The summer of 1969 was my summer between high school and college. I had been accepted to the American Dance Festival program at Connecticut College for Women in New London. My mother had purchased a new car and so I was loaned her 1965 Corvair convertible for the summer – pale yellow with a black ragtop – perfect for a young woman who fancied herself independent – a free spirit as so many of us did in 1969.
The American Dance Festival was fantastic and New London was far enough from home that I felt on my own. Twyla Tharp and Yvonne Rainer were in residence for the first half of the summer followed by members of the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey Companies for the second half. Tharp had been commissioned to do a large-scale work that was to be performed across the broad lawns of the college (Medley). Rainer was also doing a large-scale work – Chair Pillow, which was part of a project called Continuous Project – Altered Daily. I was in the group learning Chair Pillow and at the time was disappointed because dancing with Tharp seemed more challenging. Rainer was explicit that she wanted both professional dancers and non-dancers in her piece. You can see a performance of the piece below, though the version that I remember is more like the one found here.
Though there were so many things that happened that summer, the one with historical links that I remember most clearly is the moonwalk. I frequently went home on the weekends because there were no classes and I felt lonely in the dorm. I felt lonely at home also but it was a more familiar loneliness and I supposed that is why I opted to go home. I had intended to stay in New London that weekend but that afternoon the lunar module (the Eagle) landed on the moon. It wasn’t till that evening when it was already dark and the timing of the moonwalk looked like it would be late that night that I realized that I wanted to get home to watch the moonwalk on television. It was an hour and a half drive, down the New England Thruway and then through the countryside – dark winding roads – to my family’s home. I threw some things together, hoped I had enough gas, and hit the road. I had very little money that summer – a small allowance that I was to use for occasional food off campus and for gas. Meals were provided, but I remember that I was often scrounging up coins from the bottom of my purse or somewhere in the car so that I could buy ice cream, gas, or pay the tolls in Branford when I drove home on the weekend. That night I think I had about a quarter in my wallet, not enough for the toll and certainly not for gas. This was before credit cards. I was following the moon landing on the radio, not sure that I would make it in time and staring at the fuel gauge willing it to stay around a quarter of a tank. I ran the toll using a technique that had worked before. I followed really closely behind the car in front of mine so that I wouldn’t ring the warning bell which signaled that a car hadn’t paid. There were no barriers that came down between cars in those days.
I made it. No one was home and I don’t remember why. It was quite unusual for my parents to be out at all, let alone out late. It was just me and the television and no one to whom to say, “Can you believe it?”