Extra! Extra! We’ve Landed on the Moon!

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The death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, invariably brought back memories for those of us old enough to recall that event — especially if you were a space nut like me. I didn’t particularly want to be an astronaut. Well, I did, but quickly realized being myopic, not especially good at science and shrimp-sized were not exactly the Right Stuff that NASA sought.

I got hooked on space exploration after Alan Shepherd rode on the back seat of a red convertible in a parade through our hometown in New Hampshire, after his brief ride into space in the early 1960s. Then my Uncle Al served on the USS Wasp while in the Navy later that decade. That carrier picked up several of the Gemini capsules and their crew after they landed in the sea upon return to earth. Uncle Al kindly sent along some nifty souvenir NASA patches and photos, which I kept in a scrapbook that long ago disappeared. I wish it were still around, along with my rock collection that I gathered by writing chambers of commerce across the country and asking for their state rocks. Yes, I was quite the nerd.

By July of 1969, as Apollo 11 prepared to launch, I peddled newspapers each weekday afternoon through downtown Longview, played Pony League baseball, hung out with Sid Crane, Ricky Apple, Bobby Marberry and others who lived along and around South Twelfth Street, thumbed through the 45s at Gibson’s Discount Store on South Mobberly — across from Letourneau College — and tried to get used to summers in East Texas. I’m still trying.

Each afternoon I would pedal my Sears knockoff Schwinn Sting-Ray bike down to the newspaper plant and pick up my bundle of the afternoon edition — about 200 papers. Then I would peddle papers for a dime each mostly to a regular clientele of shop owners and employees, with a scattering of folks who lived in houses that bordered the central district. The paper cost a dime, and I got to keep a nickel for each paper sold, paid daily when I finished the route. So I made about $10 a day, which was good money for a not-quite 14-year-old in the summer of 1969.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface at 3:17 Central Daylight Time on July 20, 1969 with just minutes of fuel remaining, I was finishing up my route early. The paper had printed its afternoon edition and was preparing for that rarest of issues, what was music to a paperboy’s ears — an extra edition to mark the moon landing. Not long after the landing I was back on the downtown streets of Longview with a four-page edition hollering — yes indeed — “Extra, Extra, Read All About It. Americans Land on the Moon!”

The extra cost a dime and carried no advertising. Best part was I got to keep all the money. This was the second extra of the year, the first having been produced when former President Eisenhower died in March. Even at 13, I was nonplussed by that business decision — considering Ike was 78 and had a bad ticker. As memory serves, there wasn’t a lot of interest though I gamely hollered, “Extra, Extra, President Eisenhower dead at 78.” I vaguely recall a couple of folks muttering, “And that’s worth an extra dime?”

Now, landing on the moon, that was worth an extra edition. And those papers flew out of the satchel, my money bag filling with dimes and quarters. I was already plotting a trip to Gibson’s that evening to check out the latest single releases.

I have told this story more than once, but it bears retelling. Down on Green Street, in a house that still stands near the intersection of Highway 80, an elderly black woman I call Miz White (because she lived on Green Street) always sat on her front porch in summer, fanning herself and waiting for me to come sell her the paper. I pedaled up with an extra. Maybe she was shelling peas or shucking corn. She usually was doing something on that porch besides watching traffic go by.

“I have an extra, Miz White,” I said. “The astronauts have landed on the moon.”

“I ain’t trucking with that foolishness,” she said. “Ain’t no man landed on the moon. They just made that stuff up in the studio. Trick photography, that’s all that is.”

I tried to give her the paper, figuring I could afford to be generous given the profit margin. She pulled away and refused to even touch the paper. You would have thought the devil had written it. I gave up and headed down the street.

I always thought the moon landing would be the last extra edition with which I would be associated. Sadly, I was wrong, though it would be 32 years before I helped produce another extra — on Sept. 11, 2001 for the Lufkin and Nacogdoches papers.

Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong, a quiet hero who shunned the limelight but inspired a generation. It was indeed a giant leap for mankind. I just wish I could have convinced Miz White.



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