On the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, I was putting the finishing touches on a garden that I had spent digging all summer in the back yard of my house in Hollywood-Santa Monica. I finished sawing down the last metal T-bar from the 60-year-old clothes line, sat down exhausted and enjoyed one of those glorious Dallas sunsets that change from orange to pink to purple. It has stayed in memory, and for a long time afterward, I thought it would be the last "normal" moment I would ever experience.
Because by the time I woke the next morning, the world had changed. Not that I knew it. I had to be at work at 10 and went about my normal routine: reading the paper and listening to CDs as I showered, shaved and dressed. No TV, no radio. Driving downtown as Columbia changed from Main to Canton and, finally, to Wood Street, traffic seemed lighter than normal. Approaching the Morning News building, I noticed police cars everywhere, and, for the first time ever, I had to show I.D. to get into the parking lot. Trash cans had been pulled away from all the walls, and I thought there might have been some sort of threat. Then I ran into a colleague, in tears, who told me that planes were falling out of the sky and the World Trade Center towers were gone.
Six years later, I’m standing on Church Street in Lower Manhattan, peering through a chain-link fence and torn green mesh to where those towers once stood. Tourists are everywhere, speaking languages from Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, all trying to get a look at a place where 3,000 people died. But the tourists are far outnumbered by commuters streaming into a train station that will shuttle them back to New Jersey. If they notice the tourists, or the cops with police dogs, or the signs announcing "This Is a Special Place," they don’t seem to notice. And, really, there’s not much to see. Ground Zero in 2007 looks like what it is — a construction site, filled with newly poured concrete for the future memorial, crew trailers and various pieces of equipment. Someone has placed photos of the same victim — a handsome, dark-haired guy — every 10 feet or so. Each photo is adorned with a black ribbon. American flag posters also hang on the fence, with all of the victims’ names printed over the red and white stripes. On some of the posters, people have scribbled things like "I will never forget you!" or "You live in my thoughts." I touch one of those comments and tear up, but you don’t see anyone crying or praying.
Dozens of ceremonies in New York will mark the 9/11 anniversaries, but the city is not coming to a halt. There will be no citywide moment of silence. New Yorkers — most of whom, like most residents of Dallas, are from somewhere else — will tell you they assume that if or when there’s another attack, it will happen in their city. Yet Osama bin Laden’s rant last week didn’t seem to rattle them, and a New York Times story over the weekend reported that the area near Ground Zero is a more popular residential and nightlife area than before 9/11. It’s that attitude that represents a victory over Bin Laden and the terrorists who plowed those jetliners into the towers.