Saturday, December 30, 2006

Former President Gerald R. Ford -- remembering his days

Gerald R. Ford

President Richard M. Nixon resigned (and waved goodbye) on my last day of employment (Aug. 9, 1974) with Sperry Univac. I still remember driving around to various Univac accounts in New Jersey while hearing Sam Ervin and the Watergate hearings on my Pinto car radio, and I knew things would change, hopefully for the better, for me. On Monday Aug. 12, 1974, I started employment in New York City in the Rockefeller Center with NBC, the National Broadcasting Company, as a computer programmer analyst (working on general ledger systems on a Univac 1110, at the time, a state of the art non-IBM mainframe). I had wanted to move into New York City in order to develop my own personal life, with my own social connections, such as with the Ninth Street Center. The second day at NBC, I would sign a lease to rent an apartment in the historic Cast Iron Building at 11th and Broadway. But for three weeks, I kept commuting on the Blue Star Route to my apartment near Bound Brook, New Jersey.

I remember listening to Ford speak that first Monday, Aug. 12, 1974. “I am a Ford, not a Model T.” He would sometimes say some off the wall things (like a misstep when talking about the Soviets in Eastern Europe; I had an officemate at NBC with a Ukranian background and he was shocked at Ford’s stumble).

My second day in my trapezoidal Cast Iron Building apartment, early on Sunday afternoon, as I recall, in between walks to the Washington Square art shows and chess divans (yup, the gay bars were about five blocks away in the West Village), I watched President Ford come on TV in garish business color and announce his pardon of Richard Nixon. It was time to move on, he said. Indeed it was, for me especially. I think that this was Sunday Sept. 8, 1974. I had actually spent the transitional Labor Day weekend in Mexico City. I had ditched plans to make a trip to the Inca and Tiahuanoco country of Peru to take the new job and I have yet to make that trip.

But I remember the good things more. He was serious with “whip inflation now” and with deregulating many businesses, which would lead to all kinds of things, like ATMs, cheaper air fares, and may have helped set up the business climate for the PC revolution and eventually the Internet. This was a time when we feared increasing regulation because of the oil shocks and angry middle East situation, which has a monumental history since then.

I also recall the New York City financial crisis. There was first the transit crisis, with a fare increase to 50 cents on September 1, 1975. The financial crisis led to talk of complete chaos. I recall the New York Daily News (or was it the Post): “Ford to City: Drop Dead!” But then the Teacher’s Union stepped in and helped reach a settlement.

In those days, the Gay Activists Alliance of New York met in the “Firehouse” at 99 Wooster Street, and gay bars were thought to be Mafia bars. (They really weren’t any more.) Legislation to bar discrimination was being debated, and I remember the debate in the newspapers about gay firemen, and the intimacy of a real firehouse, a foreshadowing of a heated issue twenty years later about gays in the military and “don’t ask don’t tell.”

We hadn’t even imagined AIDS yet, although Randy Shilts (in And the Band Played On) would start history with the Tall Ships weekend of the country’s bicentennial of July 4, 1976, when Ford was still president but soon to lose to Jimmy Carter.

Those were the days, my friend. But they did end. Oh, to be just 31 years old again.

(Note: sorry for the dyslexic spelling in the topic name "Forward" that I caught today. Actually, the phrse does make a little ironic sense. The picture is taken in Greenwich Village in New York City, near Julius's. Where in 1975 or so "Bugle Boy" was popular jute box music, where there are brone dachshunds on the floor, and where there are pictures of all the winning Yankee teams.)

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