I read BrainRants’ once-a-week, daily post two days ago, and realized that 9/11 had sneaked by me, not because it wasn’t important, but because time seems to slip past me so quickly now. When I was a kid, the summer vacation seemed to last a whole year. Now that I’m retired, a whole year seems to slip past in a week.
When I worked, I could measure the passage of time by the disappearance of cans of Pepsi. I took one to the plant every day I worked. A case of 24 got me through just over a month, and I had the feeling of accomplishing something. Nowadays I mark time by the disappearance of anti-histamine pills from a blister pack, and helping the wife and I stay healthy is about as productive as it gets.
My memory is poor, but who could forget 9/11? We got the news on the line at work from supervisors and QC managers. I went straight home after work and was watching TV when the towers collapsed. Suddenly, the embassy bombing, the attack on the Cole, and the previous internal attempt to blow the Trade Center all meshed. I knew that everything was about to change.
It changed for us about a month and a half later. We had planned to drive a second time to Charleston, SC, for a week’s vacation. The previous year we had crossed the border at Detroit. A couple of perfunctory questions, and we were waved through. This time, we crossed over at Buffalo. There were twice the number of border guards, some of them wearing pistols, some of them leading dogs, some of them with articulated poles with mirrors on the ends.
The questions were hard and tight. Who were we? Where were we from? Why did we want to get into the US? Where were we going? How long would we be there? All the while, the guy with the dog circled the car in one direction, and the guy with the mirror inspected my exhaust and oil pan from the other.
I was driving a station-wagon at that time, and I knew that they would want a look inside, so I pushed the hatch unlock button. Unlike vans, the hatch did not rise on its own; it had to be raised by hand. The wife told me to stay with the car, and she would open it when they asked. Soon the command came, and it was a command, not a request, to open the back. Two things happened almost simultaneously. We almost had two guns pointed at us. When the hatch didn’t immediately pop open, the officer on my side of the car must have thought I was ignoring him, and shouted the command again, adding the word, now!
On the wife’s side of the car, she was getting out to raise the lid, and the guard on her side suddenly jumped back and grabbed for his side-arm. I explained to my guy that someone had to raise the hatch, and, since he wasn’t doing it, my wife would. Things calmed down, a little. They started pawing through our stuff, which had been clearly visible through the windows. We had taken our Koolatron portable refrigerator, but were using it just as a box to hold various items. The power rectifier/cord was in a small wicker basket with some other things, so that it wouldn’t get lost. When they came upon that, all Hell broke loose!
What was this infernal electric/electronic device? Was it a controller for a bomb? Could we bring down airplanes with it? Even after we explained its use, they still wanted to know why it wasn’t with/in the Koolatron. That’s full! You just looked in it!
The entire feel of the country was different from previous trips. When we got to Charleston, we found that there had been rules enacted to prevent anyone from fishing within twenty yards of any bridge abutment, despite the fact that, some of the best fishing is in the shadow of the bridges.
America had lost her virginity. Not that the 3000+ lives lost in the twin-towers holocaust weren’t important, but three thousand out of three hundred million is a mere pinprick. It was the pinprick, however, which let the air out of the USA’s carefree isolation. The Japanese were stopped at Pearl Harbor. These rats had got right into the pantry.
People questioned our going down to the States, “Where they’re having all that trouble.” But the day before we left, there had been a bomb report phoned in at the company the wife worked for. There ultimately was no bomb, but the prank caller got his money’s worth. He emptied out the head-office building, and three local branch office buildings. A couple of weeks previously, I noticed a church deacon wandering around the balcony where we were seated, during the sermon. The service was cut short and we were asked to vacate the building because someone had called in a bomb threat….to a church! A week after we got back, an aerosol recycling plant almost no-one knew existed, had an explosion, significant enough to close a section of the city. We just think we’re safe.
Eleven years later, things are still changing. Some restrictions are relaxing; others are still tightening up. In just over a week, we will be taking a weekend trip to metro Detroit. This will be our first border crossing in three years, and the first time we will need to provide passports. You’re not allowed to smile for passport photos. Dealing with bureaucracy is not conducive to smiling anyway.
I once read a book called The Wasp, where an agent created havoc in an enemy country through minor actions. Forty years later, the wasps have arrived, and ruined our innocence. I remember and mourn those who needlessly died that unforgettable day, and I salute and respect those like BrainRants, who strive to give back what freedom and peace of mind we can hold.