Monday, September 11, 2006

Everyone else is doing it, why not me?

The morning of September 11, 2001 was the beginning of a week's vacation. I got off work at 7:00 am and headed home, looking forward to a good morning's sleep, then leaving the next day with my four-year-old daughter for a trip to my parent's house in upstate NY to celebrate my father's 80th birthday. I crawled into bed after kissing my wife and our three month old daughter.
I hadn't been asleep very long when my wife came bursting into the bedroom and screamed, "Geoffrey, wake up, we're under attack!"
My answer, out of the depths of my sleep and refusal to believe that any such thing could occur was, "No we're not."
My wife says I got up and wandered into the TV room to see the first tower fall, shrug my shoulders, then go back to bed. It is important to note I say "my wife says" I did these things because I have no memory of them whatsoever.
I woke up about 12:30 and wandered out to the TV room, saying to my wife, "Did you say something about us being under attack?" She recounted what had happened and I remember sitting in stunned silence as footage of the towers falling - with the uncomprehending newscasters gasped in the background - and a quick cut to the Pentagon burning. I was absolutely shocked. I sat for an hour, drinking cup after cup of coffee, watching the horror unfold in NYC. I watched people run from the dust of the rubble as the towers fell. I saw the 14th St. Bridge in the foreground - a bridge I used to drive over often when I lived in, then commuted to, Washington, DC right past the facade of the Pentagon that was struck - as the Pentagon burned. I wondered what the casualty count would be, convinced that 3000 was much too low. I even participated in a bit of a panic as locals rushed to fill their tanks and gas prices soared - even as I pumped! - on fears of what this would mean for the price of oil, as it became clear the attacks originated in the Middle East.
I called my parents to find out if the highways in NY were still open, as CNN had reported that Gov. Pataki contemplated closing all highways in NY as he had closed all roads in to and out fo Manhattan. I was assurred the roads would be open.
The drive from north central IL to upstate NY was surreal for two reasons. First, there was absolutely nothing on the radio but reports of what had happened, even though by the morning of September 12 it was clear we knew as little as we did on the morning of the 11th. I was just east of Toldeo, OH, listening to an AM station out of Detroit when the other thing hit me - there were no trucks on the highway! The station was taking calls from drivers stuck at the borders, stuck at rest areas, stuck at docks, just plain stuck because interstate commerce had ground to a halt. I had a pleasant, quick zip through Cleveland on I-90 at rush hour, and I teared up when my daughter asked, "Is this New York City, Daddy?"
I also remember Sen. Orrin Hatch opening his fat mouth on the evening of the 11th, letting the world know something most intelligence folks would have preferred kept quiet. I remember Bush flying back and forth and around the country. I remember his halting speech, hardly appropriate for the occasion. I remember the attack on the airport in Afghanistan as rebels took the initiative, knowing the Americans were coming. I remember wondering where we went from here.
Most of all, I remember a broken skyline, the images of people jumping from the towers, ghoulish camera operators following their descent, and all the unanswerable questions that are nontheless part and parcel of an event such as this - why? There was more than a moment when I thought Pres. Bush might lead us in a conversation about the differences between Muslims and terrorists. With his recent rantings about "Islamo-fascism" (taking a page from the nutty right), what tiny flicker of hope I had for him has burned out.
Five years later we are no more safe, we have lost as many as we did on September 11 in an illegal and stupid war and occupation, the President used the bodies of our honored dead as a platform to slash the taxes of the rich and enrigh his corporate sponsors, and we here the Pres. and the Republicans in COngress bleating "Stay the course!" Isn't that what one of the hijackers might have said to the pilot as it headed towards the World Trade Center?


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