I suppose for many people, reaching a certain age, say 70, allows one to feel he or she has been a part of a large segment of history. This has to be much more so in our current world of rapid change, when I think we have gone through more social, technological, political and economic changes than in any other times.
On a number of occasions, my own life reminds me of two films describing this via characters who get to sample a huge swathe of important things and people around them. These are Woody Allen's 1963 mockumentary, Zelig, and Forrest Gump, with Tom Hanks playing the everyman who seems to be everywhere.
I was reminded of this when looking at the two political races the spotlight was most focused on in Tuesday's election. The gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia. These felt familiar to me, somewhat like local news.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia, so New Jersey was my backyard, and all our family vacations were in Wildwood on the Southern Jersey shore. When I worked at KYW Newsradio, our Jersey bureau was the biggest radio news coverage for that state. As a state, New Jersey is somewhat unique in that it doesn't have any powerful TV stations of its own. It lies between the huge markets of Philadelphia and New York, which both make a fortune when political advertising dollars are spent in The Garden State.
I had a further connection in that, for about 8 months, I actually worked at WBUD Radio in Trenton, and learned how very small town New Jersey politics was. And how corrupt. I even became personal friends with the young mayor of Trenton, a very liberal hippy type who was trying to make big changes.
On to Virginia, where I was much more involved by virtue of several years as a top newsman at WRVA Radio, the top-rated station in the entire state at the time. We were located right across from the famed Capitol Building designed by Thomas Jefferson, and had our own studio in its basement. I was in charge of recording and editing for distribution throughout the state, the governor's news conferences, and was often the reporter who closed the session with a "Thank You, Mr. Governor."
I myself was approached on several occasions about running for political office, starting with something local in Richmond. I never was interested. For several months, filling in for an injured colleague at WRVA, I wrote speeches for U.S. Senator Harry Byrd Jr., and was very friendly with the up-and-coming political star, J. Sargeant Reynolds. Sarge was just starting out when I got to know him, eventually becoming Lt. Governor when I had already moved on to New York. He was often touted as the next JFK. He was part of the illustrious Reynolds family--his branch was the aluminum one, though he was also related to the tobacco family. Like the Kennedys, the Reynolds family had more than its share of tragedy, and Sarge died at 35 of an inoperable brain tumor.
So it is no wonder that I feel somehow connected when I watch all the political reporting from Virginia and New Jersey. But the truth is, like the world itself, politics are vastly different today and a lot less personal than they were forty-some years ago, and not nearly as much fun. But I was there, so following it all is something like comfort food to me.
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