12 ways federal workers bided their time during the last shutdown

The federal government shut down Tuesday, for the first time in 17 years. The result is 800,000 government workers getting furloughed.

I was a graduate student in Boston during the last government shutdown in November 1995 and January 1996, so this is the first one I’m seeing up close — my ride in on the Metro Tuesday morning was pretty quiet. That shutdown had many of the same hallmarks as this one, most notably a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled House.

There are also many differences, especially when it comes to free time for government staffers caught in the middle of this political stalemate.

Economists say this shutdown could blow a significant hole in our region’s economy. Political observers are bemoaning the state of our two-party system. To take our minds off recalcitrant lawmakers seemingly unskilled in the art of compromise, we thought we’d dig up some of the ways federal workers could have occupied their time from Nov. 14 through Nov. 19, 1995, and Dec. 16, 1995 through Jan. 6, 1996, the last time the government shut down.

1. Catch up on all those great NBC television shows: “Seinfeld,” “ER” and “Friends” dominated ratings in 1995. And all aired on the same night (Thursday)! That’s a Murderer’s Row of original programming likely never to be seen again (we’ll try to overlook “The Single Guy”).

2. Open up one of those America Online CDs and take this Internet thing for a spin: The Virginia-based Internet company was sending out tons of the free installation discs by 1995.

3. Geek out on space stuff: The space shuttle Atlantis docked with orbiting Russian space station Mir on Nov. 15, 1995.

4. Bear witness to comedy genius: Will Ferrell (along with Cheri Oteri and Darrell Hammond) joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” on Nov. 18, 1996.

5. Watch another Redskins loss: 27-20 against the Seattle Seahawks. The team would finish 6-10 that season under coach Norv Turner.

6. Track their climbing stock portfolios: On Nov. 21, 1995, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 40.46 to close at 5,023.55, its first close above 5,000. It made 1995 the first year where the Dow surpassed two millennium marks in a single year.

7. Go see “Toy Story”: The first ever full-length computer animated feature film was released Nov. 22, 1995, by Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.

8. Crank up Sammy Hagar and drive 65 miles per hour: On Nov. 28, 1995, President Bill Clinton signed the National Highway Designation Act, which ended the federal 55 mph speed limit.

9. Lament the end of a storybook marriage: On Dec. 20, The Queen of England advised “an early divorce” to Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales. The divorce was finalized Aug. 28, 1996.

10. Lament the end of an original comic: The final original “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip was published on Dec. 31, 1995.

11. Play with a new gadget: Motorola introduced the Motorola StarTAC Wearable Cellular Telephone, the world’s smallest and lightest mobile phone to date, on Jan. 3, 1996.

12. Shovel lots of snow: On Jan. 7, 1996, one of the worst blizzards in American history hit the Eastern seaboard. The federal government remained closed for days. So much for getting back to work.


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