Tag Archives: travel

U.P Morning

From the porch of our small cabin the lake is silver, tinged bolder near the horizon against the pewter fog bank pushing in from the Canadian side. Glimpses of amber morning light are scattered by the towering pines gathered at the lakeshore as a vanguard to their kin dominating the great expanse of near impenetrable forest.

The forest awakens from a night of rain grudgingly. The cool soft perfume of pine and wet moss is omnipresent. The forest remains silent for the moment, but for the lazy patter of furtive rain drops from the branches above falling upon summer fattened leaves. The drops beg the soul to discern a rhythm in concert with their whispering cousins.

Ana is making coffee, its bitter dark scent a contrast to the latent chill of the air. One by one the birds awaken. A family of gulls sweeps silent and low across the lake, enough that the urgent  beat of their bent wings disturbs the surface ever so slightly. For a moment I am with them, charging headlong across the lake. I m parceling the sublime perfection of this morning, measured in heartbeats coaxed and cajoled into nothing deeper than to comprehend the commodity of all this. Some of this will remain here and private for me alone. Some will be saved and spent when the world intrudes and assails my heart.

The lake remains silver, even now as the fog filters in, their gray parent clouds falling as a blanket over the shoreline; deepening shadows and softening the world. That amber light is disappeared, scattered and lessened in this mist. The fringes of the world become less defined, the patter on summer fat leaves slower.

Ana steps out cradling her coffee and finds a seat on the porch. One wonders over the thoughts of others, and how they come to a moment such as this. I might wonder how she comes to this, but with her first sip of steaming coffee I can see the tension dissolve from her shoulders  and know she feels the same.

Seems everyone has an opinion about Ted Nugent’s so-called threat to Obama at the NRA convention this week. Pundits on the Left remind us of his own boasting how he didn’t bathe and deficated in his pants to get out of the draft during the Vietnam War, or that his clearly vapid rant about Obama was indeed a threat to the President’s personal safety. On the Right, they are all too willing to excuse anything, especially since their plastic claymation candidate has the Republican party against the ropes in the upcoming election. All of them miss the real issue. They all of failed to see the ultimate truth of this entire issue. And that boils down to this one simple observation, so simple that it defies imagination that no one in the media, the secret service, FOX or MSNBC has hit upon it at all. And that is, who has listened to or bought a Ted Nugent record in the last 30 years. When Mike Huckabee thinks you are a rocker, you aren’t a rocker any longer- you’re lame. When Mike Huckabee defines Rock and Roll, well, my friends, Rock and Roll really has died..

A Lifetime: The twenty year seige-Part 1

Twenty Years ago I was sitting in the studio of a little old Jewish sculptor, Milton Horn. Eighty-six, the Russian Born artist, and friend to the late Frank Lloyd Wright, was lamenting that he was the last of the “true classical artists.” Upon the table beside me, a posed photograph of his late wife Estelle, resplendent in a silver-tint nude art pose taken many years before. In the musty, languishing air of his studio, light filtering  dull and gray through tall shuttered windows, Horn wagged his finger at me almost scoldingly.

“Get away from Chicago,” he urged. “Get out of America and go to Florence and study the great Masters.”

I was resolved from that moment, but being a greater fan of the modern decided that I would go to Barcelona and study in the home of Picasso, Miro and Dali, whose work I found relationship to Horn’s style. Horn, clearly not an admitted fan of the Modern, scoffed at the idea, but relented grudgingly, conceding(or rationalizing) that I would inevitably pick up classical arts education if nothing else by simply walking the streets of an old European city. 

I would, I resolved. I would pay all my bills in advance, pack my cat, Manhattan, off to my parents, and go off to Europe until my funds were exhausted. But Europe was in transition, and parts of it rushing headlong from the chaos of that transition into complete disaster. The first reports from Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital were only just emerging. Those headlines told of snipers, random shelling, roundups of men and something new called “Ethnic cleansing.” It was a phrase I immediately recognized for what it truly was, a phrase the UN and Western governments seemed all too careful to avoid using: Genocide. Like calling rape “non-consentual intercourse.” 

Reports began to emerge about artists not simply struggling to survive, as food and water became scarcer, and the search for those necessities became increasingly deadly gambles on Sarajevo’s streets. More and more the idea of my studies and explorations in Barcelona and elsewhere in Europe became increasingly inane. Sarajevo, I decided was where I needed to be. I would show solidarity with those stalwart and besieged Bosnian artists. I would place my own existence on the line for what had been, up to that point, merely words and ideals about human rights. And there was something more.

Not  sure if I fully realized it then, but something stronger was drawing me to Bosnia and the war. Hardly satisfied with the media’s oversimplification, and painfully ignorant about Yugoslavia, which Bosnia was seeking to break from, I began to obsess over the culture and history. I devoured the history of Yugoslavia and southern Europe from Russian, Yugoslav, Ottoman, German, Italian and Western sources. I read all of the literature I could find, like Andric and Selimovic, and watched classic Yugoslav movies from a local video store, “When Father was away on business,” and classic war films like “Igmanski Mars,” “March to the Drina,” and “Tito and me.”  

One night, exhausted from work, newspapers and books scattered on the bed beside me, I sketched an illustration about the conflict. It portrayed the haunting image of a young woman standing beside the coffin of a child, the war raging behind them. The Islamic crescent was etched upon the coffin, a Christian cross around the woman’s neck. Little did I realize the faithful place where sketch would lead…

Part 2

Naked on a highway in Dalmatia

Hardly more than twenty-four hours earlier I was slogging up a foggy Bosnian mountainside, escaping the war-ravaged Sarajevo valley under sporadic sniper fire. Forced to leave my new wife behind, I made it later the next morning to the besieged town on Mostar, and finally, by mid afternoon to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast.  As night fell, I drifted into an exhausted sleep for the 13 hour bus ride to Zagreb, a full five hours longer since Croatian Army checkpoints and Serb held lands encroached and threatened the two lane highway.

The inky curtains of night, scented with drizzling rain brought a chill through the crowded old Yugoslav Centrotrans bus. I managed a small pocket of warmth beneath my jacket by curling tightly on the worn green vinyl bus seat. i looked up briefly as the bus pulled off the road into the jaundiced light of a road side restaurant. I’d recalled the place from a previous trip. It was an oasis of sorts, miles from the nearest town. I tucked my head under the jacket and went back to sleep.

A short time later I awoke. The bus was nearly empty. A few souls dozed in their seats. Most had gone in for a drink or a meal. Under that jacket, and better than two days since washing, I had even begun to offend myself. I decided a little cleansing was in order.

Leaving my jacket and the rest of my things on the seat, I grabbed my toothbrush, a clean pair of socks and climbed down from the bus, struggling to find my legs at first. I stretched with a yawn and looked back along that dark two-lane highway. To one side lay the Serb-held hills, to the other the sea.

Inside the sounds of diners and the glare of lights were almost assaulting. I paused, looked over to the bus driver, still working on a tiny cup of Turkish coffee, and nodded. In the tiny restroom I grabbed a hand full of towels and stripped to the waist. The cold splash of water fought against the lingering sleep in my body, the tooth-brush and fresh socks brought me a bit closer to humanity. 

 There were  a hand full of Croatian Kuna in my pocket, enough to buy a soda. Stepping out into the diningroom I paused, the realization that the place was suddenly empty not quite taking hold for the moment. Through the plate glass window, just pulling back out onto the highway was the bus!

Swearing loudly, I was off in an instant, bursting through the door, vaulting a short wall and sprinting across the gravel lot after the bus. I yelled, and yelled again, charging into the road, but to no avail. I watched, still running, socks and toothbrush in hand, as the bus went over the hill and disappeared into the black Croatian night.

I kept running, waving my arms. What else could i do? My passport, journals from the war, marriage documents that would get my new wife to America and the one credit card I possessed were on that bus bound for Zagreb. Never in my life, not in the war or anywhere else did I feel so naked and helpless as I did at that instant on that dark deserted road.

A horn blared from behind as a semi-truck swerved around me before it too was swallowed by the night. I kept running, now thinking it was time to head back to the restaurant and call some authority, but as I reached the crest of the hill I was amazed to find the truck driver had somehow signaled the bus. They sat beside the road a little better than a half mile ahead. Shouting at the top of my lungs, I covered the distance in record time, embracing the truck driver and getting a round of applause from all those aboard the bus. 

I collapsed into my seat, pouring sweat, heart pounding madly, more from the thought of what might have happened that night. After a time I started to laugh, and soon couldn’t stop laughing, drawing some odd looks from other passengers. I don’t recall that I stopped laughing that night, only that I awoke the next morning as the bus pulled into Zagreb. Never had that city looked so good.

Ocuppy Chicago: conversations with a banker.

I scared this poor girl. She was having a conversation with a banker in front of the federal reserve, and I sort of butted in. Surprising, since I rarely have much of an opinion on anything. In my defense, she was struggling. He had facts and knows the system, as he should. it seemed a great opportunity to engage someone on the other side in a friendly and thoughtful conversation. The banker, dressed in a neatly pressed blue shirt had taken the time, very much to his credit, to engage with his fellow Americans. Unlike Congress, he was showing his humility and ,In my opinion, was absolutely  open to what the protesters had to say.

“I’d lower the corporate tax rate, because they are already paying 19%, the highest corporate tax rate in the world,” he said. The girl did not have the figures. This guy lives and dies by numbers. He needed numbers.

A businessman engages protesters in conversation at Friday's protest

“You know, through deductions, loop holes and subsidies, large corporations in this country pay little or no federal tax. When they do, they usually settle for less than ten cents on the Dollar.”

Technically speaking it does have the second highest rate in the industrialized world, just behind Japan. My banker friend pointed that out, but practically speaking they pay much less than foreign competitors, again thanks to loopholes, deductions and subsidies which often do not exist in competing nations.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/business/economy/25tax.html?_r=1  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/03/business/economy/03rates.html

“So what would you do?” he asked.

I proposed, first, an international minimum wage, tied to an individual nations GDP, which takes the romance out of playing populations against each other in a never-ending race to the bottom. That would level the playing field internationally, keeping corporations at home, and all but erasing potential trade war issues.. He nodded,thoughtfully, but wasn’t convinced it could be enforced. I replied that I was involved in Bosnia and Rwanda, and that the perpetrators of the genocides are now on trial in an International Court, under International law. There are sanctions that are applied to rogue states, The IMF and World bank, all of which are vehicles for compliance.

“All right, what else?” he pressed, accepting the basic premise at least.

Greater enforcement, I said, in the tax code. Success and wealth and prosperity are fantastic and should be nurtured. Indeed, this country-this country-this nation provides a rare opportunity to encourage wealth and success, and that should come at a cost. No one gets to abuse that privilege. If we take a page from the Right, who famously argues that things like health care are not a right but a privilege, can’t we also say that about wealth, or anything in this society? If rights are now completley negotiable, they all are negotiable-for everyone. Perhaps we defer to the anti-choice crowd and say that being a fetus is a right, after that, it is up to the powers that be to decide what is and isn’t a privilege.    

“But do you just take it from them?” he said, truly with sincerity.

Even if it is only in the short-term, corporations have to understand their responsibility to this society as a condition of the privilege to succeed here. If corporations were suffering, but their profits are historic, while the gap between rich and poor becomes obscene. Fiscally that responsibility is no different that a soldier who risks their life for this nation. “When people are suffering you have that responsibility to the nation that nurtures your success. That is, in summation, is what all of these people are out here saying.”

With that we shook hands with a respectful smile and parted ways.


Truth and Lies: Musings from the bike trail

Its forty-seven miles by bicycle from the Wisconsin border to my doorstep on the North side of Chicago. There’s a stunning bike path for a good stretch, more or less from the Great Lakes naval Air Station almost to Winnetka. It was a brisk Autumn day today. The leaves were just changing and a steady wind was coming off Lake Michigan, The wind and cool temperatures no doubt conspired to chase off the summer and fair-weather riders, leaving only hardcore adventurists.

On the trail near Fort Sheridan in Northern Illinois

That near solitude, the smell of wet leaves from the previous day’s rain and a mottled sky with patches of rich blue between fat grayish-white clouds lent itself perfectly to odd musings. Passing through North Chicago, a struggling town just outside the Naval Air Station, where unemployment is as problematic as the crime level, a town like so many others around the nation, in which the “American Dream” is fast becoming at best an illusion and at worst a hypocrisy, I had a thought.

It had to do with the truths and lies we tell ourselves, that the media fills the culture with and which our leaders recite almost mechanically and certainly in an obligatory reflex. The difficulty is in separating truth from lies and fact from fiction. That task, and responsibility as an American citizen and voter, becomes harder every day, more so as agenda driven information and propaganda makes it more difficult than ever to tell the difference. And that is very much by design.

This culture uses words like lies and facts and truth with careless disregard. But the truth is, lies and truths have something in common. They both rely upon facts. Both include and exclude facts to define their character. But while facts are bricks, a pile of bricks does not make a house. A set of facts may create some truth, but they may also reinforce a lie. By purposeful omission, or rearrangement facts become a lie. Indeed, a truth may also be a lie, as in a partial truth, or say, FOX News; the News part becoming at the very least a supreme exaggeration.

What each of us is seeking(or seeking to obscure) are ultimate truths. That is truths that are well beyond mere facts, and absolutely not a lie.For example, there is an ultimate truth to whether or not God exists. For now, that ultimate truth is unknowable and untestable. since facts alone fail us here, we bridge that immense gap with faith-the polar opposite of fact.

It may be said that faith is the  acceptance in at least one possibility of an ultimate truth. But faith is not a fact, and faith alone is a choice. Reason dictates that our faith is potentially the belief in a falsehood. One who has faith has a responsibility to understand that alternate faiths are then equally valid.

In the end could it be that there may be no real truth, but only lies and shades of the truth, and faith? So where does that leave us? If truths and ultimate truths fail us, what is left?

The media is more and more under the control of corporations. More and more it plays a game between satiating its consumer audience, while steering the nation and government towards corporate governance and control. The Occupy Wall street protests, now catching on in cities around the nation are illustrative here. When they began two weeks ago, I had to look to news organizations outside the country for information. There was not a single story in MSNBC-owned by GE, a major weapons contractor, or FOX-News Corp and CNN-owned by Time Warner, who contributed the maximum allowable amount to George Bush in 2005.

The media, with so-called Liberal bias like MSNBC and Right-wing bias like FOX, dominate and steer the discourse  on topics of grave national interest through carefully channelled and scripted arguments, and in very much the same direction.

Take the Iraq invasion. In the weeks and months leading up there was ample evidence that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Evidence was forged, critics of the invasion were pilloried and discredited for daring to point out that even the most credible reports had come from highly unreliable and even corrupt sources. Chris Matthews, castigated by the Right, and held up on the Left for his insight never once debated before the invasion what should have been obvious questions to the rest of us. He finally did, several years, many thousands of lives and a trillion Dollars later. The media’s truth was a self-serving truth, but it revealed a truth beyond even ultimate truth.

The trail

It contributed to and created real human pain and suffering. Human pain might well prove the profoundest truth, and the only truth impervious to lies, distortions, facts and faith. For each of us, our own pain becomes the ultimate truth. At the end of all lies is human pain, which arises from the individual as a wall. Where your pain meets the pain of another becomes, in the absence of real truth, the point of negotiation. From each person’s perspective the other’s pain is hardly equal to their own, but there is ultimate equality in their opposing pain. It was, after all the true basis for the civil rights movement, and indeed all assertions of minorities for their rights. It is even at the heart of those sadly mislead and exploited folks that believe the Tea Party isn’t merely a populist front for predatory corporate greed.

So, at the end of all truth,  when truths are distorted or framed artfully to be just this side of a lie we are left to negotiate one another’s pain. It transcends media and propaganda and politics. It becomes the point in which each of us draws a line in the sand and forces us to face other human beings as equals. I think Jesus said it best…do onto others… 

And, oh, by the way. Just in case you were wondering, with a couple scenic detours, the ride from Wisconsin back to the city takes about 3 hours. Lots of time to chase errant thoughts.

Brushes with a Balkan warlord

By spring of 1994 I was back in the Balkans, my second trip to the war in Bosnia. Each time I went purposely to Serbia’s capital, Belgrade to challenge the Western media’s alleged bias against the Serbs. To be sure, and that was my assessment even then, the Serbian government, with both tacit and explicit support of the majority of Serbs, bore the lion’s share of responsibility for the violence and atrocities in the embattled former-Yugoslav republics. Not completely, but they controlled the vast majority of Yugoslav arms and had perpetrated the vast majority of the brutality against Croat and Bosniak former countrymen. Were there justifications? Sure.

But justifications are excuses and not at all consistent with morality and human rights. As a nation, the Serbs were wrong. A great many Serbs I met, however, did not support nor subscribe to their government and the nationalist fervor blinding Serbia’s national soul.

Arkan and his so-called Tigers

Few during the conflict embodied the genocide in Croatia and Bosnia like the Serbian warlord, Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic. I was well acquainted with his resume as an assassin for the pre-war Yugoslav government, and then a bank robber wanted by Interpol. When the war in Croatia began, Arkan’s militia, the so-called, “Tigers,” grown from Serbian special forces and hardened criminals, distinguished themselves against poorly armed and poorly trained Croats and against villagers and unarmed civilians. An agreement to split war booty with the Belgrade government opened the door for wholesale genocide in Croatia and Bosnia driven by sheer greed. Arkan seemed bigger than life. Belgrade friends were terrified even to whisper his name in public, a strayed from conversation even in private.

It was a warm spring that year in Belgrade. Exploring the city and countryside by day, I would retire to a cafe at the Hotel Slavija, overlooking a bustling park and roundabout,  with food kiosks to one side and the unending theater of an amazing and vibrant city. Catching up in my journal, I’d have a beer or two before returning to my room at the Park Hotel. The war in Bosnia was heating up. A few weeks earlier a Serb shell killed scored is a Sarajevo market. I was anxious about venturing into the war zone again.

This time I was travelling with a heavy Kevlar police vest, considered contraband in Serbia and Bosnian Serb territory, just as my cameras and film were as a foreigner. For a couple of weeks prior to the trip I’d taken the advice of a cop friend back in Chicago. To acclimate to the weight and heat I started jogging in the vest. To acclimate myself to fear, I jogged through the Cabrini Green house project, then won of the worst crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country.. I was well acquainted with gangs and knew gang members. It all seemed good preparation for the Balkans.

One evening at the cafe in Belgrade several armed bodyguards in track suits appeared, carefully casing the place as they scowl and circulated through the tables. A moment later Arkan arrived, with some over-made debutante on his arm and yet another weasle-y looking bodyguard, in the ubiquitous track suit that was about a size and a half too big. They decided on a nearby table, the previous patrons scurrying away to another table.

I was stunned. Here was a man rendered bigger than life. painted as a legend in Serbia, and a monster elsewhere, his face plastered across city walls as part of a parliamentary bid, I expected, well, something more. Instead, I found a man exceedingly average in every respect. He wore a big cross around his neck, which he’d famously bragged once about how he was a great Christian. I think he believed it. I recall a vacuous nature to the man when our eyes met briefly. Morality was obviously an unnatural concept to him. Self-serving pragmatism was his singular motivation. I couldn’t help  a smile at the thought that his bodyguards, one of whom I recognized from war images, appeared so little and inconsequential.

Ron Haviv's photo of Arkan's men murdering Muslim civilians in Bosnia, 1992

Placed in any tough neighborhood back home, these men would be eaten alive and spit out without any more consideration. They weren’t a militia. They were a gang, and Raznatovic their pallid sovereign. The reputation came in the unblinking brutality of their actions; heavily armed thieves and bullies and thugs. There wasn’t the slightest remorse when I learned in January 2000 he’d been assassinated, shot in the eye, likely to keep him from testifying against President Milosevic. He might have stood trial for the thousands he butchered, but then again fate and justice rarely write the world we wish to see, but only the world that is.

What do Republicans and Democrats have against innocent little Frogs???

Seriously. Both sides are using these cute little amphibians in a cruel analogy meant to demonize each others insidious ideologies. And it’s got to stop before some crazy whack-job on one or both sides commits a terrible act of frog-abuse. Dear god, can we back off the rhetoric that only encourages violence against our pond-dwelling friends? When does it end? When Kermit is floating face down in a bubbling cauldron? Doesn’t anyone think of the tadpoles?

You’ve heard it. You’ve heard the whole, put a frog in boiling water and he’ll jump right out, dirge. Why would anyone even think of something that sick and twisted? Even worse, put a frog in cool water and turn the heat up slowly…Sounds like something Dick Cheney would advocate on some black prison lillipad.

And its always frogs. Why, because their dumb? That sort of broad generalization sounds a bit to me like, well, Amphipianism. Aside from just assuming that all frogs like water. You probably just assume that all of them live in swamps, right? I think that says far more about you than frogs. What about tree frogs, or toads? Seems dangerous and bigoted to paint all frogs with the same brush.

But why frogs? Because with those little forearms they can’t fight back very well? No teeth to bite, just that annoying sticky tongue?, or because their legs are delicious fried with a bit of garlic butter? No one ever says, drop a raccoon in water, or a gibbon or a gila monster. They wouln’t take that crap!

Maybe frogs are just too nice for their own good.  Pitted against mean Dems and Republicans, easily 140 times their size, who have the advantage of knowing how to work a stove, the frogs just don’t stand a chance.

Certainly some sort of legislation is needed for those tempted to use sauce pans for misbegotten purposes. Should everyone simply be allowed to weild these as a weapon in the proximity of our cold-blooded little friends? Maybe a 10 day waiting list to purchase pans to allow the anti-frog sentiments to dissipate? Or perhaps no sauce and simmer pans within a 1000 yards of a pond or leafy-dewey garden. Do I even need to mention the horrible images evoked by the mention of a double boiler?

I say that if Progressives and Conservatives can’t agree to protect even a little frog in boiling water, if they are that mean and cold-hearted what chance do the rest of us have? So I am calling for a Constitutional convention for an Ammendment to protect the Right’s of frogs. The least among us, right? What would Jesus do? Is anyone thinking of the tadpoles?

September 11 Recollections #3

It was the following March, a little more than 6 months after the attacks. I was a crisp but clear day I was at the airport, planeside for a trip to Portland, Oregon. Word came over the radio that there was a security issue on the jetbridge that would result in a delay.

Upstairs on the jetbridge I found the flight crew trying to calm a near hysterical woman. She was demanding that something be done about a suspicious character she’d spied at the gate who was now seated at the back of the plane. Corporate security and the police arrived a moment later. The woman was adamant.

“He was chanting something,” she said, ‘rocking back and forth, and then he folded up something and stuffed it into his pocket. I couldn’t tell what he was chanting exactly, but it sound like a Muslim prayer.”

The decision was made to hold the plane, while the crew went back and asked the suspicious chanting character to step out of the plane.

About a minute later a small balding man, who reminded me of the George character from Seinfeld, appeared in the door, taken aback by all the commotion. As he passed the woman she glared at him with all the disdain and accusation she could muster, sneering that “yep, he’s the one.”

Quickly surrounded by security, the police and crew the sheepish and thoroughly embarrassed little man scratched his bald head and stammered out a quick explanation.

“I wasn’t chanting,” he said, opening some rolled up pages. “I’m a music teacher at the university of Portland. I was going over a lesson plan; Mozart.” 

“We have a report that you folded up something and stuffed it into your pocket?” asked the security person. “What was that?”

His face flushing bright red, he drew a small cap from his pocket and unfolded it, running a hand across his forehead. “I, I have a window seat and I sunburn easily.”

As he returned to his seat the poor fellow offered heartfelt apologies to every person on that plane. The woman, undaunted, sneered and told the crew before returning to her seat, “Well he ought to know what he was doing looked suspicious. next time maybe he’ll think about it. Just can’t be too careful.”

The crew, cops, security and I all exchanged obvious looks that bespoke the character of the nation post-September 11. Between a hand full of hysterics and a number of opportunists, the rest of us were robbed of a rational non-dysfunctional response to the attacks and the course the nation might have taken afterwards. Worse, the opportunists used the hysterics like puppets to foment chaos and confusion while they ransacked the country. Dissent was met with derision,accusations of being anti-American or worse. When dissent drew support a new terror threat seemed conveniently to arise. The dead from that terrible September day were all but dragged from their graves and used to confuse us all the more, just as the wounded and dead troops were used.

To be sure there were threats, but in being that hysterical person on the plane while not securing the country from lunacy and opportunists, did we cause greater damage to our national soul than the September attacks could ever have hoped to accomplish on their own?  The answer and true damge to the nation still remain to be seen and sorted out.

September 11 Recollections #2

History is about people. It is the avalanche of moments and experiences and decisions. History does not charge or race in times of crisis. History is everything. It is the world moving unstoppable to the future a moment, an hour, a day, and epoch at a time. Only perception and emotion defines the importance of that unending march. It is the emotion and the impact events have upon individual souls that brings humanity to the cold analysis of our shared past. It was those moments and individual faces that defined the true impact of September 11, at least for me. One particular face stands out from all others.

I went upstairs into the terminal, into the chaos and stunned silence after the announcement that flights nationwide had come to a complete stop.. There was a crowd around the customer service desk at the gate. Folks were struggling to get their minds around the incredible concept that nothing was moving anywhere in the United States. One young woman pressed through to the counter. She had long straight hair, her crisp blue eyes were distraught, bordering on panicked.

“Nothing is moving anywhere?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, sympathetic.

“For how long?”

“Indefinitely, they’re telling us.”

“I have to get to Hartford(Connecticut) by tomorrow for my father’s funeral.”

“The best advice I can give you is to get down stairs as fast as you can and rent a car before they’re all…”

She cut me off, her eyes threatening tears. “All I have is this ticket and ten Dollars. I don’t have a credit card.”

She looked at me for the longest time before turning and disappearing into the crowd.

Steadily the terminal emptied. I was wandering, soaking up conversations and moments. A middle-aged business woman rushed up to me and, with a look of utter terror in her eyes said that she’d heard another hijacked plane was headed for the terminal.

“Haven’t heard that,” I told her, though at that moment most anything seemed possible.

“Then why is everyone leaving the airport?” her voice rose almost to hysteria.

“Because there is no reason to be here any more,” I replied, feeling fully the implication inherent in the words.

By noon the terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, then the busiest airport in the world, was a ghost town. The silence was unnerving. The lights had been turned off and all the vendors had gone home, the  shadows and darkness adding a gloom to this wholly unnatural scene.  I was walking through the terminal with a buddy when a Mexican woman appeared with a small child. She spoke no English, but with my simple understanding of Spanish, she revealed she had no money and no means of feeding her child. Her return flight to Mexico was obviously cancelled. In a scene no doubt repeated thousands of times throughout the nation and world, she was trapped. 

She sort of followed us through the terminal for a while until we found a manager who held some vouchers for  a local hotel, offering to take the woman there, as she obviously could not afford a taxi, if she could have found one. We gave her what money we had, hoping that the flights would begin before the vouchers and that meager bit of cash ran out.

I left work early that day. There was no reason to remain. The airline had hired a lot of good people that summer. A number fit in quickly, proving themselves as reliable and hardworking. It had been a dream job. Despite the dangers, the pay was excellent, with great benefits, the travel benefit notwithstanding. One of the new guys I found in the employee parking lot. He was looking back across the empty runway at the silent terminal with a hopeless and far away look.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

He sighed and shook his head, forcing an ironic grin. “Lost my job today. Now I’m just waiting until they make it official.”

By October he was gone, with hundreds of others. It is these faces that define September 11th to me.

%d bloggers like this: