One day in 1987, Chip, Jon and I were exiting our Manor to the Machine: The Economic Shaping of Medieval Europe class, and we all agreed that we were attending college at the most boring time in history. We’d heard stories of the 1960s (which is why Greenlaw Hall at UNC has barricades for the National Guard) and then the drugged out/kegs-in-the-dorm days of the 1970s, and we knew, even while we were in the moment, that our particular history was going to be regarded as dreadfully dull.
Even in high school, years before, the general feeling was the “History” was something that happened to someone else. The biggest two events of the time were the Challenger explosion and Chernobyl (and I guess Iran-Contra, but if you’re digging that far, you’ve already lost me).
We tried our best to liven things up in the end of the Reagan era (and the beginning of Bush I) by throwing parties at the Lodge that harkened back to the days of bacchanalia, but Chapel Hill was drifting off into the sunset days of its old village charm. I don’t even remember if I voted in 1988, even though it was the first time I could.
I mention this because we were discussing the Rodney King riots in the car today, and remembering what a bizarre shift this country took. I guess the real change happened in late ’89 when the Berlin Wall fell, but by the time Nirvana came out with “Nevermind,” things began to really speed up in our lives.
This is a brief outline of the Chapel Hill/World at Large itinerary:
1989 – Berlin wall falls
1992 – Rodney King riots paralyze L.A.
1993 – O.J. Simpson “Trial of the Century”
1993 – Chapel Hill band scene goes nationwide
1993 – Grateful Dead plays two shows at Dean Dome
1993 – Intimate Bookshop burns down, three other places as well on the same night
1993 – National Champions! (had to throw that in there)
1994 – “Generation X” hoopla in full swing
1994 – Wendell Williamson kills two in gun rampage on Henderson Street
1996 – Dot-com mania takes over Research Triangle Park
1999 – Y2K hysteria
2000 – Dot-com bubble bursts, all of us out of work
2001 – 9/11 attacks change entire country
2003 – War in Iraq
I know that’s a mixture of the mundane, miraculous and tragic, but that’s the hodgepodge of history you actually experience when the local and global play upon your psyche.
It’s funny how those things play out: the O.J. verdict seemed like a direct cause of Rodney King (obviously, O.J.’s a murdering bastard, but when he was found not guilty, my 25-year-old brain thought it was a nice “fuck you” to whitey). My brother Sean moved to Chapel Hill in fall ’93 because of the insanity that had swirled around the campus that spring.
It’s a messy timetable, to be sure, but one thing is certain: for the last fifteen years, things have been happening. We even had another space shuttle blow up and everyone had too much whiplash to care.
During the last election, some pundits thought that Americans were suffering from “history fatigue” and would reject Bush and his neo-con weltpolitik in favor of less rash civilization-remaking. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but I confess I miss the days when we merely concerned with nuclear Armageddon rather than getting nickel-and-dimed to death with the world’s axis changing every other year. Jon, Chip and I had wished for a little more excitement in our college years, but like Oscar Wilde said, the Gods punish us by answering our prayers.
Jon, me, Bud in NYC, summer 1986