The View from Here
In a very real sense, here at City Pages we seldom stray far from home. We're a local paper; we cover local news and the local arts scene--a sufficiently rich vein to mine for stories. You might say last tuesday's horrifying attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., were anything but local. We don't see it that way, though.
We spent that day the way we suspect most of you did: Watching television, listening to the radio, trolling the internet. Numbed, terrified, riveted. We tried to connect with loved ones and friends who were far too close to the devastation for comfort. (To our great relief, we learned that our colleagues at the Village Voice are fine--though understandably shaken.)
As the events unrelentingly unfolded, our journalistic curiosity got the better of us. We began to wonder how the rest of the Twin Cities was absorbing this blow. The best way to discover that, we figured, was to go out and start asking. So we did. Here's what we learned.
MEDHAT FESHIR GAMELY GREETS A customer at the Uptown Express in Minneapolis's Calhoun Square, throws a slice of pepperoni in the oven, and jerks a soda. All the while, the Egyptian native keeps an eye on a boxy television in the rear of the room. All immigrants tune to CNN, the 45-year-old declares. As the pepperoni starts to bubble at 6:00 p.m. on this infamous Tuesday, the World Trade Center turns to dust again and again.
"It's crazy," Feshir stammers. "I'm against this violence, any violence, anytime, anywhere. It does not solve anything. It solves what? Nothing!"
Feshir pats his brow and tends to the pizza. All day long, he has sensed the suspicion in his customers' eyes. "I hope everyone understands that very few people feel this way," he says, referring to the terrorists. "Too many people misunderstand and overgeneralize. [Whether it is in] the U.S., Europe, Asia, my home, or any country, I hate to hear about anyone dying. It just makes me sad. All these innocent people..." His voice trails off. "Any people who have a brain would not do this."
Apologizing for his broken English, Feshir explains that he came to the United States in 1996 to work at Uptown Express. But his first stop was New York City, where he took his wife and three children to the top of the World Trade Center. "Today I do not care about countries. I do not care about government. I only care about people who die. I look at that tower; now it is nothing. And I remember that day we came to America, and I keep thinking: We were there. That could have been us."
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
"THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING," the voice says over and over. It's a quarter past six, and nothing is moving: The ticket counters have been abandoned, security checkpoints stand unguarded, a brightly lighted magazine kiosk is deserted, the Muzak playing over the PA system sounds obscenely loud. The sense of emptiness on the cathedral-like concourse is palpable and unnerving. It's not simply that no one's here, it's that no one's here in a place where people ought to be, moving, talking, complaining. It's the sense of
absence. In place of the scuff of shoes on tile
and the hum of conversation, there's only the dull buzz of the air conditioning and the looped, cheerful voice, welcoming no one and thanking them for not smoking.
One floor below, there's scant sign of activity. The baggage carousels have all stopped. An elderly gentleman in a blue blazer manning an information desk has allowed his chin to sink into the apex of his propped-up elbows. He looks left-behind, like the man in science-fiction stories who's uselessly spared when the rest of humanity vanishes. In one corner of the baggage-claim area, a group of a dozen pilots and gray-jumpsuited ground-crew members are gathered around a television set that's playing a looped image of an airliner slicing through the side of a World Trade Center Tower as though it were diving into water. They've been here for ages, but there's no point in being anyplace else. Time is out of joint. The television's volume is off. No one is talking. Walking by, you might miss them.
After a few minutes, another off-duty employee hurries past on his way out, holding a small yellow-haired girl by the hand. As they pass the television watchers, the girl slips her father's grasp and jolts toward the silent group. "That's where the accident is," she says, pointing to the television screen. She doesn't register.
Two floors up, on a balcony overlooking the fluorescent-light-flooded ticketing area, about three dozen travelers, stranded en route from Seoul to Washington, D.C., wait. They too have been here for hours, and they have no idea when they'll be allowed to leave. Jung Tae Jin, a 26-year-old on her way to visit her sister and deliver a gift to her newborn niece, hasn't seen a television or newspaper yet, and unlike most of the rest of the planet, has only the sketchiest grasp of what has happened today. "On the plane, the captain said there was an accident and we should stay here tonight. I can't believe it at first. I am full of complaints."
The stranded passengers have been cordoned into one quadrant of the balcony. Women in smart red vests patrol the human tangle like cheerful sheepdogs. At odd intervals, one of the herders raises a cell phone to signal an incoming call from a concerned relative. A man passes out water in plastic cups. The day weighs heavily; the passengers slump together against mattresses of suitcases and improvised pillows of garbage bags. A sweating man in a rumpled warm-up suit stands vigil in front of a bank of terminals, staring blankly at nonexistent arrivals and departures.
Another section of the balcony has been appropriated by TV news crews, who stand idly in cocoons of blinding white light and nests of cable. Every so often a curious passenger saunters over to inspect the crews' equipment. A reporter pokes a microphone in the direction of the passenger, who responds with an uncomprehending shrug and walks away.
"I am still full of wondering," Jung says. "I called my sister and boyfriend first. They were very nervous. They told me about a crash or an accident. It's unbelievable to me, because Washington is the capital of the globe. How can airplanes crash here? How can this happen here with no protection? I have worries whether I can go there tomorrow or not."
After a while, Jung and her fellow travelers are herded downstairs by the red-vested women, outside the terminal, to where a bus is idling. Like many today, their destination is uncertain. They wait beneath silent skies.
AT 10:30 P.M. TUESDAY ON THOMAS Avenue in St. Paul, the line at the gas station two blocks away is backed up nearly to the front door of Willard's Liquors. Unfortunately for those who are waiting, the pumps close in 30 minutes. Most will leave without a drop of gas.
Inside Willard's it's almost possible to pretend this is just another weeknight of cold beer and idle conversation. R&B tunes pump from the jukebox, would-be millionaires scratch off lottery tickets, and most of the action swirls around the coin-operated pool table. The TV sets are the only giveaway: a seemingly endless loop of airplanes crashing, people screaming, buildings crumbling, flashing across the multiple screens. The volume is too low to hear. No one pays the carnage any mind.
A heavyset woman with a bottle of Bud in front of her announces to a trio of friends that some gas stations are charging four or five dollars a gallon. "That's too much; too damn much," she moans, shaking her head. "Gonna cost $50 just to fill up your damn gas tank." Just before 11:00, a skinny twentysomething fellow with braids and baggy denim shorts that bear a likeness of Fat Albert on the back pocket swaggers in with his girlfriend. "People gonna be boxing at the gas tanks tonight!" he declares, laughing. "It is crazy."
THE BOXERS AT THE CIRCLE of Discipline gym in south Minneapolis have just finished their afternoon workout, and five of the young fighters mill about on the sidewalk, half a block south of Lake Street. One image is stuck in Wilton Hilario's head, 56 hours after the World Trade Center was obliterated. "Seeing those people jump. I go to bed and I can't stop thinking about it," says Hilario, a bone-thin 18-year-old who moved to the Twin Cities from Puerto Rico three years ago.
Hilario learned about the calamity at El Colegio, the Spanish-language charter school he attends. "It's all we talked about, all day. All anybody talked about." At first, he says, he was worried about his father, who lives in New York. "He works in a mini-market. But my mom talked to him, so I know he's okay," he says softly.
Twenty-one-year-old Ray Gomez grew up in Manhattan--153rd and Broadway--and he's got worries too. "It's different when you're from New York. I talked to family. I know they're all right. But I've got so many friends in the city and I don't know their status. It's going to be awhile."
Gomez has been watching television for the past few days--something, he says, he rarely does. "To tell the truth, I don't really trust all the information that's coming out," he muses. "Maybe they are just saying things to keep us calm." He says he's unimpressed by President Bush's performance: "A person in power should be better spoken. We're looking for answers," he goes on. "But to me, it doesn't seem like there is a solution. How can you explain it? What can you do?"
When a third fighter ventures that "Arabians" ought to be forbidden from taking flight instruction, Gomez furrows his brow. "You can't do that," he says flatly. "You can't stop people from learning something because they come from a certain ethnic background."
IT IS AN INCONGRUOUSLY PLEASANT evening outside the Karmel Square mall, just north of the intersection of East Lake Street and Pillsbury Avenue in Minneapolis. The first hint of fall is in the air. The fading sun casts long shadows across the street; the sky is impossibly blue. A few dozen people--mostly young Somali men, a few Somali women--loiter in small groups on the sidewalk in front of the modest array of Somali-run shops and restaurants, laughing and smiling in an easy, end-of-the-workday manner.
Inside, the mall bustles. In a coffee shop in the lobby, a small cluster of men huddle around a TV set, watching the same images everyone has been watching for the past 11 hours: the careening jet, the huge orange ball of flame, the billowing clouds of smoke, the surreal slow-motion collapse of the twin towers. The din of conversation fills the mall, but the people watching the TV are silent, standing upright, arms crossed, expressionless.
Just down the hall, 32-year-old Hassan Abdulkadir leans back in an office chair at Spectrum Computers, a nearly empty hole-in-the-wall computer shop run by a friend. Abdulkadir, who works the 3:00-a.m.-to-1:30-p.m. shift in a factory in Chanhassen, lives with three other Somali immigrants in St. Louis Park. When he has spare time, he says, he comes to Karmel Square to brush up on his computer skills and socialize with his fellow Somalis. But he has no desire to watch any more television on this day.
He says he learned about today's attacks at about ten o'clock this morning, when a friend called with the news. "He said, 'Turn on CNN!' and I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Abdulkadir explains in soft, halting English. For two or three hours, he just watched. "It was terrible. Terrible. People hanging from the top of the building. People jumping. All those innocent people." By early afternoon, he'd had enough and shut off the TV.
Abdulkadir has seen people die before. A refugee from civil war in his native Somalia, he made his way to the U.S. via South America three years ago. Before he escaped, he says, he saw people kill, saw people die. His father perished in the war. He thinks his mother and eight brothers remain in refugee camps. "I don't know whether they lived or died."
Still, he says, he has never seen anything like September 11. "They have to get whoever did it. They have to fight back." Abdulkadir sighs. "I didn't think anything like this could happen in the U.S."
WESTRUM'S TAVERN IS USUALLY FILLED with an eclectic mix of neighborhood residents looking to blow off a little steam. But tonight the mood is heavy. "It's awfully quiet," observes a redheaded regular. She pours a glass of beer from a plastic pitcher.
A TV set mounted above the bar is tuned to the second day of NBC's "Attack on America" coverage. A construction worker with a green cap and graying mustache uses a remote to turn up the volume. A young black woman with dreadlocks walks to his table. "Turn it up a little more," she says. Soon all 15 patrons are glued to footage of the day's frustrating search for survivors.
Talk turns to the jihad, holy wars in general, and, inexplicably, voodoo dolls. "Shit, I think we should get all of our soldiers out there, give them all their guns and ammo and take care of it," says one man. "That way it will all be over soon."
The bartender, a slight, brown-haired woman, comes over. "I get so tired of all this kind of talk," she says, gesturing toward her working-class patrons. "What kind of world is this, where everybody wants to kill everybody else? What good does it do to kill someone after so many people have died?"
The bartender tells the story of an eight-year-old Arab boy named Mohammed who lives across the street from the bar. "His parents have lived here for years," she says. "They've been in this neighborhood longer than I have. So he came in here today crying and told me that he was picked on at school all day. He's friends with my son, but they go to different schools. I know my son would have come to his defense if he had the chance. Nobody at his school knows his family like I do. They're very good people. This just makes me so sad. I didn't know what to tell him."
"I just want this to stop," she sighs, looking up at the TV. "I want them to quit showing the wreckage. I want them to quit showing the crashes. I want them to quit talking about fighting back. You live in a world where adults kill adults, then you live in a world where babies kill babies."
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
AFTER CASTING HER VOTE IN the primary elections, Ernestine Mitchell rolls down the carpeted halls of the Richard R. Green Central Park School in her electric wheelchair, searching for a telephone. Most of the doors in the south Minneapolis building have been locked, however, in response to the morning's events.
Eventually someone hands Mitchell a cell phone, which she uses to cancel her scheduled Metro Mobility pickup. She wants to stay for Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's campaign rally in the school's cafeteria, which is slated to start at in 20 minutes. She tries to call her sister, who works in Manhattan. The line is busy. She dials up her nephew, who lives outside Pittsburgh. No luck.
"Well, I remember Pearl Harbor," the 73-year-old says. "There is no comparison. This is worse. Can't find nobody. I'm not sure where my family is. I'm sure they're all right, but you just don't know. I know it ain't gonna calm down, either. It feels like we're at war."
The reverberations of today's attacks recall life during wartime, when Mitchell was growing up. "Well, we were black and poor to begin with, but I remember getting our milk and butter rations from the milkman during the war. Mother had to sell off our stamps so I could get shoes to go to the junior-senior prom," she says wistfully. "We were the Roosevelt High School Panthers of Gary, Indiana. We wore jackets with a 'V' on the back for 'Victory,' because we were Americans. Don't call me African-American, because I don't know nothing about Africa. I'm black and I'm American.
"I graduated in 1945 and I married a sailor, George Clark, while he was on leave," she recalls with a smile. "We were together for 16 years, and I had my four daughters and two sons with him." Mitchell came to the Twin Cities in 1984 to look for a job. "In Gary everything is closed now," she laments.
Mitchell works for the Urban League, but she used to have a job in admissions at the now-defunct Mount Sinai Hospital. "I remember all the gentlemen coming in with AIDS, and I made a point of remembering all of their names. They'd say, 'Ernie, how do you remember all of our names?' And I'd say, 'Because you are all VIPs.' A lot of them passed on. That's the trouble with war: People die and you don't even know them."
In 1997 Mitchell was hit by a bus. She has used a wheelchair ever since. "I get around fine. And I got the TV and the Internet now, so everything's different for people like me. We didn't have TV then," she says, referring to Pearl Harbor. "This morning I tried to tape the news, because that's history. But the tape wouldn't stay in the recorder. I got ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. I wanted to have a tape, so all my family could remember how sad it was today."
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
WHEN NANCY VARGAS GOT WORD of Tuesday's terrorist attack, she thought it was a joke. The 23-year-old New York City native had just finished a morning class at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul when she overheard some classmates talking about hijacked planes, crumbling towers, and the Pentagon. The punch line never landed. Five minutes later she was sitting in her car, radio tuned to the news, sobbing. "Looking at my fellow classmates walk past, I could tell who knew and who didn't know. You could just tell by looking at their faces, watching their body language," the psychology major says. "Me? I couldn't move."
Knowing no one would be waiting for her back home, anxious about her father--who, along with other family and friends, still lives in New York--Vargas sought solace at her place of work, Maria's Café, a usually bustling gathering place for neighborhood activists, small-business owners, and grassroots political players near the corner of Franklin and Chicago avenues in Minneapolis. As soon as she arrived, her friend and co-worker Patricia Gomez gently steered her into a tiny back office. "She was so upset, that I really couldn't say anything," Gomez remembers. "All I could do was stay with her."
Gomez was born in Colombia and came to this country two and a half years ago. "I left my people and my country. It was hard. So hard," she says, tears clouding her eyes. "But I wanted to feel safe. Now, I don't know. In Colombia there is some sort of violence every day. It's awful, but you somehow get used to it. It's just the way it is. But I never thought this sort of thing would happen in the United States. Now I fear what is going to happen next. I don't feel as safe. Those old, nervous feelings are coming back. I couldn't sleep last night. And my husband's 11-year-old son was having nightmares. He kept waking up, thinking someone was trying to kill us."
Eventually Nancy Vargas made her way south to Roseville, where she lives with her mother, a native of the Dominican Republic, and her mother's husband, who works at the IDS tower in downtown Minneapolis and who had been sent home for the day. The family just bought the house, and after spending an hour monitoring the mayhem on Spanish-language television, they took a break to do some unpacking. Upstairs, wiping off a high closet shelf, Vargas came across a pile of junk and, pushed back into a dusty corner, what looked like a grenade. Assuming it was a toy, she reached back to grab it. But instead of feeling plastic, she felt cold metal. Gingerly lifting the device, she carried it downstairs, trying to hold back her terror. "It was heavy, and the pin was still in place," she remembers with a shudder. After showing the grenade to her mother, Vargas tiptoed outside and put it under a bush. Then she dialed 911: "It was real, but I didn't know to look at the bottom of the grenade, where there was a hole. The police told us it had been disarmed. There was nothing to worry about."
Both women are back at Maria's the next morning, trying to get on with things, talking quietly when they can, exchanging smiles when they can't. "You want to pretend that this isn't happening," Gomez says as she heads off with a plate of pancakes. "But this is the real life. What can you do?"
EVERYONE FROM JEB BUSH TO Yasir Arafat is donating blood. 1-800-GIVE-LIFE yields an endless busy signal. Yet on Wednesday afternoon the waiting room at the American Red Cross blood bank near downtown Minneapolis is half-empty. KSTP-TV (Channel 5) and the Minnesota Daily have descended on a picture of almost bland serenity: college students scanning textbooks, the panoramic view of the Mississippi riverfront, the faint patter of Dan Rather, the slowness of the two-hour wait.
When your name is called, the cheerful woman who opens your vein is not a nurse. "I'm a phlebotomist," she explains. "And that doesn't mean I give lobotomies." You get the feeling she doesn't mind repeating this joke for the hundred-billionth time. When she's done, you are sent to a nearby table and attended to by a petite and energetic twentysomething who never sits down. Jennifer would normally be on the road selling clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies, she tells you, but today she's stocking Oreos and pouring juice. "You can't go out and do sales," she says quietly. "Not today."
Jennifer says she can't turn off the TV. Reprisal is the word of the hour. "Don't you think, with the War Crimes commission we have in Europe, that we couldn't just go on a hunch now and go bombing somebody without being sure?" She sounds hopeful rather than certain.
"It doesn't matter now, anyway," she goes on. "The damage is done. We lost. They can flatten all the countries they want, and it won't bring those people back. All we can do is wait. And give blood."
--Peter S. Scholtes
"YOU CAN JUST CALL ME 'Gene from Tackle Plus.' Everyone will know who you're talking about," says Gene from Tackle Plus as he pries the top off a Styrofoam container to assess the well-being of a dozen night crawlers. On this Wednesday morning, Gene is working the register at Hayes Tackle Plus, a gritty little bait shop on East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
It has been a slow morning on the Day After. But Gene says the bait business is generally sluggish in September, so it may have nothing to do with yesterday's carnage. The customers who have come in so far have said little to nothing about the attack, he reports. Gene, who is 52 and has worked at Tackle Plus off and on since 1980, first got news of the events of September 11 via a phone call from his brother. He turned on the TV and watched the news "until they started showing the same stuff over and over," he says.
He acknowledges that the episode caught him off-guard, but he was not especially shocked. "I felt something like this was bound to happen. Anytime you have a powerful establishment, someone is going to want to bring it down," he posits. "People here in the United States used to boast that we've never been bombed. Why should we think we're indestructible? There's nothing in this world that can't be touched. It's like in sports. You take a team that wins all the time, and they start to think that they can't lose. But eventually somebody is going to beat them."
A Vietnam-era Army veteran--"Didn't see any action, spent most of my time stationed in Korea," he allows--Gene says that he likes to laugh and clown around, especially at the bait shop. "People know that about me. But I'm serious, too. I think about things." The first thing he thought upon learning of the catastrophe in New York, he says, was that this was no Oklahoma City--and definitely not the work of homegrown militiamen: "They're not the suicidal types."
At 11:30 comes the day's first rush of business: four Spanish-speaking kids, who peer into the tanks at the sucker minnows before buying two dozen night crawlers. One of the kids purchases a license. Another pair of customers, a middle-aged man accompanied by a woman, stops in to drop off a faulty reel. A few more patrons straggle in for Styrofoam containers of wax worms and angleworms.
Business is decent. Some days, Gene points out, he has only one or two patrons before noon. Why might people choose to go fishing despite the national calamity? "You can't alter your life for fear that it's going to happen again," he muses. "You won't be yourself. There's no reason to walk around scared. This is out of your control. Why be nervous? If you stop and think about it, what can be done?"
FOUR TEENAGE BOYS HUDDLE ON the curb with their skateboards and backpacks, staring into the cobblestones. "One of the planes was supposed to crash into the IDS tower," says the one wearing a puffy jacket. He heard this, he adds, from someone who works for the government.
"It's a strange day," says his friend.
Yeahs all around.
The boys seem glad to be together. Across the street in the orange sunlight sits the cyber-café they hope will open soon. The Stomping Grounds, in Minneapolis's warehouse district, is the sort of posh, all-night Internet gaming center where algebra students do virtual battle with statisticians, playing against counterparts in other cities as they chug Red Bulls into the wee hours. In some ways, tonight will be no different from any other night, though the Web site says the café won't open until at least six o'clock, "in response to recent world events." It's ten past six now.
At seven, when the doors open, the boys ask if the evening's national tournament is still on. It is, they're told, and soon the boys are emptying animated machine guns into the virtual bodies of fellow high school students across the land. The game, called Counter-Strike, pits participants against one another on opposing teams: terrorists and counterterrorists. The main difference between the two (besides the choice of firearms--M4A1s or AK-47s) is the soldiers' treatment of civilians: Terrorists hold hostages, and kill them.
The game continues into the night, with the sound of explosions confined to headphones and the TV news playing quietly in the background.
--Peter S. Scholtes
TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD IMAGES, faded, but not forgotten, washed over Neng Yang Tuesday. Like the rest of his adopted nation, the 42-year-old schoolteacher watched television in shock and horror. Transfixed by the sight of the thousands of people fleeing on foot through the streets and over the bridges of New York City, Yang envisioned his own Hmong people running from a different war.
"Those who walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, no car, they just start to walk," he recounts. "It was just like when we escape from our hometown to other towns: across foothills, over mountains, to a valley, cross a river, to another village." Lower Manhattan bears little resemblance to Yang's village in Laos, a homeland he escaped when he was just 15 years old. Instead of thickets of trees and looming mountains, New York has blocks of storefronts and hulking skyscrapers. But in the ruins of the collapsed World Trade Center, Yang saw the rubble of his village, obliterated by missiles. In the flames that engulfed the crash scenes in New York and Washington, D.C., Yang saw the tin roofs of his town's huts, burning like scraps of paper. In the screams of terrified onlookers and victims, he heard his fellow villagers crying, their dogs barking.
"Suffering and pain are about the same," he muses.
Yang, who is now a U.S. citizen, never expected to see such scenes on these shores. But, he says, he has witnessed the sort of American arrogance that might fuel hatred in other quarters. "They say, 'Have no fear of anyone.' That challenge was going too far," he says. "You challenge the world--say you're best, have no fear, don't give respect to anyone or other cultures--that angers people around the world.
"People in this country still have their narrow minds," he observes. "Certain individuals are still displaying that kind of ignorance." He worries that the attacks will spark a backlash of prejudice against Muslims, Arabs, possibly all immigrant groups. But still he holds out hope that the tragedy will spawn consideration and kindness rather than rage and further violence. "I hope the U.S. will be more awakening, and show more respect to people around the world," he says. "Consider other people: They too are human beings."
For now Yang focuses on comforting his students in the classroom, and his family at home. On the day of the attacks, his ten-year-old daughter grew increasingly terrified by the depictions of mayhem. Yang reassured her that the terrorists were not coming to Minneapolis, that the U.S. government would find the people who are responsible. But as he remembers the thunder of missiles crashing around his childhood home, he is painfully aware that while he had been able to protect his six kids from experiencing the war he grew up with, he can't shield them from the panic that surrounds these acts of terrorism. "They have limited knowledge," he says. "They react to it. But they don't know much about war."
TOM ECKHOFF IS 52 YEARS old, married, the father of three. He works as a driver for Better Care Lines, transporting elderly and handicapped people around the Twin Cities. During the Vietnam War, Eckhoff served as an airborne ranger, completing a one-year tour of duty. As Eckhoff puts it, he had "gleaming eyeball" contact with the enemy. He was shot at many times, but never wounded. Others in his unit were not so lucky.
On the night the Gulf War broke out, Eckhoff recalls, he was playing drums in a band at a bar in Eagan. He remembers looking up at the television sets scattered around the room and seeing the surreal light show of tracers and bombs. Memories of Vietnam flooded his mind. "It was hard to focus with that going on," he says in a quiet rasp.
Similar feelings descended on him Tuesday morning as he sat in his van waiting for a client, listening to the initial reports of the carnage at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "I had the same tension like that. It brought me back to that kind of thing, that feeling. I was like, 'Wow, here we go, something's going on again.' It was weird. I'm that kind of guy anyway. I just sat out there and wondered about what was going on."
Eckhoff worries that one repercussion of the terrorist attacks will be an infringement on civil liberties. He notes that while dropping off a client at the Veterans Administration two days after the hijackings, he wasn't allowed to enter the building. "I just feel like we've already lost. They've already done it," he says. "They did their missions; they were successful. We can't cross the street without three different IDs now today. Yesterday we could. We're protecting ourselves from ourselves."
The only upside Eckhoff sees is the upsurge of patriotism. He often marches in the color guard at parades and is dismayed by the lack of respect accorded the flag. Many people, he notes, don't even bother to stand as the Stars and Stripes pass by. "To me the flag represents the spirit of all the warriors and all the veterans and all the people who have fought to make us free, so we can bitch and protest and we can have opinions. And that's freedom. It's not just a piece of cloth. It represents my friends who died. They didn't die for nothing. They died for us, so we could be free."
"THAT'S YOUR BOY BUSH." AT seven o'clock on primary-election night in Minneapolis, Edward McDonald is nearing the end of his shift as an election judge. "This bomb shit had me kinda spaced out all day, so I don't know. I feel like I been watching a war, not an election."
McDonald is 54, lives in Fridley, and has worked as a youth counselor for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for 20 years. Every morning, before he does anything else, he tunes in CNN. "I was watching before anything happened. And then it all happened," he says.
A TV has been plugged into the wall, and everyone in the room is watching as the president prepares to address the nation. The cameras have been turned on too early, though, and Bush stares blankly for nearly 30 seconds.
"You gonna end some lives now?" McDonald sneers. "You already ended mine by stealing the election from us, you cocksucker. Hey, that's your boy Bush!" he says to no one in particular. "Other than that, he's a nice guy."
The president commences his speech, but McDonald isn't listening. "I'm still in disbelief," he says. "Did I think it could happen here? Matter of fact, I did. Because there's so many Middle East countries that don't like the U.S., for whatever their reasons." He gestures at Bush's televised image. "I got my reason."
When a young boy rushes over carrying a Nerf football, McDonald cleans up his language. He hugs the boy, then pulls out pictures of his daughter Yvonne's two children. Their father is former Minnesota Viking Henry Thomas, who is playing his last year of professional football in Houston. Thomas's team flew out of Boston the day before two planes leaving the same airport were hijacked. "I love my kids, I love my grandkids, I love my son-in-law," McDonald says as Bush wraps up. "But now there's gonna be retaliation, and I worry. I used to fly to Houston twice a month. But as of today, I don't. It's all different now."
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
GORDON REGGUINTI HAS ALWAYS FELT the pull of two homelands: the United States, where he resides, and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, his people, his heritage. He has spent his life as an activist, trying to temper the social ills that have hurt Native Americans. But he has also worked hard to survive, even thrive, in American society. The conflict between cultures rose up again Tuesday morning. He was on his way to work at the nonprofit Grotto Foundation in downtown St. Paul when he heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Like most people, he didn't know what to make of the news at first. An accident? A careless pilot? "When the second plane hit, I knew it was a terrorist attack," he remembers.
By the time he got to work, the Pentagon was in flames. A tide of emotions swept over him. "My immediate reaction was with the U.S.," he recalls. "We're under attack!" But as the initial roar of anger faded to numbness, his mind retreated into a more philosophical corner. "If people are going to make war on each other, leave the civilians out," he says. "This is the history of this country, too, in terms of the way it attacked native villages. There were many, many instances of Americans attacking native villages: men, women, children."
In the days following the attacks, Regguinti has been struck by the trauma and grief that people are experiencing. The anguish resonates with the 200 years of suffering Native Americans have endured, and it saddens him that such violence and pain still flourish in this world. "It's a chance for everyone to see what violence causes, and perhaps to show compassion for others," he says. "When you cut down to the core of it, no matter what the circumstance, it's just senseless violence. Whether it's done in the name of God or economics or whatever, it's just senseless. As a human being, it saddens me that this is the human condition. That this is how we operate."
THE POLLS HAVE BEEN CLOSED for an hour, but no one at St. Paul City Council member and mayoral hopeful Jerry Blakey's election-night fete can figure out the results. The television sets in the section of Joseph's Grill reserved for the subdued crowd of about 30 supporters are all tuned to the news, but it's all terrorism, all the time.
The crowd is a diverse mix of residents of Blakey's Ward 1 and Republican Party bigwigs. GOP gubernatorial hopeful Brian Sullivan is mingling, as is Corey Miltimore, the executive director of the Minnesota Republican Party.
In the middle of the banquet hall are David Strom and his wife Margaret Martin. Strom is legislative director for the conservative advocacy organization the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. Martin is a graduate student. Both are 37 years old.
Strom: "It was very odd. I went into the shower and Margaret called in to me and said, 'Go watch the TV, the World Trade Center's burning.' So I get out of the shower and come, and the second plane hits the World Trade Center. I have to go to a meeting, and I hop into my car and the Pentagon gets hit. So there's just this overwhelming sense of the unrealism of the whole thing.
"I remembered vaguely that 30,000 to 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center and I knew that they were at risk. But the buildings hadn't collapsed yet, so I thought, All right, maybe a few thousand people or a few hundred people may be hurt. But when I heard that they collapsed, the first thing I thought was: 25,000 people had died. It's a city."
Martin: "I was in Venezuela in '92 and there was a military coup. It lasted all day--from like five in the morning until the soldiers gave it up at like five o' clock in the afternoon. All day you could hear aircraft fire, you could hear bombs going off. You just never knew when it was gonna end. We were inside. We were just hunkered down. You didn't go outside, because you could hear the bullets whizzing by outside. You just didn't know when it was gonna end. The TV only gave you partial information. Nobody really knew what was going on. Some TV stations had been hit. It was one disaster, then another disaster, and then another disaster. You just never knew when it was gonna end. This is sorta like that."
Strom: "The thing that flashed through my mind was when that truck bomb went to the Washington Monument. This was years ago. Nothing blew up, but there was just sort of the sense of hours and hours, waiting. But to put it in terms of the scale here, I just can't imagine. What since the bombs dropped at Hiroshima, or Dresden? When have tens of thousands of people died? It's inconceivable."
Jerry Blakey was gathering his family Tuesday morning to go and vote when he became aware of the hijackings. "As we were getting dressed, we just couldn't believe what was going on," he says. "I couldn't believe it. My first thought was: This must be an accident. And then I heard a report on the radio--they had a specialist on, and he was saying there's no way that anybody who's a trained pilot would have any problem being able to steer away from a building.
"My oldest daughter is seven, and we're in the process of adopting a five- and a three-year-old. They were all with us. We actually turned the radio off, because we kinda felt it was a little too much, too heavy for them. My oldest daughter asked what was happening. My wife and the kids just came back from Chicago a couple weeks ago on a plane, so we didn't want to scare them about airplanes. We just said that we weren't sure what was happening and we were gonna talk to them later about it."
By this point in the evening, the primary results from Minneapolis have all been tallied, but the St. Paul numbers seem to be trickling in. With about 25 percent of precincts counted, Blakey lags far behind in fourth place. He absorbs the disappointing returns with a shrug. "We're gonna still hold out hope," he says.
A VOLUNTEER FOR MAYOR SHARON Sayles Belton's reelection campaign is putting food on a conference table draped with a royal-blue tablecloth and framed by blue balloons. But none of the 50 supporters gathered at the Richard R. Green School in south Minneapolis has lined up for the grub. They're gathered around three TV sets a few yards from the table, watching the Tuesday evening news. "What do you say after something like this today?" asks John Sugimara, a 37-year-old campaign volunteer. "I would have raced to the polls to defend my right to a democracy, but I know some people don't feel that way."
At a little before nine o'clock, the results start coming in. With 80 percent of the votes counted, the mayor is safely in second place behind challenger R.T. Rybak. No one seems very interested, but a few folks form a line at the buffet. In a corner on the other side of the room, a microphone stand and an American flag sit on a riser. In the background, blue-and-white campaign signs are taped to the concrete wall. On a boom box at the front of the room, mayoral candidate Lisa McDonald can be heard giving her concession speech. Still, the local affiliates have yet to interrupt the national news with primary coverage. Two TV reporters wait to do their live reports from the rally.
At 9:13 p.m. Sayles Belton's spokeswoman Ann Freeman rushes to the front of the room with a cell phone pressed to her ear. "Now!" she yells, encouraging supporters to make their way to the podium. The mayor arrives through the back door, wearing a red plaid coat and black skirt. "Well, all right," she says quietly, then pumps her fist in the air and hustles to the riser.
"They said the mayor will not place or show in this primary!" she says. "We have proven them wrong." Sayles Belton makes reference to her "proven track record" and the "well-managed city" where "everyone can prosper." Her remarks inspire a couple of "Amens" and "Hallelujahs" from some black clergymen. Then a crew-cut young white man takes up a chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"
Her speech concluded, Sayles Belton embraces her two young sons. But instead of stepping down, she returns to the microphone. "I'm not done," she whispers. "The whole world turned upside down today and we have to pray for peace and calm. We are not just a community here, but a community of people all over the world. We are all connected, whether it's here in the U.S. or in Afghanistan. And it's forever changed because of today," she says, and calls for a silent prayer.
When Sayles Belton steps down to mingle with her supporters, the mood lifts. But by ten o'clock the crowd has begun to thin. Before they leave, two elderly women steal one last glance at the TV screens. "I'm depressed," one says to the other. "It feels like the whole world has been bombed out today."
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
ROSITA BALCH AND TERESA ORTIZ are on their lunch break at the Resource Center for the Americas, a budding Minneapolis nonprofit that champions human rights by educating U.S. citizens about their neighbors to the south. Balch, a 45-year-old mother, came to Minnesota from Bogotá, Colombia, 11 years ago. Ortiz, who's 52, was born in Mexico and has lived and traveled with her children throughout the hemisphere.
A day after what at least one television network has dubbed the Attack on America, there is a moment to reflect. The center's office radio has been turned off, computers linked to CNN and the New York Times have cued up their screen savers, and the sunbathed space seems to be taking a deep breath. Balch and Ortiz sit side by side at a small table near the receptionist's desk, picking at their salads, savoring the silence, surfing on waves of emotion.
"It cuts right to something inside you," Ortiz ventures. "It's like being violated. It's like being raped. It was so sad yesterday. I just wanted to find someone and hug them. It's very similar to what has happened, and what still happens, in other parts of the world."
"It all makes me think of the systematic terrorism that happens in the little towns of Colombia," Balch adds. "People are dying there every day. And if anyone tells the media, they die as well. And they don't have millions of dollars at their disposal or a system in place to help with recovery. When it happens, it's done. It's over. You're dead."
The night before, when Balch got home, her seven-year-old daughter was trying to be a comfort, encouraging everyone to play games, hoping to be "the mommy." "She said to me, 'I finally understand what it's like to live with this sadness in your heart," Balch says, then gets up to get a Kleenex from her desk. "She knows how much I ache for the people back home. And now she aches too."
Ortiz says her 16-year-old daughter is terrified that there will be a war, maybe even a draft; she can't understand why someone would retaliate against madness with more madness. "I understand the need for justice," says Ortiz. "But you have to pay attention to how that comes about. This is a time to be creative. This is a time to look for nonviolent solutions. People aren't people in a war; they're casualties. And if you strike another country, you have to remember that other innocent people are going to die. And what message does that send our children? That if someone hits you, the only solution is to hit him back twice as hard?"
Adds Balch: "No one wants more guns, more wars. We should sit down and talk. But you know these boys that are running things. They have their guns. And now they want to get out their guns and play too."
As they prepare to return to work, both women acknowledge that, no matter what the government's response, when the rubble is cleared and the body count tallied, the center's work will be even more crucial.
"I'm honestly afraid that now, as a person of color, I won't be able to get on a plane, because I fit a certain profile," Ortiz says.
"It's already happening," Balch concludes. "When I get on a city bus, people often ask me if I'm from Mexico. When I say, 'No, I'm from Colombia,' people ask if I came here to sell drugs. I've been asked that question 200 times. I've already been labeled. This will only make it worse."
THE WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON SUN SHINES brightly in the brilliant blue sky over Lake Nokomis. Periodically, the faint sound of F-16 fighters--too high to see, circling above nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport--rises above the rustling trees and lapping waves.
During a normal day of airline traffic, the hum of smaller, high-flying planes would be drowned out by the sound of commercial jets, which loom over Nokomis from dawn to dusk. But this is no normal day.
"When it's noisy, you notice it. When it's not noisy, you really notice it," observes Irving Lackey, who fishes the lake once or twice a week. "We just count the planes all in a line most days. And by the time we get to eight or ten, we got a bucketful of fish. Actually, you miss 'em on a day like today, because you get used to looking up and seeing them."
Lackey, a Marine who served three tours in Vietnam, is fishing for blue gills, along with two buddies and the four-year-old daughter of a friend, named Malasya. "I keep thinking that what I fought for is gone," he says, surveying the empty sky. "How could they not know what was going on? The government spends all the taxpayer money on spy cameras and all that surveillance, and they don't even see this coming? That's bullshit. You could pick a minnow out of this water with one of those cameras they got.
"Bush gonna have to shit or get off the pot on this thing. He's gotta do something, because he's the president now. I was no fan of Mr. Bush, but I [support] anybody when it comes to the safety of the office of the President of the United States. I'm old-school. It ain't so much what the government wants to do, but what the people want. I don't want no war, because I've seen that, but I do want retaliation. So many people got killed yesterday, and that's a hurt you don't ever get over."
Suddenly Malasya's pole begins to jerk. "Wait a minute, babe, you got one," Lackey says to her. "But all the slack on your line--you let the big one get away." He leans down, laughs, pats her on the head. As the F-16s roar in the distance, the pair keeps casting until their bucket is full.
--G.R. Anderson Jr.
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