How are we doing by you, Madre Tierra – aside from the virus and global warming, that is?
I remember the first Earth Day, 1970. I was in my first go-around as a baseball writer that spring, switching between the Mets and the Yankees.
As one of the so-called Chipmunks, the chattering youth of the press box, I loved the concept of Earth Day as a logical extension of protests against the Vietnam War and demonstrations for civil rights.
Ecology, to me, mostly focused on cigars -- weapons wielded by older men in the pressbox and newspaper offices. For most of the ‘60s, I worked for the great newspaper, Newsday, with a rotating schedule in sports that meant working in the office sometimes, well past midnight, with no rules against smoking.
We had our own little clubhouse – teammates of sorts, who bantered and cussed and popped a beer or two in the midnight hours.
Still, I would grump about the cigars while the older guys would look at me with shrugs. That crazy kid, there he goes again.
When I got home at 2 or 3 or 4 AM, the house rule was: dump my clothes in a hamper and take a shower before even thinking of sleep. But my throat would be sore from the smoke, and I would cough myself to sleep.
Pressboxes were just about as noxious, and baseball clubhouses were acrid with the players’ smoke. (Yankee manager Ralph Houk would spit tobacco juice on the cement office floor, near the shoes of reporters who displeased him.)
Some of the old reporters would even bring a soggy cigar butt onto the team bus. (In those days, reporters were part of the team entourage.) The worst offender was….well, no names mentioned….an old guy who could be smelled before he could be seen or heard. Sometimes we would ask him to put out the cigar, and he would just shrug, mutely.
On that hopeful April 22 of 1970, I was boarding a team bus to some airport or ballpark, and there was our colleague, with an odiferous lump of tobacco hanging out of his mouth.
“-------,” I said, using his last name, affectionately, of course, “don’t you know today is Earth Day? No smoking on the bus today.” He stared at me mutely. No clue. Well, I had tried.
At some point, while I was off working in the Real World, reporters stopped traveling with the team – just as well – and pressboxes and clubhouses began to cut down on smoking. (Chewing tobacco was banned, after a crusade by the sainted Joe Garagiola and others.)
By that time, I was encountering strip-mining in Appalachia – lopping off mountaintops to get at the coal, and dumping the debris into the valleys. I saw wind-blown damage from acid rain and smelled the befouled creeks of the coal region. Earth Day, indeed.
Nowadays the glaciers are melting and the seas are rising and this once hopeful country is ruled by avaricious know-nothings like Trump and McConnell.
Their aversion to facts has been endangering the world – even before the killer virus arrived and the red-state preachers and rabble-rousers protested the alleged loss of their liberties.
Our leaders make the old pressbox smokers seem downright harmless.
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(courtesy of my one-lady research staff, a few pertinent links:
(how the NYT covered the first Earth Day, glorious bylines like Joseph Lelyveld, Gladwin Hill and McCandlish Phillips:)
How to celebrate, or mourn, the endangered planet today:
And in homage to John Prine, who died recently at 73, his witness to the destruction of his parents' home town, the coal-destroyed Paradise, Ky:
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: