September 11, 2019-
Growing up in the Boston area, I adopted a love/hate relationship with New York City. It was largely the Red Sox/Yankees thing, then the Celtics/Knicks and, to a lesser extent, Patriots/Jets. As a teen, my feelings towards the Big Apple became more nuanced. No one with a pulse, in Red Sox Nation, was smug or indifferent, when the Yankees’ thirty-two year-old catcher, the great Thurman Munson, was killed whilst practicing piloting his small plane, in August, 1979. Slightly more than ten years later, many felt bad at the accidental death of Billy Martin, a guy Bostonians loved to hate. Martin had been the on-again, off-again manager of the Yankees and loved tormenting the Sox. That did not lessen the pain of his dying on Christmas night, 1989.
My first visit to New York was transitory, whilst traveling between Washington and Boston, at Christmas, 1969. I went from Penn Station to La Guardia, then finally to Grand Central, before settling on a bus that got me, fairly cheaply, to Boston. I remember being teased by a couple of prostitutes, in the subway, almost getting gouged by a ticket agent at La Guardia, and not a whole lot else.
Six years later, I drove a couple of friends from UMass-Amherst, down to Manhattan, and visited some former hotel restaurant customers of mine. It was actually a very nice weekend, Friday night and Saturday, in the Chelsea neighbourhood. I visited Bronx Zoo, on that Sunday morning, and was delighted at how quiet the area was. Yes, I also walked by Yankee Stadium afterward, because-Hey, why not?
Penny was a fan of all things NYC, so we spent a couple of days in Central Park and along the waterfront, when visiting her parents in nearby New jersey. I hung out in Central Park, solo, when attending an American Association of School Counselors convention, in 1984. That was the last time, before 9/11/01, that I saw Manhattan intact.
I was getting some groceries, early that morning, in Phoenix. As I got in the car to go home, and turned on the radio, the morning jock stated that someone had just flown a jumbo jet into the World Trade Center. “Terrorist” hit my mind like a ton of bricks (no pun intended). Penny saw me walk in, crestfallen, i described what I’d heard, and we turned on the TV. CNN had not picked up on the story, so it was business as usual from them and Penny got herself dressed for work, whilst Aram got ready for school. I stayed glued to the screen, knowing that, eventually, a report would come on. Ten minutes later, CNN caught on, and a Day of Infamy for our time played out in front of my eyes.
There were all manner of reports, mostly factual, with a fair amount of misinformation thrown in. Reports came that the National Mall, the State Department, the Capitol, the White House, CIA Headquarters, the Sears Tower (Chicago) and downtown Los Angeles were being attacked. My mind pictured a latter day Orson Welles intoning “War of the Worlds”. A French conspiracy theorist immediately began claiming this was all a hoax, using holograms, designed to instigate was with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He turned out to be partially right- Iraq, as well as the Taliban, became targets of the U.S. Military. There were, however, no holograms.
The images coming out of lower Manhattan, and elsewhere in New York and New Jersey, were all too real, all too horrific. I would later visit each of the sites impacted by the plane crashes of that eternal morning: Shanksville, in 2009; Ground Zero, in 2013 and the Pentagon, in 2014. What I saw on that last visit convinced me that there was no hoax. Metal fragments and burnt soil remain, here and there, at the Memorial Park. Ground Zero has impacted thousands of people, many of whom are still suffering. Shanksville’s residents, including the farmer on whose property the plane came down, bear uniform witness to the event that forever changed their lives.
Eighteen years later, there remain many questions, but no doubt as to the fact that the innocence of two generations was shattered on that Latterday of Infamy.