On June 19th, 2008, another one of my life's milestones hit that psychologically significant 30 year anniversary mark. This time I'm looking back at my high school graduation. While not exactly radio related in and of itself, there are a bunch of radio related memories woven into this milestone and also in the events surrounding my last year of high school which culminated in my graduation.
As I look back on that pivotal time of my life, I have a fairly clear recollection of the significant events which transpired throughout that school year. To start off, we had been the first class in recent history to graduate this late. In years past, our high school seniors were finished with regular classes by the end of May. The first week of June was spent wrapping up loose ends, preparing the soon-to-be graduates to be ejected into the real world, and practicing the commencement exercises. Graduation would then occur sometime at the end of the first week in June, with the rest of the school dismissing for the summer a week later. But then the school board, in their infinite wisdom (and likely "influenced" by the state), decided that seniors had to attend classes for the same number of days as the rest of the school (and still prepare for graduation). Then to add insult to injury, that year our area had weathered a fairly brutal winter, which used up more than our allotted number of snow days. As a result, the school year was extended a week longer than usual to make up for them. The final kicker was that the 1978 school year officially ended on Friday the 16th for the rest of the school classes. But we didn't graduate until Monday the 19th which, in a bit of historical coincidence, occurred exactly 200 years after George Washington marched his troops out of Valley Forge, after enduring their own harsh winter. But I cannot tell a lie, I didn't cut down any Cherry trees..... So here we were, the first class to actually graduate AFTER the rest of the school had dismissed for the summer. In retrospect, this seems like such a trivial complaint. But back then, I was anxious to get a head start on summer fun, I wanted to be done with school, and this extra 2 weeks tacked on seemed to be holding me back. At the time, I hadn't yet fully grasped the finality of graduation, and of the major life changes which would come about as a result of my completion of that 13 year school journey. Instead, it just seemed like the beginning of any other summer vacation, one which I thought was being cut short. I was also getting tired of getting ribbed by some other senior friends of mine, who went to different schools, had already completed their graduation rite of passage, and were already partying hearty for the summer.
Yea, and speaking of that BRUTAL winter. The winter of '77-'78 had brought us two consecutive snowfalls of over 12" each (something which was unusual for our area) during the same week, the result of which clogged up the narrow streets of the Norristown borough to the point where the school busses could not safely negotiate the narrower streets. When the drivers refused to drive in those hazardous conditions, the school district was forced to close for the remainder of the week until the snow melted (Which, if it hadn't been for a warm front and a 50 degree day with a steady rain, probably would have taken an additional week). At the time, we were all glad to get a free week off of school, during which most of that time was spent yakking it up on the radio, in between short excursions out into the snow. I was dating Connie, one of the girls on Channel 13, and I had made her one of those "ocean in a tube" (where you mix clear oil and blue colored water in a Plexiglas tube and you can watch the waves as you tip it back and forth) in school shop class as a Christmas present. Naive me thought that she'd actually think this was a cooler gift (because I had made it with my own hands just for her) than some generic mass-produced trinket made of gold from a jewelry store. Boy did I have a lot to learn.... That probably explains why most of my "relationships" didn't last more than about 2 months in those days, but that's another story..... And if all the snow wasn't enough, the final crowning jewel of that abominable winter was my beam antenna taking a dive after a protracted ice storm, and then having to risk life and limb putting up my spare 5/8th wave omni, with ice crusted snow still on the roof. I never thought I'd be happier than when the spring of '78 finally woke up and blessed us with far more hospitable weather.
That school year was also the year when I first started hanging out on Channel 13. There I met, what would eventually become, some of the best CB friends that I would ever have. I was also still pretty good friends with Piero, who I had met the previous summer while I was enjoying my brief stint on Channel 20. Due to our similar schedules with tech school and regular school, he used to catch a ride home with me for lunch, since I had elected to drive my car to school every day that year to take full advantage of my "loose" senior class schedule. He usually packed a sandwich or such, while I was on a seemingly permanent diet of Elios frozen pizza. Each day I'd dutifully toss 3 slices into the toaster oven and then eagerly scarf them down. Because our first "class" back at home school was lunch, we had extra time to kill, and we usually flipped on the CB to see what was happening while we ate lunch. One particularly memorable time was when Piero got into an on-air scuffle with Uncle Albert. I don't remember what exactly started it, but I do remember that Piero wasn't especially angry or out to hurt the guy, but he did want to play with his head and scare him a bit. So one day while he and I were home for lunch, and Uncle Albert was home sick, Piero walked down to Uncle Albert's house, pulled his ground rod (Which consisted of a 5' piece of antenna mast driven about a foot into the ground) right out of the ground and started banging on his antenna mounts with it. Now Piero is a pretty big guy, who stood 6'5" tall at age 15 and the sight of him pounding on the antenna mounts freaked Uncle Albert out, and he soon backed down from his usual belligerence. But he did swear that there were now dents in those mounts which weren't there before.
All in all, it had been a fairly good school year, and now it was coming to an end. I remember vividly that the day of my graduation was hot, even for June. The cold and brutal winter had given way to an equally brutal early summer heat. Summer was still officially two days away, but the temperature was already running somewhere in the mid 90's accompanied by a stiflingly oppressive humidity. Back then, I didn't have the luxury of air conditioning, so I was used to dealing with the heat. But even so, I was still uncomfortably hot that night. I remember leaving my house some time after dinner, dressed in dark dress pants, a white shirt with a lame clip-on tie (I hadn't worn a tie since I was in single digits) and my graduation cap and robe. This awkward, and very uncomfortable outfit, only added to the misery of the heat. My mother and I then traveled in my '67Mustang for the approximately 2 mile journey down to Roosevelt field, where Norristown High held their home football games and outdoor ceremonies. I remember talking with my friends briefly on channel 13 using my Tram XL5 while we drove to our destination. I normally enjoyed my CB chats, but on that night they were also a distraction for my nerves. I was somewhat apprehensive about the whole graduation thing. I didn't like ceremonies, especially those where I would be on display in front of a large crowd. My mind raced in contemplation..... What if I screwed up and did something wrong? What if I tripped and fell? Everything else about that night would likely fade into a distant memory, but I was sure I'd be reminded of whatever little gaffe I might make that night for the rest of my life. I was also not a big "school spirit" guy, and I would've been a heck of a lot happier if they did away with all the pomp and circumstance and just sent me my diploma in the mail. And it was these thoughts which I was trying to bury behind the casual banter I was engaged in over the radio. Besides the CB talk, I also had the car's stereo playing in the background. I remember the last song playing, when I arrived at the field, was "Love is Like Oxygen" by Sweet. To this day, whenever I hear that song, I am catapulted back in time to that restless, sultry evening.
As I parked the car on W. Sterigere Street and looked across the field to the bleachers and stands slowly filling up with people, I had a brief flashback to the last time I was at this place. It had been during the homecoming football game in 1975, barely 2 months after beginning my high school journey as a Sophomore. I wasn't all that much of a high school football fan in those days (although watching the cheerleaders perform always brought a smile to my face), and the only reason I was there at all was to lend moral support to my then girlfriend Donna (Liquid Plumber of Channel 10 fame), who was a baton twirler in the marching band. That night was unusually cold for late fall, with occasional snow flurries thrown in as a cruel final gesture to make the scene complete. I remember sitting on the cold, hard metal bleachers wearing a goose down parka, sweater, thermal long-Johns, gloves, and double socks, and I was still shivering. The girls on the twirling squad, adorned in nothing more than their skimpy leotard uniforms, no doubt frozen to the core and losing most of their finger dexterity in the process, were dropping their batons more times than not and I truly felt bad for them. But there was not much I could do as the band director had made it abundantly clear that he wouldn't tolerate band members "fraternizing" with boyfriends equipped with hot lips and "armstrong heaters", so I could do nothing more than observe her hypothermic discomfort from a distance. The girls were also envious of the visiting team's (William Tenet, if I remember correctly) baton twirlers who were twirling fire (which undoubtedly kept their fingers warm), which was something our group was not allowed to do, due to some insurance regulation or something. The visitor's flashy half-time show really made our band look lame, which was especially disheartening considering it was supposed to be our homecoming. To put the final nail in the coffin of a less than stellar night, we ended up losing the game (along with all the other games that season).
That night seemed like forever ago to me by 1978. Now, here I was again at this same field, nearly 3 years later, ready to graduate. As my mind returned to the present, I locked my radio and antenna in the trunk (CB rip-offs were a big thing back then), escorted my mother to the "family and friends" bleachers, and then made my way to the staging area in the middle of the field where I would take my place in alphabetical order among my fellow soon-to-be-graduates on the special set of bleachers placed there for the occasion. On the way, I reflected briefly on the extremes in the weather conditions between the only 2 times I was ever at this place, as the sweat began to pour profusely from my forehead and other places. I also remember seeing a large, dark cloud slowly approaching from the west and how we were all hoping for a quick downpour of rain to give us some relief from the heat, but it never happened. So I just sat there, basting in my own juices, while several key people made lofty and painfully lengthy speeches which seemed to do little but add to the general discomfort of the evening. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, it was time to get on with the business of handing out the diplomas. This was also just for show, as what we got was an empty case. The real diploma wasn't given to you until you returned your cap and gown after the ceremony. But to my surprise, not only did I get a "diploma", but I also received a $10 award from the parent's club for outstanding achievement in Tech school (I had the highest GPA for that year). I guess all the work I did fixing those CB's and car stereos finally paid off. The ceremony eventually drew to a close with no relief in the temperature. Most of us, by this time, had been using our graduation caps as makeshift fans to move the hopelessly stagnant, oppressive air around. Then we were instructed to exit the stands in the reverse order from that which we had entered, and we joined up with our waiting family and friends, which for me was my mother. While many of my now former classmates mulled around taking pictures, hugging each other, with some (mostly girls) getting all teary-eyed and emotional, I met up with my mother, quickly shook hands with a few teachers and some other people who I knew, and headed home, relieved that the ordeal was finally over. While many of my classmates would eventually head home to elaborate parties complete with hot chicks and kegs of beer (some of which I attended in the coming days), my own "party" consisted of a simple (but delicious!) home-made cake my mother had baked, along with a bunch of "Good Luck Grad" cards (most with $$$) sent from well-wishing friends and relatives. After having my slice of cake, reading the cards, and pocketing the money, I eventually ended up back in my room talking on the radio as if the whole thing was no big deal. Which was exactly the way I looked at it. I was glad that it was over, and I was now happily looking forward to the summer ahead. Back then, I lived totally for the day, and didn't think all that much about either the past or the future. At the time, it was just the beginning of another summer vacation, not much different than in years past. The real shock of change didn't hit me fully until September, when the next school year would start without me, and I finally realized that I'd never be going back to school again (at least not high school) and full time employment loomed large in my future. I had failed to fully appreciate the changes in my lifestyle that graduation would signify going forward. No longer would my radio conversations center on school and related activities and people. Never again would my days be totally care-free and spontaneous, living solely for simple pleasures, with few serious responsibilities. No longer would I be able to enjoy life in blissful ignorance of the harsh realities of what it meant to be an adult who would soon need to worry about making ends meet. As the years wore on, my life would evolve into a very predictable routine, which would then set the stage for the rapid acceleration in the passing of the coming years. When nothing much changes in your daily routine, each day runs into the next and the years just seem to blow on by. So with graduation, one chapter of my life closed, and another opened. But it was not as bad as I make it sound. With increased income came new opportunities for better radio equipment, a new car, and my chance to have a boat in the family again. My biggest regret was that I had failed to recognize the significance of graduation, and had I done so, I would have hung around a little longer celebrating the momentousness of the event with friends and, in the process, building a more noteworthy memory.
After 30 years of retrospection though, I've come to realize that, like graduation, I really blew it in high school. My lack of popularity with the "in-crowd", and dealing with the peer abuse which sometimes came as a result, had made me so jaded and cynical about school and school-related activities, that I withdrew from the school social culture and let a whole host of opportunities pass me by. As a result of my self-imposed social purgatory, I never got involved in extra-curricular activities, thumbed my nose at the prom, never learned to play a musical instrument, failed to discovered my hidden love for writing (which took me 30 years to finally realize) and never played sports (I would've sucked at it anyway). Ironically, had I chosen to make a name for myself by participating in one of the more popular activities, I might have earned some level of respect from my peers. But that thought didn't occur to me then. Instead, I was in full defense mode. I basically just put in my required time, did my required work, and was one of the first out the door when the bell rang at the end of the day. I even blew-off having my senior graduation picture taken. My senior yearbook has no mention of me. It's as if I didn't exist. But back then, that's the way I wanted it, even if I'm feeling some pangs of regret now. I didn't have much reason to hang around in school. After all, most of my real friends weren't from school. Instead, they were scattered around a 3 or 4 mile radius and always there at the flip of a switch and a key of the microphone.......
And once again I get to say: "Boy I'm getting old........"