As all of you are aware by now, the "Memories Of 9/11 Contest" was a great success. By that I mean you all were wonderful in helping us dig back into that painful day and pause to reflect on what happened and how we felt. It still hurts, doesn't it? I know, from a personal standpoint, it still hurts me greatly. I am still, three years later, trying to come to grips with the scope of the tragedy and the sudden loss of over three thousand fellow citizens. These were innocent men and women who had done nothing to deserve the brutal deaths they received. And they all left behind thousands of family members whose sorrow is unending.
I have read all of the submitted essays countlesss times and every time I read them a tear comes into my eye. Not for the loss of life, although that is a large part of it, but more importantly for the change in attitude I see in this country and around the world since then. Our so-called allies and friends overseas, who grieved with us on that day, eventually turned against us in the interests of their own political agendas and, in some cases, out of pure commercial greed. In addition, Americans who were standing solidly together on that day are now spitting and fighting with one another over petty issues. Finger pointing has re-entered our national psyche and angry political divisiveness is threatening to split our country apart again. That is why I am sad.
Below, you will find ALL of the essays entered. Take the time to read them and recall how you felt on that day. Even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts. It begins with a short poem by yours truly that expresses my feelings. Then the essays follow with the top-voted essays first. The last piece is my own essay, taken from my voice recorder, which I had with me on a business trip that week. No one should have to listen to themselves narrate those events. It took a tremendous amount of courage to listen to myself and transcribe those feelings. The people who entered their essays here relied mostly on memory but I feel a kinship with all of them.
Stand tall and stand proud, America. For one brief shining moment we were all on the same team. Let us not wait until more innocent lives are lost before we regain that unity.
A long time ago
Freedom was the beacon
What happened to these
Only time will tell
The summer of 2001 has just ended, and fall hangs thickly in the air threatening to take away the innocence of the summer which is still clinging to September. This Tuesday morning begins like any other day. It is September 11 and, it holds no particular meaning for me. Nothing's marked on my calendar. I open up the supermarket and greet the odd customer on this bright, unimposing morning. The Toronto radio station plays that top 40 morning repetitious easy listening music. I groan at hearing yet another Celine Dion or Mariah Carey song--what ever is the hit of the moment. We are carrying out the mundane morning duties of readying for the day's business when a customer walks in and says that a plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York. “It is probably nothing-you know the media…” he says on his way out. It is just after nine o'clock.
His words are barely cold in the air when the song on the radio is interrupted with a bulletin that confirms the skeptical customer's news. There isn’t much detail. I think that maybe a small plane has veered off course. It is then confirmed that it is a passenger plane, and my mind reacts like the terrified flyer that I am--wondering about what must have gone through the passengers’ minds as they crashed. Those poor people, their family. Last minute calls. These things happen. It is still that ordinary everyday reaction you have when you hear of a plane crash. Again, the music ends abruptly: another plane has crashed into the Trade Center . The mood in the supermarket goes from nonchalant to tense. The queasy feeling that something horrible is unfolding begins to form in the pit of my stomach. I say horrible, but I don’t know what it is. I think mad men or high-jackers. We hang onto every word from the radio. Planes are missing--high-jacked in the air; airspace being locked down. The news keeps coming in like that…piling pieces of the puzzle into the jumble faster than one has a chance to catch his breath. It is now evident that the simple plane crash theory is something more urgent. Something more sinister is in the air.
It has to be personal. The World Trade Center--a symbol of America--as much as Lady Liberty--attacked on its own turf. Presumptuous and pointed. World War III comes to mind. Some crazy bastard must have pushed the button somewhere and some kind of war has started. Something big is happening, and I feel immobilized because the reasons for the catastrophe are unknown. The play by play on the radio is flat because what the DJ is saying just seems so unbelievable. I can’t paint a picture in my head because her words seem unremarkable as she describes in this monotone radio voice about the havoc and chaos that is taking place in the American airspace. She relates what she sees on television and it sounds spectacular…110 story inferno...the way they used that word spectacular to describe a horrible inferno on the television. I always thought that it was an odd word to use…the kind of word you would use to describe a sporting event. But, what she is saying cannot be described in any other way, but spectacular. The estimation that there may be as many as 50,000 people in the tower is a blow to my senses. I can’t imagine that. I can't compute or comprehend those numbers that represents somebody's life.
People pour into the supermarket like they have to get out of the house and tell someone the horror they have just witnessed to make it real for them. It is like a movie, they keep saying. Just when I am getting over the shock of the crashing planes, news of the first Trade Center tower collapse blindsides me like a blow to the gut. I imagine a 110 story tower collapsing with over 50, 000 people inside. I lose all track of time as it all seems muddled in no particular order. My mind can’t separate any of it. I can't isolate the horror and make it real for my mind. My head is full of warbled words--words that don’t quite form the pictures because they are so outlandish. I think this is what it may have been like during World Wars I and II where people sat around listening to the radio--waiting for news--hearing gossip, innuendos. But, the radio alone can’t make it real for my brain. I have to see it for myself. I live across the street from the supermarket and so, I take my break.
Inside my apartment, the sun illuminates the dust that's settled on my television screen. I think: I have to dust, and turn on NBC just in time to see the second tower crumble like a block of Leggo’s. It stuns my brain. My hand goes over my mouth in an audible gasp. I think I am going to have an asthma attack. Quietly, the tears come and seep through closed fingers as I try to catch my breath. I want to tell somebody, but I am frozen, glued to the floor in my summer sandals…and watch in slow-motion as New York disintegrates into nothingness right before my eyes. It looks like an implosion that is deliberately calculated. I am ringing my hands and wailing, "oh, my God, oh my God" in rasping breath as I watch the replay of the second tower collapse. I imagine frantic calls to loved ones before the towers were pushed to their deaths swallowing innocent lives in its gaping belly. I imagine claustrophobic breathing in crowded stairwells. I imagine trains of thought of the desperate--their life and times flashing before their eyes--finally coming to terms that this may be the end. I imagine the end.
This is surreal. Torrid waves of emotions shake my body. I feel scared, horror, shock, helpless, sad and then angry. I cry for all those people. I am angry at no one in particular, but at man's inhumanity to man. My heart is broken. In my innocence, I somehow, naively, expect more from human beings. My knees shake. I am terrified. The workers from the tall buildings in downtown Toronto are being sent home, and there is fear of Canada being attacked. With the uncertainty of what is going on and who is behind it, this fear is real for me. Television makes it real for us. You don't have to be in New York to experience the terror or the anger. It isn't only America 's tragedy, but a universal feeling of sadness and anger. Damn them for making us realize our vulnerability. Damn them for sneaking up on us and blindsiding us. Damn them for not looking us in the eye when they stole our innocence. But, who is "them"?
And maybe it is naiveté or innocence on my part--our part, but the idea of terrorism never enters my mind. Terrorism in the broader sense--the foreign concept of suicide bombers is so outrageous in this part of the world. And yet, terrorism on American soil is not foreign. Timothy Mcveigh is home grown terrorism. To be honest, the Trade Center bombing in 1993 has faded from my memory. How many people know that five suspects were each given 240 years for that first attack that killed six people? Our innocence and complacency would not let us believe that that kind of thing can happens in these parts. That happens in somebody else’s backyard. Not on the streets of New York . Not on an ordinary Tuesday morning.
But terrorism has come home. New York looks like a war zone. The towers collapse and explode in a burst of white dust--a mushroom cloud of dust that seem to chase terrified people as they try to outrun it to safe ground. It looks like they are racing against a twister. Unrecognizable ghost-like faces and hair aged eerily white with dust and debris. They look like zombies stumbling around--ghosts of themselves roaming the once bustling streets of New York City--a skeletal city full of holes and broken down people. The white dust makes it all eerie. It looks like a make-believe movie set with extras playing the part of feigned horror as they run through the streets. Only no one could write or feign that kind of horror. It reminds of some goddamn Godzilla attacking America movie or some inferno move where Roger Ebert gives the special effects a thumb’s up. This is bigger than a 20 million dollar production. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a test. People are fleeing the city in droves--like survivors of war--the mushroom cloud of dust eerily reminiscent of a nuclear cloud. The frame of thousands walking in quiet stupor as they make their way over that bridge on their way out of New York isolates the numbness of this day.
It is all surreal, and amidst all the jagged juxtapositions of whirring sounds and surreal sights--I see unscarred sheets of office paper floating in the midst of disaster--soaring above the dust that rises from the ashes of a city to land ever so gently, in a whisper-- in the rubble of what used to be. Confetti falling--raining down on the streets of New York--the fleeing throng leaving trampled foot prints on perfect paper. Then, the camera pulls back; replaying, rewinding to the moments before the second tower tumbles down, and a small figure tumbles out a window--and another. Maybe, my eyes are playing tricks…all this is television special effects. But, then the voice over says people are jumping out of buildings to their deaths. I imagine terrified hearts and quiet, desperate goodbyes. Frantic telephone calls to loved ones. Terrified of heights, I imagine the horror of having to make that decision. And, I think about the perfect white paper floating and landing ever so gently in a whisper--not with a thud like those flailing, falling bodies--clawing their way at nothingness--trying to hold onto something to save themselves from the confines of the towering inferno. I stand open-mouthed, wondering about the thud the bodies make when they make contact with the cement. The sound in my ear is deafening, but it is all I can hear in my mind--the thud of the bodies as the paper lands ever so gently.
As day fades, I remember the events in frames--frozen moments in time--etched in my mind like faded dog-eared memories. Sounds...whirring desperate sounds. Faces. Father Michael F. Judge--a chaplain with the City of New York Fire Department at the scene and then hearing he has died in the second tower collapse. It brings home the abruptness of what has happened. He is there one minute, and then he is gone just like the buildings are there and then gone--leaving gaping holes in the skyline--as if somebody has erased the buildings. This day is not something you can erase. The skyline is missing a piece of its glitter when night envelopes New York City. Night casts an ugly shadow on this devastated city. And you think about the people on the planes, and in the towers as you make contact with your loved ones. Night makes you remember those who aren't coming home, and those who are waiting eagerly for word on those who did not come home.
By night fall, the reality of the day sinks in as we know more than when this ordinary Tuesday began. The Pentagon has been attacked, the final plane crashes in Philadelphia , and we are all shaking our heads at the carnage left behind. After watching in numb awe, hours and hours of repetitious footage of the most unbelievable spectacular event I have ever witnessed, I allow myself to turn out the lights. I think about how the world has changed in a split second--how the innocence was stolen from under our noses by men with hatred in their hearts. Laying in the dark, I think about the summer. It is comforting thinking about the warm summer. I think about the summer that we are just leaving behind along with our innocence. The day has been emotionally exhausting and sleep comes before the tears dry on my cheeks.
Dawn breaks and the nightmare is real. The line in the American national anthem comes to mind: "Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming." At the twilights last gleaming--before the devastation-- New York City stood proudly, her towers soaring. Now, it looks like a ghost town--full of holes--void of any sort of life--it is as if New York is obliterated and the streets have an eerie air of abandonment. It looks defeated, deflated, devastated. The quiet is deafening, and in your head you can hear echoes of hollow voices and clapping footsteps, but it is only what you remember of New York . Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. The smoke from the burning collapsed towers is still smoldering--rising up slowly--phoenix rising from the ashes--symbolic of a nation that will slowly rise up--tears falling on tired cheeks; teeth gritting; fists pumping; flag waving; the American might a little tattered, but still unwavering as they regroup in resounding echoes of:
"...'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and home of the brave!"
And, over the next few days, we become familiar with the names of ordinary men and women who are held up as heroes. People helping their fellow man. Corporate America working along side the blue collar regular guy: firefighters, emergency workers. Over the next few days, the human spirit rises up and reclaims man's natural humanity towards man. New Yorkers rise up and take back their city in memory of their fallen angels--all 3000 of them. And, we become familiar with the evil that exists in the hearts of men. We learn names like Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. We become familiar with a new world. The page has turned to a new chapter in history.
But, it isn’t only America’s soul that is attacked on Tuesday September 11, 2001, but the psyche of an entire world. It isn’t only America’s sorrow, but a world in mourning. A world in mourning of wasted life--of somebody’s brother, somebody mother, somebody’s sister, somebody’s neighbour--somebody who simply went to work on an ordinary Tuesday morning and didn’t come home. It isn't only America's innocence that is stolen on a September morning that begins so ordinarily. Collectively--all of our souls die a little, and maybe, we are still waiting for the rebirth of ourselves.
Copyright © 2004. DGALEP. All rights reserved
The Towers Last Breath
I feel the pain
The overwhelming intolerable pain
As fuel drips from the wreckage
Imbedded within me
Igniting into searing hot flames
Eating at me
Destroying me from within
Please, all of you get out
I will hold myself together
For as long as I can
To try and give you time
To find a path to safety
But you must move fast
Because the fire in me
With every passing moment
I feel myself shaking
With the exertion of my waning strength
I struggle to steady myself
So you will have more time
The tears within my soul overflow
From the pain that is consuming me
And from the shame
I feel I have failed you
I should be stronger
I should be able to protect you
To keep you safe within my walls
But I can't
And because of my weakness
Some of you will perish
And join me
In another existence
Please God, let them hurry
I beg you, let me be strong
For just one more minute
The end is near
I can feel it closing in upon me
My strength is used
And not everyone is out
So with my last breath
I say to you
By L. M. S. III Copyright © 2004
After more than two years, you might think remembering the day would get easier. It doesn’t. I still get choked up, the tears still come. But memory blurs with time, so this is a good thing: commit these memories to permanence now, before they fade with time.
Not the feelings, the impact, the significance: That can never fade. But the details, the things I saw there, we shouldn’t lose that. I’m so afraid of losing the details. I’ve been to the World Trade Center site so many times since, and I see the buildings that survived, and I think: This is where this happened, there is where that happened; 114 Liberty Street is where the cat was rescued, the marina is where the flag was taken that was seen around the world while the boats were pressed into service ferrying people to New Jersey, the McDonald’s is where policemen and rescue workers escaped the choking cloud of smoke and ash billowing down Greenwich Street. All these places deserve historical markers, so that people will know what happened here, in detail.
I worked on Greenwich Street, a mile north of the World Trade Center. Close enough so that the towers were a part of the sky. A mile away, and still you had to look up to see the top. When the first plane hit I was at my desk, and like just about everyone else, I assumed it was an accident. I sent a few emails out to friends, to let them know what had happened. The second plane hit, and it was clear it was no accident. We were all watching. It was like feeling a fist tighten around your gut. This was not an accident, it was an attack.
Being a construction manager I had a little knowledge of the World Trade Center. I knew there were 35 to 50 thousand people there on a typical work day, and the number there at the time of the attack would largely depend on the severity of traffic that morning. I also knew that after the 1993 attack, it took 3 hours to evacuate the buildings. Somewhere in my head I started the clock ticking.
We took pictures with a digital camera, and sent them around the world on the internet. In hindsight, a silly thing, because this was quickly turning into the most watched, most intensely covered event in history. But, I wanted people to know what I was seeing myself, me and not a television camera. I felt it was important at the time.
The subways stopped, the bridges and tunnels closed, the city was locked down. The street was filled with people, watching. At first, the damage, from a mile away, seemed small, yet somehow impossible, like watching the moon on fire. Police and Fire vehicles were racing to the site, called in from everywhere.
The south tower fell, and I tried not to believe what I was seeing. I told myself it couldn’t have; it’s just all the smoke, we can’t see because of all the smoke. The clock in my head stopped, and at less than an hour, I knew it wasn’t an empty building that had just fallen. How many people had gone down with that building? If it’s 100% evacuated in 3 hours, how empty is it in just one? 50%? 75%? The people in the street cried, and they were still crying when the north tower fell. One of our secretaries was in a state of quiet shock; her husband worked in the area and hadn’t been heard from. All thoughts turned to friends, relatives and coworkers in the area.
The telephones were out, the cell phones were almost useless. As the long train of refugees began moving up along Greenwich Street, we let people use our office to send emails. Miraculously, the internet was still up. I had heard it was designed to survive anything, and this was a real test, I guess. Police and fire vehicles still raced south, the noise of sirens was constant. I watched them go past. I wasn’t seeing that many New York City vehicles anymore. The names on the sides of the trucks were from towns outside the city, more and more distant each minute. The call went out for any available doctors and nurses to go to Saint Vincent’s Hospital, a few blocks away from us, which was being turned into a casualty evacuation center. The National Guard was mobilized, and the heavy roar of military aircraft was added to the sound of sirens. By early afternoon the word was out that the entire city south of 14th Street was being evacuated, except for rescue workers.
It was a small construction company, we volunteered to do what we could, but we were turned down. We didn’t have the heavy equipment they needed. So many things we didn’t learn until later, and this was a fact that became precious to me: there was never a shortage of volunteer labor. From the first moments, so many people mobbed the site that the rescue workers had their hands full turning people away. But seeing that, knowing what was happening, and able to do nothing, that is a terrible feeling. I had been a soldier years ago, and I wished I could be in the Army again, because we knew we had entered a war, and I felt a hunger to do something about it.
The secretary’s missing husband showed up at our office. A brief moment of joy amidst a mourning of shock and tears. They headed for home, deciding to walk, across the Brooklyn Bridge and eastwards to Queens. Eventually, I joined the refugees headed north along the waterfront, to the piers where the ferries, the only transport across the Hudson still open, were moving people across to New Jersey. Along the way, what I saw was the most uplifting site of my life. The response to the attack was being organized, smoothly and professionally, by people who obviously knew what they were doing. Movement along the West Side Highway was no longer a desperate, haphazard reaction- it was a carefully controlled movement of emergency vehicles. Rows of ambulances were lined up in convoys with markings chalked on their windshields- just like we did it in the Army, except these were rows of civilian ambulances, from hospitals and ambulance services all over the city, and beyond, ambulances from small town volunteer ambulance corps, from city agencies, from the elite private hospitals, from the Catholic and Jewish organizations that runs ambulance services. We knew that hundreds of firemen were missing, that other buildings were collapsing, and STILL the firemen headed south into that inferno. They were fighting the Battle of New York, and despite 343 of their brothers gone that day, there was no surrender to fear.
On the Hudson River, a fleet of small civilian boats were supporting the ferries, evacuating people to New Jersey. Everything that could float was converging on lower Manhattan. The sky was empty except for military aircraft. The sound of fighter jets overhead is a strange one in New York. It echoed off the skyscrapers, and seemed to come from everywhere.
A convoy of four Coca Cola trucks went by, escorted by the police. Later, McDonald’s sent two trucks, “mobile restaurants” called in by the owner of the McDonald’s on Greenwich street. He was one of the many restaurateurs who decided, on the spot, that the mission of the his business, for the foreseeable future, was to provide free food to the rescue workers. With his own store overwhelmed, he called in reinforcements, and the corporate headquarters obliged. I thought it was ironic- ask people around the world which sort of corporations give them a negative image of the United States, and they say, “McDonald’s, Coca Cola”. They don’t know what I know about McDonald’s and Coca Cola, and the other companies that answered the call.
One of which was New York Waterways. I walked past the ferry terminal at 23rd street. It wasn’t the crowd, which was enormous and growing. It was that I wasn’t ready to abandon the city, not just yet. I kept walking, watching, until I reached the New York Waterways terminal at 34th street. The lines stretched for blocks. New York Waterways wasn’t collecting fares- the company had told its ferry crews to pack the boats, unload in New Jersey, and come back for more, as fast as they could. Still, it took hours, but for the most part, despite bearing witness to what we all knew was the first act of a new war, the crowd kept its composure.
From the ferry we could see the flame and smoke, and the ruin. Nothing I can write would describe it. It was an obscenity. We didn’t know what else would happen that day, or the next. Would there be other attacks? How far would the fire go? Would we lose all of lower Manhattan? The crews handling the evacuation on the New Jersey side were in the dark about a lot of things too- somehow they got the idea that we might all be contaminated with something, and we were decontaminated, a process that involved passing through a gauntlet of high pressure water sprays. It may not have really been necessary, but the crews performed with skill, compassion, and professionalism.
I think the rest of the world knows about how the city- and the country- came together. People donated what they could- food, money, clothing, blood- moral support if they had nothing else to give. Musicians and Massage Therapists showed up at the National Guard Armory to offer their own skills to the troops. (And an awful lot of New Yorkers were reminded of just why we have National Guard Armories.) The Jacob Javits Center, which became the volunteer collection point, was crowded the next day with tens of thousands of construction workers, most of whom were turned away because only steel workers were needed. There were long lines at the blood banks. Food and Toy drives. The police cars I saw around Hudson and Bleecker Street were from Miami and South Carolina! They hadn’t waited for orders, just loaded up their cars and headed north where they knew they’d be needed.
This was a shock to me, in many ways a bigger one that the attack. I knew there were people in this world evil enough to do that, but in truth, I had become somewhat cynical, and until I saw it for myself, I never thought that the rest of us were people good enough to respond in the way we did. It should be a terribly reassuring thing, if you are an American, to know that you live in a country where strangers will show up by the tens of thousands to dig you out of ash and rubble.
Copyright © 2004 Benjamin Levy
That's the way most days start.
The dog wants out. I look at the clock; 9:15. What the hell? I can get another 2 hours before I have to get ready for work.
She's whining now.
Working the 1pm to 10pm shift for a shady credit card company is never fun. The loons come out in full force after navigating 5 'o clock rush hour traffic, "WHERE'S MY MONEY!?!?" or the always charming "YOU ASSHOLES!!" are just some of the more common invectives slung our way. Thankfully after 8 hours of torture my mind has an uncanny ability to cleanse itself of the negativity as I exit the premises. As usual I head home. By that time my significant other has long since joined the realm of the sleeping. Dinner is served! peanut butter and jelly or leftovers are the cuisine of the night owl. I watch the rerun of the Daily Show around 11pm, Jon Stewart is ranting about Gary Condit or some such.
I doze off.
At about 3:30am I decide now would be a good time for bed.
Take out the dog one final time.
lock the doors.
hit the hay.
We're back again, or "Back at One" as Brian McKnight, who's crooning on the radio at 9:15 in the morning, would say.
The phone offers it's hauntingly familiar tone announcing that the morning call from the missus is en route. She works a schedule the complete opposite of mine. Meaning phone calls are the only means we have of couple-like interaction.
In most western cultures answering the telephone usually involves uttering the words "hello" or some other warm and inviting phrase but spotting the caller ID the mystique of who was calling had been shattered.
me : What's up?
her : Oh my god are you watching this?
me : What? I just woke up
her : turn on the TV, some planes hit the World Trade Center! we're watching it here
me : What the fuck?
her : gotta go, I'll call you later
To be honest what channel or who the anchor is makes little difference, they are all showing the same thing.
2 columns of smoke
1 sense of burning anger in the pit of America’s stomach.
The pictures keep coming, one of the towers engulfed in flame and fire as a second plane smashes into the other. An airplane engine sits heavily guarded on the street below like some kind of visiting dignitary. The looks on peoples faces run the gamut of emotions; shock, horror, and disbelief, these are adjectives that America comes to know quite intimately in the coming days and weeks.
My initial reaction to the carnage, I’m ashamed to admit, was to crack a tasteless joke to myself. Upon looking back though that could be seen as nothing more than a defense mechanism to try and transform these horrible images into something my mind could make sense of.
After watching in seething silence for untold number of minutes I trotted off to work. Stuck in a kind of detached emotional void I went about my daily duties. The manager had a small radio with which we stayed in tune with the days catastrophic events.
“I hear there’s 3 planes they can’t find!”
“I heard that there was an explosion at the State Department”
Those, as well as many other gossipy rumors circulated that day. Looking back you could realistically attribute these falsehoods and snippets of misinformation to the often cited “fog of war”. Like it or not a war was started that day.
Once home I was glued to the TV for hours. Interviews. Footage. More Interviews. I had to see it all. Later when going to bed I made sure to kiss the missus , who slept soundly in our room with the TV silently tuned to CNN. It’s bedtime now, theres work to be done tomorrow. Lots of it.
Copyright © 2004 Tom Alday @ Aldaynet.org
September 11, 2001
It was just an ordinary, beautiful September morning in Mississauga. Breakfast was done, my three girls (3 years, 18 months and 2 1/2 months) were watching a favorite cartoon, and I was checking e-mail. I heard my brother-in-law come in, but wasn’t too surprised. He and my husband work together and their office was having a work day. He’d probably come to get some tools. Well, that was true, but one look at him and I knew something was going on. His eyes were wide, and in a hushed, urgent voice, he said that on the way over, he’d heard that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Towers minutes ago. Had I heard anything?
My first thought was “Oh, that’s too bad,” and envisioned a small Cessna clipping the Tower. I made a stupid joke about an air traffic controller who was going to get fired, then went to check online for information. As I went from site to site – CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox -- and found them all overloaded, I began to get some sense of the magnitude of what had taken place. I finally got onto MSNBC Money, and while it gave me some information, at this point, I wanted more.
Sorry kids, cartoon time is over. I hardly left that spot in front of the TV for the next two days. I tuned into the CBC coverage just after the 2nd plane had hit. Nothing I'd read prepared me for my first glimpses of the towers. I knew immediately that we were at war, but I wasn’t sure who had declared it. I was also worried about a cousin who I knew lived in Brooklyn; I wasn’t sure where she lived or worked in relation to the Towers. I felt horrible for the people on the planes and those who were in the impact areas, but figured those who were above and below would probably be able to get out. Then the Pentagon was hit. I’d lived most of my life in the DC area, and knew people who worked there and at other potential targets in the area. What would be attacked next? There were rumors of other unaccounted airplanes. Life had changed forever.
Then the Towers fell. I was watching live coverage when both fell, and those were the most wrenching, agonizing moments I’ve experienced. The reality of the possible cost of tens of thousands of lives, and the shattering of the lives around them was too overwhelming to absorb. I recoiled in horror and disbelief. Tears suddenly streamed unbidden and unchecked, as if that was the only way my mind could register the scene before me. “No! Dear God, no! That can’t have just happened!” But I couldn’t deny what I saw, and now what should I say to my 3 year old who was urgently asking me what was wrong? How could I tell her that in an instant, the whole world had changed, and would never be the same again? The world she would know could be very different than what I had known. At that point, there was no way of knowing what this war would bring – would it be East vs. West and a conflict such that my Arabic speaking, ex-Army husband would feel he needed to re-enlist? I couldn’t let myself think too much about the possible ramifications of the day – they were too overwhelming. I felt this would be the defining point of my generation, much like Pearl Harbor was 2 generations ago. We had already lost much, and the cost for finishing this unprovoked war would be even higher. But it would have to be done.
I remember being furious at the news outlets for broadcasting the locations of the President’s plane as they found it. What idiots! If we are at war, won’t that help the people who are already attacking us? Who knew at that point if this was just the first wave of a more sustained attack? There were rumors that a fourth plane was also directed at Washington, DC, for either the White House or Capitol, and of a car bomb at the State Department. The attacks were so devastating and pointed, I felt it might be just the beginning. But as the day went on, nothing else happened (other than Flight 93 crashing into a Pennsylvania field). Some of the initial fear dissipated. And my macabre sense of humor surfaced again – I pictured Al Gore as more than a little relieved that he’d lost last November!
I’d lived in Canada, just outside of Toronto, for 4 years, and have always been the kind of person who loves where they are and doesn’t tend to think about what they left. I’d never been homesick for the USA – until September 11, 2001. It sounds a bit strange to wish to be in a target zone, but all I wanted was to be back in DC where I could be with people who really understood how I felt about the places I knew so well. On the scale of loss, mine was pretty insignificant. No family or friends killed or injured, none in active duty overseas. But life is not back to whatever “normal” was -- it never will be. And so we go on.
Copyright©2002 Beth Bryant All rights reserved
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
The alarm went off at five o'clock as usual. If there's a worse sound than the morning alarm clock I'm certainly not aware of it. It signals the longest possible amount of time until the beginning of another weekend. The Tuesday alarm, though not as bad, is still pretty dismal. Of course, I recognize that when it comes to a workweek there's millions of Americans that have it worse than I do. I did five years in the Navy, and I still have friends in there that would most likely smack me in the head if they heard me complaining about my current 45-hour week. But, as we're all the stars of our own lives, the centers of our universes, I'm standing by my judgment on the evils of five A.M..
After taking care of our dog (our dachshund is the cutest dog in the world, if you think your dog is cuter I'm sorry, you're just wrong) and ensuring that my wife had adjusted her position to occupy as much bed as possible in my absence, I made my way to the kitchen to eat some Froot Loops. That's right... I'm a 35-year-old man and I eat Froot Loops for breakfast, deal with it.
My morning reading that day was the oversized paperback "Marvel: Five
Fabulous Decades of the Worlds Greatest Comics". It's a terrific book,
especially for anyone who was ever a reader of comic books. I grew up on a steady
diet of Marvel comics myself, and armed with my Dr. Doom inspired vocabulary
I was able to call my classmates "incompetent buffoons" when the wittiest
rejoinder they could manage in return was "poop head". This book is
a real trip down memory lane, and as I read it I remembered how I was always
thrilled to see the villains defeated by the likes of Spider-Man, Captain America
and the Fantastic Four. Seeing the villains fall was always satisfying because
they had so very far to fall. Their schemes were always larger than life, the
destruction they sought to sow so impossibly large.
That's the last morning I ever thought that. In four short hours the comic book villains of my youth would forever be reduced to small timers.
I have great respect for New Jersey Transit and the PATH train system. The schedule is so precisely maintained that my train pulled into the lower levels of the World Trade Center within 30 seconds of the same time every single day. I got off the train and bought my New York Post, muttering my customary "fucking people" at the newbie commuters that were always there; standing on the wrong side of the escalator, not having their fare ready at the turnstile and generally holding the rest of us up. A right turn at the top of the stairs and I was passing down the row of shops that greeted me every morning. Victoria's Secret, Express Clothing, Sam Goody. I'm sure there were others, but since I'm a guy the shops featuring half naked models and new DVDs are naturally the ones that stick in my mind. Out the doors and into the street, surrounded by the same two or three hundred people I saw pretty much every morning. Being something of an anti-social misanthrope I didn't actually know any of them but many of the faces had names attached to them in my head. Bald-Guy, Bad Manicure Lady, Blonde Girl and her sidekick the Toady, Bad Toupee Dude and Jabba the Hutt. A nod hello to the firemen as I passed by. Then it was just me and Led Zeppelin walking the three blocks to my office.
Except for Blonde Girl, whose name I later made it a point to ask when I saw her on a train, it was the last time I'd see any of them.
By trade I'm a NASDAQ market maker. Before you all jump to hating me let me assure you I had nothing to do with Enron or Worldcom, and I'm not the guy who lost your pension. In the Wall Street world I'm pretty much a small fish, just punching the clock and doing my job, helping keep the wheels of our economy moving. At 8:40 I had finished my bagel and Coke (soda, not drugs), and taking my New York Post I headed down to the men's room. I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing on the TV when I came back up. For some reason smoke was pouring out of the top of the North Tower, and my co-workers were saying that the WTC was on fire. So here's my first historic memory of the day. When people asked "where were you when Kennedy got shot" Mr. Zabruder had a great answer for them. When people ask me where I was when the plane hit I get to tell them I was taking a shit and reading an op-ed column in the Post.
So we're looking at the live news feed of the tower on fire, but none of us were particularly alarmed. Although we weren't all born there we were all New Yorkers, and let me tell you that the reputation New Yorkers have for being jaded and nonchalant is well deserved. "They'll put the fire out and we'll get on with our day..." I remember thinking, "...I just hope this doesn't fuck up my commute home". A couple of guys came down from the roof of our 6 story building and said you could see the smoke from up there, and papers falling like snow up and down Broadway. I went up to take a look for myself, and was standing next to the office manager (one of the most contemptible people alive, by the way) when the second plane hit. Because of the relative height and position of the roof I was on I didn't see it hit, but I did hear a sound right out of a World War II film. This kind of buzzing scream followed by an explosion that made the roof tremble under our feet. I had two thoughts one on top of the other: some lunatic has gotten his hands on a rocket launcher and I'm getting the hell off this roof!
Back on the desk a few of my coworkers had seen the plane hit on TV, and the rumors started flying. Here's something you may not know about Wall Street, we gossip like old ladies in a sewing circle. The typical guy on a desk has 10 phone lines and an internet instant messenger in front of him, and any tidbit of news runs at the speed of light up and down our grapevine. In the absence of news we'll often just make some up. I heard several competing stories simultaneously; that bombs had gone off in both towers, that a plane had hit accidentally, that a plane hit deliberately and there were 18 more planes unaccounted for. I forgot about opening my markets then, as all of us started to get on the phone to reassure wives and girlfriends that we were close to what was happening but relatively safe at the moment. My own wife was in school and unreachable, so I settled for calling my mother, hospitalized at the time, to tell her I'd be home late.
It was then that Joey* came in, looking disheveled and distraught. Joey worked at Fidelity and we knew him socially, so when his own office became a war zone he thought to come to ours. He sat there with his head in his hands and kept saying he'd seen bodies pass by his window, that there were body parts in the street. "Oh shit..." Adam* said, "...what about the guys at Cantor?"
Adam was one of our sales traders, the people who convince institutions to place their orders with us instead of someone else. His biggest "call" was the firm of Cantor-Fitzgerald, which had it's office in the Towers. He immediately called to check on them. And now I have to stand corrected, because as it happens there is a sound worse than the alarm clock and it's what we heard on that phone. I don't know who picked up the phone at Cantor, but what we heard was the cries of people surrounded by dead friends and fire. People who only had a few minutes left on the planet, knew it, and couldn't do a damn thing about it. Cries of pain and hopelessness.
At this point in my narrative it's customary to say something like "I
hope I never hear anything like that again for as long as I live" but that
would be a lie. Truth be told hearing those cries coming from the mouths of
Islamic Fundamentalists would be sweeter to my ears than Beethoven's Ninth.
More on that later...
Now, let me tell you something else about me. I go through life forever expecting things like this to happen. I'm one of those guys that loaded up on canned food and firewood in the year before Y2K. I would have loaded up on ammo too, but I already had plenty. The only thing that surprised me about a terrorist attack on the financial district was the exact timing, I had been expecting this or something like it for most of my life. This was a validation of my entire worldview playing out on live TV.
This attitude, considered fatalistic by many, gave me a little bit of cl arity that many of my coworkers lacked at that exact moment. It occurred to me that we were but one city block from the New York Stock Exchange, and that this was a logical next target for whomever was doing this. I remembered the pictures of ground zero at the federal building in Oklahoma City, and realized that one block was a likely minimum blast radius for any bomb someone was going to set off. It was time to go.
Joey needed no convincing at all, he was ready to go already. My partner Bill* is a people person though, and was glued to his seat trying to contact friends at other firms in an attempt to make an organized exodus from lower Manhattan. Bill is a childhood friend of mine as well as my partner, and although I didn't want to deliberately leave people behind I wasn't prepared to risk our lives waiting for the indecisive. I'm sorry if that sounds awful, but there it is.
Now comes a moment of unintended comic genius in the midst of tragedy. Bill, Joey and I, along with a guy from tech support named Bob* (whom I'd never met before that day, despite the smallness of our firm) were getting up to leave. The general manager of our firm, a despicable little half man who inspires about as much loyalty as a scorpion, stood with a straight face and said "Anyone who wants to leave has my permission to do so." I was stunned to speechlessness, but Bill to his credit managed to get off a wonderfully sarcastic "Thanks, that's what we were waiting for" as we started down the stairs. I cannot overstate how utterly irrelevant that "permission" was. Nobody asked him, nobody cared what he thought and the idea he could stop us is, well, funny.
We exited our office onto Broad Street and were surprised at the calmness of the general throng. Our plan was to walk up the East River Drive to around 30th Street, cut over to 5th Avenue and then continue North to Bills apartment on Central Park West. We figured that by doing this we were keeping a minimum of half a mile worth of buildings between us and any landmarks that might be targets for the other bombs we felt sure would be going off any minute. If you've seen any news footage from the day you'll know this was not a unique plan. The Southern tip of the Drive was so jam packed with people you'd swear someone was giving away Super Bowl tickets.
To their eternal credit, NYC Police and Fire department personnel had acted with lightning speed to do some basic setting up in the immediate aftermath of the first plane. The Drive, normally a two lane highway along Manhattans East Coast, was closed to all but emergency vehicles. Far from forbidding us to walk here the cops were actively encouraging people to use it as a footpath to safety, and there was no chance we'd be hit by cars. We pointed ourselves uptown and started walking.
That's when the first dust cloud came.
I found out later that a huge chunk of Tower One had come off and plunged to the street. We didn't know that then, though. All we knew was that an enormous dust cloud was billowing from West to East up the street and driving the crowd before it. If we had been smaller people there's a good chance we would have been either trampled by the crowd or crushed by them against the iron gates of the pier. But we're not small, and we were determined to follow our plan, so with a little creative pushing and shoving of our own the four of us were on our way.
The dust didn't want to settle, it just hung in the air like smog. Joey took
off his undershirt and, using my Spyderco pocketknife, started to fashion masks
for us. Last in line for the material, I grimaced when Bill passed me a scrap
that had been the right armpit and part of the collar.
Dropping it to the pavement I decided to take my chances with the dust instead.
We had roughly 7 miles ahead of us.
The first mile had a few thousand downtown workers walking more or less as a single coherent group. The one thing I saw along the way that caused me some alarm was a number of armed police cadets being used to direct traffic. If someone thought that police academy students had to be yanked out of class and allowed to carry guns they barely knew how to use then the situation must be dire indeed. At the first exit these cadets were directing people to get off the highway and back onto the proper city streets, and the mass of people started to disperse itself into the general population. After two more blocks it was just the four of us. That's when the first tower fell.
We felt a rumble beneath our feet, a little stronger but otherwise not unlike what you'd expect from a subway train passing underneath. We all looked back, and Bill asked the rhetorical question "Say, didn't there used to be two towers?". I told them it didn't concern us, we should just point our feet North, pick them up and put them down. It was easy for me to spout cliches like that, recalled from boot camp. And it was even easier for the guys to listen to them. But even if we weren't going to talk about it any more we all knew that the unthinkable had happened, one of those towers had actually been reduced to rubble. I knew then how the inhabitants of ancient Rhodes must have felt when they looked out after a storm to see just a pair of feet where their Colossus had stood the day before.
I couldn't believe how normal everything and everyone looked here, and my disbelief would grow the farther uptown we got. As we passed through the courtyard of a housing project we saw senior citizens playing chess and backgammon, and a mother (or possibly nanny) with children in tow was buying ice cream from a Mister Softee truck. On Second Avenue, somewhere in the 30's, we saw what would come to be my dominant memory of the day.
There was a Japanese Restaurant, I can't remember it's name. It clearly is the kind of place that caters to office workers and relies on the lunch crowd for it's very existence. Someone within, someone in charge, realized that there would be no lunch rush that day. This fellow was out in the street, in the middle of the sidewalk at 10:15 am, chanting "come get it, come get it" and bearing a hastily made sign that said "Discount Sushi !".
That, to me, is the spirit of New York City on display. Thousands were dead, the lower third of the island was on fire and no one knew if, where or when the next explosion was going to happen. But this guy knew that letting his sushi spoil, going uneaten and unpaid for, wouldn't change any of that. So he did what he could to take care of business. That's what we all did that day. We just looked at a bad situation, sucked it up and did what we could to salvage it. That's why everyone who was in the city that day is, to a greater or lesser extent, a hero.
Joey had by now recovered his wits and had been busy for about half an hour on his cell phone. I don't know whom it was he finally reached, but he started to gather from us phone numbers of people we wanted to reassure of our safety. He also started giving her phone numbers of people we wanted to check on, and he managed to get a very efficient phone tree going to inform our circle of loved ones about our status.
I eventually made it out of the city and back up North to my suburban house. I spent the next week watching Fox news and keeping my guns loaded, then the following Monday it was back to work. Sitting at my desk, wearing a filter mask, smelling fire and death. That stink hung in the air for months afterwards.
I don't have much else to say. Time has gone on and the smoke has cleared, and way too many people have forgotten what happened that day. They've forgotten, or they don't care, that there are people out there right now just itching for their chance to do it again. Shame on us if we let them.
Copyright 2001 © Scott Knudsen
The Longest Day
Every generation experiences certain days that have a lasting impression on all of its members and changes their lives for better or worse. For my parents’ generation there would be days such as when President Kennedy was assassinated or when John Lennon was murdered. My generation has not had very many of these days. We were too young to understand the Challenger explosion. And we were too concerned with typical teenager things to pay much attention to the Oklahoma City bombing. But on September 11th, 2001, a tragedy occurred that will be remembered by all generations. This is a story of my life that day.
It was not a beginning to a typical day in my life. After spending the better part of the year locked in my apartment and refusing to leave, I was scheduled see a psychiatrist in Mobile, Alabama that morning. I had not slept well the night before, fears of being declared insane and locked in an institution running through my mind.
My alarm clock was set to wake me up at ten a.m., but I did not sleep that long. With my eyelids desperately trying to close themselves, I looked at my clock and saw that it was 9:15am. When the phone rang again, I realized what had awakened me. With a groan, I reached for the phone, assuming that it was my mother since she was driving me to the doctor’s office.
“Hello,” I said, though at this time of morning it probably sounded more like a wookie’s mating call.
“Are you watching the news?” my mother said in an excited voice. After my negative reply, she said, “Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center! They were showing one plane hitting one of the towers on the Today show when another one crashed into the other tower.
As the lead weights fell from my eyes, I quickly searched for the remote to the TV in my bedroom. When the image appeared on the screen, it looked as if one tower was on fire, but the other appeared fine. That was when the fireball appeared. The news channel was showing a replay of the second plane crash and not a live shot.
As the channel switched to a live shot, I was struck by the impression of two ghastly cigarettes sticking up from the earth. Both of the towers were giving off massive column of grey and black smoke. When my mind finally got over the shock, I said into the phone, “This can’t be an accident, it has to be terrorists.”
After we had both watched in silence for a few more minutes, my mother reminded me about my appointment. Since the state was paying for the doctor and it had taken the state agency several months to set it up, we did not want to cancel it. My mother told me to go ahead and get ready and we would leave in around an hour.
Hanging up the phone, I decided to take a shower and see if there was any new information afterwards. When I was done showering and had sat back down in front of the television, the screen was no longer showing New York City. It was now showing a picture of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. As the announcer talked of rescue efforts, it became clear that another plane had crashed, this time into the center of our military’s administration, the Pentagon itself.
Shortly thereafter, the news switched to a burning crater in a field somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. This was a fourth plane to be used in the attack, although why it had crashed nobody had knew. There were just guesses at this point.
I continued to watch the news coverage as I got dressed. The images changed
frequently on the screen switching from experts to live scenes of the towers
or replays of the plane crashing into the buildings. This continued steadily
until during one interview with an expert, the news anchor interrupted the expert
and the screen switched back to a live shot of the towers. With a gasp of horror,
I watched as one of the towers slowly imploded. A few minutes later, its twin
joined it, becoming a mass of rubble thousands of feet below.
Not long after the second tower fell, my mother arrived to pick me up. She had been listening in the car on the radio and knew what had happened. After seeing footage of the replay and the apocalyptic scenes at ground level, we decided we should leave for the doctor before we were late.
The drive down was sad and somber but thankfully uneventful. As we drove, we listened to news reports on the radio. There was not much new information, and it was clear that the media knew as little as we did.
Upon arriving in Mobile, we decided to stop and try to get a bite to eat at the Olive Garden since we did not know how long the appointment would take. I do not remember what we ordered, but I do remember that neither of us ate much and brought most of it home in a carry-out box.
The doctor’s office was only a few miles from the restaurant. It was not a very large office and looked more like a small duplex house than a traditional doctor’s office. The wait was only a few minutes long before I was escorted into a back room and seated across from a middle aged man of medium height with black hair. This was the man I had come to see, the doctor.
The doctor began to ask me questions in a nice manner. Mainly the questions were about my habits and my fears, especially my fears. After the questions he had me perform some tests with colored blocks and asked me to match his patterns. After that, he gave me a long test to take almost like some sort of Society Entrance Exam.
When all the tests were finished, the doctor told me that he believed I had a type of agoraphobia, a fear of going outside. He said he would be sure when he went over the results of the test. After a few more questions, he told me not to worry. I then made my goodbyes and my mother and I left to return home. Thankfully, the trip home was as uneventful as the trip there. After reaching home, I said goodbye to my mother and went to sleep very early that night. It had been a short day but it had felt like an eternity.
In the following days and weeks we learned more about what happened on September 11th. On the other hand, we never learned about my trip to the doctor. My test results had apparently become the victim of some malevolent filing cabinet.
Since then, many people have sought closure to the events on September 11th. I too have sought closure of a different kind. I still fight daily against my personal demons, but I feel I am finally winning the fight. The person who woke up that morning, saw those ghastly images, and made the long sad trip seeking salvation is not the same person who went to bed the night before. Since that day, I have been slowly changing for the better. I am now going to college after a nine year absence from academics. And the truth is that I am scared to death, but each day I make it is another ray of hope. It is yet another day in the new life that began over a year ago. I hope to make the best of this one.
Copyright 2004© Sean Kelly
Freedom Is Slavery
"Where are you? Are you okay?" My mom was frantic.
"I'm fine, mom. It's only been six days. I haven't even left the country; I'm in Yosemite." I had spent three years preparing my endeavour to bicycle around the world.
"You haven't heard what has happened, have you. I turned on the news --
you know I always watch the news while getting ready for work -- and they showed
an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a commercial
for a movie. Then, as I'm watching -- on live television -- they showed the
second airplane crash into the tower. I called your father -- he's an engineer,
you know -- and he said, 'Those buildings are going to collapse; they'd better
get the people out.' And, I watched -- I was late for work; I didn't even know
if I should go -- all those people jumping out the windows -- I couldn't believe
they were showing this -- on live television -- and then one building fell over
and then the other. All those people.... Scott, I think you should come home."
After the phone call, Dennis, my companion, and I gathered in the lodge with several hundred people. We watched the buildings crumble into dust over and over. "There is going to be a war. I think our trip just ended," I said.
The remains of the World Trade Center burned for days as we cycled slowly towards Mexico. A plethora of plots to blow up bridges, poison water supplies and release genetically engineered viruses surfaced in the dark waters of the media, as if the media were co-conspirators waging psychological terror-games and polarizing the West and Middle East. "If we quit our trip, the terrorist win," Dennis rationalized and we agreed we might be safer abroad than at home.
It's been several years since Mexico and terrorism has been one of the defining characteristics of my world travels. Observe the following snippets:
In Amsterdam: I entered a Chess cafe, people were scattered among a checkerboard arrangement of square coffee tables. I asked a balding Dutchman with a Dutch-Boy haircut and spectacles if I could play the next game of speed chess.
"Where are you from?" he asked.
"Ah-mere-ee-caw," he said in seesaw mockery, and then in a derisive
tone meant to correct my geography, "The United States,"
"-- of America," I asserted.
"A Yankee." The Dutch don't mince words so he begins his diatribe, "I hate America. The people are okay: I hate the government."
If I were more eloquent I would have quoted a document from a famous rebel -- or, is that terrorist? -- to the British crown: Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right [and the duty] of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
I simply said, "In America, the people are the government."
"Then I hate Americans, too. I will not play you. You are fascist pigs."
"Have you ever been to America?"
"No, why should I want--"
"Then how do you know these things?"
"Do you believe everything you see on television?"
"It can't all be wrong."
"Half wrong -- there are two sides to every story. Newspapers' business is to make money -- not to report news --"
"Then how do you explain Iraq?"
"Let's go to McDonald's; I'll to buy you a Coca-cola --"
"Bwah! Americans. Bush is an oil-hungry megalomaniac --"
"-- and we'll talk about how many people the Dutch enslaved and murdered in Africa and Indonesia."
"Your days are numbered. You won't be able to compete with the European Union or China," he says with pride and jealousy.
In Egypt: I was zigzagging between pedestrians and cars in a Cairo intersection. Two men had collided and were shouting. A policeman was asleep in a chair on the corner. An Egyptian was following me. "How long have you been in Egypt?"
"Too long." I said, deflecting potential scams.
"Where are you staying?"
I tell him the name of the hotel across the street from mine.
He detected my accent and asked, "Asama Bin Laden or Bush?"
"Who do you support?"
"Bush is a tyrant. Bin Laden is the friend of the people."
"How is a Muslim who kills children a friend of the people?"
Other Egyptians have said: The destruction of the two towers has been predicted in the Koran -- I praised Allah -- We danced in the street. He said, "It is not about the holy religion of Islam. It is about America shitting all over the Arab nation."
"So, you're going to shit all over me; and everyone is going to shit in everyone else's backyard until the whole world is shit."
"I fought in Iraq with the Americans. We are happy to take your money to fight. Your soldiers are very bad. They are soft like children. Without machines, you are nothing."
I ducked into a watch repair shop to evade being followed to my real hotel by my fluent antagonist. He shouted, "You will lose this war. All Arab nations are against you."
Inside, two elderly men greeted me reticently. "Canadian," I tested.
They expose craggy smiles and slap me on the back. "Friend. Canada."
I fled Cairo's turbulence for the tranquil waters of the Red Sea. On route, at the numerous military checkpoints, I was singled out of the tour bus and interrogated: American! Where you go? Why you here? How long you stay?
Unable to obtain a visa to Iran, war blossoming in Iraq and fading in Afghanistan, I skipped to Mumbai, India: Less than twenty-four hours after visiting McDonald's, an American icon, in Central Station, it was destroyed by a terrorist bomb.
In a small city in Nepal: Debbie and I cowered in a shop, peering out of the smeared window as a mob of protestors burned photocopied effigies of the American flag and President Bush. "C'mon, I want to see this. If anyone asks, I'll say I'm Canadian." Debbie held my arm back, "They might not stop to ask."
In Vietnam: Posters and murals depicted American soldiers dying and B-52 bombers plummeting in flames.
In many countries: I haven't been able to see the stars and stripes flying in the United States Embassy because it has been removed or hidden by the makeshift barricades.
And, what I despise the most, the American tourists who say in some variation: You must be stupid to be walking around telling people you're an American -- I never admit it. I'm getting out of America as soon as possible. I hate our government.
Quoting America's most famous terrorist again, Thomas Jefferson: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I argue a few points: As history has proven, these truths are not self-evident, most people consider life, liberty and happiness relevant to themselves at the expense of society. Nor are these civil rights truths: these ideas are human inventions that are designed, when practiced by all people, to raise humanity out of the Middle Ages.
During my travels, I feel caught in an Orwellian universe. I paraphrase his satire, 1984: We are killing hundreds of ideas a day. How will it be possible to commit a Thought Crime when people won't even be able to think?
"War is peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is strength" are the doublespeak slogans of Orwell's Ministry of Truth. They are also meant s atirically; however, I agree that freedom is slavery.
Freedom is slavery to the duty each person has to virtue.
Copyright 2004 © By Scott Stoll
Too Late: Memories of
So I keep happening upon the contest going on over at the Barking Moonbat site.
I've read the entries, people who remember everything vividly and with startling
clarity. A couple of them send chills -- like the one with the dog
I haven't entered the contest, as much as I secretly want to, because I *don't*
have that clarity of mind where 9-11 is concerned. Don't get me
wrong, I have memories so sharp and crisp they'll never fade, as long as I live. Memories that built over time, even. Things that didn't become clear
to me until days later when more information was out or when something was viewed for the 1,001st time and suddenly everything changed.
The personal impact for me can be summed up in a series of shifts. Shifts within
me, my thought processes, my beliefs. I think that's the day my
politics started leaning right in earnest. Or maybe more accurately that's just the day I realized it had happened.
I already knew what death was about -- my infant son had died on July 10, 1999,
when he was 76 days old. I knew all about how precious life was at
that moment because of Sam's death, and because of Andy's birth (my first grandchild, born 13 days after Sam, to my then 18 year old eldest child and
her husband). I appreciated my children all the more because of what I'd lost, my family had become more dear to me -- something I'd honestly never
My family is in many of those captured moments, frozen in my memories of that day. It was early morning when it began.
Anna and Peter and Andy were in Georgia. Maggie was in Indiana. Amanda was
at the middle school, and Missy was freshly off on the bus on her way to
first grade at the elementary school. My mom was home, my dad was at work. So was Darin -- but since he was homebased, it hardly mattered, he was right
there, kitty-cornered across the room from me.
As usual, the news was on. I'd just sat down with my coffee. I had just signed
into "work" -- I work online, for an internet gaming company -- and
the television was in the same room, actually behind me. (It was our old house; we had three desks in a very small dining room so quarters were
I was chatting with Janie, a fellow GM at the time, and listening to the news --when suddenly the news was interrupted.
With the news.
You've heard the saying "my heart dropped?" I'd heard it. Even experienced
it a few times previously. Like the morning Sam died. He's inextricably
linked to that day in my mind, even though he'd been dead two years (at the time). Coming up on five years now.
So I turned around to watch the interruption, on that morning in September. And my heart dropped.
A few minutes later, I watched the live footage of the second plane, the one
that happened just once in reality but a million times in upcoming days. The
same sickening sense of dread over and over and over, again and again and again, till the moment became seared forever in our minds' eyes. Even now I
can play that footage in my mind. Not because I want to. Because it just happens. Sometimes when I am least prepared for it.
The moment becomes so much more important a few days later. A few days late
when an uncharacteristically quiet Janie tells me something she didn't know
that day, but which she knew now. Something she didn't want anyone to know, and which she had triple verified, because it surely had to be a mistake.
A few days too late. When Janie tells me that her niece was on that second
plane. Lisa Frost died on Flight 175, the second plane to crash. The scene
frozen in our collective minds. The scene Janie and I had watched unfold, separated by distance (Janie in southern California, me in SW Ohio) and yet
shared thru the airwaves and discussed thru the computer screens, in real time. Real time that was too late.
The bitter irony takes a moment to sink in, that first time, the cruel injustice
of the blow, the absolute horror that is her Aunt sharing that
moment in time with her and not knowing until it was too late. And even if she'd known at the time it was still: too late.
A moment not unlike the moment when it hit me, in the gut, and in my heart
which was in my throat at that very instant, that Sam was dead in my arms,
that he wasn't going to open his eyes and give me that sly grin of his, the one he'd just started learning. Too late.
I don't remember how it came about. Somehow, in some order I no longer recall
(does it even matter?) I was on the phone with Anna that day. My mom,
as well. Maggie, even.
I left our house and drove to the elementary school when the Pentagon crash
was just a rumor. I sat in a long line of cars waiting entry to the parking
lot, and I went inside and showed my ID (the first and only time in my life they haven't said "hi, Kathleen" like they normally would have) and went
down the hall to the classroom to pick up my daughter.
I hugged her teacher in the doorway when she cried as she told me that her
daughter was in a plane, homeward bound from France, and that they hadn't
been able to get in touch with her, and she was so frightened, had I heard anything, anything at all that might let her know her daughter was safe?
She was lucky. It wasn't too late for her. Not her turn.
If only Sam had had that luck. If only it hadn't been his time and whatever it is that actually triggers SIDS hadn't fired that day. Too late.
We next drove to the middle school, where they were already lining up the buses
and organizing an early dismissal. Air sirens were by now sounding --
we're in an Air Force town, Wright-Patterson was already on full alert.
I inhaled deeply and told the gentleman who stopped several of us on the lawn
of the school that I, unlike other parents that day, would not insist
that they comb the lines of students already assembling to board the buses to find my daughter. I would go home and wait for her.
I remember he thanked me, with tears in his eyes. He told me his son was boarding
a bus at Five Points, from where I'd just fetched Missy, who was
clinging to my hand and trembling. "We heard that planes were crashing into buildings, mommy. We heard that the buildings were burning. Why, mommy?"
He wanted to get his son. Instead he was gently thanking me for not getting my daughter.
I went home, and we waited. Nearly an hour and a half later, Amanda finally
walked in the door, and collapsed into my arms, sobbing. "Mommy, I was
scared. Look at me, I can't stop shaking." She hadn't called me mommy in two years, I'd been "mom" so long I'd forgotten there was a time I was still
mommy to two of them.
Three, actually. She quit calling me mommy shortly after Sammy died. We all grew up a little that day.
We all grew up more on 9-11.
More memories frozen from that day: the moment when Darin called his parents.
When he talked to his mom, and we learned that Corby, his stepdad,
had taken the plane to refuel before the airways were shut down. Corby, the last boy scout, who'd been on standby to fly a heart patient to a Seattle
hospital if a donor suddenly became available. God knows, on this day, anything would be possible. Corby flew to fill up, so that if a heart
arrived in the midst of all the pandemonium we were expecting (dreading?), a person would have a second chance.
Too late, we learned that even though the airways had not been shut down when
Corby left the ground, and even though he didn't need to file paperwork
because it was a from an unsecured landing strip to another, and was in contact with an airport who didn't know any more about what has going on
than he did ... too late we learned that this would be used to vilify a good man, a patriot who wanted nothing more than to help. We didn't know this
Other things happened, as a result of that day. More casualties.
Amanda would visit her father and his wife only one time after that day, and
would then refuse to return. Her "stepmother" asked Amanda, "so,
something had happened HERE that day, where do you think you would have gone?" When Amanda tearfully replied "to Heaven, I hope" she was told no,
she would not be going to Heaven, because she is a sinner.
Amanda wrote her father an email breaking off her relationship with him. She asked me to help her find bible quotes. Things she wanted to say to him.
Another casualty of 9-11.
At some point late in the day, there was a tremendous *boom* and the neighborhood
shook. It happened again a split second after the first. We ran
from our homes, all of us, people pouring from houses up and down the street. We were startled, shell shocked, frightened.
A plane crashed into the VA hospital in Dayton. A bomb had gone off at the
VA hospital. A bomb had gone off at Wright-Patt. Later we learned it was
nothing more than a pair of sonic booms, caused when a couple of planes broke the sound barrier. I don't remember when we learned, as strange as it
sounds now, I don't think we learned it until the next day.
Another memory I have, but can't pinpoint on a timeline, was when we heard
they didn't need blood donors. The initial thought flashed through my brain:
wow, people are really coming forward. The reality a few moments later, when
Darin gently explained that there weren't enough people who survived to
actually need the blood. (I remember how stupid I felt at that moment. Stupid for being so naive as to not realize that. And profoundly sad.)
I remember in the wee hours of July 10, 1999, thinking "God, Sam will
you please go to sleep, I have to be up early in the morning." I remember
days later when that thought came back to me. Too late to take the words back.
It came to me again on 9-11. As I sat there that day wondering how many of those people had thought "God please" thoughts which now would haunt them.
As I listened to cell phone calls made in the final moments. As I watched the footage on the television and in my mind.
September 11, 2001. The day that terrorism taught a lesson.
Copyright 2004 ©by Kate Helms-Martin.
9/11, The Day the Big Apple's Core was Revealed
I was told about the 9/11 attack by a frantic son-in-law who had just heard about it. He and his wife and their seven children were visiting my wife and me on Topsail Island, NC. We spent the rest of the day consoling one another, and especially the children. All of us knew "The World Had Changed!”
Although I was deeply horrified, I was not surprised. Growing up during World War II, I had spent two years in the greatest city in the world. Six months on Staten Island where I attended Wilson High School, and about 18 months on Fort Hamilton where my father served as the senior military security officer, in charge of the protection and the safety of the Port of New York. He worked incredible hours and I seldom saw him. The war materials that flowed out of New York Harbor during that period were critical elements behind the final Allied Victory against the Axis. It was a 24/7 operation where people slept in shifts, and often worked while eating.
That these supplies could be produced so fast and shipped so securely were constant proof of the miracles that America has been famous for since its birth. The country stood united against the great evils that then threatened the world. It was proud of itself, secure in its common mission, and unwavering in its determination to rid the world of rogue states whose agendas were totally nationalistic and against the general rights, security and happiness of humanity itself.
Even then New York City was not totally safe from major disaster. Enemy agents and saboteurs were constantly at work to undermine America’s war effort. The great French passenger ship, Normandy, had been caught in American waters when France caved in to the German Nazi onslaught after a pitiful resistance. She was being rehabbed into an Allied troop transport in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when, just before she was to be re-commissioned, she caught fire and burned up at her pier. That this was a major act by foreign agents was never verified but remains today as the most logical conclusion.
At the Bayonne Military Ocean Terminal, countless liberty ships and allied transports were loaded with all types of war materials and personnel, formed into convoys at anchor in the harbor, and sneaked into the Atlantic Ocean through a submarine net located somewhere around Hoffman Island.
I remember well my father’s great concern over safety and security at the terminal and a rumor prominent at that time, that an explosion of a loaded ammunition ship within the harbor could level Manhattan from the Battery to Times Square. In fact a German sub did torpedo one of these ships somewhere off Coney Island just after she had cleared the submarine net. I can still hear the explosion that woke me up that night.
Fast-forward now to 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor, our nation was struck again through infamy. The target stayed the same, but the enemy has changed.
Before, wars were mainly fought between uniformed armies, many of which honored to some degree the Geneva Convention as to the rules of war. Not now! We are up against transnational terrorists who deny all human rights that don’t conform to their personal specifications. They recognize no national government, and no international laws. They evidence no recognizable strategy, yet are extremely inventive in their horrible tactics. They remain as mysterious in their purposes as in their organizational structure. They appear to combine the worst of human thuggery into an ill-defined international gang, tied together primarily through the world’s grand availability of weaponry. They lust for the technology that is rushing forward to produce Weapons of Mass Destruction in devices as small as a modern pistol. If you want to envelop their territory, you must provide an envelope that encloses the earth as high as they can fly.
It seems an odd coincidence that when I was a Junior at Fort Hamilton High School in 1943, my English teacher spent most of our class periods fostering the expected benefits that would flow from a new international organization called The United Nations which would grow out of an Allied Victory in that current war. I have waited for her dreams to come true for over sixty years.
Sadly the huge UN headquarters in Manhattan today stands as a monumental symbol of how inefficient that expensive organization remains at bringing peace and stability to even the world’s smallest and weakest nations. That we should subordinate even a sliver of our sovereignty to such a body when the world itself is afire, is at its best a sign of madness.
Today we are moving at super-sensitive speed toward a very critical Presidential election. This nation has always been very strong and resilient. But whether it can safely weather any possible outcome in 2004 is a mute question, one that has probably not been as critical to the health of the nation since the Civil War. Today our people are divided less by economic boundaries than by their ideological brain sets. Debate is not taught in most of our schools, colleges and universities. Try to find a college student that is majoring in Logical Reasoning. Slogans, buzz words, and op-ed arguments rule the media. Most of us are treading water in a vast sea of muddy information.
The times scream for a leader that will lead, a vision that is global, a government that acts with speed and purpose, a faith in proven values and a dedicated military force that remains always willing to risk sudden death to insure the freedom of our citizens. The people of New York City on 9/11 epitomized these American characteristics. These characteristics now guide the National agenda. Let us not water them down with politically correct trivia. Let us keep the winners winning until terrorism has been beaten down, not just at home but round the world.
Copyright © 2004 By John Andrus
I remember where I was on that day. I first heard about the attack when I was driving to work. I was the manager of a Radio Shack store, so I had wall-to-wall televisions on which to watch the atrocities unfold. I was working solo that day, so I didn't even have time to cry. As soon as I opened the doors, people came pouring in to buy TV's, radios, antennas, and batteries so they could try to keep up with what was happening. Several of my customers commented on the disturbing similarity to the ending in Tom Clancy's then recent book 'Debt of Honor'. There was a small but always changing group of people just staring at the TV's on the wall.
I was particularly disturbed by some of the early speculation that casualties could be in the range of 40-50 thousand killed (about 50,000 people worked in the WTC most days). As an amateur military historian, I was stunned that any non-nuclear attack could potentially cause as many casualties in one hour as the Korean War did in three years, or the Vietnam War in ten years.
It went like that for the whole day. People stopped on their lunch breaks to get an update on the events. It was the best sales day I'd ever seen outside of the Christmas season, but I would have gladly given up every penny of sales if it would have prevented what happened. Finally, it was closing time. I rushed through the closing routine and got home as quickly as I could. I had the local talk station on for more news as I drove home, and immediately turned on the TV when I got there because I just had to know what was going on, if the rescue teams would be able to find any survivors, and if there was any real knowledge of who had committed the attacks.
As the week went on, I continued watching events unfold, feeling a mixture of sadness, anger, and a growing pride as I saw reports of volunteers rushing to NYC and DC to assist in the rescue efforts. I loved the way nearly all Americans were trying to find a way to help. I wanted to go donate blood, but some medication I was on at the time prevented that. I remember seeing President Bush at the WTC site, hoping his words about the terrorists 'hearing from all of us' would come true soon. Customers would come in to my store, checking for updates and expressing their opinions.
There was an atmosphere of tension, as we all wondered what was next.
By the end of the week, I knew the world was going to be very different from what it was before. While my daily life didn't change immediately, the world in which I lived it was not the same.
Copyright 2004 David Spigelmire
I remember it exactly. Though these two words were not at first memorable, they are now indelibly ingrained upon my thoughts. I remember the moment when my co-workers Petra and Attila came to me and told me of the tragic occurrence of a plane hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Yeah right. Of course I didn't believe them. C'mon, I mean what are the chances of a plane not seeing a huge towering building looming in front of it and then crashing into it? Little did I know that though that thought was technically correct I was mistaken about the crash. I remember sitting there watching it on the news just moments after it occurred.
The miracle of live television allowed me to feel a great sadness at this terrible accident. I remember sitting there on the bed watching the tower burn and hoping that loss of life would be minimal. To say I was stunned watching the billowing black smoke seep from the windows of the broken building was an under exaggeration. In this day and age and with the technology that is invested in and placed onto these planes, I could not entirely understand how this accident could have occurred.
How could it have happened? Obviously there must have been some sort of malfunction on the plane. Maybe they had some catastrophic mishap in an engine, which forced the plane into the tower. What a horrendous tragedy.
Never did I think it was anything other than an accident. I remember the news reporter talking and then the camera angle changing. I remember a second plane being centered into the screen and focused upon and then the unthinkable.
I watched, paralyzed in shock as the second plane took aim on the second tower and with exacting deliberation, shattered any and all thoughts that this was a mistake.
The second crash made it abundantly clear that this was a purposeful act of destruction. I realized that this event was solely designed to take lives, and as many of them as possible. I watched the events unfold with tears in my eyes as I realized the amount of lives that surly must have been lost.
How could such a horrible thing happen here? All those innocent people killed and for what? Two wounded towers with so much flame and smoke spilling out that it darkened the sky around them. The reports coming through that the efforts of emergency personnel trying to reach the victims was hampered by the flow of people trying to extricate themselves from the belly of the beast.
What terrible nightmare must each person be in as they tried to escape the carnage of the towers? I watched in utter horror as the top floors of the tower collapsed downward onto the lower floors and then in the blink of en eye, the tower was gone. The tv showed me an angle of people running away from the falling building. People being chased by this great terrible black cloud of dust and debris as if the dying building was expelling its last breath on this earth.
To see the sheer terror on the faces of the people who ran as fast as they could to get away from this death cloud was overwhelming. To call it anything other than a death cloud would be to lessen the amount of lives lost in its making.
My god. I thought. The people.
How many perished in the one small instant of time? How many souls were lost to the madness of this day? As we sat there watching the tower fall, the room fell silent. Maybe it was the silence one has for reverence of souls passed but more likely it was the shock of seeing so many people die in one single moment.
Shortly there after the second tower groaned in pain and then relinquished its life to the day of Sept. 11. I kept thinking that more people must have died in this one instant of time than any other in American history. So many questions formed in my thoughts. Why? Who? I never even thought terrorist, not in the sense that most of us think.
Yes, at first I thought perhaps the pilots did it and then I remember thinking, but two pilots, on the same day.
Then I thought it was a domestic terrorist in the type of a Timothy McVeigh. I didn't think foreign terrorist, after all, this is America.
When news came in about the Pentagon I began thinking the United States was under attack. They showed us pictures of a Pentagon damaged by third plane. Its insides exposed through a gash created from the power of a thought. After all, this all started with a simple thought in some madman's head.
After seeing the reports on the Pentagon I was worried about how long the attacks would go on before we were able to gain control again and stop the madness. I understood in a way the pentagon being attacked, after all it is a military installation, but I felt a considerable anger at the loss of innocents in the towers.
Why them? Why specifically target people who do not carry weapons, whose sole defense against harm is a cell phone and a business suit? I felt a surge of hatred for those who did this and I wanted vengeance for the victims of this most heinous act of cowardice.
Later I heard about the plane crashing in Pennsylvania and though at first the reports were unsure if it was part of the attack, it was reported later that this plane was possible headed for the white house and the reason it came down where it did was because the passengers refused to let the hijackers have their way.
These people are heroes, for who knows how many lives they saved with their selfless act of fighting back. When I think back to that day now I feel the tears well up at the loss of life and of the heroic emergency personnel who sacrificed their lives to try and save the victims of a thoughtless and cowardly attacker.
By L. M. S. III Copyright © 2004
An Emotional Journey Back To "That Day"
I spent the better part of last evening fine tuning an essay for a contest about that ordinary day on September 11, 2001 that not only left the United States physically and emotionally devastated, but attacked the psyche of the entire world and vaulted us into the dangerous realities of the 21st century. As I tried to get across my emotions about that day, I found myself thinking that mere words are really a futile attempt to paint the emotions I experienced. It didn't elevate it quite enough for me. It didn't do the events of that day justice. It is never enough.
9/11, as it is so commonly referred to, is one of those events that I will never get over. It broke my heart. The wound opens and closes, and I know it will never go away. It is there in all that we do everyday. Riding the subway, getting on a plane, renewing a driver's licence, turning on the television. The next attack is always in the fore front of my mind, though I do not let it consume me. I haven't resorted to the portable duck tape kit as yet. I wrote the essay in one sitting three weeks ago and tucked it away because it was such an emotional thing to do. The task of putting my emotions about 9/11 into words opened up the emotional flood gates. All the sadness came rushing back. It was an emotional journey back to retrieve something precious--raw, untouched emotions.
I remember that day in still frames like those flickering old black and white films. Some frames of that long day play in my mind over and over again. Some small reminder will trigger it and the tape rolls in my mind. I remember faces of broken people, gaping holes, screeching sounds and eerie silence. There really is no order to my memory. The events of that day is all in a jumble once I witnessed the second tower crumbling that is where the order of things stop for me. Sometimes, I think that it is a sign of a fading memory because all I want to do is distance myself from the horror witnessed on that long day. Maybe, it is because I want to tuck the horror away into that dark place that we rarely visit.
But it is precisely that dark place that makes me write this. I had to delve into that dark place and relive the moments of that day. But the memories of that day do not belong in that dark place--they belong front and center and not in the dark recess of our minds; lest we forget lessons learned; lest we forget the innocence stolen from under our noses by those who zeroed in on our vulnerability. To write about Sept. 11 was to dig deep and unearth the emotional earth quake that was that day. I call it "that day" because that day is forever isolated as the longest day I have ever witnessed. I don't think of it as something that happened over there. Geography does not stop me from feeling as any American would, as any New Yorker would. My breath tightens and my pulse quickens whenever I see the footage of the second plane deliberately sailing through the walls of that tower as it it were searing paper walls. I fall apart all over again. The essay allowed me to fall apart all over again as I struggled to detail my emotions on "that day."
I remember white dust, fallen angels and a universal broken heart at man's inhumanity to man. I couldn't write about my emotions about that day without thinking about our lost innocence. The events of 9/11 changed the world. I think we are more suspicious, at times to the point of going overboard. You notice the little things, like an unattended package of somebody's forgotten lunch on a subway. You notice the empty seats around the package, and you wonder what the other people are wondering. Should they raise alarm? You don't want to sound like an alarmist, and so you go on with your day with an uneasy feeling about that package left behind. You scan the faces of complete strangers looking for evil--and the thing is you don't know the look of evil--though you know it walks amongst us.
9/11 made us realize that the world is a dangerous place, and we aren't so safe in our little corner of the world--what with all of our democracy--we aren't any safer. That day tore off the window dressing of complacency and offered up our innocence. With the blackout of the summer of 2003 that left most of Ontario and parts of the United States in darkness, the first thing we all wondered was if it was another attack. I felt scared when I realized the geography the blackout covered. That is what I mean about our lost innocence. We are more on guard and suspicious. I renew drivers' licence at work, and I get comments from people worrying about their air travel...worrying about being turned away at airports, and I realize no one is untouched by the events and consequences of that day. It is the reality of our world--a sad reality, but a very necessary one.
I finished my essay for the contest, and it isn't about winning the prize, but it is about adding my voice to the collective echo of an indelible memory that made us realize that we are not so different as we are part of a universal psyche that lost our innocence on September 11, 2001. I realized the futility of words, but then was comforted in the fact that is all that we have to communicate our souls. And so, the essay for me, is about communicating my soul. It is all that I have. It is my small echo of the collective voice.
Copyright © 2004. DGALEP. All rights reserved.
THE DEAD ZONE
Prologue: as an introduction to this essay, I will begin by giving you a small insight into my world and who I am, as well as events leading up to that fateful week in our nation’s history. I am a senior-level information technology professional with a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science and a career in this field that spans three decades, from mainframes to client-server and the internet. My hobbies include camping, backpacking and a study of history, which was my undergraduate minor. I am 54 years old, divorced and the father of two sons, aged 28 and 32. I am currently employed full-time in the Midwest and, in my spare time, working on two books – one on historical cycles and another on the future of computers.
In August of 2001, I had walked away from a job in Louisiana that had become increasingly frustrating due to political infighting within the IT department. I still remember the immense feeling of relief as I handed my letter of resignation to the CIO. I looked forward to a much-needed vacation and rest until after Labor Day when I planned to start looking for my next challenge. Until then, I planned on enjoying the New Orleans night life and maybe getting in some fishing on Louisiana’s great system of lakes and rivers.
The closing weeks of that August and the first week of September were a peaceful resting period and a chance to recharge my batteries. It was great. The last thing on my mind was terrorism or the Middle East. Most of you probably felt the same.
I had already farmed my resume out to the internet and several recruiting agencies and had already started getting interest. One interested recruiter tried to convince me to fly out to Houston and interview with a company called Enron. I thought it over and decided to pass because I couldn’t bear the thought of living in Houston and fighting the miserable traffic there (note: I think Houston is a great city but it is just too crowded and the highway system stinks). My decision proved to be a stroke of luck because two months later in October of 2001 Enron started self-destructing. You know the rest.
On Tuesday, September 4, 2001 I received a call from one of the national recruiting firms specializing in IT professionals. A company (who shall remain nameless) in Phoenix Arizona. The company was currently looking for someone with my credentials and wanted to interview me. The next day I had a telephone interview with some of the company’s technical people to establish my knowledge. I was told they would call back.
On Thursday, September 6, 2001 I received a call from senior managers at the company and we talked for over an hour. They said they wanted to talk to me in person and asked if I could fly out for an interview. I said yes.
Little did I know that only one week later I would be living in an entirely different world. One I haven’t returned from yet.
Final note: my memory is not that good but fortunately I always carry a voice recorder with me on job interviews. I used it that week for more than interviews. I still have the tapes. It is interesting to listen to my voice go from the confidence of Monday to the pain of Tuesday to the frustration of Wednesday to the exhaustion of Thursday to finally end up on Friday as only a whisper. I haven't listened to the tapes in over two years. It was spooky. The raw emotion is too easily heard.
Friday, September 7, 2001 – 9:30am (CDT):
The phone rings, interrupting the latest news on Fox News Channel . It was a slow month for news and topics included: (1) President Bush approving limited stem-cell research, (2) Gary Condit denying any involvement in the recent Chandra Levy disappearance, (3) the Justice Department announcing it was dropping its case against Microsoft, (4) Janet Reno deciding to run for Florida governor and (5) more protests and promises of legal action from Democrats who thought Bush “stole” the election. The old world we lived in was pretty boring wasn’t it?
Answering the phone, I find the recruiter excited and prepared to give me flight, rental car and hotel information for the upcoming interview. He asks me if I can fly out next Monday. I think it over for a few seconds and agree. He promises to e-mail me all the pertinent information within the next few minutes.
I hung up the phone, wondering what the weather is like in Phoenix this time of year.
Friday, September 7, 2001 – 1:14pm (CDT):
E-mail from the recruiter arrives with all information provided, including meeting itineraries. It looks like Monday will be a full day, lasting until after dark since senior IT personnel will be flying down from the company’s headquarters in Minnesota to talk to me, in addition to the local personnel.
I actually begin to look forward to the upcoming trip as an adventure and a chance to meet new people and discuss technical subjects.
Friday, September 7, 2001 – 3:21pm (CDT):
Dropped off suit at dry cleaners and got a haircut. Rule #1: always look your best when applying for a new job. Life is still boring and quiet.
Friday, September 7, 2001 – 7:30pm (CDT):
Afternoon five-mile walk proved refreshing and gave me time to think about possibly living in Phoenix. I think about the things in Louisiana I will miss if I move out there. Cicadas and frogs starting their nightly symphony from the canals and swamps cheer me up. Life is good and things are starting to look up.
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 5:30am (CDT):
Rise and shine. With a pot of coffee at my side I sit down at the computer and start searching the internet for any and all information about the company in Phoenix. Rule #2: don’t depend on the company you are interviewing with to provide you with all the information about them. Do your research before you talk to them in person.
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 1:44pm (CDT):
Time to take a break and get lunch. After nearly six hours I know everything about the company in Phoenix, including bios of the chief officers, stock history, personnel statistics, liquidity, earnings statements, etc. So far it looks good.
While eating lunch, I watch the news on TV. The exciting story of the day is the revelation by Anne Heche, recently separated from her lesbian partner Ellen DeGeneres, about how she was mentally ill for the first 31 years of her life. I decide to switch channels to the cartoon network where the characters make sense.
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 3:02pm (CDT):
I decide to take the afternoon off and go walk along the lakefront. The smell of crawfish and shrimp coming in off the water of Lake Ponchartrain is magnificent. I decide a dinner at one of the finer restaurants in town is called for.
Saturday, September 8, 2001 – 8:00pm (CDT):
The evening is peaceful and the crawfish are a delight, as usual. My doctor would hate me for doing that to my cholesterol level but hey, who wants to live forever?
Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 7:30am (CDT):
Sleeping in can be fun as long as you don’t make a habit of it.
Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 9:00am (CDT):
Time for the Sunday morning talking heads shows, like Meet The Press. The stories diagnosed this week are the American air attacks in Iraq in response to Iraqi violations of the no-fly zone. Other stories include responses to the recent expulsion of UN staff from Iraq on charges of spying and the defection of another of Saddam Hussein’s sons.
Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 12:00pm (CDT):
The Saints are starting another dismal season today at Buffalo. Time to start packing.
Sunday, September 9, 2001 – 6:30pm (CDT):
Finished packing. I’ve also prepared all the paperwork, including copies of my resume, passport and assorted technical papers I’ve written. It all goes into my small tote journal which fits nicely into the small carry-on bag. I’m planning on returning Tuesday morning so I won’t need much, just a single change of clothes and toiletry items.
Author’s note: If this were a movie, the soundtrack would be playing some eerie, tense music right about now. Try to imagine that while you read on. Think of the scene in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” when Indiana Jones starts to switch the bag of sand for the golden idol head in the South American temple.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 3:30am (CDT):
Oh God, is this ever going to be a long day. Wake up, shower, shave, down seven cups of coffee, grab my carry-on bag and head out the door for the drive to New Orleans International Airport. Flight leaves at 7:40am.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 6:30am (CDT):
Finally, I manage to maneuver my way through the ticketing agents and past the metal detectors into the concourse area. This was to be the last time I went past security without taking off my shoes and removing every single metallic item from my body. The security guards looked about half-asleep, as was most of America. Unbeknownst to us all, the wake-up call was fast approaching.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 6:45am (CDT):
Arrrggghhhhh! The horror of it all! First, the horror of having to use a public toilet at the airport challenged my intestinal fortitude. Then to have an overly sensitive infra-red detector flush the toilet every time I leaned forward more than an inch. This bodes ill for the day.
Author’s note: what the hell does “bode” mean and can something “bode good”?
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 8:07am (CDT):
After a brief delay on the tarmac we are airborne for a five-hour-plus flight direct to Phoenix. I settle in and start reading Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher”. About an hour into the book I doze off to sleep, safe in my little metal cocoon, zipping along at hundreds of miles per hour seven miles above the ground. I figured the rest might better prepare me for the impending day
Meanwhile, in Boston, Newark and Washington, nineteen men were making their final preparations too. Nineteen men whom I had never met, never done anything bad to and had no reason to hate. That last was about to change.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 10:32am (MST):
Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, AZ. I’ve always loved Phoenix. I’ve been here three times before in my travels. The beautiful pastel adobe colors on all the buildings are a treat for the eye. This is where the phrase “yeah, but it’s a dry heat” was invented. It is hot. Make no mistake about it but it is tolerable. The city sits nestled on a flat plain surrounded by mountainous crags on almost all sides but the mountains are so far away they seem smaller than they are and they don’t just rise slowly out of the ground. No, they leap out in almost vertical cliff faces. Awesome.
I gradually work my way off the plane and out onto the concourse. A short stroll down the walkways lands me in front of the Dollar rental car agency. The car is waiting. A quick swipe of the credit card and I’m on my way into Phoenix.
I pull out the cell phone and call the recruiter who gives me directions to their office. He wants to meet prior to my driving out to Scottsdale to the interview. I take in the sights of this beautiful city and proceed.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 11:46am (MST):
I sit down in the recruiter’s office and shake hands all around. We discuss his client’s needs and just generally give each other the “once over”. After about thirty minutes we both seem to come to an agreement to forge ahead. Into the car again and headed to Scottsdale.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:09pm (MST):
The company offices are a pleasant drive to the north of Scottsdale and they are located in a beautiful new building with reflective glass walls. It looks great so far.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 1:15pm-7:30pm (MST):
The interviews are interminable. I’m greeted by a lady from human resources and placed in a nice office to wait. One person after another comes in, sometimes in pairs, and we discuss my credentials and experience. I find that I’m repeating myself over and over again, but that’s normal. Toward mid-afternoon I start to detect a degree of hostility between the Arizona staff and the Minnesota staff that has nothing to do with me. Hmmmmm. It’s time to start reading between the lines here.
By then end of the day I have determined there is some conflict going on as to who I would report to. I’m beginning to feel this was a wasted trip. I decide to sleep on it that night and decide tomorrow. So far, it doesn’t look good.
Monday, September 10, 2001 – 8:02pm (MST):
I have to say this about that company. They certainly didn’t scrimp on taking care of me. I was put up in one of Scottsdale’s finest resort hotels. I arrived there and had a nice scotch and soda (or three) and a fine steak dinner to make up for missing lunch. I went to sleep around 9:30pm MST, exhausted but content. Safe in the greatest country in the world, satisfied that things would always look better in the morning.
That night while I slept, on the East Coast nineteen men from other countries were about to embark on a plan that would kill over 3,000 of my “American Family”.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 5:52am-6:15am (MST):
The phone rings noisily at my bedside. Disoriented, I struggle to wake up and grab the handset wondering who could be calling me here at this early hour.
“Hello?”, I asked.
“Mr. Kelly, this is the front desk and we would like to know if there is anything we can do to assist you?”, the desk clerk asked.
“Uh, no. I’m fine. Is something wrong?”, I asked with a sense of rising dread.
“Sir, please turn on your TV. I don’t have time to explain. I have to call our other guests.”, the clerk said as he hung up.
I was really starting to get nervous at this point. What the hell was going on? Was the hotel on fire? Had Arizona been invaded by Red China? All kinds of wild thoughts went through my head as I searched for the remote control.
OH MY GOD! WHAT THE F**K IS THIS?
A building on fire. It wasn’t recognizable at first. I could see the black, blazing hole in the side about two-thirds of the way up. Firemen and police scrambling down the streets toward the building. Ordinary people running for their life away from the building. A quick pan of the building from a helicopter showed its twin next to it and I instantly recognized the World Trade Center, heart of America’s financial district. I instantly felt cold all over and started to shake. I was confused and totally baffled as to what might have happened when they showed footage of what had happened in the previous few minutes. The airplane, the building, the explosion, the panic – all summed up for me what had just taken place. As a rational person, my first thought was “why”.
The news announcers tell me the plane hit at 8:35am. For a split second I am confused as that is almost three hours from now. Then I remembered Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time all year round so I’m actually on Pacific Daylight Time and am three hours behind New York.
While trying to do that time zone math in my head suddenly I hear someone on the TV shout “Oh, my God!” and I see a second airplane diving in toward the towers.
STOP THE TRAIN, MR CONDUCTOR! WHAT THE F**K IS GOING ON HERE?
Have the Russians secretly decided to pay us back for their losing the Cold War to us? Has the entire world gone mad? This is America, God damn it! People don’t do this to us and get away with it! Don’t they know we can nuke the entire planet to a cinder if we want? Who the hell would have the audacity to attack us?
Then it dawned on me that what I had seen was not a military aircraft but a commercial airliner. Total confusion set in at this point. I was in shock. Literally. My body felt cold and I was shaking, not out of fear but out of an overwhelming sense of rising anger. I could feel the blood rising in my neck. That’s always a bad sign. The last time I had felt like that was in 1974 when a drunk pulled a knife on me in a bar in north Georgia. In short, I was getting ready to rip someone’s head off. Unfortunately, there was no one to take it out on. I was helpless, sitting there in my underwear in a hotel 1500 miles from home.
That’s when the tears started.
Not tears of sympathy or remorse. No, that would come later. These were genuine “Made In America” tears of anger. Burning, righteous anger. The kind that sent men charging into battle countless times. The hot, stinging tears that comes from all the blood rushing to the head and adrenaline pumping out at gallons per minute.
Even now, sitting here recalling events from that day two and a half years ago and recalling my emotions at the time, I feel the tears welling up again. And now, as then, my only thought is still somebody’s going to have to pay for this.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 6:30am (MST):
I start pacing the floor looking at the images coming to me on the TV. I know I am separated from these people by 2000 miles but I feel I know them all. They are my family and someone is hurting them. I storm into the bathroom and throw up. The anger has my stomach all twisted in knots and I can hardly breathe. I pace back and forth for several minutes.
Suddenly, I stop. I realize I’m 1500 miles from home. I need to get back home. What about the interview? What should I do?
Before I can get even a single thought further into myself and my situation the TV announcer starts shouting again. The Pentagon has been hit also. It is 6:40am in Phoenix, yet everything outside is quiet as a cemetery. No one is stirring.
On TV they’re telling us the President is in Florida but the White House has been evacuated anyway.
A little later, they tell us that President Bush has left Florida and Air Force One is headed toward the Midwest.
People are seen jumping out of the windows on the World Trade Center to fall eighty floors to the concrete below. I stop pacing and wonder what is so bad in the building that jumping eighty floors onto concrete is a better alternative. They seem so peaceful floating down the side of the building. The THUMP as they hit the ground is barely muffled and I jump at the sound of each one. Each one I hear makes my heart sicker and sicker.
Suddenly, the unthinkable happens – the second tower starts to collapse in on itself, a cloud of dust rising in its place. Frightened, screaming civilians as well as police and firemen start running toward the cameras trying to stay ahead of the boiling cloud of dust rising behind them.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 7:45am (MST):
Sometime in the last hour, the announcers started talking about this being a terrorist attack. Terrorist? Impossible, I thought.
Then word came from people who were on the doomed airplanes talking to their relatives on cell phones and the picture suddenly leaped into sharp focus for me, the rest of America and President Bush, as evidenced by his sudden change in manner in speeches after the attacks.
Then in rapid succession, a portion of the Pentagon collapsed and the first tower collapsed right behind it. People were wandering the streets covered in dust, dazed and stumbling from corner to curb.
I imagine it must have felt like this in the first few minutes of that cool morning of December 7, 1941 when this country was viciously attacked by Japan. Like a fighter who takes a sneaky blow below the belt and who stumbles back to regroup and fight down the pain.
Finally, like that fighter, the country started to get its act together. During the next few hours all federal buildings in Washington were evacuated, the UN was evacuated, all inbound air traffic into the country was diverted to Canada and the FAA finally woke up and started grounding all airplanes currently in the air.
Then I heard astonishing news about a flight that crashed in Pennsylvania and the story started to come out that some of the passengers may have thwarted another airplane attack, possibly on the White House. Score: Terrorists 3 America 1. Let’s roll.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 10:04am (MST):
President Bush speaks for the first time from Barksdale AFB, LA. I think, hey, that’s Shreveport. I want to change places with him. His first statement is short and simple, “Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts." OK, I thought. Let’s get started. Right f**king NOW! Let’s find out where they came from and drop about forty nukes on their homes. Fortunately, I was not Secretary Of Defense and George W. Bush was and still is a patient man.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 11:30am (MST):
All I can do is pace the floor at this point. My mind is racing in a thousand different directions. I pause to consider what President Bush may be going through. Probably the same thing except millions of times worse.
Then the FAA announces that all air traffic will be grounded until noon tomorrow at the earliest. At that point it hit me. I’m stranded.
I place a call to the offices of the company I interviewed with and their offices were closed for the day and probably would be closed tomorrow as well. Frantically, I called the travel agency who booked the flights and inquired as to the status. They promised to call me back.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 3:09pm (MST):
Travel agency just called back to tell me there would be no flights tomorrow but they were trying to get a booking for Thursday. It was time for me to start planning an extended stay. Then I realized I had not been out of the room all day and had not eaten.
I quickly showered and cleaned up and went to the hotel restaurant to get some food. The bar and restaurant were crowded and everyone was quietly watching the TVs, even the waiters and bartenders.
I ordered a double scotch and soda and joined my fellow Americans in watching the rest of the horror unfold. Occasional sighs and sobs could be heard around the room but everyone’s eyes stayed glued to the TVs. I thought to myself, “we’re all family for this time in our lives.”
Occasionally, someone would make eye contact while looking around the room. Usually, it was just a brief glance followed by a shaking of heads. Everyone was silent. Waiting. Watching.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 – 5:30pm (MST):
I am on my fifteenth scotch and soda and it still hurts. I am numb from pain and booze. My “family” in the bar are in similar conditions. In the last hour a few muffled conversations have started and dwindled out after a few exchanges. No one seems to want to talk. It is too painful. We are also angry. And drunk. Therefore dangerous.
President Bush makes a public address from the White House telling us that "thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil" and promising to bring the terrorists to justice. This was the first time we hear him use the word “evil” but was not to be the last. Clearly, Bush had suddenly seen the world in black and white, good and evil. That sentiment was felt by all of us present that night. As I listened to him I saw other members of my “family” starting to cry. I felt the anger and pride in my country all at once myself and in a matter of seconds I was joining them. It was clearly time to take myself back to my room and try to sleep.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 5:00am (MST):
Wake up, Allan! Oh shit, my head hurts. Where am I? I sit up in bed, check all body parts and everything reports in as in place and functioning (except the brain which is screaming at me). Three aspirin and a cup of coffee later I turn on the TV, having realized during the night that it was all a dream.
No. It wasn’t.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 6:30am-10:30am (MST):
State Department briefing on TV. For the first time we hear of some guy named Osama bin Laden. Officials are relatively close-mouthed about it all. No new leads yet. The Defense Department later gives a briefing to tell everyone that fires are still raging at the Pentagon but will be under control soon.
All morning long we see firefighters, police and rescue workers hard at it and a newfound respect starts to grow for these dedicated workers.
I continue to watch as the damage is assessed. Soon the FAA announces that diverted flights from yesterday will be allowed to continue to their destination. No word on when normal flights will resume. I start to get concerned and call the company’s office. They are closed today. I then call the travel agent who tells me they are trying to book flights but it is beginning to look more and more like all flights will be cancelled for a few days at least. I ask them to call me if anything develops.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 12:25pm (MST):
Press briefing by the Defense Department. This was the first time I had a chance to see Donald Rumsfeld in action. I still remember vividly this exchange between the SecDef and a reporter:
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there are some in the Middle East who are saying that the United States does not have the belly to do the kind of response to this attack on the United States, that this administration, the previous administration don't have it to go after them in the kind of way that they have to be gone after. Without any specifics whatsoever, help us with the attitude that should go into this process.
RUMSFELD: Well, I guess time will tell. My -- I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned. I'm inclined to think that if you're going to cock it, you throw it, and you don't talk about it a lot.
I thought to myself, hey, I kinda like this guy. That’s the kind of thing John Wayne would have said. You tell ‘em, Pilgrim. Yo!
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 – 6:30pm (MST):
Another wasted day. I need to get home. No word from travel agent yet. Stuck, stranded, marooned …. and my country is in trouble.
I drag myself to the hotel restaurant, skip the bar and head for the restaurant. A huge meal of steak and potatoes later I feel human again but somehow exhausted. I think all the adrenaline of yesterday took its toll on me.
I make a decision to get some sleep and get cranking tomorrow on getting home – one way or another.
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 6:00am (MST):
OK, up and at ‘em. Time to get rolling. A quick call to the travel agent confirmed that there is a possibility flights will resume today. The FAA has announced that they will reopen US airspace at noon. I anxiously wait for a call from the travel agent and watch continuing developments. I realize I have hardly been out of the room at all for days. Looking in a mirror, I realize I am developing a “thousand-mile-stare”. Not good.
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 10:00am (MST):
Of all the stupid, bloody, asinine stunts to pull!!!! The FAA announced that they are attempting to put new security measures in place at all airports, so what happens? Two smart-ass ground personnel at Sky Harbor International Airport decide to smuggle a gun through security to “test the new measures” as they later said. They succeeded – and the FAA decided to keep Sky Harbor International shutdown until “further notice”. SHIT! SHIT! SHIT!
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 10:30am-11:40am (MST):
A quick call to the travel agent confirmed my worst fears. They had no idea when flights would resume out of Phoenix. DAMN!
They said, however, that the company I interviewed with would gladly foot the bill for an extended stay. DOUBLE-DAMN!
I quickly called the local Amtrak office. “Sorry”, they said, “all trains are booked.” TRIPLE-DAMN!
Another call to Greyhound got a similar result. No seats available. QUADRUPLE-DAMN!
Realizing that I was about to run out of “DAMN!”s (as well as clean underwear), I decide to take matters into my own hands.
I called the local Dollar Rental Car agency and inquired about the possibility of perhaps turning in the vehicle someplace other than Phoenix.
“Where?”, the young lady asked.
“New Orleans?”, I replied in a hesitant voice.
“Very well, Mr. Kelly. We’ve had word from our superiors to consider waiving relocation fees for people who need to drive home”, she said, “just turn in the car in New Orleans.”
In five minutes, I was out the door steering for I-10 and eastward bound. 1500 miles of asphalt and dotted white lines awaited me.
Author’s note: as a preface to what is to come, I present the following from the Interstate Guidebook: “I-10 is the loneliest highway in the system. If the fact that half of the intersections listed above were in the middle of nowhere isn't enough to convince you of this, if the fact that there isn't a spur route for all of AZ, NM, and 400 miles of TX isn't enough to convince you, take a drive through Western TX sometimes. I-10 is so isolated that they allowed grade crossings for people's driveways there.”
I wish I had known that then.
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 11:30am-1:15pm (MST):
First, the rental vehicle. A Dodge Intrepid. Nothing fancy. Not the most comfortable vehicle in the world either. However, it turned out to be a reliable little beast for traversing the “Great American Dead Zone”. Before setting out, I named him “Old Paint” because he had the ugliest shade of red I’ve ever seen.
So me and Old Paint set out heading south out of Phoenix. I stopped just south of town and filled him up with gas at a service station run by a family of Native Americans. Native American jewelry for sale alongside the Slim Jims and potato chips. They were quite friendly but I noticed everyone was kind of subdued, like they had just returned from a funeral. I didn’t ask why.
After feeding Old Paint and stocking myself up with cokes and potato chips we headed out toward Tucson, 114 miles away.
This leg of the trip was spent mainly listening to the radio reports. The announcement came on about mid-afternoon that Secretary Of State Colin Powell has announced that the “prime suspect” was Osama bin Laden and a bunch called the Taliban. Who?
OK, now we have a target. Ready, aim ……
Feeling weird. I’m glad to be going home but I wonder what happens now. Where does the country go and how do we handle this madness that attacked us? I’m sure my parents asked the same question on December 7, 1941.
The world is still a dangerous place. Some things never change.
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 1:15pm-3:15pm (MST):
Tucson, Arizona. Home of many good gunfights in the old days. The saguaro cactus dot the countryside. I’m reminded of all the old westerns I used to watch as a child.
The radio fades out shortly after I leave Tucson and for the next four hundred miles or so there will be nothing on but Mexican radio stations and country music from distant American stations. Amazingly, there are no news broadcasts on either one so I listen to Hispanic music and meditate while the pavement flows by under my feet and the vanishing point in the distance never seems to get closer.
“THE THING!” screamed the billboard at me. “COME SEE IT! TOMBSTONE!”
What the f**k, over?
I started out on this trip reading Stephen King and now some asshole wants me to come see THE THING? This is Tombstone, for crying out loud. Home of Wyatt Earp, Billy The Kid, John Wayne, The Lone Ranger, etc.
Where are they now when I really need them?
As the miles go by, I pass Benson, Willcox and Bowie, Arizona. Names that meant nothing to me a week ago but today are stages in a long voyage home with a heavy heart. The rolling hills are low to the ground – or are very far away. I don’t know. All I can think about is “what do I do now?”
While pondering my options, I somehow manage to cross over into New Mexico. One state down, three to go. Easy, right? Too bad one of them is Texas.
Thursday, September 13, 2001 – 3:15pm-6:15pm (MST):
Crossing into New Mexico didn’t change the scenery at all. Still no news on the radio. I wonder what is going on. Have there been more attacks? Have we struck back yet? I start getting anxious for news. Like most of America I have become a “news junkie” over the last few days. It is an addiction that I will share with most of my countrymen for several weeks to come.
I look at a map and decide to stop in El Paso for the night. That will put me in Texas, at least – which at that point is only 900 miles from Louisiana. DAMN TERRORISTS!
Somewhere near Deming, NM I pass a sign that tells me I have just crossed The Continental Divide. Holy Shit! Isn’t this the point where rivers start flowing East instead of West? Aren’t there supposed to be big, hairy mountains around here? The Rockies, maybe? Nope, just more flat land. So much for the rivers theory. Keep on trucking, Allan.
How do you get from Deming to El Paso? You go to Los Cruces and hang a right. Actually, the interstate does the hanging for you. Speaking of hanging, would that be sufficient punishment for what the terrorists did day before yesterday? Nope! I think not.
While Old Paint gobbles up the miles to El Paso, I contemplate various methods of torturous death for the assholes when they are caught. This is fun. Let’s see: covered in honey and staked on one of these fire ant hills? strapped to a cactus and left out in the sun until dead? skinning them alive and dipping them in alcohol? setting fire to them and waiting until they’re dead before extinguishing the flames by pissing on them? I like this. It’s too bad I’m not in charge.
Thursday-Friday, September 13-14, 2001 – 6:15pm-4:00am (CDT):
The closer I get to El Paso the more radio stations I pick up. News is starting to filter into my life again. I’m starting to get tired. This is hard on a 52-year-old hombre like myself.
Suddenly, a news story catches my ear and I have to pull over. Initial estimates of the deaths predict anywhere between 5,000 and 8,000 possibly dead in New York and hundreds more at the Pentagon.
I start to cry for my countrymen. I think of the horrible deaths that occurred and how their loved ones must feel right now. The tears flow down my cheeks onto the desert sand where nothing grows. I think of the Middle East which has a lot in common with this region. Nothing but sand and dirt. The difference is there is freedom, love and comradeship here. There is nothing but hatred and bloodshed over there. Contrasts, again. Black and white. Good and evil. There are no shades of gray in this new world I am in.
I get back in the car and drive through El Paso sobbing and thinking about all those lives lost. For no good reason whatsoever. Black and white. Good and evil.
I pull in at a rest stop to use the rest room and clean up a little. I feel a little better but once back in the car I put my head on the steering wheel and start crying again. These are angry tears this time. I want to do something to a terrorist, preferably with a baseball bat that has lots of 10-penny nails sticking out of it.
Suddenly, I hear a tapping on the car window. Looking up I see a Texas State Trooper standing there, looking concerned. I roll down the window.
“You OK, mister?”, he asked.
“Yep, just a little wound up, I suppose”, I answered.
“Aren’t we all?”, he smiled.
“I’ll be alright, officer”, I smiled back at him, “I’m on my way home.”
“Well, you take of yourself and drive carefully”, he said and walked back to his car.
Before he got in he tipped his hat to me and nodded.
That last gesture was all I needed to get going. I knew now I had friends everywhere in this great country. I decided to keep driving until my stamina gave out. I felt I had something to prove to myself and my country. My tremendous problem of being stranded so far from home suddenly shrunk in size. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective after all.
Giddy up, Old Paint! We’re going home.
The sun starts to set behind me as I dive into the westernmost region of Texas. The boot.
About an hour later, it is dark and traffic is slowing down ahead of me. After waiting in line on the interstate for half an hour I gradually creep up to the problem. There is a state police checkpoint and they are checking everyone’s vehicle for people slipping across the border, which is only five miles to the south of here. I have to get out and open the trunk and let them shine their flashlights all inside the car. I was glad to cooperate. These were my friends.
Finally, I was allowed to proceed. The interstate finally turned away from the border and headed northeast and I followed it. Soon it branched off and I-10 went right to San Antonio and I-20 went north to Dallas. I turned right and drove on into the night.
The sign said: San Antonio 512 miles.
What the sign should have said was “You are now entering The Dead Zone: half a thousand miles of endless wasteland that makes Afghanistan look like Central Park- enter at your own risk, pilgrim.”
Endless road. Going on forever. Exhaustion is starting to set in so I pop some No-Doze and slurp up some coffee I had bought while buying gas at Fort Stockton. A quick jolt of caffeine and let’s stare at the road for seven or eight hours. Way to go, Allan.
Endless road. Black night. No radio. No other cars or trucks. Just me and the Dead Zone. Stephen King needs to come visit this place. Or maybe he’s already been here and that’s the problem. I start to get a little spooked about 2:00am.
Finally, I spot a town. I don’t remember the name. I pull in and find a service station. Already parked there is a big Greyhound bus loaded up with passengers. I fill up the tank and go inside to pay. I look at some of the passengers on the bus coming in and am reminded of “Night Of The Living Dead”. We’re all zombies here, I think. Crushed, lost, confused and all of us with only one desire – go home. Everyone has that thousand-mile-stare going.
Spooky, man! Very spooky! I got out of there fast before somebody turned into a werewolf.
Friday, September 14, 2001 – 4:15am-7:15am (CDT):
San Antonio, Texas. Home of the Alamo. Davy Crockett. Jim Bowie. “Remember The Alamo”. Seems appropriate. Suddenly I realize my country has always been the target of the rest of the world at some point in time or another. The only difference this time is it is mad Arabs instead of Japanese or Mexicans.
San Antonio is deserted at this time of the morning so I slip through the interstate cobweb in the center of the city and see only a few cars. The night people have gone to bed and the day people aren’t up yet. Excellent!
On the other side of town I stop at a truckers rest area and pull in behind several dozen semis. I use the facilities to wash up and slap large amounts of cold water all over my face and head to wake up. It felt good.
Then I thought of several thousand New Yorkers who would not be waking up that morning, who would never see the beautiful sunrise that was coming up in the east, who would never roll out of bed and complain about going to work. Nevermore, quoth the Raven. Nevermore.
And the road sign said “Houston 197 miles”.
Getting back out on the road, I did a little arithmetic and concluded that my worst fears would soon be realized. I would hit Houston right at rush hour.
DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!
At least there was scenery and radio to listen to. Not much more developing news at this hour of the morning, so I put the pedal to the metal and made a mad dash for Houston, hoping to beat the crowd that would be waiting for me there between 7:00 and 8:00.
It didn’t work. I hit the outskirts of Houston at 7:15am. By outskirts, I mean 40 miles west of town and traffic was already backed up.
Friday, September 14, 2001 – 7:15am-9:45am (CDT):
Two and a half hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic to fight my way through Houston. The last thing I saw on the way out of town was the huge Budweiser plant on the east side. Adios! This Bud’s for you.
Friday, September 14, 2001 – 9:45am-2:04pm (CDT):
Three hundred forty miles to go. Eyelids starting to droop. Eyes burning. More coffee. More No-Doze. Singing to myself. Cracking myself up.
Here I sit in this cheap car blurring down the highway. Wearing the same suit I’ve had on for five days. Unshaven. Starting to stink pretty badly. The world has gone crazy and …. and ….. and ….
Suddenly, I’m home. I don’t know how I managed the last two hundred miles. Actually, I do. God took over and guided me home. Not the God of the infidel terrorists. My God. Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for thou art beside me. That God.
I go to sleep. At last.
In a new world. A world not of my choosing. A world with different rules, different enemies. And new friends.
Thank you, America. I love you too.
Epilogue: after sleeping 24 hours I turned in the rental car at Dollar, who only charged me $240 and waived all relocation charges – with a smile. I turned down the job in Phoenix and decided to work for my country for a while. For the next two years I worked at a secure government location for NASA and NOAA as a government contractor before returning to the civilian sector in the Fall of 2003. Osama bin Laden is still unaccounted for. Over 3,000 Americans died on September 11, 2001. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to every member of their families. They will not be forgotten. Not if I have anything to do with it. Never again!
© Copyright 2004 Allan Kelly
NEVER FORGET, AMERICA!