And We Danced
January 28th 2020. Thirty-four years ago today the Space Shuttle Challenger left its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, exploding 1.15 into its flight, killing all on board.
And we danced.
Thirty-four years ago today. 1986 was a year of so many tragedies other than that fateful day the space shuttle exploded on live TV killing everyone onboard. I had just returned to my dorm room after morning classes that cold January day. Tossing my book bag on my bed I turned on the television before preparing to go over to the Morris Centre for lunch. I saw the Space Shuttle Challenger thing off. A few moments later it exploded in flight. At first it didn’t register. After all Mtv at this time used the Space Shuttle taking off in their promos. It wasn’t until moments later when I heard the newscaster interrupt I realised how serious it was.
Within a month Mtv had removed the bumper that included a space shuttle lifting off.
And we danced.
This wasn’t to be the only disaster in 1986. There was also the disaster at Chernobyl in the USSR. In Chile there were bombings. In the Middle East and Germany, Hezbollah detonated bombs. Pan Am flight 653 was hijacked and later crashed killing everyone onboard.
And we danced.
It was the 80’s. Greed was good. Selfishness a fashion. In this twenty year old boy’s 80’s university bubble there was dancing and all the luxury that went with it -fashion, new wave music, late nights, new friends. Often enough new lovers. Albeit temporarily. Life was about the scene.
And we danced.
The world suffered. There was pain and misery. But for within the confines of our campus world all was perfect. There is to this day a sign at the entrance to Brigham Young University that reads: ‘The World is Our Campus.’ The truth was much different. ‘The Campus is Our World.’
January 28th 1986. I was a few weeks back at the dorms from Christmas holidays in Naples, Florida. My friend John Bethel invited me dancing in Salt Lake City with some girlfriends Tuki and Carri Higdeman. It was a bitterly cold night and we were expecting a massive blizzard. It would take far more than a simple blizzard to cause us to miss a night at the Palladium in Sugarhouse. I mean it was the Palladium. The most hot nightclub in Salt Lake City. This was no Star Palace or even a Xenon. This was The Palladium in Sugarhouse. The DJ’s were masterful. The scene happening. And the girls exotic and trendy.
I was having a new car audio system installed in my car so we had to drive up to SLC in John’s wreck of a Corvair with four bald tyres. Bad choice for such inclement weather.
But all was prepared. I wore the latest trends: Calvin Klein white pegged trousers and white button down with the top button fastened and a diamond broach. Benetton sweater. YSL trenchcoat. White socks and black penny loafers. Armed with Arcadia’s – Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran -pretentious album ‘So Red the Rose’ we climbed in buckled up -actually there was no buckling up as we didn’t have any seat belts – and drove North on I-15 to SLC.
The Palladium was insane. Heavy with a smell of clove cigarettes. From the ceiling hung upside down blackened mannequin torsos with lights glowing from their opened stomaches. The music all heady New Wave indulgence – The Cure, Blancmange, Heaven 17. ABC. All New Wave. No American Top 40.
And we danced.
This was the 80’s. We didn’t care much who we danced with. They were always cool. Often enough you found a mod chic start rubbing against you for a few songs and once you (or they) got bored or got off you went elsewhere. I watched this trendy chic in a long black tube skirt dancing on a block. She stared at me. I stared back. Five or six songs later she came down from the blocks, moving through the jostling crowd on the dance floor until we were together, dancing in the dim light. No idea her name. She was blonde is what I remember most. We touched. A lot of body contact. Started making out on the dance floor and then moved to the black curtains separating the dance floor from the anything goes area. We lingered amongst the curtains for a time. Had her fun and then she was gone.
And we danced.
There is a fb page dedicated to The Palladium. If you’re on fb it’s worth a trip down memory lane.
John Bethel found me at 12.30. Normally we stayed until closing. 1.30 in SLC. But John informed me the blizzard had arrived. Sugarhouse was up on what they called ‘The Bench’ in SLC. The bench was an elevated area running along the Wasatch mountains above the lower elevations and was getting pummelled with higher altitude snow. Just a mile or so away, the ski resorts were rejoicing.
Gathering up Tuki and Cari we went outside. The snowfall in the hours we were inside the club was insane. Already six inches had fallen. We began the return drive to Provo. It was frightful!
John’s 1968 Corvair was hardly roadworthy on a dry summer’s Sudnay, let alone driving through a blizzard. With his bald tyres we slid all over Interstate 15, as yet unplowed. Worse still the defrost in a 1968 Corvair was non-existent and the windshield constantly steamed up. To make matters worse, his headlamps were tiny ink spots of light in the blinding snow.
As I mentioned, John had brought with him the latest cassette from Arcadia. He had said on the ride up we would listen to it side to side. True to his word, we did. At ear-splitting level. I loved the album, but couldn’t enjoy it much as I was in the death seat – the seat beside the driver up front. And with no seat belts I really did feel I would die that night.
Somehow we made it to Point-of-the-Mountain separating Salt Lake County from Utah County. It’s sort of the half way point if you’re driving back to BYU from SLC. The blizzard worsened as we crossed down into Utah Valley. A whiteout. Absolutely blinding. And at 1.30 in the morning there were no snowplow trucks to be seen clearing the roads and dumping salt. As we were listening to ‘The Flame’ John hit a patch of ice doing 75 miles-per-hour, the bald tyres finding no grip, caused the car to slide sideways. Out of control, we began to spin. In the back seat the girls began to scream. Up front John began shouting in fear. I sat quietly. In that moment I felt the cold breath of death on my neck.
I don’t know if it was God’s intervention in that moment or just dumb luck, but somehow John regained control of the car and got us going straight again on the freeway. Really. It was something of a miracle. We continued South on I-15 into American Fork and onto Orem at a vastly reduced speed, returning to the dormitory parking lot at 2.30 in the morning. It took us two hours to make the trek from Sugarhouse near SLC to Deseret Towers at BYU. It only took an hour to go up to SLC earlier that night.
We pulled into the snow bound parking lot finding a spot to park John’s wreck. I hurriedly climbed out and bid goodnight to the girls before heading into Q-Hall. John left the elevator on the 4th Floor as I continued up to the 6th Floor. Breathing a sigh of relief I walked down the narrow hall to Room 606. The night was over. I left my trench on the bed. My roommate Marc was out. No idea where. I went across the hall to the bathroom then to bed.
A trivial night out in most ways. Particularly when I consider looking back now how many horrific things were happening in the world. And…