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A nation at its best: My 9-11 story
September 14, 2011 - Ron Hart
By Ron HartMy work has long taken me to New York City, and such was the case on Sept. 11, 2001.
I scheduled a 7 a.m. flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia Airport in order to attend five meetings with clients. I planned to return on a 6 p.m. flight that night, but it was not to be.
I sat next to a rotund, grumpy New Yorker. I knew we would not have much to discuss, so I just read my newspapers and hoped that my lone suit and tie for the trip would not catch any shrapnel from him savagely devouring his breakfast.
It was a crystal clear day as we approached LaGuardia. Having grown up in a small Southern town, I always viewed the New York City skyline in amazement. We never had a building tall enough to jump to your death from in Columbia, Tenn.
At about 9 a.m., we circled to land at LaGuardia. I looked down at the city and saw smoke billowing from a World Trade Center office. My first thought was an office fire. I poked my curmudgeon seatmate and pointed out the fire. He groused in a tone of "Welcome to the big city, hayseed, stuff happens," and went back to sleep. I get that "hayseed" tone a good bit; nothing new there. I have envied how big guys can go to sleep.
The smoke continued, and I thought to myself, "Why would there be an office fire that early in the morning? Why the World Trade Center? And did the fat guy eat my Biscoff cookies when I went to bathroom?
As soon as I got into a cab, I got a call from my wife. She wanted to make sure I was not on American Airlines (and probably wondering if she could start dating), and told me one of their planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I said, "That's odd; it's a perfect day and there is no way a plane could lose its bearings in this weather."
My Pakistani cab driver was taking me across the George Washington Bridge to my first meeting in New Jersey. By the time we got to the bridge, the second plane had hit and the bridge had been closed.
Cell phone service was hit-or-miss that day, like everyone had AT&T service. Then the second plane hit, and I knew something really bad had happened. The cab driver had his radio on. After years of listening to that high-pitched screech and "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System," that our Feds put us through, I thought, "What better time to use it?" Of course, they did not - the first of many failings of our federal government during 9/11.
A dear friend from my days at Goldman Sachs, Barry Hines, lived in Connecticut, so I told the cabbie to take me there. Barry's family and I sat, astonished, watching the news coverage for eight days until the airports reopened.
All in all, I was proud of how we came together then.
I never felt threatened in New York; folks were considerate of others in their quest to get through the horrific events. But the events of 9-11 reconfirmed my disdain for a dysfunctional federal government where the FBI competed, rather than cooperated, with the CIA and other government agencies that might have kept us safe. The feds controlled the FAA, airports, security (never identifying the hijackers in the country illegally), State Department and intelligence (President Clinton "passed" on killing bin Laden). They take 35 percent of our income and borrow 43 cents on each dollar they overspend with minimal results.
As always, I was impressed with local governments which do 95 percent of what we need while taking only 7 percent of our income and balancing their budgets. Mayor Giuliani, first responder policemen, firemen, medics and the like, were all non-federal workers who did the best job in helping their own.
We are at our best as a nation when we have to be. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was amazing to see how well a community - and a country - can come together.
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