Love On The Beach, Rockets In The Sky

July 20, 2009|By Mark Miller

Veterans of Woodstock '69 will look back fondly on that rock concert of rock concerts on its upcoming 40th anniversary. Those who attended (and others who claim they did) will make a pilgrimage to the Bethel, N.Y., site to wax nostalgic over what became a defining moment for early wave baby-boomers.

I didn't attend Woodstock, now sorry to say - but I did, along with millions around the globe, follow that other great 40th year past event: Apollo 11.

Those of a certain age carry their own special where-we-were, what-we-were-doing stories vis-?-vis the moment they heard that human beings touched down on the surface of the moon. For me, July 20, 1969 will always be associated with sand and surf and being in love for the first time.

Barely 20, I was involved in a hot romance that began six months before at a college mixer. Janet was a year older, though she didn't look a day over 16.

We left Baltimore for Wildwood, N.J., on Saturday, July 19 - a sizzler of a day that almost topped the record high. We found a room in The Vernons, the same Victorian-era boarding house (and in the same room) where she had stayed with her sister the previous summer, when both girls took waitress jobs. We hit the beach for a couple hours, then repaired back to our room, showered, went to dinner and then strolled along the boardwalk before returning to the boarding house.

Later, in bed, Janet (she wore a yellow nightgown - some things you never forget) became emotional. She saw something providential that The Vernons' only available room that night happened to be the one that she and her sister shared in the summer of '68. "Life is so short," she whispered through her tears. We stayed up late, sharing our feelings and also discussing the great event scheduled for the following day. In fact, we had packed a transistor radio so we could listen on the beach at the time of Apollo 11's projected landing, 4:30 p.m., EST.

A morning drizzle on Sunday threatened to put a damper on our planned beach time. But we were hardly ready to go home. After breakfast we drove up the coast to Ocean City, parked the '68 blue Chevy Nova and spread our blankets on a near-deserted stretch of beach at the resort's north end, where Great Egg Harbor Inlet meets the Atlantic Ocean. The rain had stopped and streaks of sunlight, much to our relief, started to peak through the clouds. Beach talk filled the time between the obligatory sunbathing and ocean dips. One conversation focused on Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick, perhaps that weekend's second-biggest story. We both thought the incident might affect Mr. Kennedy's presidential ambitions.

The moon landing we caught in fits and starts over the annoying crackling of the transistor. "The Eagle has landed" we heard amid the beach music - the whooshing of the ocean against the shore, the squawk of sea gulls. Leaving the resort for home, we looked forward to more beach weekends and great times ahead.

Three more moon walks followed Apollo 11, but public interest waned with each successive flight. Likewise, as Janet and I took subsequent beach trips, we had fun but never again experienced the novel thrill of that Apollo 11 weekend.

There's only one first time for anything.

Mark Miller lives in Baltimore and is the author of the book "Baltimore Transitions." His e-mail is

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