Saturday, September 10, 2011

Reflections on 9/11 Ten Years After

I was in Mexico City on 9/11 and teaching at Anáhuac Mexico Sur, which I had done for several years.  I taught a short course (two weeks) on Technology and Globalization.  The University offered adjuncts a house in Coyoacan.   Each morning I would go out to run in the park where the bullfighters ran.  The park has a dirt track and each morning young and old trek around the space which is probably a half mile in circumference.

I came back to the house to get ready to go to the University and saw the housekeeper looking at TV intently.  One of the normal routines at the time was to watch a newscaster who wore a clown's nose and funny hair and basically made fun of the news.  (John Daily with funny hair and in Spanish)   But this was clearly different.   I walked into the room and saw an image of plane #2 going into the second tower.  We had a limited discussion because both of us were simply agape.  Then the pictures of the Pentagon began to appear and I kept asking is this real or a simulation?  The pictures of plane #2 and then the Pentagon kept repeating with cutaways to grim faced newscasters blathering the same banalities they had said a few minutes ago.

I arrived at the  University by about 10 AM and found it in a high state of activity.  The media center was downloading tons of video.  Classes were cancelled.  Within about an hour, the university had organized a mass.  My good friend the rector gave a homily that I will never forget; both for its brevity but also its clarity.  The substance of it was that a) this was real - not some video game and b) that the world does indeed have evil in it.  The motto of the university is "vanquish evil with good."

I am not sure what I did the rest of the day.  I think I had lunch and then returned to campus but I may have stayed on campus. I know I kept busy.  I called my family and had a short but good talk with my daughter who was a bit more than a year out of college.   But by about 8 PM we left campus for dinner at a small pasta restaurant.   The place had about 20 tables and two TVs.   It was mostly empty.  The news on both TVs was repeating the images we had seen all day with the newscasters repeated the same tired phrases.  After about 20 minutes of seeing the same thing repeat (which I had seen several hundred times before) one waiter walked over and turned off both TVs.  There were only about four tables occupied but all of us cheered for that act.

In 1997, I had noticed the same thing about TV news while coming back from living in Oaxaca.  I was in the Red Carpet room waiting for a flight with my daughter and her friend and CNN kept repeating the same tired phrases about the death of Princess Diana.  Newscasters had the same game face on and also the same repeated images.

On the weekend, I went with a friend (who was then a young dean but is now a Rector of a University) to Veracruz for Mexican Independence Day.  We went out to dinner heard the President's traditional Grito.   We then went to a disco (boy do I love discos- NOT) and stayed until five in the morning.   As we got back into the car we realized that we did not know the way back to the hotel.  My friend said we'll simply ask someone to give us directions.   Three guys were on the street - one with a bottle of Johnny Walker Red stuck in his belt.  My friend asked them directions and they said they would take us back to the hotel.   If you asked three strangers to do that in Mexico City you would be in big trouble but in a small town like Xalapa it was not a problem.   My suspicion is that our three new buddies probably did not have 100 pesos among them.

We got back to the hotel and one of the three guys looked at me and asked if I was an American.  When I replied in the affirmative - he said the tragedy that happened on 9/11 did not happen to you.   I must have looked a bit quizzical or angry but he then followed up with - "not to you but the whole world. "  I began to realize the dimensions of the events on 9/11.  We then sat down at the taco stand in front of the hotel and had tacos and talked about life - with my limited Spanish.   Although it was offered several times, I never did take a plug out of the Johnny Walker.

At the end of my course I flew back to California.   I had called United and they said I needed to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight.  I dutifully arrived at the airport at 3:30 AM.   The ticket counter was not open and the only people in the airport were an elderly couple that was going to visit their son in LA.   We waited around until about 5:45 and then the United people showed up.  I guess the United people on the phone had not been informed of the new policy.

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