I will never forget September 11th 2001 and the effect that day would have on life as we know it. I was living in New York in a small town called Hastings on Hudson just up the Hudson River from NYC. On that particular morning I was on east 20th street and 3rd avenue at a doctor appointment. While sitting in the waiting room I noticed that the staff was playing the radio news over the sound system. People were reading their newspapers and, by and large, not paying attention to what was being said. What I heard was that a “small plane” had hit one of the world trade center towers. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard what I had just heard. No reaction.
I went in to see the doctor and we casually chatted about the bizarre occurrence (still thinking it was merely a small plane that had hit the tower). When I exited the examination room and was settling up at the front desk the nurse said that one of the towers had fallen down. She had a pretty strong accent and I just figured that I had heard her wrong. In any case, I left the doctor’s office and walked out onto 20th street. The sky was full of smoke, and there were hundreds of people walking up 3rd avenue, some covered in white dust. At this point I went into a restaurant to grab some breakfast and watch the news. It was at this point that the 2nd tower came down. They kept playing this scene over and over on the television. There was talk of more planes in the sky that were potentially going to crash into something. It felt like the world was ending.
I left the restaurant and went to the lot where my car was parked. On the way I passed Cabrini Hospital. A triage area with stretchers and medical supplies was set up on the sidewalk. What was so telling was the fact that there was no one being treated. This was a tell tale sign that there would be very few survivors from the WTC event.
The parking attendant said that Manhattan Island had been sealed off and all public transportation had been shut down. My only thought was to get home to my family before the world ended. What would normally take 30 minutes wound up taking 5 hours? I slowly drove north through the middle of Manhattan, picking up people as I went along who needed a ride.
At one point a woman and her 4 year old were in my car. The radio was on, and they were describing people jumping out of the world trade center and falling to their death. The woman placed her hands over her child’s ears. I then turned off the radio. None of this seemed real. Thankfully the bridge from Manhattan to Riverdale in the Bronx was still open, and I was able to drive out of NYC and complete the drive to Hastings.
We were hearing stories about families who had lost loved ones, about people who worked in or near the WTC barely escaping with their lives. My brother’s wife, who works for Goldman Sachs, was running north when the huge cloud of debris from the second tower began to envelope her. She had to duck into a bank and sit there for hours until the cloud subsided. A son of two of our good friends in Brooklyn was in Stuyvesant High School next to the World Trade Center that morning, and was told to run north and don’t look back. A neighbor spoke of running down the stairs of tower 2 and feeling the building sway when the second plane hit the tower. One of his office mates asked, “Are we going to die?”
For the next year it seemed like the New York area was under siege. There were roadblocks at all entry points into Manhattan, and daily reports of possible terrorist attacks. Every possibility from dirty bombs to biological weapons to mysterious letters with toxic white powder actually being sent to people in government was cited as justification for the lock-down of NYC. My 20-minute ride from Hastings into Manhattan was now taking 2 hours. The world had changed.
Scare tactics? It felt a little like the doctor who runs a million unnecessary tests (like radioactive CT scans) to cover their ass should a dire illness arise?
At first flying became a much more pleasant experience. The planes were empty. People were afraid to fly, hence the life of the traveling musician got considerably easier. This all changed once the heightened security measures were put into place, far fewer flights were offered, and the airlines were able to fill up all the planes. At this point everyone was placed under careful (or maybe miss-directed) scrutiny at all airports. A lot of this made very little sense to me. Old people were being frisked. Our 12-year-old son was frisked. A TSA official took my saxophone away from me at a checkpoint and would not let me help her open the case. She almost dropped the horn as things were falling out of every pocket on the case. When I tried to explain that this was a delicate and valuable musical instrument two large goons surrounded me and threatened to remove me from the airport.
As we look back over the last 10 years many questions arise.
Why were we duped into believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was somehow in cahoots with the Taliban in order to justify the major U.S. military build-up in the Middle East?
Why do we always take the presumptuous stance that assumes the best thing for countries we invade is a similar form of democracy to what we practice in the U.S.? How can we presume that this will even work, or that the citizens of that country are comfortable with that way of life? Again, to make an analogy to American Medical Association practice, the policy is to kill the disease even if you wind up seriously compromising or even killing the patient. Is this the best option for all concerned?
To our government’s credit there have been no subsequent terrorist acts on U.S. soil since 9/11. The extra security measures seemed to have worked, although the acts of terrorism did move to Spain and the U.K. Was torturing the enemy really necessary? Did it exacerbate the problem?
In the Mel Brooks film History of the World Part 1 (I’m still waiting for part 2). King Louis XIV is depicted in his palace being informed that his people are getting ready to start an uprising. “Sire, the peasants are revolting”. The King replies, “Revolting, they are disgusting!”
Was it this chasm between the aristocracy and common people in the world that set the stage for the extremism that led to 9/11 and the years to follow? When all is not well on main street is the tendency for frustration and hatred more likely to fester and cause conflict?
My contribution to the situation in the world is to spread love and inspiration through music. In some small way I would like to think that this could make a difference. In the process I hope to inspire people to seek the truth and do the right thing.