One Small Step and a $100 for Me!

On a hot July, 1969 evening I took a small black and white TV to my night job at a gas station in Whittier, California. Like maybe billions of other people I wanted to witness something that had never happened in the history of all mankind, a human footprint being pressed into the surface of the moon.

Sometime during the night I sat alone in the station’s sales room watching fellow Ohioan, Neil Armstrong, take that, “…one giant leap for mankind.” A few minutes later I walked out to the parking lot and stared at the moon trying to grasp the reality that there was one of us bounding around up there gathering rocks. For people of my generation this was another of those, where were you moments.

That fall I began my senior year as a history major at Cal-State Fullerton. For an oral history project I took an inexpensive tape recorder and conducted an interview series of older Americans about their feelings regarding satellites orbiting the earth and men walking on the moon. Our most immediate neighbors were a very elderly couple who,  born in the 19th century, and had literally witnessed the evolution of technology from Edison’s light bulb to Armstrong’s visit to the moon. These people had experienced tremendous technological change in their lives but were less than convinced it was all for the better.

They were pretty much okay with electricity, the telephone, radio and they certainly enjoyed The Lawrence Welk Show on their TV. But when we got to talking about non-terrestrial transportation their thoughts weren’t so warm and fuzzy. George’s wife, Irene, was pretty convinced that God didn’t intend for anything to fly other than angels, certain insects, and birds. They both didn’t think men should be monkeying with space. George was certain all our weather problems were somehow related to all those satellites flying around out there and if he were alive today I’m sure that would be his explanation for global warming.

George and Irene would certainly be astounded by how many more metal chunks are orbiting the earth today and how our lifestyle are so dependent on them. I have to wonder  what they would think of satellite television, XM radio, personal computers, the Internet, GPS systems in our cars, smartphones, and instant digital communications.

For me, I have always been a fan of technology and have tried to understand and apply it as much as possible. Much of what I enjoy today grew out of the energies spent and dangers encountered by people such as Neil Armstrong and for that I owe him a debt of gratitude. I also owe Armstrong and all those in the Apollo Program a thanks for making me a $100 richer.

In 1968 a fellow I worked with argued that man would never make it to the moon. He based his argument on what his minister was preaching, that God didn’t want it and would never permit it to happen. His minister must have not been opposed to gambling because my friend offered me 100 to 1 odds and I bet him a dollar. On the evening of July 21, 1969, in the middle of a rain storm, David Gray appeared at my apartment door bearing a crisp new $100 bill to settle a bet I had long forgot we’d made. Thank you Mr. Armstrong and may you rest in peace.

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