Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago Today

Today is the ten year anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States.  When I think back on that time, it was like it was yesterday.  The memories are so clear.

I was living in New York.  I had just finished college at New York University, and I was trying to work in the film industry.  I was living out in Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Park Slope.  I loved it, but I remember wanting something else... something more.  I decided to fly out to Los Anegels, CA to check out the movie business there for a while.

A few of my friends had already headed west and in particular my good friend Megan was an LA native and had just moved back.  I was set to stay with her for a week.

I arrived at the airport and Megan met me at the gate.  I will never forget that she was the last person to ever actually be able to meet me at the gate where I departed the airplane.  Do you remember the last person who met you at the gate?   Such a strange thing to think about.

Over the course of the next week, I met up with various friends, had some interviews, checked out LA.  I loved the sunshine!  It was so nice to be in a place that didn't smell like garbage all the time.  I remember thinking it was really amusing how New Yorkers are always railing on Los Angeles for the smog (and everything else they can think of) when in fact, apart from the absolutely horrendous traffic, I found LA to be pretty awesome.  I could smell fresh flowers in the air everywhere and the sun was shining but the humidity was very mild.  I decided that was where I needed to be.

On my last full day in Los Angeles I woke up at 6 a.m. to my cell phone ringing.  I'd been sleeping on the floor at my friend Megan's and I was pretty annoyed that someone could call that early.  I rushed to the phone to get it before it disturbed Megan too badly.  It was my dad.  He had forgotten that I was in Los Angeles... he needed to make sure I was okay.... New York was "under attack." He was worried about me especially because he was having trouble getting through. I reminded him that I was in LA and I was fine and before I got to say much more, we got cut off.  It was crazy.

Megan had over heard me talking to my dad, and we were both suddenly very awake.  Since Megan had just moved into her apartment she didn't have any furniture and her TV wasn't even hooked up yet.  We turned on the radio.  It was insane... New York really was "under attack."

I think at some point Megan called her boyfriend.  He was watching it on his TV and describing it to us.  We were both in shock, and it felt like 1945 with us listening to it all on the radio.  After sitting in front of Megan's radio for like an hour, we decided to go buy Megan an antenna for her TV from the store so we could see what was happening. 

We got Megan's car out of the garage and got out on to the street we expected traffic.  It was a week day, school was in session, and usually at this time of day there were cars everywhere... Only, there was no one on the streets that day.  There was no one anywhere.  It was eerie.

When we got to Kmart for the antenna we just stood gaping at the TV screens all showing the attacks.  Again, it was unreal.  I remember thinking that I wondered what would happen next.  We rushed back to  Megan's as fast as we could and got everything set up, and then we sat for hours and hours just watching.

I was supposed to fly out the next day, but the news was reporting that they didn't know when the airports would re-open.  I was supposed to fly to Tucson, AZ to see my very ill Grandmother for a few days before flying back east.  What was I going to do?

I had a rental car, so I ended up calling the rental car company and worked it out for me to drive it down to AZ and check it in when I got there.  The best part was, due to the tragedy they didn't even charge me extra to do it... they just said "Go."

Toward the late afternoon we finally decided to drive down to the beach and take a walk.  There was no one on the freeway.  We got to the beach in record time.  I remember sitting in the sand with Megan reflecting on the events of the day, on life, on everything that came into our heads.  Whoa.

The next morning I got up and drove to Tucson.  There was still no one on the roads.  It made me uncomfortable and I know I was speeding at times.  I made it to Tucson in 7 hours.  My aunt Carolyn and my Grandmother were amazed.  I was so happy to see them.  Not that hanging with my friend Megan wasn't nice, but there was something about being with family that was reassuring.

The airports didn't re-open for a full week, so I was able to spend an extra long time with my Grandma.  She was pretty upset, but she didn't show it often.  Patty Kaeser was a very strong and proud woman.  She was also very beautiful.  It wasn't until the day after I'd arrived there that she broke down sobbing.  She cried for at least an hour and I just sat and held her.  It was her deceased daughter's birthday, and combined with the events of 9/11, I think it was all too much for her.

When I finally got a flight out, I was to fly into Manchester, NH.  My sister would pick me up and then I would drive my car back to NYC.  I remember going through security that day.  I remember it was the first time that everything was different.  I remember the Delta ticket guy giving me trouble because of my last name.  Manchester going to Manchester?  He made me show him more than one form of identification as a precaution.

The plane was empty.  I had an entire row to myself for my cross-country flight.  I figured even though everyone else was terrified of flying, it was now the safest time to fly since everyone was on alert and no one was getting through without a pad down.  The flight attendants couldn't have been nicer either.  It was like being in the first class section throughout the plane.

Funny enough, I remember thinking as I boarded my flight to Manchester, NH, how grateful I was the tragic events of 9/11 afforded me the opportunity to spend that time with my Grandmother.  I was able to be with her when she most needed me.  I was just very sorry it took such a horrible thing to make that possible.

I spent a day or two in New England with my sister and my brother and their families and then I drove back to NYC.  There were military trucks and soldiers everywhere.  A black soot hung in the air.  The normal New York buzz wasn't there- replaced by a sort of lethargic hum.  I was sad.

I didn't go near "the hole."  The closest I got was TriBeCa, and that was 20-40 blocks from Ground Zero... and it still smelled like death.  I remember at some point my brother Morgan and his girlfriend at the time came up to visit and wanted to see it.  I wouldn't go with them.  There was something about it.  In fact I even moved away without going near it.  I didn't see it until a visit to New York almost five years later and it was heavily under construction.  It is certainly something to behold.

On this day, ten years later, I hope we can all take a minute to reflect on how lucky we are.  To think about the men and women that died that day.  The firefighters and police that risked their lives.  The Soldiers that continue to fight for freedom.  Our family, our friends, our neighbors.  Thank you and bless you all!

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