Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11th Remembered


Thirteen years ago on September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked four airliners.  Unlike previous airline hijackings in which the hijackers sought ransom money or escape to another country, these four planes were hijacked to use as flying bombs.

Like most Americans alive then, I remember that day.

It began normally. Like other mornings I got up early and checked my email.

Signing into Yahoo I noticed a small headline about a plane having crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  I remembered as a youth having seen an old movie on TV about a plane flying into the Empire State Building on a foggy night.  My father commented that this had really happened and, seeing the Yahoo headline, I assumed that the pilot of a small plane had been in a fog or had flown off course and had crashed into the WTC.  If the Empire State building had withstood  a small plane flying into it then so could the the larger WTC, so I proceeded to my email and thought no more about it.

After breakfast I got my two sons into the car and we headed off to school and work.  As usual, one of them immediately turned on the car radio expecting their favorite FM rock station but instead got a news commentator from the AM talk station I listened to when they weren't in the car.  They pushed the AM/FM button but the same man kept talking.  Pushing the button again and same reporter was still talking.  In frustration my older son changed to another FM rock station and the same fellow was still speaking.  

I suddenly remembered that all three stations were owned by the same broadcaster and that something was going on.  It took a couple of minutes before the reporter finished the details he was discussing and gave an update on the towers having been hit by an airplane for those who had just turned in.

This is when I learned that it wasn’t a small plane going off course and flying into the World Trade Center but a commercial airliner full of highly flammable jet fuel that had been taken over by hijackers and deliberately flown into the World Trade Center.

After dropping my boys off at their respective schools, I drove to work where everyone on the office was talking about the attack.  While the community college I worked for remained open all day, most of us spent as much time on listening to updates from radios and the Internet as we did working.  The school officials did eventually announce that all evening classes would be cancelled and the college would shut down completely when the work day ended at 5 pm.

It was my youngest son’s 14th birthday and I had promised to buy some pizza and take it to the school cafeteria for him and his friends for lunch.  

I called my pizza order in to a small pizza parlor down the street and left early for lunch.  When I arrive at the pizza parlor the young lady at the pizza parlor looked shaken and told me that she had recently moved to Tucson from New York City and was worried about friends and relatives back in New York.  That is when I remembered that I had two cousins whom I hadn’t seen in years as well as my Mother’s cousin all whom lived in the New York City area.  

While none of my relatives lived in Manhattan, my two cousins did work there while my Mother’s cousin had retired and lived out in Queens.  

I managed to get my pizzas and get them over to my son and his friends, but due to heavy traffic, I was somewhat late and don’t know how much of it  they actually got to eat.

I had to wait to get home to make calls about my family.  All the lines to New York City were tied up but I was able to get ahold of my two cousin’s sister in Connecticut.  She had received an email from my cousin Tom’s wife saying that he had made it home safely.  He worked on Wall Street either in one of the other towers or a neighboring building and had been able to see the fire from his office.

His building evacuated and he spent the rest of the day walking around the traffic jams and ultimately making his way home to Brooklyn on foot.  With most public transit shut down and some bridge closures it took him hours to finally make it home.

It turned out that the company that my other cousin worked for had decided to escape the high rents in Manhattan and had moved most of their staff to an office building across the river in New Jersey a couple of years before. This cousin  had seen the towers burning but was safely away from the target area.

I wasn’t able to reach my Mother’s cousin either but did receive a call from my sister in Western New York who informed me that he and his family were safe in their home that was a safe distance from lower Manhattan.

One of my sisters had been attending some sort of trade gathering in Toronto at the time of the attack and, with the border closed and all non-military aircraft in the U.S. grounded, she ended up spending a few extra days in Toronto.

I was fortunate that everyone I knew had come through safely.  And, living in Arizona, I was far from the the disaster area.

However, I was impacted slightly a couple of years later.  Shortly after the terror attack I met and fell in love with a woman from Russia.  Having been divorced and a single parent for over a decade I was ready for a new love.  

Things went fine for us except that new laws and regulations and the consolidation of border security and immigration in the new Department of Homeland Security resulted in some obstacles and delays in our coming together.  It took longer than usual to process the paperwork to bring my new fiancee and her two children to the U.S.

Once here, I discovered that the Department of Homeland Security was so busy changing signs and headings on stationery that brought the processing of green cards to a crawl.  It thus took close to six months for my wife to get a green card allowing her to work.  

This was the economic impact of 9/11 on my household finances.  Upon her arrival my household doubled in size from my two sons and me to now include my wife, my two sons, her son and daughter and me - moving from supporting a household of three to one of six puts a big dent in a family’s finances.  

But we tightened our belts and made it through.  Her green card finally arrived on a Saturday and by the following Wednesday she had found a job and started working.

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