We drove on all day, listening to the radio news updates—there was a lot to say but not much action. The votes for impeachment were there. They weren’t there yet. Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott were going to the White House to deliver the bad news. No, they were going later.
Sometimes we listened to music. At one point “American Woman” came on.
“Who was that?” my dad asked.
“The Guess Who,” I said.
“No, not the Who!” I said. Kinda teenaged snarkily. “The Guess Who.”
“I don’t know, goddammit,” he said. “Just tell me.”
I thought he was making a joke. He thought I was being a smartass. I sort of was. That’s the way things often worked between us.
Spent the night someplace in Indiana. Drove on the next day. More news all day long, none of it good for Nixon.
I really loved Watergate. I’d watched the hearings all the way through the Summer of 1973—I was watching the day Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of the White House tapes. I had a Sam Ervin t-shirt. I had a crush on Maureen Dean. I’d been off with my dad closing up the lake place when Nixon staged the Saturday night massacre, a cold October night, and when William Ruckelshaus came and gave a talk at the college the next winter, I attended and got his autograph. When the first tapes were released they were of course famously redacted, and Rolling Stone had a contest to fill in the missing expletives. My mom happened to see my entry before it was safely in an envelope and freaked out—”You’ll get arrested! You can’t send obscenity through the mail!”
I sent it anyway. Ha.
So…then we drove on through Ohio, news all day. Nixon was going to speak that evening. What was he going to say? He was going to resign. He was going to fight on. Goldwater and Scott finally delivered the bad news. No votes in the Senate…he was going to go…probably. We stopped off to see my aunt and uncle. Dad I think wanted to visit some but I was afire to get to Cox’s Mills and sit down in front of a TV and watch it all happen. I was anxious. Had to see it. We headed on, Just after we crossed the river into West Virginia, “Whipping Post” came over the radio. What an odd song to hear! AM radio reception was always bad in West Virginia, bursts of music filtering through the mountains between bursts of static, but the Allman Brothers came through the static that once. How often did you hear non-hit Allmans on the AM radio? Very strange. I told my dad that I bet Nixon felt like he was tied to a whipping post…
We got to Cox’s Mills in time for the speech. Our family had been Republican since there were Republicans—we all wanted to see what was going to happen. My dad thought Nixon was getting what he deserved. (My dad had been county Republican Chairman until he resigned in the spring of 1973—over Watergate, he said. But it occurs to me as I write this that that was also the spring my parents were divorced, and my dad had other problems then, too. So maybe Watergate was an excuse?) My grandfather was more upset over Nixon’s tax cheating than he was about the break-in and coverup. My grandmother wanted to see Nixon cry.
“I just want to see him cry, is all,” she said.
The speech came on. It wasn’t much of a speech.
My grandmother was in the other room. She called out, “Is he crying yet?”
Nixon didn’t cry. He just quit. And that was that. The news had people on talking about stuff, but I don’t remember what anyone was saying. I felt kind of let down. I went to bed at some point and slept late and missed Nixon’s farewell speech the next morning—I don’t think he cried then, either. I slept late but woke when a big thunderstorm blew in. Then the power went out.
“The son of a bitch’s only been gone a half-hour,” my grandfather said. “The country’s already going to hell.”
Life was empty after that. No more thrilling news. I was deflated. A couple of weeks later Rolling Stone arrived with its coverage of the resignation, and there was a wonderful Annie Leibovitz photo of Dan Rather sitting in front of the White House looking depressed. I remember he said he felt like rock fans did when the Beatles broke up. I was a rock fan and a politics fan, too, and I understood.