for a week at the invitation of AT&T.  I’ve been an iPhone user now for almost a dozen years. However, in the months after the iPhone debuted in 2007, I had only a lowly flip-phone and some serious iPhone envy. 

I was seated prominently in a popular lunch spot along Western Avenue on Monday afternoon talking on the new iPhone that AT&T provided me for a one-week tryout.

I was there to show it off.

Parked at a table in the center of the busy restaurant, I whipped out the shiny new high-tech toy and proceeded to flaunt it for 45 minutes.

Important e-mails were read and sent, using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard that magically appears when any typing is needed. Web sites were accessed, appearing just as they do on a desktop or laptop computer. Tunes were cataloged on the device’s iPod. Photos were taken with the camera phone.

Nobody seemed to notice or even look my way.

Obviously, the crowd was suffering from a serious case of iPhone envy.  Their jealousy caused them to look the other way, even as I held it up to input an important appointment on the calendar.

So, I stepped it up a notch and took a very important phone call. I let the telephone ring several times before answering it. Loudly.

People continued their conversations at neighboring tables. I’m sure they were seething because they had no iPhone like the one that was providing me with such child-like wonder.

Meanwhile, I was seething at their ignorance. Or was it apathy?

Of course, they had no way of knowing that the very important phone call I took came from a coworker whom I had asked to call me at that time so I could make a show of taking a very important phone call.

I was engaged in animated conversation on the iPhone for several minutes when I looked around and noticed that the entire section of the restaurant was empty save for me.

I gave up, inserted the phone back into my shirt pocket and quietly walked to the car. Lunch was a bust.

When I walked back into the newsroom, my mood brightened. At least I had a captive audience who couldn’t run when I whipped the iPhone out. I could show off its many great features, from the easy YouTube access right on the main screen to the Google Maps button that let me see a great close-up satellite view of my house.

So, I walked into an editor’s office and pulled it out of my pocket. He was armed only with a Blackberry, which was suddenly relegated to old school technology status. The editor wanted to see the iPhone’s Web browser in action.

We had no WiFi network for the device to automatically find and use, so I called up a page using AT&T’s wireless network. We waited. And waited. Finally, we both had to go back to work.

“I’ll bring it back in when it’s feeling better,” I said, walking out.

On the way back to my desk I passed a co-worker I’ll call “Paul” and sprung the iPhone on him.

Just as I was about to list some bragging points of the device, he reached in his pocket and pulled out … an iPhone.

Paul had had it for a week and never told anyone until that moment. I almost quit on the spot.

Instead, I put the phone away and slinked back to my cubicle. An editor shouted some instructions from her desk.

“Write something about your experiences with the iPhone.”

Oh, great. Well, at least my wife liked the device until I told her about the $600 price tag. She made me put it in a drawer for safekeeping until I could give it back to AT&T.

iPhone, I hardly knew you.

Fondly recalling my first love in computing — an Apple //e

The original Apple //e, released in 1983

 

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to tour the NextThought, LLC, offices on the University of Oklahoma’s South Research campus. The company  specializes in educational technology and “connected” online learning.

As founder and CEO Ken Parker escorted me through the open office, I spotted what appeared to be an original Macintosh computer on one of the desks. Ken asked me if that was my first computer.

I said that my first computer was actually an Apple //e.

Ken turned and gave me a high five.  Turns out that his first computer also was an Apple //e, which debuted in 1983.

Of course, Ken learned how to write software on his Apple //e and went on to build an incredible career developing financial services and now educational software.

My interest in the Apple //e was all the cool things I could do with software already available on it such as the original Visicalc spreadsheet, word processing and games. AppleWorks became my go-to software product.

For instance, I used AppleWorks to develop a spreadsheet with which I ran a fantasy baseball league for several years.  Of course, I had to spend several hours each week inputing data from the newspaper into the spreadsheet to make it work.

I did make a couple of unsuccessful stabs at learning to write software on the machine.  Maybe it was a lack of patience that held me back.

i recall writing a little program that printed “My name is Jim Stafford.”  The first time I inputed “run,” into the program, the screen filled with my name and wouldn’t stop. I had to do a hot reboot to get it to stop.  Only later did I realize that my little program needed a line to tell it how many times to print “My name is Jim Stafford” and then a line that said “end” to make it stop.

The Apple //e sat on my kitchen table for a half dozen years before I finally, reluctantly, retired it. It controlled my checking account. I tracked stocks on it. I wrote articles and even created a little newsletter. I added a modem and surfed local OKC online “bulletin boards.”

Finally, I gave it to my uncle to use in his business.  I moved on to the more modern Mac.

I still miss my original Apple.