The Bomb

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Sather Gate, UC Berkeley, 1969

The evening started as a typical weeknight evening in winter. The rainy season was just ending so most evenings were cool and damp. For those of us in Berkeley, Ca, winter was the rainy season. David, my boyfriend was out for the evening at a political meeting and Chara, my six year old daughter, was sleeping. I was planning on an evening of reading and studying.

The house was a small, older brown shingle house quite common to the Bay Area and part of the area’s charm. It was close to the center of downtown near Provo Park known officially as Civic Center Park, the library and my daughter’s school. It was also right across the street from the Berkeley Police Department. We felt as if our house would probably not be burgled so we took the extra traffic in stride. In reality, it made no difference in our daily lives. The front porch was shaded and covered with vines so thick that we could not see the street or the police station from our front windows even in winter.

The interior of our house was just perfect in my eyes. The main room of the house had a bay window at one end of room that caught the morning light. There was a fireplace at the other end of the room to warm the evenings. Around the room, there was shoulder high red oak wainscoting with a plate rail. There were built in bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace mantel. We had a worn burgundy print Persian carpet on the floor. The couch was covered with an orange Indian striped bedspread that was common to the era. There was a worn comfortable black leather chair with an end table next to it and was perfect for reading. It was the the usual beat up eclectic style favored by students in 1970.

On that evening in February, I was sitting in my living room in a nightgown and robbe is tending to Earth, Wind and Fire and finally catching up on the reading I needed to do for class. It was the day before Valentines Day and I wanted a clear evening for a celebration. The crackling fire in the the fireplace was taking the dampness out of the air. My dog, Stoney, was lying by the fire contentedly. Our two cats were roaming around the house and occasionally draping themselves on the mantel to catch the warmth of the fire.

I had my usual cup of coffee by my side and thought this was a perfect night without interruptions so I could get all my work done. As I was getting up to refill my coffee cup, there was an explosion so deafening that all the windows in the house rattled. Stoney jumped up and barked frantically. The cats fled towards the back of the house. I dropped the coffee cup in my hand spilling the last drops of coffee on the rug.

I stood in the middle of the home I considered a refuge from the world not knowing what to do. My mind was frozen. My blood seemed to stand still in my veins. Everything stopped for a moment.

Next, I ran. I’m not sure what possessed me but I ran to the front door. I threw the door open and raced to the street. All the street lights were still on. The Berkeley Police Department had all its light blazing and looking just as it usually did. I looked up and down the street and saw nothing that could explain the deafening noise I heard. There was no smoke or fire. I did see about ten of my neighbors in various stages of dress out on the street. All the dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be barking or howling.

“What happened?” Asked Nancy, my next door neighbor.
I came back with “I don’t know.”

None of us in the middle of the block had any idea do what had happened. Then we all turned towards the police department when we heard screaming and shouting. We saw over a dozen Berkeley police officers racing out of the police department building. All the police officers had their guns drawn and were running every which way waving their guns wildly. Some ran towards the parking lot. Some stayed in front of the station. One ran towards the bushes. And one ran back inside. They all looked just as scared as I
and all my neighbors were.

Then, there was another thunderous roar. This time it was so much louder since we were outside. All of us, the neighborhood, who were still on the street, turned and ran for our homes as If we were one body and slammed our doors. I still had no idea what had exploded. I could hear the sounds of activity and chaos outside. There was yelling and there were sirens. And I was still in the dark.

Being in the dark has never been easy for me. I remembered seeing two of my next door neighbors outside. So, I went out the back door after checking on my sleeping daughter and walked through an opening in the hedge to get to my next door neighbors house. I knocked on the door and heard a muffled squeal.

“Whose there?” Barb asked.
“Marsha”” I said.

Barb looked from side to side to see if anyone was with me and opened the door. We found after a short conversation that neither of us had any clue as to what had happened. I asked her if she wanted to come over. I couldn’t stay at her house because of my sleeping daughter. Barb decided to stay on her home. So I crept back through the hedge to my home.

At that point, any pretense of studying or reading was out of the question. My mind was racing a mile n minute with nowhere to go. And I still didn’t know what had happened. At this point, I thought I knew some bombs had exploded. I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt or who had done it.

I went back to check on my daughter. I checked the clock and it was only 9:00 p.m.. I began to busy myself around the house. I picked up the coffee cup off the rug and wiped up the spill. I got another cup of coffee and it tasted terrible. I felt as if I had been up for two days. My curiosity was out of control and I went to the front porch to see if I could catch sight of anything through the vines. After all, curiosity only kills cats. The vines on the porch made it impossible to see anything. Stoney came out fto survey her domain and after a brief inspection returned to the warmth of the fire. I followed her back inside to wait for David to come home. He had planned to come home early so now I began to wonder where he was. I called a couple of friends and found out he was not there. The friends were far enough away so that they had not heard the explosion. I told them that I thought a couple of bombs had exploded. We speculated on who might bomb anything and we thought maybe it was a splinter group of SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) called the Weathermen. But, we didn’t know.

Another coffee didn’t appeal to me so I opted for a beer. I hoped the beer would calm me. I tried reading and couldn’t. My next stop was the TV for the 10:00 p.m. news hoping the news had the story. At they moment, someone knocked at the door. I looked through the window and saw two very large cops. When I opened the door, one of the cops wanted to know if I had seen or heard anything before the explosion. The other one asked if I had seen a stranger in the area who looked out of place in Berkeley. I really hadn’t. I mentally wondered what would look it of place in Berkeley – maybe a pin stripe suit. They did tell me that the explosions had blown up two police cars in the police car parking lot and there were no injuries. They told me they would be searching my yard.

It scared me to think the “bomber” could be in my back yard or my crawl space without me knowing about it. They noticed my reaction and told me to lock the doors. My reaction must have been visible. They told me not to worry because the neighborhood was sealed and no one was getting in or out. With that piece of information, I knew why David wasn’t home. After the cops left, I looked out the bay window and could see the beams of two flashlights moving around the yard. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.

Another sound on the steps and I was on my feet checking to make sure the door was locked. This time it was David. He had been stopped at the end of the block. Both he and the car were searched. The cops had not found anything but made the comment that they were sure they could find something if they really looked. I told David all about my evening before we went to bed.

For the next week, everyone on the block was searched when ever we left or came home. They never found the bomber and no one claimed credit. It was attributed to the SDS splinter group called the Weathermen. All I can remember is how scared I was at the time.

Blogging Benefits

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The first benefit I noticed from blogging was that I got to show things from my point of view. I have strong opinions. i talk about my dog, garden, music, food and more. I am an educated person who travels in an uneducated world a lot of the time. Sometimes it is a choice and sometimes a circumstance. Blogging allowed me to express some of the disconnect I feel.

Also, I am in Detroit a lot for music. I see the beauty and the warts. I get to talk about the beauty. And soon I will talk about some of the warts. Another view of Detroit…

The surprise was being able to access the blogs of so many others and read their stories. I see snapshots of life from around the world. It is in a form where I can take it in and reflect. That is truly the best and has expanded my world.

Thanks to all you bloggers….

Detroit: A Tale of Two Cities

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The Renaissance Center in background on left and blighted home in foreground right

Last night when I was going to Detroit for some music, I ran into a freeway maintenance shut down and a forced reroute off the free way and into an unfamiliar neighborhood. My car has 167,247 miles on it and I worry that it may break down. For the most part when I go anywhere, I am on main roads where I feel safer. The reroute took me through a reminder of how life looks to some Detroiters.

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For others, life looks different.

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City services are delivered unevenly and it has been that way for as long as I can remember. Right now, because the city was deemed by the state of Michigan to be financially unviable, Governor Rick Snyder appointed an Emergency Financial Manager(EFM) Kevin Orr. The EFM has been a practice in the state for several years and several cities have gone through the process. The EFM has complete control over city functions during his stay in the city.

In my opinion, one of the major problems is that the city council is elected at large. Most of them live in one area of Detroit. I’m sure you can guess which of the two neighborhoods depicted above is the primary neighborhood of the city council members. This issue will be somewhat resolved with the next election when for the first time in years, almost all of the council members will be elected from districts. The mayor, Dave Bing (former basketball star), has not been able to change the situation. According to some Detroit residents I know, he patronizes black owned business on an extremely infrequent basis.

They are beginning to cut some costs. The city council members and the mayor have had personal drivers paid for by the city. That no longer have that perk. The EFM does have it.

When the EFM has control, the city council and the mayor are not allowed to pass laws or perform any normal governmental tasks. Complete disenfranchisement. Today the second city council member quit. He will begin working for the EFM within the month.

There was not really much interest in the EFM amongst the people that live in the suburbs until Mr. Orr mentioned that all the art in the Detroit Institute of Arts was up for grabs. A Van Gogh, anyone? It did make people pay attention. The retires of the city may have their pensions cut significantly. Now, they are paying attention.

It is so true use that the city is in a financial mess. It has been going on for a long time. So long, there is enough blame to go around. It has been a case of ” kicking the can” down the road. I’m glad people are paying attention now. I hope people will learn from this and continue to pay attention even when there is not an obvious cri sis.

The Bomb

The evening started as a typical weeknight evening in February. The rainy season was just ending so most evenings were cool and damp. For those of us in Berkeley, CA winter was “the rainy season.” David, my boyfriend, was out for the evening at a political meeting, one of many in Berkeley in that era. Char, my six year old daughter, was sleeping and my dog Stoney was by my side. I was planning on an evening of reading and studying for my classes at UC Berkeley.

The house we were renting was an older small brown-shingle quite common to the Bay Area and a part of the area’s charm. The house was close to the center of downtown. It was near the Civic Center Park also known as Provo Park. The city library and my daughter’s school were within easy walking distance. The only drawback to the house was that it was located right across the street from the Berkeley Police Department. It was also an asset since we thought our house was less likely to be burgled. Since we were both politically active, we enjoyed the irony of living there.

In reality, it made no difference in our daily lives. The front porch was shaded and covered with vines so thick that we couldn’t see the street or the police station through the front windows even in winter.

The interior of the house was perfect in my eyes. The main room had a large bay window at one end that brought the morning light in through leaded glass windows. There was fireplace at the other end of the room to warm the evenings. Around about half of the room there was red oak wainscoting with a plate rail. There were built in bookshelves on both sides go the fireplace mantel. A worn burgundy print Persian carpet covered most of the floor. The couch which was really a daybed was covered with an orange striped Indian bedspread. Our prize possession was a worn, comfortable leather chair with an end table next to it by the fireplace. It was and ideal place to read. It was the usual orange crate casual favored by students in 1970.

That particular evening in February, I was sitting in the living room in a nightgown and robe listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and finally hoping to catch up on my reading for class. The blazing fire in the fireplace was taking the dampness out of the air. Stoney moved to the fireplace to warm her old bones and was lying there contentedly. Our two cats were roaming throughout the house. They occasionally draped themselves across the mantel to catch the warmth from the fire.

I had a cup of coffee on the end table and thought this would finally be the evening I would get all caught up o my reading. I got up to refill my coffee cup when there was an explosion so deafeningly loud that all the windows in the house rattled. Stoney jumped up and braked frantically. The cats fled towards the back of the house. I dropped my coffe cup spilling the last drops on the rug.

I stood in the middle of my refuge from the world not knowing what to do. My blood felt frozen in my veins. Everything stopped for a moment.

Next, I ran. I am not sure what possessed me, but I ran to the front door. I threw the door open and raced to the street. All the street lights were still on. The Berkeley Police Department had all its lights blazing looking pretty much as usual. I looked up and down the street and could see nothing to explain the explosion. There was no smoke or fire. I did see about six of my neighbors also out on the street and in various stages of dress. All the dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be barking or howling.

“What happened?” asked Nancy, my next door neighbor.

I came back with “I don’t know.”

Then, Barb, another neighbor, yelled, “Where and what was that?”

None of us in the middle of the block had any idea of what happened. We all began to turn to the police department as we heard shouting and yelling. We saw about fifteen Berkeley policeman racing out of the police department. They all had there guns drawn and were running every which direction, waving their guns wildly. Some ran to the front of the station; one ran towards the bushes. And one ran back inside. They all looked just as scared as the neighbors.

Then, we were all shaken by another explosion accompanied by a thunderous roar. It was so much louder this time since we were all outside. All of the neighbors who were still on the street, turned and ran back to our homes as if we were one body and slammed our doors. I still had no idea what had exploded or where it was. I could hear the sounds of activity and chaos outside. There was yelling and sirens. And I was still in the dark.

Being in the dark has never been easy for me. I remembered having seen two of my next door neighbors outside. So, I went out the back door after checking on my sleeping daughter and walked through an opening in the hedge to get to my neighbor’s house. I knocked on the door and heard a muffled squeal.

“Who’s there?” Barb asked.

“Marsha.” I said.

Barb peeked from side to side to see if anyone was with me and opened the door. We found after a short conversation that neither of us had a clue as to what had happened. I asked her if she wanted to come over. I couldn’t stay with her because of my sleeping daughter. Barb decided to stay in her home. So I crept back through the hedge to my house.

At that point, any pretense of studying or reading was out of the question. My mile was racing a mile a minute with nowhere to go. And worst of all, for me, I didn’t know what had really happened. I believed some bombs had exploded. I didn’t know if anyone had been hurt or who had done it.

I went back to check on my daughter and she was still sound asleep. I checked the clock and it was only 9:00 p.m.. I began to busy myself around the house. I picked up the coffee cup from the rug and wiped up the spill. I got another cup of coffee and it tasted terrible. I felt as if I had been up for two days. I decided to go out on the front porch to see if I could see anything through the vines. After all, curiosity only kills cats. The vines that covered the porch made it impossible to see anything. Stoney came out to survey her domain and after a brief inspection, returned to warmth of the fire.

I followed her back inside to wait for David to come home. He has planned to be home early. I began to wonder where he was. I called a couple of friends and found he was not there. The friends lived far enough away so they had not heard the explosion. We talked about the new faction of SDS(Students for a Democratic Society) called the Weathermen and the “Days of Rage” in October of 1969. A police station in Chicago was bombed. We knew they were planning on bombing government buildings and wondered if they were the ones. They seemed to think it would change things. We had discussed terrorism and knew it hadn’t ever worked. I told them I thought a couple of bombs had exploded. All I could do was wait.

Another cup of coffee didn’t appeal to me so I took the cold coffee to the kitchen and got a beer. I hoped the beer would calm me down a bit. I tried reading and couldn’t do it. I decided to turn on the TV with the hope that I could find out what had happened on the 10:00 p.m. news.

At last, I heard someone walk up the steps on the front porch. I heard a knock on the door so I knew it wasn’t David. After checking through the window, I opened the door. Two vey large cops were standing on my doorstep. One wanted to know if I had heard or seen anything before the explosion. The other asked if I had seen a stranger in the area who looked out of place. I really hadn’t. I mentally wondered what would look out of place in Berkeley… may a pinstripe suit. They were able to tell me that an explosion had blown up to police cars in the police parking lot and there were no injuries.

They told me they would be searching the yard. It scared me to think the bomber could be in my backyard or my crawlspace without me knowing about it. They noticed my reaction and told me to lock all the doors. They said the neighborhood was sealed and nobody could get in the neighborhood or out of it. With that bit of information, I know at least one possibility for David’s delay.

After the cops left, I looked out the bay window to a yard lit by moonlight and the beams of two flashlights moving around the yard. It was upsetting to think of being a prisoner in my own home.
My yard got an all clear from the cops.

Another sound on the steps andI was on my feet and checking to make sure the front door was locked. This time it was David. He had been stopped at the end of the block. Both he and the car had been searched. The cops hadn’t found anything. One did make the comment that if they really looked and they were sure they could find something. He had been held at the end of the block until the block got an all clear.

I told David about my evening and all that it happened. For the next week, everyone on the block was searched whenever we left the block or came home. They never did find the bomber and no one claimed immediate credit for it. After some time, the bombing was attributed to the Weather Underground. All I can remember is how scared I was.