We’ve all been to wonderful places that bring memories flooding back to us. Places of awesome beauty, like the Canadian Rockies. Places of great excitement like the Grand Ole Opry. Even a quiet spot under a tree at Grandma’s house. Here’s one of the places I remember from my own past.
It was Thanksgiving of my sophomore year at Duke University, and I was ready to get away from the dungeons we called a campus. Fort Worth was over 1300 miles away, and this was when the Interstate System was just beginning to be built. Most of the trip home involved two-lane roads—certainly not feasible for a Thanksgiving weekend trip.
The previous summer, I’d established contact with a childhood acquaintance whose father had served with mine during World War II, and I decided to go visit her. She attended Swarthmore College, just outside Philadelphia, which was under 400 miles and mainly either Interstate or at least four-lane divided.
Her parents, whom I called Uncle Al and Aunt Beth, although they were no kin, were going to meet us in Manhattan to see The West Side Story, so we decided to drive up right after breakfast and spend the day there. I think we spent the first half of the day looking for a parking space, but it probably wasn’t more than an hour or so.
We rode the subways to see Battery Park, at the tip of the island, and the J.P. Morgan Library, among other sites. Then we made the obligatory trip to the Empire State Building.
We rode the elevator up to the Observation Deck to enjoy the view, which was fantastic back in those days before a lot of today’s skyline was erected. I enjoyed seeing the harbor, Long Island, parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, and ships entering and leaving through the Verrazano Narrows.
What made the deepest and most lasting impression on me, however, wasn’t the amazing vista around me. It was what I saw below me. But I need to set the stage.
This was not the best of Thanksgivings. John Kennedy, trying to establish his so-called Camelot, had just managed to manipulate the news about missiles in Cuba to win the 1962 election for Congressional Democrats. He was trying hard to push his “New Frontier,” with the goal of having the federal government take over all of our freedoms and run our lives for us.
It was against this backdrop that I glanced down at the pedestrians below. After a moment, I couldn’t turn away.
In case you’ve never been to Manhattan, the sidewalks are about half a mile wide and jam-packed with people hurrying hither and yon on whatever missions called them. People walking north; people going south; others heading either east or west—all intent on their goals, their destinations of the moment.
As I watched the people going to and fro, it occurred to me how foolish it would be to try to establish some “big-brother” to control all their movements. There was no way I could stand on top of that building looking down at them and know where each one of them was going and how best to get him or her there. How many blocks should they walk? When should they turn to enter a building or subway station? They all had their own agendas, and if left alone they would all arrive where they were going.
Continuing my observation of all these people, I began to see the analogy between their free movement up and down the sidewalks and the free movement of people and businesses around the as they sought after their daily objectives. Setting up some central authority to “regulate” the activities of people and businesses as they pursued their lives made about as much sense as appointing someone to sit on top of the Empire State Building and direct the movements of all the people on the sidewalks.
I wish every politician who’s ever run for office and every citizen who has ever voted in an election could have been up there watching what I watched that day. I think most are alert enough to have gotten the point. If so, we would have a much stronger economy today, much more freedom in our lives, a government that delivered the mail and protected us from foreign invasion or illegal immigration—and stayed out of our lives otherwise.
Ø What places or events made powerful impressions on you during your youth or childhood?
A graduate of Duke University, I spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of my career was spent in Texas, but for a few years I traveled many other states. I started writing about 20 years ago, and have six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since my retirement from insurance a few years ago, I have devoted my time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel myself.