Forty-four minus eight

In eight days I celebrate the forty-fourth anniversary of my birth.

Counting down to that day, I am posting birthday memories.

…Then there was the year a plane crashed in Portland on my birthday.

1978. It was a Thursday, according to the calendar. It was cold and rainy, and I was 14. Just 14. I don’t remember what presents I got that year, but I do remember that the family, dad, mom, my sister and I, all went out to the Cattle Company restaurant on McLoughlin Blvd. for dinner. Or maybe it was the Sizzler?

Steaks, anyway.

No, now that I think about it, it was Cattle Company. I’m pretty sure.

I got my presents and unwrapped them at the restaurant, and after dinner we all piled into the Datsun 810 to drive the couple miles back home. Dad turned on the radio, and I remember him shushing everyone in the car so he could listen to the news report.

United Flight 178, a DC-8 with 181 passengers and 8 crew, had run out of fuel while flying from DEN to PDX. The crew was apparently trying to solve a problem with the landing gear.

It crashed at 6:15 PM in the Parkrose neighborhood. There were 10 fatalities – 2 of them, crew. I can’t find information on whether or not anyone on the ground was injured or killed in the crash.

We didn’t know most of that at the time. We drove home and immediately turned on the news to see a reporter standing in the dark holding a microphone.

I can’t distinguish, now, 30 years later, between my memories of seeing fictional plane crashes in movies and on TV, or my actual memories of watching the news that night. I don’t remember how much is true. I don’t even remember how I felt, other than, “how strange that a plane would crash on my birthday”.

Thinking about it now, though… surely most of those people were either flying to, or flying from, family for the holidays. Death is perhaps the most unfair thing about the universe we live in.

Which makes life itself the best part, I suppose.