It was cold and especially dark the night of December 8, 1980. It wasn’t snowing, but you could tell it was about to. I spent the night working, or more accurately sitting, in the Sears Key booth at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As often as I could I dialed the rotary phone and talked with my friends. The life of a key booth technician, while it has its rewards, is a lonely one. The only thing to keep me company was a black and white television with rabbit ears or the occasional customer in search of a key.
It was a Monday night, so that meant NFL football. Patriots verses Dolphins as I remember it, though for the life of me I can’t remember who won or if they even finished the game. As happens during the holiday season, we’d gone to extended hours. For me that meant an additional $3.35 in my pocket.
As closing time neared I turned off the outside lights to discourage any last minute customers. I made one last call to my girlfriend to tell her I’d pick her up in 15 minutes when it happened. At first I thought I had heard it wrong. Howard Cosell had just said John Lennon was dead. Dead? How can that be?
Beatles don’t die. John did. He was shot. Who shoots the Beatles?! It was one of those moments when you want to be with other people, or at least to communicate with them, to share an unfolding experience with others instead of being alone. We yearn to connect. Without even closing out the register I simply grabbed my keys, locked up and got in my lime green Pinto station wagon.
As if on cue, it started to snow. It was one of those snowfalls that are beautiful at first, but as it continues on, you begin to think it is less beautiful.
When I hit the ignition, the radio, as it always did back in the day, came on at full volume. Music on this night, however, didn’t seem to fit the bill. I needed information. News, sports and information back then was on AM radio. I knew that because my Grandpa listened to his beloved Tigers on WJR – Detroit. For the first time ever I switched my radio to AM.
We eventually made it to my house. My friends who had heard the news came over, as well. In near radio silence we watched television, broadcast television. Ted Koppel told us the story that even today, 30 years later, is hard to fathom, if not impossible to understand. That night, together, until the networks signed off, we watched…