Even after the army station was able to transmit some news and sports events live via satellite, its programs were still chiefly of historical interest. Johnny Carson, for instance, was still telling jokes about LBJ on our screen, long after the newspapers said Nixon had resigned. Bob Cummings, Dick Powell, and Peter Lawford were smoothing their beveled haircuts and chuckling at “the girls,” while women in the States were campaigning for the ERA; and “Gunsmoke” kept coming around with planetary regularity. As for Big Macs, the closest thing to that gustatory delight on the Zone was a lumpy burger sold by the concession known as the Drive-Inn.
However, the Zone’s limitations were the other side of its advantages. When we asked the Zone kids what they missed most about the Zone when they were in the States, they told us about certain smells, the sound of rain, the feel of dry-season brisas, and of times spent at favorite places like the Causeway. On the Zone, a child woke each day to a “fruitful monotony not boredom / to be explored…”
Everywhere a child went—the pools, the libraries, the stables, the small boat ramps, the company zoo, which was located in the company’s 300 acre botanical garden—there were adults around who knew him or knew of him, and who, as a result, were inclined to look after him. We liked that. Older children sometimes found this oppressive, but it gave them a chance to know a lot of adults who were not relatives. We liked that, too.
Adults and children worked together to stage plays and parades, to organize the annual cayuco race through the Canal, to win baseball games, and to burn Christmas trees.