I suppose I should tell you what I was doing on the day Ronald Reagan got shot. I was actually on my way to Washington, DC, heading down the Jersey Turnpike and through Maryland to visit a friend of mine who was going to Catholic University. I had been listening to the tape player the whole way down, so I never heard a word about Ronnie getting popped until I actually got out of the car in DC.
I rode into town around eight or nine o’clock at night; Reagan had been shot around 2:30 or so. John Hinckley had of course been arrested right away, but no one, especially the DC Police, knew if it had been a random act or part of a larger conspiracy. It would be days before the irony of an old, crazy, grade B actor who miraculously had landed the role of his life had been shot by a young, crazy guy in order to impress an even younger, far better actor would be revealed.
I didn’t care much about Ronald Reagan back then. You see, he hadn’t achieved sainthood in the Church of The Tea Bags back then. You have to remember the context of the times back in 1981…the final American withdrawal from Vietnam was just one month shy of six years before, the Iranian Hostage Crisis had ended, after Reagan (allegedly) paid the revolutionaries there $40 million dollars to hold the hostages until he took office just seventy days earlier and of course Watergate and Nixon’s resignation was only seven years before. Hell, even Gerald Ford had first been shot at by a girl named Squeaky then an accountant not too many ago as well. And all this came on the heels of JFK, Dr. King, riots, and Bobby Kennedy, riots. It was a bit of a bad patch for America…
Anyway, it was pretty clear that if Reagan got killed, then Bush the Elder would become president and life would go on, so, not liking Reagan anyway- he was a scary old nut- I wasn’t too upset about Hinkley shooting him. I was admittedly pretty jazzed to have inadvertently driven into DC on the day it happened though. Peripheral history and all that.
But, as I said, the DC cops cared. A lot. I think every one of them was on the street that night and each one seemed to give me a hard stare as I passed by in my car. It made me wish I didn’t have a hundred black beauties in a baggie under my passenger seat, let me tell you. And I still didn’t know what was up. I didn’t find out till I hit my friend’s dorm what had happened.
And oddly, at least for a bunch of young radical types, my friend and his dorm mates cared a lot too. It was now their town after all. I would find the same excitement myself a few years later in New York City when Paul Castellano was gunned down in front of Sparks Steakhouse. In fact, they cared so much that they almost didn’t come out with me when I decided it would be cool to cruise the city looking at all the grim faces. But of course after a black beauty or two, everyone was hot for action, so we went. And of course, nothing happened. The cops looked grim, the pedestrians looked grim, and even we tried to look grim too, which was hard to do with an anphetamine grin plastered on your face…
Of course Reagan lived to go on to threaten the Soviet Union with nuclear war as a joke (funny guy) and both outspend the Soviets on weapons and drive us into a recession as a result. Oh, and allow the CIA to sell drugs in LA, ship weapons to the Contras in Latin America, have his Justice Department block the investigations of his old talent agency MCA, invade Granada of all places and preside of the cocaine boom of the 1980’s and…and…oh, I can’t remember it all.
So that’s the story. Nothing much, I admit, but at least I can say I know where I was on March 30, 1981. That’s something right there.