May, 1971, Washington, DC. The May Day protests against the Vietnam War took place over a span of several days. Protestors took over the city, blocked bridges, and camped out on the National Mall.
Not all protests were peaceful. I recall one story, in particular, of a young government worker who was surrounded by angry protestors while driving across a bridge between Virginia and DC, became frightened, and accidentally (or so she said) hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, thereby running over one or more individuals.
I don’t recall how I got to work that day; since I normally took a bus from my apartment in the Maryland suburbs, I can only assume that either buses were getting through or that there weren’t any blocked bridges on the route. Hey, it was 50 years ago; it’s a wonder I can even remember where I lived at that time! Probably I slept through the entire ride and didn’t even know anything was going on.
In 1971, I was young, single and working for a federal alphabet agency in the heart of DC, whose agents were tasked with monitoring the protests. Agents on the roof of the building would radio down their observations while I sat at my desk and transcribed same. We had been instructed to stay in the building and not to even venture out at lunchtime, inasmuch as some of the protestors had chained themselves to the outside doors and were hassling staff members. It was payday, and there were certain employees who felt it necessary to get to the bank to cash paychecks, despite the warnings. One of my co-workers did so, only to be attacked by the mob and then wound up in the hospital with broken bones.
Heady times, indeed. But time marches on. The protests ceased, eventually the war ended, and things returned more or less to normal.
Fast forward about 40 years.
I was now married, with kids, had become a real estate paralegal in Buffalo, NY, and was attending a closing at the Erie County Clerk’s Office. While waiting for the results of the title search update, the paralegal for the lender and I engaged in light chitchat. I don’t recall how the conversation turned to 1971 and the Vietnam War, but it did. Imagine my surprise when the bank paralegal said she had also been in DC during those protests! I asked which agency she was working for back then – and she replied that she was not working for the government, she was, in fact, one of the protestors!
What a small world! 40 years later and nearly 400 miles away, here we were sitting at the same table trying to accomplish the same goal – close a real estate deal between our respective clients. And neither of us looking to injure the other. We had a good laugh and finished the work we were there to do. Over the following years, we would often pass at the Clerk’s Office and share a small smile, but eventually we each found other jobs and lost contact with each other.
Sometimes I wonder if our paths had crossed in 1971 without either of us knowing it. How many people do you come across each day (when it’s not a pandemic, of course), and how many might you see again 40 or 50 years later, without realizing you had met before?
Just a little food for thought on a snowy January day. If you’ve had similar experiences, feel free to leave a comment, or a link to your story. I’d love to hear from you.
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Image by Cordelia’s Mom/TeddyRosalieStudio