I stood outside my house, lunchbox in hand, waiting for Harry to stop and pick me up for the ride to work. It was 7 AM on Thursday, July 24, 1969 and today marked one day shy of a year from when we first met, and our relationship had strengthened and grown in the intervening months since our first day together.
We were working on the sales office for the Quadomain condominiums on South Florida’s Hollywood Beach. It was an ambitious project consisting of 4 twenty-seven story hi-rise towers (810 residential units in all) and two swimming pools. The push was on to get the office open and condo deposit money flowing in the doors.
Harry’s white Ford pickup truck, with cab-over camper, came to a stop in front of my driveway. I walked around the back of the truck to the front and opened the passenger-side door.
“Ya got enough room, Kid?”
I stared at a huge 21-inch television set on the front seat next to Harry. “Yeah, I can fit. Are you taking your TV in for repair today?”
“Nah, Kid, today history is being made—the astronauts are coming home from the moon!”
“AND we are gonna see it happen live, on TV,” Harry said as he gestured at the monstrous box between us. He put the truck in gear and headed for the job site.
“Don’t you think we’ll get in trouble? I mean, we are supposed to be working at work, right?”
Harry took a Tiparillo cigar out of his shirt pocket and stuck it between his teeth, pulling his lips back to form a menacing smile. “You worry too much, Kid, did you know that?” Harry removed a well-worn Zippo lighter from deeper down in the same shirt pocket and lit the cigar.
“I’m just sayin’ that, you know, we are there to work—not watch TV, right?”
Harry put the Zippo back in his shirt pocket, inhaled deeply and blew out an sinister cloud of tobacco smoke. He stopped the truck at a red light, turned his head toward me and said, “Lemme put it to you this way: Do you remember where you were the day you heard that JFK got shot in Dallas?”
“Www-we, well yes I do.”
“You will never forget that day, right?”
“Yeah, no, I won’t ever forget that.”
“Well, today is another day like that—a day that you will never forget, ever. Last week three men went to the Moon and two of them landed on it and walked around. Today all three are coming back safe and sound.”
The light turned green and Harry drove through the intersection, “This time we are going to see history being made.”
“I have seen astronauts return to Earth from Space before, Harry. You know, splashdown, the capsule being picked up, put on the deck of the aircraft carrier.”
“But you haven’t seen astronauts return to Earth after walking on the Moon before, have ya, Kid?”
“Today is the day that changes. For you. For the both of us. For everyone else on the job.”
“How are you going to pull this off?”
“I am going to set up the TV in that sales area right off the showroom. The re-entry is supposed to happen around the time of our lunch hour, so it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll listen to the radio while we work and when it is close to splashdown, we turn on the TV and watch it live.”
“It sounds like a good plan, Harry.”
We arrived at work 10 minutes early and Harry went inside to set up the TV on a small scaffold, high enough off the ground so that everyone could see. Word of the television quickly spread among the 3 dozen or so tradesmen on site and everyone looked forward to seeing the live coverage of Apollo 11’s triumphal return to Earth.
The Apollo astronauts splashed down close to 1 PM, which was after our lunch period was over, and the job came to a halt as everyone crowded into the small office to witness the event. I was in the middle of the herd and at one point I looked back over my shoulder and saw Earl, one of the owners of our shop, standing in the doorway surveying the assembled crowd.
Our eyes locked and my stomach started turning over. No words were spoken. Earl took a long last look around and left the building. I made my way through the crowd and grabbed Harry’s arm, “Earl’s here!”
Harry stared straight ahead at the TV, “Yeah, so what?”
“He didn’t look happy.”
“He never looks happy.”
“Yeah, but this time he really didn’t look happy.”
“You worry too much, Kid. Anyone ever tell you that?”
“Savor the moment, Kid. It’s almost over.” True words, indeed, for it was almost over—for Harry.
The phone call came at 4 PM, half an hour before quitting time. Harry walked over to where I was working and said, “Change in plans, Kid. I won’t be picking you up tomorrow. They are sending Jim down here to run this job and I report to the shop first thing in the morning.”
The next day was Harry’s last day at the shop. It seems that Earl was extremely less than happy about his employees not working when they were at work and Harry was terminated that morning.
I never saw Harry again but I will never forget him; or Apollo 11; or where I was when the astronauts came home from the Moon. Most of all, I will never forget the look on Earl’s face and the message that I took home: When I am at work, I am supposed to be working.
After all, that’s how a nation pulled together, put men on the Moon—and returned them safely home.