A day in September, one year later
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
One year later and 2,840 miles from ground zero, life in Western Washington appears unchanged.
But Sept. 11, 2001, was said to be a day like none other. Nothing, many predicted, would ever be the same. So for 24 hours on a day in September 2002, P-I reporters and photographers took a closer look, talking with people in diners, at parks and schools, at their jobs.
We found that some do not rest easily, and have become suspicious of their neighbors and fearful of things they once took in stride. Others say they are less likely to take their loved ones -- or their country -- for granted.
On a day in September, one year later, no one said they feel the same.
Garage, a pool hall, Seattle, midnight
A new day unfolds, but no one in this young Capitol Hill crowd notices, with the hip-hop booming and concentration fierce on lining up the 9-ball and the corner pocket.
A TV shows a large man screaming -- not in terror, but with excitement over a football game.
For Jason Marr, a 28-year-old actor, the Sept. 11 attacks didn't change his life, though they still loom large.
"It seems like yesterday, not to use a cliche," he says, drinking a beer with a friend after a rehearsal. "But it continues to affect me. It crosses my mind every day."
The attacks shattered his sense of security as an American and made him feel less sure about the future.
"It's not a world far away from us," he says. "I don't know if they can do something worse than 9/11. They hit us where we live."
His friend, Jill Snyder, a 32-year-old actress and Internet designer, says friends and family are more important now.
"I'm making it more of a priority," she says. "Like if I get invited somewhere, it's more important to me to make the time."
Before a recent flight, she found herself oddly comforted when she saw a shoeless man at a security checkpoint, sitting on "some sort of electromagnetic machine."
On the plane, she wondered what she would do if a hijacker took control. Futilely, she counted the number of rows to the nearest exit.
McChord Air Force Base, 1:30 a.m.
Master Sgt. Steve Dean's work helps the rest of the world sleep. His job is to guard the skies from his station in a high-security room filled with scanners, radar and maps on wall-sized screens, deep in the 24-hour headquarters of the Western Air Defense Sector.
Dean and his colleagues monitor everything in the air west of the Mississippi.
They were doing a training exercise when the terrorists hit the East Coast, and all civilian planes nationwide were grounded. For the first time ever, the giant map of air traffic was simply blank.
"You saw nothing," says Dean, a weapons expert who has worked in air defense since 1980. "It was a huge shock to me that kind of showed how serious it was."
A year later, he still marvels at the tremendous power and responsibility of his job. He sees the attacks as a personal affront and has doubled his resolve in a job where the unit works 12-hour shifts, and most of them eat breakfast, lunch and dinner without leaving the building.
"It makes me proud that I'm doing my job," he says. "I sat back after September 11 happened, and I had a real hard time for a little while, because I, myself, felt we had let down the American people. We couldn't stop it. It hurt for a while."
900 block of Pine Street, Seattle, 2:22 a.m.
Four teens are walking toward downtown, sharing the last drags of a cigarette plucked off the ground. They call themselves Lucky, Sober, Frog and Katie. The three guys squat under bridges, in abandoned houses or any place warm. Katie stays with her parents on Beacon Hill, when she doesn't miss her bus.
Frog came by bus from Eugene, Ore., three weeks ago. He is hesitant, at first, to give his real name -- Brendan McCanna -- because there are warrants for his arrest.
Before Sept. 11, McCanna, who is 19 and mohawked, had no fondness for democracy or the government. Anarchy was his bag.
"I used to be terrorist-oriented. I wanted to be part of the Irish Republican Army," he says, sitting under the neon of a Metro bus tunnel entrance.
Then, while doing time in juvy for a drug conviction, he watched the jets dissolve into the World Trade Center on TV. He cried, for the first time in four years.
"If they're going to attack our government, I'm going to get pissed off. In essence, it's attacking me," says McCanna.
"I don't agree with a lot of what my government does. But that honestly made me start caring. ... I will always be a street punk and have anarchy at heart. But I'm proud to be an American now."
Sheraton Hotel, downtown Seattle, 3:30 a.m.
Abdul Ahmad has just finished his shift when he cruises by to say hello to a fellow cab driver, who is napping in front of the hotel. Earlier, an Arab love song from another cab had helped soften the night, but now it is cold and quiet.
Ahmad is anxious. He says a good day in the cab is "when you pay the $70 you owe for the rent, pay the $20 for gas and still have $100."
On a bad day, you go home with $10 or $20. Since Sept 11, he
whispers, there have been more $20 days than $100 days.
"Our business used to be a good one, but now people avoid taking cabs, everybody tries to save money," Ahmad says.
Since Sept. 11, many Muslim and Sikh cab drivers have endured threats and assaults from angry passengers. Ahmad, a 28-year-old Somali Muslim, says some of his friends have been afraid of backlash. But not him.
"When you work during the day, you cannot be scared. People are
really nice and smart in Seattle," he says. "It's the night shift which is difficult, because you pick up drunken people. They can be mean and insult you. But when I have such customers in my cab, I don't listen to them, I know they're drunk."
Aboard the state ferry Wenatchee, 6:30 a.m.
A man forgot his car on the ferry the other day. It's not uncommon, and before Sept. 11, it was no big deal, says 2nd Mate Libby Christie. The ferry would simply shuttle the car back and forth across the Sound until the owner came to get it.
But now the State Patrol is called. The Coast Guard is called. It's a big deal.
As the clear sky lightens to blue, the boat pulls free from Seattle's Pier 52 for its first run of the day. Christie, who started in the galley 24 years ago, will spend much of the day doing security checks.
After each trip, she and the crew will walk end-to-end, looking for anything suspicious. They have to lock the bridge door. Two state troopers are aboard. Sometimes a Coast Guard patrol boat follows.
"What I resent most about September 11 is what it has done to the idea of living in a free country," she says. "September 11 took away a kind of innocence."
Commuter Mark Petry, a 46-year-old software engineer, has his own resentments: A diminished amount of trust.
"For instance, if I were to go to the restroom and leave my bag here, I'd come back and find it thrown overboard or something by the police," he says.
But for Wayne McCormick, a University of Washington professor sipping coffee in the cool breeze on the deck, Sept. 11 has made him savor life.
"It just makes you appreciate your surroundings even more -- just what's around you right now," he says, taking in the view of Mount Rainier.
Holy Rosary School, West Seattle, 8:25 a.m.
As eighth-grader Laurel Westbrook gets ready to read the Pledge of Allegiance over the intercom, everyone stands to face the flag. The pledge has always been a part of the morning at this Catholic school, but after Sept. 11, a teacher suggested the school say it in unison.
In Diane Blanco's first-grade class, students don't seem to know what the numbers 9/11 mean, but they know the pledge is important.
"It's really special," Rocco Buty says eagerly, hand shooting up in the air.
Blanco presses him. Why is it special?
"Well, I don't know why," Rocco says. "It's just really special."
Alex Mitchell elaborates authoritatively: "It reminds us that we won the war."
What war? Who knows?
Blanco says she talked to her students about the attacks, but not too much, because she didn't want to frighten them. Instead, she teaches patriotism.
"I started teaching songs like 'America the Beautiful' and 'This Land Is Your Land' -- for the first time in years," she says.
In the main office, 13-year-old Laurel says she used to think of the Stars and Stripes when she read the pledge, but usually, she concentrates on getting the words right.
"It used to be just something that we did in school to remember America," she says. "Now, sometimes I think of September 11 and the attacks."
She also began discussing world affairs, which probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.
"With my soccer friends, sometimes we'll say 'Oh yeah, this is going on in Afghanistan,' or whatever."
Sky Valley Traders, Monroe, 11:45 a.m.
Chad Cooper walks into the shop, straight past the bait cooler, and bellies up to the gun counter. He glances nonchalantly at the rifles and shotguns on the wall, but today he's just stocking up on ammo.
A well-armed bear hunter, Cooper seems like the last person who would be shaken by lurking danger. At least that was true before last September.
"You just never used to think terrorist stuff could happen," he says. "But now, I don't feel as secure as I used to, that's for sure."
Although he lives 2,840 miles from ground zero, Cooper says there's no reason to think terrorists would cast a blind eye on Western Washington.
"You never know, we have the military bases, Boeing and the border crossings. I think we do have targets," he says.
The attacks were far away, but they hurt him directly, he says. A 31-year-old electrician from Index, he saw his workload fall from more than 40 hours a week to 20 to 25 a week this year.
He also blames the attacks for the lower-than-expected price in his recent home sale.
And he has noticed changes in his attitude. He doesn't like it very much.
"You look at people different -- I hate to admit it -- but I'm a little prejudiced now," he says. "I tend to watch Arab people more ... I used to never think twice. I was never suspicious of people. Now I'm real suspicious."
Downtown Park, Bellevue, noon
As office workers enjoy a summery lunch away from the highrises, Bob Morikado is immersed in "Last Man Standing," a thriller about a botched FBI drug raid.
An owner of a software firm, he is waiting for his mother-in-law. His Dalmatian, Sophie, rests near his feet in the shade. Walkers and joggers filter around him. It's a beautiful day, but he is worried about his country.
He was 1 year old when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. His family was forced from their home near Los Angeles and sent to an internment camp, where his brother was born. He and his relatives fought for their country in Korea and Vietnam, and he does not want to live through another war. His thoughts turn toward Iraq.
"Nine-eleven clearly was a huge tragedy, no question," he says. "But no more so than others that have happened in the world. And, now, I'd hate to see us get involved in a unilaterally declared war because of it, and for political purposes."
"America should take the high road," he continues. "We should set the example. We should be the good guys. If we don't in the Middle East, will it ever end?"
Discovery Park, Magnolia, Seattle, 3:13 p.m.
It's a glorious, sunny afternoon, and Darren and Carlin Flee are taking in the view of Puget Sound, sparkling and azure.
"This reminds me of Costa Rica," Carlin says.
"Hush, that's a sore subject," says her husband.
How did Sept. 11 change them? Let's see, they say. It sank them into debt. Sucked away their life's dream. Ripped them from a blissful, tropical existence of snorkeling and four-wheeling in the jungle.
A year before the attacks, they had put their life savings into a restaurant in a touristy beach town in Costa Rica. They had called it "New York Pizza and More."
Their business bustled, they delivered to the swanky hotels, and they spent afternoons soaking up the Central American lushness. They learned Spanish and lived in a mansion.
Then the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the ground in Pennsylvania, and tourism sputtered and died. They limped along for almost a year before moving to Seattle to scrape up more cash. Darren got a job as a finance manager, working 80 hours a week to try to save the business.
They finally pulled the plug three weeks ago.
They used to love jet-setting, but have had to limit their travels this year to more-modest locations. Recently, they visited Port Townsend and took the Spirit of Washington dinner train.
"It took its toll on our relationship," says Carlin, now an Avon representative. "But we try not to dwell."
U.S. Customs, Port Angeles, 4 p.m.
Flushed from an afternoon workout, Senior Inspector Mark Johnson walks toward the tiny U.S. Customs trailer at the ferry terminal.
"Give me a second, I've got to strap on some iron," he says and disappears down the hall. He returns with a semi-automatic pistol at his side, ready to screen the cars, trucks and campers departing on the Coho, the private ferry that crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Canada.
In the next half hour, more than 120 vehicles will funnel through this checkpoint, headed south. He will ask most of the drivers, "Where have you been? How long did you stay? Where's home?"
A few times, he will say, "Pop the trunk for me, please."
Johnson says that he has always taken his work seriously, and that he learned the high stakes of his job well before Sept. 11, 2001.
Two years ago he was questioning a driver when another officer, searching the trunk, called out: "Hey Mark, we've got something."
Johnson was holding the driver -- "just a little wood sprite," he says -- by the shoulder when they both leaned forward to follow her direction.
"He shuddered in my hands," Johnson said.
The man was Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian terrorist trying to smuggle in explosives aimed at Los Angeles International Airport.
Before Sept. 11, interdicting drugs was the Customs Service's top priority. Now it's catching terrorists.
"You've always got to be ready to go from zero to 60 in five seconds," he says. "We would die if we knew we let somebody by us who would want to kill, if we let a terrorist through. So you go the extra mile."
Seattle Fire Station 10, Pioneer Square, 6:20 p.m.
Dinner is cooking in the beanery of "The Rock," the station that is headquarters for both the Seattle Fire Department and the city's hazardous-materials team.
As firefighters chat in the watch room, a fire captain from Nebraska walks in and asks to buy a couple of SFD T-shirts.
It is common for out-of-town firefighters to drop by local station houses, but these days, many visitors are average citizens. "We get a lot of visitors," says Capt. Mike VanTrojen. "Especially after 9/11." The heroism of the New York City firefighters touched the lives of firefighters across the country, and Seattle's are no exception.
When firefighters walk into a nightclub for an inspection, their uniforms usually turn people off, says firefighter Andy Wesseler. That is, until people see the patches on their shoulders. Then it's pats on the back. The crowd is theirs.
That feeling has surged since Sept. 11, when 343 New York City firefighters perished. "You notice more people going out of their way to say, 'Thank you,'" says firefighter Mike Todd.
But many are uncomfortable with the gratitude.
"I don't like the hero label," says Paul Constantino, who has been on the job for eight years.
"Especially when we were here on September 11," he says. "To get praised for what (the New York firefighters) did is awkward."
Tahoma District Pool, Kent, 6:45 p.m.
Past the horses and beige subdivisions, not far from the grave of Nathan Chapman, the first American soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan, it's time for swim lessons in the small, humid community pool. Parents are sweating in the bleachers, trying to tune out the cacophony of giddy toddlers and yells of "Keep kicking!" in the pool.
Jim Hystad keeps an eye on his 11-year-old daughter and says life hasn't changed much in the past year. He is still a Teamster who drives for Airborne Express. His wife, Shanna, still goes to church. They still come to the pool twice a week.
But he is now more aware of "people who truly hate Americans," though he doesn't understand why.
"How could somebody not like our system. ... The basis of this country and for what it stands is the best around," says Hystad, 36.
Two years ago, the military gave him the enormous flag from the funeral of his father, a Navy vet. Not "super-patriotic," he had always felt funny putting it on display.
Last year, he hung it up proudly inside his garage in Maple Valley. He put a second flag -- a small sticker -- in the back window of his truck.
"Before, being an American was like no big deal. We're all Americans," he says. "Now, the freedoms we have mean something more to me."
Idriss Mosque, North Seattle, 7:30 p.m.
As the sun sets, the maghreb prayer, one of the dearest prayers to the hearts of Muslims, is just beginning.
Upstairs in the women's section, a side door opens in a rush, and Lemya Ahmad, a beautiful teenager in a long, colorful dress runs in and fixes the black scarf on her head.
When the prayer ends, Lemya says she has never felt animosity from teachers or students, although Sept. 11 has changed her relationships with her schoolmates.
"Everybody keeps on asking me questions, not aggressive questions; I would say just more and more inquisitive," says Lemya.
She says she understands their unfamiliarity with Islam, but they treat her as an enigma, in part, because she is mixed: Her father is Iraqi and her mother is American.
She wishes they would ask her opinions about her religion and about Sept. 11.
A man's voice suddenly interrupts her from downstairs -- her father, asking if she wants to leave with him now, or wait until the next and last prayer of the day.
"No, I'll come with you, Dad," she says. But first, here is what she wants to say to her schoolmates:
"If my acquaintances asked different questions, I would answer them that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 have nothing to do with religion. It has to do with politics.
"It has nothing to do with a supposed hatred of American freedom and way of life. It has to do with the U.S.'s unfair policy in the Middle East."
Then she sprints down the stairs, a teenage girl off to meet her dad.
Gossip Espresso & Tea, Chinatown, Seattle, 8:05 p.m.
A pink neon sign and bouncy Taiwanese ballads greet Nikki Ozaki as she walks into the trendy nightspot where sweet, milky teas are mixed with tapioca balls.
A 25-year-old customer service rep from North Seattle, Ozaki was in Las Vegas, ready to gamble and check out the Strip, when the Twin Towers fell. The party ended right then, right there. With the airports closed, friends from Seattle drove down to get her and a friend. There wasn't much conversation on the long ride home.
Before the tragedy, she used to ignore e-mail chains that urged mass forwardings with messages of bliss. Today, she is more likely to hit that forward button.
"All those things I thought were so frivolous. But I mean, who is it going to hurt?" she says.
When she was in Las Vegas, she and her family had vowed to get together more often. But so far, only her grandfather's death in May has united them.
"How many tragedies is it going to take to remind us that life is short?" she says.
Sunset Bowl, Ballard, Seattle, 10:40 p.m.
The young and the goateed are rolling balls and belting beers from pin-shaped bottles. At lanes 25 and 26, Jhon Gilroy watches his friends, who are all UW grad students.
On Sept. 10, one hour before midnight, he and his wife had walked up the stairs of the Brooklyn Bridge subway stop to check out the World Trade Center. He recalls how they thought the Twin Towers were so large that people could live their entire lives there.
"It's like a mountain disappeared," says Gilroy, a 36-year-old writer and teacher who lives in Leschi. "It had that kind of permanence."
Before Sept. 11, he had often questioned U.S. policies. Now, he says, he is more tolerant of "pro-American sentiment."
"We're more accepting of America," he says over the crash of pins.
He says he hopes that Americans appreciate their freedom, and are willing to use it to keep their leaders in line.
"People need to be more vocal," he says. "You have to be some type of voice."
It is close to midnight when he and his pals are done rolling and drinking. Another day slips into history, although the Sunset Bowl still hums around the clock.
Near the cashier, an arty-looking group of friends are laughing.
A woman in a bright pink dress and silver tiara hugs and kisses a man all done up in black goth glory. A friend captures the moment on film.
They are young and having a great time on a Thursday in America.
Sept. 11, 2001, feels a world away.
"A Day in September" was reported by Mike Barber, Jeffrey Barker, Hector Castro, Daikha Dridi, Vanessa Ho, Gordy Holt, Chris McGann, Kery Murakami, D. Parvaz, Mike Roarke, Sam Skolnik, Margaret Taus and Brad Wong. Edited by James G. Wright.
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