Happy Birthday, September 11

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/photo via NationalGeographic.com

September 11th stirs up so many memories and emotions, mostly unpleasant.

I used to fly to the west a lot in those days and I was in a motel in Phoenix when I clicked on the TV and saw the burning north tower. Thinking it was a movie, I clicked to a news station only to see the same video. It was about 9am EDT and just about every spot on the dial was showing a similar feed from New York. I remember the talking heads on this one Phoenix channel were discussing how such an accident might occur in the dense air traffic surrounding the three NYC airports. Then: “This just in!” They showed the remarkable video of the south tower strike and it became evident to everyone that this was a terrorist act.

I called home and spoke to my wife. Our first thought was of our son, who was working a co-op job in Manhattan. She had not heard from him. We assured each other that he was supposed to be many blocks north of the WTC but we both continued to call his cell over and over. As I rode to Tucson with the local rep for our first meeting of the day, we listened to the news as the south tower collapsed.

Then Betty called to tell me that my son had finally got through to home and he was alright and trying to walk out of Manhattan to his frat in Hoboken. He was concerned about me because he knew I was flying west from Boston that week. Betty assured him I was on the ground and OK. Doug also had frat brothers who were supposed to be in lower Manhattan that day, and he had yet to hear if they were safe. The entire phone system was overloaded and it was tough to get through to anyone anywhere.

By the time we went into our Tucson meeting, both towers were down and the Pentagon had been hit. They were looking for the plane that eventually crashed in PA. All flights in the US had been grounded and the world had largely come to a halt.

The Tucson customer went on and on about the sanctity of the sales channel he had established and our supposed efforts to undermine his hard work blah, blah as I stared out the window and thought about everything we had seen and heard in the last two hours. All sorts of rumors and wild speculation crowded the media. The military was on high alert, everything federal was on lockdown and we still didn’t know how many had died in the attacks. I remember hearing the 30,000 casualty figure many times as we drove.

As we left the morning meeting, I got a call from our west coast rep, Jack Keegan. He was on business in Hawaii and couldn’t get a flight out. A pilot himself, Jack predicted it would take days to get the planes back in the air again and that, if I wanted to get anywhere, I better go to the closest airport immediately and rent a car before they were all gone. We cancelled the rest of the day’s calls and went straight to the Tucson airport where I was able to get one of the last three rentals on the property, a tiny Dodge Neon.

I left Tucson in my Neon around 11:30 local time and headed for Irvine, CA where I was scheduled to make calls the second half of the week. Of course, the whole world had just changed in one morning and I probably should have just driven back home to Massachusetts, but I was always an exemplary employee. So, “Company First”, I drove to Southern California, arriving at the hotel late at night.

Of course, no business was conducted anywhere in the US that week. We went to meetings that quickly degenerated into talk about the attacks and the expected response from the government. Conspiracy theories held the floor as there was yet to be any credible explanation for what had happened and why. Business-wise, a total waste of time.

Our company travel agent (we had one then) booked me on five different Friday flights to the general New England area from LAX and Orange County. I caught a Continental jet to Providence via Newark. From the Newark terminal windows, as well as when landing and taking off over the Hudson, we could clearly see the dense smoke and bright work lights emanating from the “pile” in Lower Manhattan as they worked through the night. The terminal was evacuated while I was there because, I was told, someone had bought a one-way ticket for cash and then vanished into the crowd.

When I got to Providence, my friend Rich picked me up and drove me home. He told me he had been afraid to call my house to see if I had been on one of the Tuesday planes. I totally understood his reluctance.

By coincidence, Betty had a reservation to spend the next week at our Manhattan Club timeshare on 56th Street. I should have taken some time off work and went along with her and her friend as the things they saw and did are now such a big part of our history now. But, like the good Boy Scout that I am, I went to work.

Betty still feels that being onsite in Manhattan while everything was still so raw and and people had yet to give up hope for their loved ones was one of the most emotional weeks of her life. We have all seen photos of the walls covered with handmade “Have you seen…” posters, and the ankle-deep dust and the smoke and the flowers at the fire stations. She saw it all first hand and I should have been with her.

The anniversary can still bring back hints of that “We’re all in this together!” feeling we all shared, if ever so briefly. Everyone had stories to tell. We hugged family and friends a lot. It brought home the fragility of life and of happiness by confronting us every day with the tragic stories of those folks whose lives were forever changed.

Now those once vivid memories of shared experience and of belonging to something bigger than ourselves are getting harder to conjure up. The day is now mostly invoked to justify endless military adventures, the surveillance state and our burgeoning security apparatus.

It’s not an easy thing to admit, but it gets harder and harder to deny that there is a ton of money to be made from fomenting endless war and trumping up fears of relatively feeble terrorists who have never really constituted an existential threat to our country.

I was once advised that, in any situation, always be aware of who stands to make money from what is decided. Deep throat said “Follow the money”. Either way, it seems to lead to Lockheed Martin, Blackwater and the other patriotic corporations who make sure our boys have the best (or at least the most expensive) tools money can buy.

We sanctify our soldiers, but then demonstrate our love by sending them on endless deployments to countries and conflicts we don’t even try to understand. Then, when they are so physically or psychologically battered that they are no longer of military use, we send them home to their families with a flag and inadequate medical and mental health support. Thanks, guys. Sorry about your legs.

It ticks me off when any resistance to pervasive surveillance, presidentially authorized assassinations, thuggish security practices, the militarization of the local police or the latest ill-considered military strike (Hello, Syria!) gets you branded as insufficiently patriotic or even cowardly. Since 9/11, prudence and common sense usually take a back seat to jingoism.

It’s been so discouraging to see how 9/11 has morphed from a national tragedy into a political bludgeon for beltway chicken hawks. It’s become a windfall for defense contractors and an excuse to shred the bill of rights. If we knew what they know, we would totally support them, they say. But it’s all top secret, so we just have to trust them.

Trust them? Have you seen them? We’re supposed to trust this unholy alliance of unemployable circus clowns? Pelosi? Bachmann? Reid? Ryan? Even the once promising Obama? I think not.

If the aim of terrorism is to terrify your enemy into striking back blindly in wars it cannot win, then we’ve lost already. If the aim is to spend thousands on attacks to provoke trillions in mostly cosmetic deterrence, they’ve won there, too. I can’t think of anything we have done, really, that doesn’t just play into their hands. I mean, my god, two post-adolescents with backpack bombs paralyzed Boston for a week. The police locked down the friggin’ city for an entire day! WTF?

Therefore, I have decided not to let them upset me anymore. We are trapped in a cycle of bad government, predatory corporations and inexplicable overseas commitments, but there is nothing Jeff can do.

So I resolve to honor the day in the best way I can.

Happy Birthday to my friend Lori. And Happy Birthday to my friend Mike. Sorry the terrorists ruined your day, but that’s not your fault.

To the rest of us, I guess “Good Luck!” is most appropriate.

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One Response to Happy Birthday, September 11

  1. mv71 says:

    that photo says more than words can ever, i posted my accounts of the days events here if you are interested, i enjoyed reading yours http://boredpictures.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/because-i-was-there-2/

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