Today’s date marks a full twenty-five years — a whole quarter century — since me and my AP US History classmates rolled out from Mount Vernon High School at 6:30 am for a trip to Albany and Hyde Park. But nothing historical was especially eye-opening on this date. No, it was really more about the people, one in particular, that made this time an a-ha moment.
Our eccentric and late AP US History teacher, Harold Meltzer, used this trip to get us out of the classroom. to make history and government more real to us. We — meaning our AP class and folks from Meltzer’s Government class — went to Albany to meet our state representative and to learn a bit about the history of New York State’s governance. We also made a stop to visit the FDR mansion in Hyde Park. The trip to Albany was itself a three-and-a-half hour school bus ride.
Besides the standard exaggerated bouncing up and down we did whenever the bus hit a bump somewhere along I-87 North, there were a couple of things to note. It was my first time outside the New York metro area since ‘78, when Darren, my mother, my soon-to-be-stepfather and I went to Amish country in Pennsylvania. The Roosevelt’s master bedroom and “king-sized” bed was much smaller than I thought. FDR and Eleanor both looked pretty tall to me in their pictures and in those ’30s newsreels. And the Norwegian pop band a-ha had climbed to the top of the Top-40 pop charts with “Take on Me” a few days before.
A-ha? Well, “SD” had a brand-new $150 Aiwa Walkman (its normal retail value in ’85) with a state-of-the-art design and stereo system, including Dolby noise reduction and equalizer controls. The entire trip to Albany and Hyde Park and back she played a-ha’s Hunting High and Low album nonstop on the bus. After hearing the beginning of the song for what seemed like the 117th time, I chimed in, and SD sang briefly out loud with me: “Talking away, I don’t know what I’m to say….” I’d heard the lead singer’s “TAAAAAKKKKEEE!” without the need for an interpreter so many times already, since SD sat a row or two behind me. So me being me, during the return trip I attempted to hit the same high falsetto note to see if I could compete with a Norwegian pop star.
As soon as I hit the note for “TAAAAAKKKKEEE!” — badly, as it was in my balls-strangled version of high falsetto — the window in the row behind me on my right shattered and scattered all around D and A’s seats. D was closest to the window, and she was unhurt, but we had to stop for about ten minutes. Everyone was laughing this nervous, “this-is-funny-but . . . ” laugh, like audience members laughing at a Richard Pryor joke. Five of my classmates all but gave me a sarcastic standing ovation. After all, it turned out that no rocks or stones were found on the bus, and there wasn’t a sign of a sniper anywhere. All we could think was that I’d dialed up the correct frequency and shattered a glass window that may’ve been weak already from everyday wear and tear. I thought it was amazing to generate that kind of power with my voice. Even if it meant that I’d get flack for it.
But that’s not all I took from that day. I’d accidentally become more than an acquaintance with SD. Not only did I eventually go and buy a-ha’s Hunting High and Low. I appreciated all of her ’80s pop music. From Heart’s “What About Love” to Scandal’s “The Warrior” — it’s listed in our yearbook as SD’s favorite song. I picked up a writing habit that I use to this day, putting a dash through my 7’s and Z’s to make sure to distinguish them from 1’s and S’s.
It was a fun trip for me, even though most in my class would’ve likely preferred a trip to Grand Central over Albany and FDR’s mansion. It was fun because I had made a connection that would lead to friendship.