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Personal Note: The Big Week, pt 3: Leaving New York, Never Easy

That Tuesday morning, I went to work, sat down in my cube and immediately got into an email conversation with Kate and Cotton, two friends of mine from Japanese classes.  We were discussing the new course we were starting.

I mentioned at some point that the first class was on Thursday.  Kate and Cotton gently pointed out to me that I was using the web page for the previous year’s academic calendar and that the first class was in fact that night.

Boku wa baka da!  I slapped my forehead and thanked them for the correction.  It would be no problem to make it to the class now that I knew about it.

I thought that would be my big surprise for the day.

As far as I can remember (and everything here is subject to the vagaries of memory), my first notice something was up was an email from Josh.  It was very short, just saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

My first thought was “Oh, this is just like when that B-25 hit the Empire State Building during the war.  I thought they changed the flight paths so that couldn’t happen again.”

I figured we were talking, say, a Piper Cub.  And I thought even that was a terrible accident, although I figured the tragedy would swiftly be consumed and expelled by the tide of the American news cycle.

Then, from somewhere, I received word that another plane had hit the Trade Center.

My blood ran cold.  One plane was an accident.  Two planes was a plan.

By the time, there was a great deal of whispering through the office.  “Did you hear?  Did you hear?”  Everyone had gotten the news from an electronic source before they heard it from a person five feet away.  Work dwindled.  Everyone was getting worried.

I joined the increasing number of people milling around.  I ended up upstairs, in the reception area.  A radio was playing CBS news.  Dan Rather was talking, until suddenly he was drowned out by a hideous rumble.

“The second tower has collapsed,” Dan said when the noise subsided.

Gaz emailed; the Boston skyscrapers were being evacuated.  He was going home.  I got into an email discussion with Bec.  She didn’t want to leave, but eventually gave in.  I left as well.

It was the only time I ever walked home from the office.  It was a perfect day for it, sunny and warm.  The whole way I wondered where history was going.

We got home.  Gaz came over, and Cheese.  Judging from other people’s accounts as well as my own, it seems people did not want to be alone that day.  They formed into little groups.  Ours gathered at our place.  We watched the news, watched the new pictures from the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, speculated about what was going on.  Eventually, Bec made dinner.

My Japanese class was cancelled, naturally.

Gaz and I were sitting in the living room, watching the television.  I opined that the disaster would have little actual effect.  Gaz, a little surprised, asked why.  I replied that Americans tend to be shocked by ‘major events,’ but quickly subsume them and continue what they were doing anyway.

About two years later, I looked back on that statement and thought “Wow!  Was I wrong!”  But more recently, I’ve come to revise my revision.

We know now that Dick Cheney came to the presidency intending to ‘correct’ the limitations on executive power created by Watergate.  It seems very probable that George Bush always wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  The economy was going downhill even before 9/11, and the WTC’s destruction affected no major economic trends. 

9/11 provided an exacerbating factor for all these things.  But to my eye, the only major geopolitical difference between our world and an alternate history where 9/11 never happened is our involvement with Afghanistan.  That probably would not have occurred without the attacks, although I doubt the Taliban would still be in power. 

Culturally, there was little effect.  The ‘death of irony’ lasted about ten seconds; Americans are just as willing to laugh at ideals as they were on 9/10.  American conservatism seems to have latched onto Islam as a replacement ‘big villain’ for communism.  I’m not entirely sure that would have happened otherwise, but I think there’s a good chance.

America was made afraid by 9/11.  But America was made afraid by Columbine, and Katrina and many other things, and we always forget.  American fear has a very spastic quality; it flares up and then fades right away, like a dog confronted with a vacuum cleaner every week.

No, the real lasting effect of that day is in the families that saw their loved ones off for work or dropped them off at the airport for what they assumed would be a very ordinary Tuesday.  For them, may the day pass quickly, and September 12th, 2007 dawn a little brighter.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Dick Cheney came to the Presidency? I hope that's a typo.
Not a typo, rather an opinion. :) I tried phrasing it "to the administration" but that didn't sound right.
I think it accurately portrays the situation.

(Anonymous)

It is a very accurate opinion.

(Anonymous)

Sheesh.
Remember folks, please leave some sign of who you are when you make a comment.

(Anonymous)

Gaz sez:

The willingness of people to sign their names to their thoughts is commensurate with the value of their opinions.

Hey

I was at Albany Medical Center where the hospital was relief for NYC. It was scary. People running around yelling code orange, code orange! Which means we were in emergency mode. Which meant all hospital security and maintenance workers were on call in my department. My co-worker and I spent most of the day watching TV and the other half answering phone calls about maintenance issues. Thanks for the good blog, brother. You are a wonderful writer.
I never did like the conclusion on this one. I just didn't know what else to say, and it seemed to demand something.

August 2009

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