When Mt. St. Helens blew (5/18/1980), I'd just finished my final three-hour exam for my master's in English at Berkeley. Within the week, I'd gotten used to the creepy grey hanging over the skies; it made for kind of a busy week at the Peet's over by Walnut Square, where I was working as their tea consultant (I was dating Helen Gustafson at the time, who'd introduced the first proper tea service in an American restaurant over at Chez Panisse back in the 70s).
When the space shuttle Challenger exploded (1/28/1986), I quickly put pen to paper, working feverishly to generate a small book of truly tasteless jokes about the disaster, which was eventually sold back to Bantam and included in an eponymous volume under the name of Blanche Knott.
When the 7.1 earthquake hit San Francisco (10/17/1989), I didn't hear about it until the following morning, when a tubby Southerner by the name of Tracy Scruggs ran over from the other side of the student home where I was living to tell me all about how maybe I had some friend's who'd died. This turned out not to be the case, but my dear friend Charlie suddenly went mostly bald due to the shock of swaying back and forth violently at the top of the ASUC building. I remember speaking with him for hours later that day, all for free because the telephone system couldn't generate the correct tones to bill the caller.
When the Berlin Wall fell (11/7/1989), ironically enough I was living in Prenzlauer Berg with one of Egon Krenz's mistresses, designing an ad campaign for the upcoming product launch of Wernesgrüner Pilsener in the West. Due to the chaos of the revolution, I was paid with stale Hansa-Kekse, Bautzen mustard, Nudossi jars, and a completely useless Dietz Verlag edition of the historicocritical edition of the works of Engels and Marx. I did, however, manage to scam my way into the 100 mark Begrüßungsgeld the Western government was handing out to anyone who made it over from the East.
When the Gulf War began (1/16/1991), I was getting gas for my International Harvester Scout II, which at the time was barely running - there was a problem with the distributor cap that I never was able to fix. Damn thing only got about twelve miles to the gallon, but at least it did have a forty-six gallon gas tank. It was once towed across a swollen river in Baja by the Mexican army the winter after they finished paving the transpeninsular highway; they badly misjudged how much water would flow down the rivers after a hard rain.
When OJ Simpson was chased in his White Bronco (6/17/1994), I was hanging out with my friend Dan at his apartment in San Francisco. We'd just logged on to eWorld, which was just about to launch on the 20th; I think I still have my "Imagine a world that revolves around you!" T-shirt somewhere. Kitty went outside on the roof to play, Dan muttered something about needing to buy some more Strawberry Essence, and I chatted away with what seemed like mostly Apple employees about the exciting low speed pursuit.
When the building in Oklahoma City was bombed (4/19/1995), I instantly went into a deep depression, saddened at all of the lame children-centric coverage that I knew would soon inundate the airwaves. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's phrases like "for the children" and "future of humanity". However, the deep discounts on U-Haul rentals announced the next week cheered me up considerably, as I was soon going to move from Belmont to San Francisco.
When Princess Di was killed (8/31/1997), I was riding a free shuttle bus with a bunch of hung over European tourists in Yosemite Valley, getting ready to transfer to the hikers' bus up to Glacier Point. Some of the Poms on board broke down crying, but Jesus Christ, get a grip. It isn't like she ever did anything while she was alive other than whinge about Charles and have the occasional bout of rumpy-pumpy with dodgy businessmen from the Middle East. What a slag.
When Bush was first announced President (11/7/2000), I made a vow never to do PCP again. That shit'll fuck you up. I mean, hell, I still keep hearing that he's president and I've been clean and sober for over two years now.
When the 6.8 earthquake hit Nisqually, WA (2/28/2001), I prayed that it would somehow engulf the Microsoft campus in a violent inferno of destruction - aloud, because my coworkers were listening, and those open source nutters love that kind of crazy talk. Personally, I was simply disappointed that the TV coverage wasn't very exciting: the high point was a video capture from the Microsoft hardware testing labs showing a rack kind of shuddering from side to side. No, not like that shower scene in Kentucky Fried Movie.
When terrorists knocked over the World Trade Center (9/11/2001), I did what every good American did that day: watched it on the TV and hoped we'd eventually get some really good footage of the impacts. I then calmly, rationally reassured myself that the chance of actually knowing anyone who'd died that day was pretty damned small, especially as I only had one good friend in the area. That feeling lasted about sixteen hours.