HARLEM — 2004 — It was “Showtime at the Apollo” and every act was on edge. Please the tough audience and you got applause, a chance to go further in the competition. Suck and you got booed off stage. Waiting their turn, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, fresh off a plane from Florida, listened in dismay as act after act drew resounding boos.
BERKELEY, CA — 1903 — Einstein was tinkering with the universe, the Wright Brothers tinkering at Kitty Hawk when a UC physics professor debuted the Barolik. Designed to measure the weight of the earth, the Barolik was big enough to fill a lab. With tubes and springs, pipes and wires, it reminded students of “a dumping ground for outmoded dentists’ furnishings.”
CONCORD, MA — 1842 — Folks in this small town near Boston knew the young slacker Thoreau, all right. Never did a lick of work. Set fire to the woods while cooking chowder. Left teaching because he couldn’t bear to whip students with the customary cane. And what did this good-for-nothing product of Harvard do all day? He walked.
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through…
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
CINCINNATI, SEPT 1884 — Stepping onto a gravel road, he makes a final check. Knapsack. Tobacco. Fish hooks. Revolver. Pen and paper. Hunting knife in his belt. Three hundred dollars in gold coins sown into his suit.
9:00 a.m. Time to get going. With no fanfare, no goodbyes, Charles Lummis starts walking. His destination — a distant boomtown…
“If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s gonna stop ‘em.”
— YOGI BERRA
CHICAGO — JULY 1979 — The White Sox were struggling but the stands were full. Welcome to Disco Demolition Night.
The offer: bring a disco record and get into Comiskey Park for 98 cents. Promoters expected 20,000 fans but little did they know how many people loathed the Bee Gees. By gametime, some 50,000 were on hand.
CHICAGO — 1970s — Folk was ancient history and rock pulsed with sound and light. Unless you were James Taylor, the concert stage was too big for you and your guitar. Then a short, big-eyed kid from the North Side began tuning up.
Steve Goodman played lightning guitar licks. His reedy voice soared. Swept up in heartfelt rhythms, he shook his head, bounced and bobbed, lifting amazed audiences with sheer spirit and song. …
PHILADELPHIA, MAY 1838 — The bride was from the South, the groom from the North. The wedding invitation featured a slave in chains. Two preachers, one black, one white, presided, but it was the guests who sparked the outrage.
Some were black, some white, rumors said. Sitting side-by-side! Singing together! Someone had to do something! Luckily, abolitionists had gathered that week in Philadelphia. Many had come for a wedding.