I was supposed to fly Tuesday afternoon on the 4:30 p.m. American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to JFK. But I found myself stuck in LA with an incredible range of emotions over what has happened on the island where I work and live in New York City.
My wife and I spent the first hours of the day -- after being awakened by phone calls from our parents at 6:40 a.m. -- trying to contact our daughter at school in New York and our friend JoAnn who works near the World Trade Center.
I called JoAnn at her office. As someone picked up, the first tower imploded, and the person answering the phone screamed and ran out, leaving me no clue as to whether or not she or JoAnn would live. It was a sick, horrible, frightening day.
On December 27, 1985, I found myself caught in the middle of a terrorist incident at the Vienna airport -- which left 30 people dead, both there and at the Rome airport. (The machine-gunning of passengers in each city was timed to occur at the same moment.)
I do not feel like discussing that event now because it still brings up too much despair and confusion as to how and why I got to live -- a fluke, a mistake, a few feet on the tarmac and I am still here ...
Safe. Secure. I'm an American, living in America. I like my illusions.
I walk through a metal detector, I put my carry-ons through an x-ray machine and I know all will be well.
Here's a short list of my experiences lately with airport security:
* At the Newark Airport, the plane is late at boarding everyone. The counter can't find my seat. So I am told to just "go ahead and get on" -- without a ticket!
* At Detroit Metro Airport, I don't want to put the lunch I just bought at the deli through the x-ray machine so, as I pass through the metal detector, I hand the sack to the guard through the space between the detector and the x-ray machine. I tell him, "It's just a sandwich." He believes me and doesn't bother to check. The sack has gone through neither security device.
* At LaGuardia in New York, I check a piece of luggage, but decide to catch a later plane. The first plane leaves without me, but with my bag -- no one knowing what is in it.
* Back in Detroit, I take my time getting off the commuter plane. By the time I have come down its stairs, the bus that takes the passengers to the terminal has left -- without me. I am alone on the tarmac; free to wander wherever I want. So I do. Eventually, I flag down a pick-up truck and an airplane mechanic gives me a ride the rest of the way to the terminal.
* I have brought knives, razors, and once, my travelling companion brought a hammer and chisel. No one stopped us.
Of course, I have gotten away with all of this because the airlines consider my safety SO important, they pay rent-a-cops $5.75 an hour to make sure the bad guys don't get on my plane.
That is what my life is worth -- less than the cost of an oil change.
Too harsh, you say? Well, chew on this: a first-year pilot on American Eagle (the commuter arm of American Airlines) receives around $15,000 a year in annual pay. That's right -- $15,000 for the person who has your life in his hands.
Until recently, Continental Express paid a little over $13,000 a year.
There was one guy, an American Eagle pilot, who had four kids so he went down to the welfare office and applied for food stamps -- and he was eligible! Someone on welfare is flying my plane? Is this for real?
Yes, it is. So spare me the talk about all the precautions the airlines and the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is taking. They, like all businesses, are concerned about one thing -- the bottom line and the profit margin.
Four teams of 3-5 people were all able to penetrate airport security on the same morning at three different airports and pull off this heinous act? My only response is -- that's all?
Well, the pundits are in full diarrhea mode, gushing on about the "terrorist threat" and today's scariest dude on planet earth -- Osama bin Laden.
Hey, who knows, maybe he did it. But, something just doesn't add up. Am I being asked to believe that this guy who sleeps in a tent in a desert has been training pilots to fly our most modern, sophisticated jumbo jets with such pinpoint accuracy that they are able to hit these three targets without anyone wondering why these planes were so far off path?
Or am I being asked to believe that there were four religious/political fanatics who JUST HAPPENED to be skilled airline pilots who JUST HAPPENED to want to kill themselves today? Maybe you can find one jumbo jet pilot willing to die for the cause -- but FOUR? OK, maybe you can -- I don't know.
What I do know is that all day long I have heard everything about this bin Laden guy except this one fact -- WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA! Don't take my word for it -- I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out.
When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commit acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us.
We abhor terrorism -- unless we're the ones doing the terrorizing. We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me.
Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers!
We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering THAT causes to interrupt our day one single bit. We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.
Yet, our recent domestic terrorist bombings have not been conducted by a guy from the desert but rather by our own citizens: a couple of ex-military guys who hated the federal government.
From the first minutes of today's events, I never heard that possibility suggested. Why is that? Maybe it's because the A-rabs are much better foils. A key ingredient in getting Americans whipped into a frenzy against a new enemy is the all-important race card. It's much easier to get us to hate when the object of our hatred doesn't look like us.
Congressmen and Senators spent the day calling for more money for the military; one Senator on CNN even said he didn't want to hear any more talk about more money for education or health care -- we should have only one priority: our self-defense.
Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn't living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes? In just eight months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again.
He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race -- you name it and Baby Bush has blown it all.
The Senators and Congressmen tonight broke out in a spontaneous version of "God Bless America." They're not a bad group of singers! Yes, God, please do bless us. Many families have been devastated tonight. This just is not right. They did not deserve to die. If someone did this to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE FOR HIM!
Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush! Why kill them? Why kill anyone? Such insanity ...
Let's mourn, let's grieve and when it's appropriate let's examine our contribution to the unsafe world we live in. It doesn't have to be like this.