I was in my first quarter (the regular school year was three quarters then) at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) as 1976 came to a close. My vague career plan was to major in History and then attend Law School. My first quarter would be, in terms of my GPA and what concerns I had regarding it, my best during the four years I was a student at Cal
The football team, one of the best in the country the year before, had not lived up to expectations. It turned out that our All-American quarterback, Joe Roth, was losing his battle with cancer. He died in February 1977. That's not all I remember from that first season of Cal football, but it's almost all that mattered. By a bizarre quirk—my paperwork was misplaced from application to housing (I also lost my wallet for the one and only time in my life sometime in the week before I flew off to college)—I roomed with a member of the basketball team who'd had his housing plans fall through. The first thing we did together was stand in line in a cold rain to buy a student pass to attend football games in Memorial Stadium, which sits to the southeast and above the campus in the mouth of Strawberry Canyon. (Some of the most beautiful views on earth are up there—day and night.) I'd end my days as a student at Cal sitting up on Strawberry Hill with the cannon which was fired whenever we scored. The guy who was in charge of the cannon during those years was in the dorm room next door that fall.
There were two elections that year and events that I watched on television this week reminded me of both. As I mentioned in my last comments here, I cast my first vote for President for Gerald Ford in 1976. I was one of the very few people I knew who did so and, though he won California, President Ford didn't win Ohio and, even then, I knew what that meant.
The other election was for House Majority Leader. Democratic Speaker of the House Carl Albert of Arizona retired that year and Tip O'Neill was slated to move up to the top job. Phillip Burton of California ran for Majority Leader. Jim Wright of Texas (third after the first ballot) beat him by a single vote on the third ballot. Since that day, I've been watching California Representatives, on both sides of the aisle, and waiting for one of them to become Speaker.
Little could I have imagined for the first ten or so of those years that it would be a woman, and a woman who first came to my attention when she helped Jerry Brown win the Maryland Democratic Primary (something of a big deal in that it prevented Jimmy Carter from securing the nomination before the convention, but not as big a deal as, IIRC, Ronald Reagan's big night in North Carolina and Texas, which prevented Gerald Ford from doing the same), and a woman who would win a special election to fill the seat of the late-Sala Burton who'd originally won the seat in a special election to fill the seat of her late-husband, Phillip Burton, who died at the age of 56. Nancy Pelosi, today, became the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives who represents the people of California. I've known her name and face for thirty years. I've known that no representative from California had ever been Speaker until today (when she was escorted back into the chamber by every member of the California delegation and there were only a couple of faces I didn't know) for even longer and I remember being more disappointed that Phillip Burton lost back in 1976 than I was that Gerald Ford lost. You see, back then I was eighteen and "I told you so" came easily to my lips.
One more thing. Cal hasn't gone to the Rose Bowl since I was eight months old. They've had some really great teams, but there has always been an other—and in this case it's never been Stanford. When I was there the problem was that they couldn't beat UCLA. When my brother was there it was that Washington was the best team in the country. Recently it's been that USC is the best team in the country. Last night, after a President's funeral and another college football bowl game and before the opening day of the 110th Congress, I finally watched United 93. Mark Bingham, member of National Championship Rugby teams at Cal, was on that flight. He enters the movie hurrying through security in Cal pullover and cap as his killers are taking their seats. I knew him, if I did, as a name in University publications. He started at Cal in the same year as my brother and I still knew many people at the University (I worked while a student and then afterwards for a few years for the Alumni Association and then in donor development) so I was there quite often during the years he was there.
Then I was still a well-informed voter and alumnus. Now I'm just a guy who works at home with the television for company and, most weeks, spends a lot less of his time thinking about things he used to know and things he used to care about that he's lived to see— a Californian becoming Speaker of the House—that he still hopes to see— California playing in the Rose Bowl game— and that more and more people who touched his life in ways both big and small aren't here to see.
But I remember us riding in my brother's car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I'd lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she'd take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse...
Note: Edited because the truth, recalled while I was taking something to my wife's place of work, works even better. My parents couldn't bring me up to Berkeley (I'm the oldest of eight) at the beginning of the quarter. They brought me back and stayed a few days at the end of Christmas break and before second (or winter) quarter began.