Sunday, August 20, 2017

Booze and Politics and my Vietnam War Protest

I grew up in Lake County, Illinois, specifically in District 10. At the time I lived there the district was firmly Republican in politics (though the area I lived in was Democratic). During the period of the Vietnam War the district was represented in Congress by Robert McClory, a Republican. He was fully supportive of both the war and, initially, Richard Nixon.


In 1970 I was a grad student in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. A number of my fellow grad students were not US-citizens. I learned that some of them had to go to Washington to handle visa or other similar issues and I volunteered to drive them on a one day road trip.


I cannot recall the exact dates, but I do know that we left Pittsburgh in my 1968 Pontiac GTO early in the morning for the four-plus hour drive. The first thing we did upon crossing into the District of Columbia was to stop at a liquor store so that my friends could stock up on cheap(er) liquor. Stopping going into the District seemed safer than doing so immediately prior to leaving the District. Then I drove them to where they had to go for their business. We agreed to meet in the mid-afternoon and I had a good part of the day to kill, so I parked the car near the Mall and started walking around.


On the spur of the moment I decided to visit Robert McClory's office to register my displeasure with the war and the way Nixon was pursuing it. I had no real idea of changing Mr. McClory's mind, but I figured having a constituent stop by his office rather than writing or calling might count for something. So I walked to the appropriate Congressional office building and up to his office. To my ever-lasting surprise the Congressman actually agreed to spend a few minutes talking to me. I was not intimidated in the least by his "august" position, but rather had a cordial conversation with him that lasted perhaps as much as fifteen minutes. Actually, I say I was surprised, but it wasn't until upon reflection later that I realized that it was probably an unusual occurrence to get face-to-face time. I left the office knowing that I would never vote for him, that he would always support positions counter to mine, but that I had tried. (So you can imagine my surprise when McClory ended up having a large behind-the-scenes role in getting Nixon to resign just a few years later.)


A few hours later I met up with my friends and we piled into my car to begin the drive back to Pittsburgh. Some years earlier I had been taken to a restaurant called the Peter Pan Inn in Urbana, Maryland about 40 miles along Interstate 270 from Washington. My friends and I decided to stop for dinner there along the way. I started to decelerate from 65 mph as I approached the Urbana exit, but it wasn't until I was actually in the too-short exit lane that I saw the caution sign that said 10 mph. I probably took the curve on the ramp doing more than 30. Thankfully the GTO had excellent handling and we were never in danger of going off the road. However the cargo in the trunk complained noisily. After we stopped at the restaurant we opened the trunk and found no broken bottles, but for a few minutes we were all pretty worried.

Dinner was (no doubt, because it always was there) excellent and we made it home that evening with no further issues. I have no idea what happened to the contents of the trunk, but before I knew it, it was empty.

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