The days that followed September 11, 2001, were uniformly sunny and warm as if even the weather stood stock still in the wake of that morning. And when we walked each morning down to get the paper in those first days following the attacks, the skies were noticeably empty and quiet as every commercial plane in America sat idle somewhere on the tarmac, waiting to hear that the coast was clear.
The skies are quiet now again, I noticed this bright morning as I walked out from under the canopy of trees into the open field at the end of the drive, but now it is the economy that emptied them. Airplane fares are high and far fewer planes are in the air. A friend who travels extensively and who finds himself stranded in airports time and again, noted, “Now, very often, you really can’t get there from here.” The idea of catching the next flight is no longer a matter of hours but sometimes days, even to major destinations. Luggage that must be scanned and checked requires more time to clear, extending the time required between flights – last spring we ended up renting a car and driving home from New York because 90 minutes would not allow us enough time to make our connection – the next flight home would have been 24 hours later. It was a three-hour drive – this is why people carry overstuffed carry-on bags and heave them into the overhead compartment.
Fewer planes in the air is not necessarily such a bad thing, but I have to wonder if I will ever stop assessing the collateral damage of that day – whether it distracted our institutions from proper stewardship of our economy, whether it fostered more hate than unity among us, and if my love of a clear September day has been hijacked permanently.