Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20, 1969

Yes, I know where I was on July 20, 1969. Very early that morning, about 2 or 3 a.m., 15 freshly graduated high school seniors were sitting in the living room of the girl I'd been dating. All eyes were glued to the television set, because we knew that we were becoming part of history just by watching. Apollo 11 had landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong was preparing for that historic step.

I had more of that history surrounding me. A week earlier, three friends and I had piled into a car and driven from New Orleans to Cape Kennedy to see Apollo 11 blast off. We got to the cape a couple of days beforehand, set up the tent at a local campground (people who know me won't believe that I actually slept in a tent, but I did), and took the bus tour of Cape Kennedy. The night before the launch, we broke camp and drove to a chosen spot along the Banana River and parked, spending the night with thousands of other people sleeping in their cars. Or trying to sleep. Or actually, not sleeping at all. People had come from all over the world for this -- parked next to us were a young couple, not much older than we were, from Canada. And two cars away were visitors from France.

For all that traveling, camping and lack of sleep, we got to listen to the launch announcement on the radio and watch the flash of light aim heavenward. But the point was that we were there. And people cheered and hugged each other. Then it was all over, and we were able to participate in another historic event -- the massive traffic jam as more than one million people, including four teenagers from East Jefferson High School in Metairie, Louisiana, tried to leave the Cape Kennedy area for home.

Back in New Orleans, a whole crowd of us got together for the moon walk. All good friends, this was to be the last time we were together. Different colleges, different plans, different lives to live. But together, we watched Neil Armstrong hop down into the moon dust and say the famous words.

For a boy not quite 18 years old, it was an incredible experience, to be a tiny part of one of the most historic feats in human history.

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