Daniel Hajek | KGOU
KGOU

Daniel Hajek

It's been a brutal year for Americans.

The relentless spread of COVID-19, the ensuing economic crisis and the reckoning around social injustice has made this a year like none other.

NPR wanted to know how these cataclysmic, consequential events have affected American families and how those experiences might shape their political choices in the upcoming presidential election.

In June, Marcel Lopez and his cousins set up a Zoom video call to say goodbye to their grandfather. Retired physician, José Gabriel López-Plascencia — Dr. López for short — was near death at his home in Phoenix. He was unable to speak, but he let his grandchildren know he was listening.

In Montgomery, Ala., just down the road from where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, a noisy trailer sits in a tiny church parking lot.

The trailer is like a mini-laundromat, equipped with three washers and dryers and two shower stalls. Every week, it serves a homeless congregation at River City Church — even through a pandemic.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On Friday, a new name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Andranik Madadian, who performs as Andy and has been nicknamed the Prince of Persian Pop, is the first Iranian artist to have a star on the Walk, according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Andy has toured the world and amassed a huge fan base among Persian and Armenian Americans; Last week, those fans turned out in huge numbers in Los Angeles for his star's unveiling, chanting his name throughout the ceremony.

On Nov. 16, 1989, a housekeeper named Lucía Cerna was startled awake by a violent commotion outside her window.

"I heard shooting, shooting at lamps, and walls, and windows," Cerna writes in her memoir, La Verdad: A Witness to the Salvadoran Martyrs. "I heard doors kicked, and things being thrown."

Armed soldiers broke into the José Simeón Cañas Central American University on the outskirts of El Salvador's capital, and raided the residence where six Jesuit priests were sleeping.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I want to take you back to November 16, 1989, to an eerily quiet morning in a sunny courtyard at a university in El Salvador. American freelance journalist Mary Jo McConahay heard that something horrible happened overnight.

The actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has a childhood memory: In his family's living room in London, there sat a book called Our Man in Damascus.

It's a non-fiction account of an Israeli spy who infiltrated Israel's enemy, Syria, in the 1960s. Eli Cohen was publicly executed, but not before he obtained vital military secrets.

Sacha Baron Cohen now plays Eli Cohen in The Spy, a Netflix series that dramatizes that true story.

A new TV show, set in Boston in the 1990s, centers on some action-packed armored-car robberies. A crime drama in Boston: You've heard this before.

But City on a Hill, which premieres Sunday on Showtime, is aiming for distinction. It stars actor Aldis Hodge as a straight-and-narrow assistant district attorney working within a crooked justice system. He's new in town, and determined to take on these robbery cases.

Raquel Idiáquez was cooking dinner with her uncle when she noticed something was wrong. He'd been visiting her in Seattle from Managua, Nicaragua, and that evening of April 15, 2018, he kept leaving the kitchen to take an urgent call.

"I saw him getting a little nervous and going to his phone more frequently than usual," says Idiáquez, 28. "Then he just came to me. He was like, 'I gotta leave tomorrow.' "

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


It was February 1967, and 18-year-old Marine Pfc. Bill Ehrhart was days away from leaving for Vietnam. He had just enjoyed his last weekend off base, and his friends had offered to drive him back to Camp Pendleton, Calif., before sunrise.

"It was goodbye civilian world, next stop Vietnam," says Ehrhart, now a writer and poet.

In March 1980, Patricia Morales Tijerino and her sister had just left a wedding in a little chapel in El Salvador's capital and were on their way to the reception.

"And then I spotted him," Morales Tijerino recalls. "He was in his white cassock."

Óscar Arnulfo Romero, the Roman Catholic archbishop of San Salvador, was standing alone in a garden outside the church.

Former President George H.W. Bush was deep in nuclear negotiations with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The 1990 talks, focused on an arms control treaty, were suddenly interrupted when a seasoned Soviet interpreter made a critical mistake.

The interpreter, Igor Korchilov, said the word "verifying" in English, instead of "verified." Everyone in the White House Cabinet Room froze and turned toward him — including his boss.

Gorbachev quickly said: "No, no — I never said that."

Twenty-eight years ago, U.S. journalist Urban Lehner was riding in the back seat of a speeding Volvo 144 sedan. He was on assignment for The Wall Street Journal in North Korea. The road out of Pyongyang was empty.

"The 1973 Volvo screeches around tight curves, slaloming across all five lanes of the road," he wrote in an article dated Aug. 29, 1989. "In another country it would be a suicide ride, but in North Korea so few cars ply the highways that each can often have the road to itself."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When Yeonmi Park was a young girl in North Korea's Ryanggang Province, near the Chinese border, she went to her uncle's house to watch TV. But this wasn't the usual state-run broadcast praising the "Dear Leader." The movie she watched at her uncle's house was illegal.

She covered the windows with blankets, turned the volume down low and huddled in close around the TV. She watched a pirated copy of Titanic.

At Seneca Sawmill Company in Eugene, Ore., a team of lumbermen stand watch as wooden boards are spit out one-by-one onto a planing platform.

"We're taking rough lumber from the saw mill, bringing it over and putting a smooth surface on all four sides and then grading it based on lumber grading rules," explains Todd Payne, Seneca's CEO.

Payne says his business is thriving. A "now hiring" sign even hangs out front. Seneca Sawmill has weathered the past few decades better than many of Oregon's other timber operations.

A lone, single-engine Cessna airplane enters restricted airspace. The pilot ignores air traffic control, so the plane stays on course. That's when the F-16 fighter jet shows up outside the window with a warning call that blares over the radio: "You've been intercepted."

NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager, a broadcaster nearly as famous for his wardrobe as for his basketball knowledge, has died at the age of 65. Sager had been very public about his diagnosis of leukemia.

"There will never be another Craig Sager," David Levy, president of Turner Broadcasting, said in a tweeted statement. "His incredible talent, tireless work ethic and commitment to his craft took him all over the world covering sports."

Pez Owen was flying over the desert in her single-engine Cessna airplane when she spotted a huge "X" etched in the desert below. She says it was the strangest thing.

"It's not on the [flight] chart," Owen says. "There just wasn't any indication of this huge cross."

Then she spotted another one.

"There had to be some reason," she says. "So, of course, I immediately thought I had to get Chuck in on this."

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