During that first week of November I was visiting the chapter at Wagner College on Staten Island. I had never been to New York and I could see the skyline of Manhattan in the distance. When several of the sorority members asked if I would like to go to the city for the day I jumped at the chance. We took the Staten Island Ferry and arrived to a festive atmosphere. Street vendors were distributing political buttons, selling small flags, T-shirts and plastic hats with red, white and blue ribbons. Someone dressed like Uncle Sam thrust something into my hand as I passed and I looked down to see that it was a sample sized tube of toothpaste attached to a card that read, "vote for a brighter smile!"
This was a great adventure for a girl from Idaho. What I knew of New York City I knew from the movies. We rode the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building, we walked down Fifth Avenue and stopped to look in the windows of Tiffany's. We hurried through Times Square, a much seedier and grim area than it is these days. Strange as it may seem, one of the highlights of the day was visiting Macy's. This was long before Macy's owned every department store in America. There was only one Macy's and it was legendary and it was New York City in my mind.
I truly had never seen any store quite like it and I made a small purchase, mostly so I would have one of their printed paper bags as a souvenir for my scrapbook. I told my companions that I was keeping my "Macy's sack" and they all hooted. First because I'm sure it was so ludicrous to them that such a thing would have any value, and second because I called it a sack. I learned another language difference between East and West, having conquered the Pop vs. Soda divide earlier in the week. One said, "that's not a sack, a sack is made of cloth—it's a bag!" Except she said it more like "behhg" and "cloth" sounded more like "clo-auth". We entertained each other for the rest of the day with our language and pronunciation differences.
It was a beautiful fall day and the city was all I had hoped for. I think there was such a sense of relief to finally reach that election day. The campaign had been tragic and brutal, going back to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in the spring and the riots in Chicago during the Democratic Convention in the summer. The war in Vietnam raged and the country was deeply divided, so even as we watched election news on TVs in store windows, picketers and protestors passed with anti-war signs.
By the time we got back to campus that night Nixon had been projected as the winner. I called my Dad, a Nixon supporter, from a pay phone in the dorm. It was late in New York, but still pretty early in Idaho. "Congratulations, Dad. It looks like your guy won." Dad wasn't jubilant. He was pretty quiet. "Yeahhhh," he said slowly, "I hope he doesn't let us down."
I was sharing my memories of the election 40 years ago with Ray this morning and he pointed me to Leonard Pitts' column in today's paper. He references that election and the sad legacy of the '60s that has somehow shadowed this campaign. He's a wonderful writer. It's worth reading. http://www.miamiherald.com/living/columnists/leonard-pitts/story/750521.html