We were stoked. It was a beautiful, clear autumn day, and we had both brought notes into school the day before asking that we be excused by 11:00 a.m. on Friday. I was seventeen, and the ink on my brand-new driver’s license was still wet. My friend Greg [not his real name] and I would shortly be on our way to Atlantic City, courtesy of his dad and step-mom, who had arrived there the day before for some sort of convention. I had the family ’61 Bel-Air (I assume now that my dad must have taken Friday off) for the entire weekend, and the 125-mile drive to Atlantic City would be my first “long” driving trip.
Greg and I were to have our own room. His parents had other things to do, so we would be essentially on our own. We were young; we had “wheels” and big plans. We would walk the boardwalk, maybe even take a ride to nearby Wildwood, hang out, and, if we were lucky, we might even meet some girls. We had the world by the ass.
As we drove south on the Garden State Parkway, we talked the talk of teenagers. We had been friends for many years, and we even previously had girlfriends who were neighbors on the other side of town. We had the radio in the Bel-Air cranked up as we cruised down the Parkway. The world was perfect.
About 40 or 50 miles into the trip came the bulletin. A newsman broke into the middle of a song to say, “We have this word from Dallas Texas. The President’s motorcade has been fired upon. At this time, we do not know whether the President has been hit.”
As I recall, at the conclusion of the bulletin, the station actually resumed regular broadcasting. I believe that my reaction at that time was no more sophisticated than “Holy shit. Imagine that? Some jerk took a shot at the motorcade.”
Neither of us entertained the possibility that the President could have been shot. We convinced ourselves that the President escaped injury and that the cops would soon catch the jerk who fired the shot.
However, a moment or two later, there was another bulletin. “We can now confirm that the President has been shot and is being taken to a nearby hospital.”
From that point on, regular programming was suspended, and the radio reporters breathlessly repeated the same information, and asked each other the questions we were asking ourselves. “Was Mrs. Kennedy shot? What is the President’s condition?”
I continued to drive south, but now neither of us spoke. We just listened, worried, and clung to the hope that the President was just wounded. After all, that’s always the way in was in the movies. When the good guy got shot, he was always only wounded.
The action had now moved to Parkland hospital, and the on-the-scene radio reporters were interviewing people who identified themselves as eyewitnesses and others who were there simply there to express concern. Most everyone was crying.
We continued to listen in silence until we were fairly close to Atlantic City, at which time the word finally came.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we can now confirm that the President died at (the exact time was given). President Kennedy is dead.”
As I recall, my reaction was one of absolutely stunned disbelief. Greg’s was the same. We probably shared a couple, “Jesus Christs,” but not much more than that.
When we arrived at the hotel, the lobby was packed with guests and people from the street watching a single black and white television (there were no in-room televisions then) to follow the horrible story.
We found Greg’s parents. His dad was stoic, but his step-mom was crying. Lots of people were crying.
We checked into our room, and decided to take a walk. It was the first and only time in my life that I saw newsboys selling papers and shouting the headlines, much like one sees in the movies. “EXTRA, EXTRA, President Kennedy killed in Dallas.” I have since learned that newspapers all over the country had published “Extra” editions in an effort to keep up with the real-time news that was on the television and radio.
Believe it or not, one newsboy, apparently with a warped sense of humor, was shouting, “Extra, Extra, Kennedy dead. Jackie marries Lyndon.” Greg and I both hollered at the guy, calling him a “fucking asshole.” Others did the same.
The following day is lost to me now. I know that the “wheels” remained parked, and we stayed close to the hotel, keeping an eye on the news, including the stories about the Dallas Police having apprehended the alleged shooter – some rodent-like, little guy with three names. Our big plans seemed silly to us then, and, besides, Atlantic City was not “open” for fun that Saturday. The city was pretty much “closed.” Everyone was home watching television.
Sunday morning, it was time to go home. We loaded our stuff into the Bel-Air and headed north on the Garden State Parkway. We didn’t talk much, other than to speculate that there would be no school on the following day. We just listened to the radio.
About twenty miles from home, we were again stunned: The newsman said, “We have just learned that Lee Harvey Oswald has been shot, and that he is being taken to Parkland Hospital. I repeat. Lee Harvey Oswald has been shot.” This was followed by the recording of the actual shooting and the chaos that followed.
At this point, I just wanted to be home.
My first “long” driving trip had turned out to be the most memorable one I am likely ever to have, for on Friday, as we headed south on the Parkway, the President was killed, and on Sunday, as the northbound Parkway miles slid by, the man who was accused of killing the President was himself gunned down.
And I heard it all on the radio.