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What was the world llike before Sept. 11, Grandpa?

September 10, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
The thought started nagging at me this week that my granddaughter is three and someday she might ask questions about Sept. 11.

And I’ve got to come up with answers, I suppose. And it’s subtle. The world has changed, but not everything has to do with Sept. 11, 2001, and maybe everything has to do with Sept. 11, 2001.

I remember on that evening, The Drummer, then 10 or so, hopped into the Neon with me and we figured we’d go get some gasoline because some (erroneous, it turned out) TV reports were insinuating gasoline would be the frighteningly unheard of sum of $5 a gallon by morning.

The line stretched from the gas station all the way back down Franklin Avenue to almost Titanium Way. And when we got to the pumps, I only saw one guy hoarding gasoline into a pair of 55-gallon drums in the back of his pickup truck. Everybody else was buying their tankful.

I figure now, 12 years later, we’d see a whole line of such pickup trucks and folks filling up everything they could find with gasoline. A dozen years of war and a crumbling economy have changed people.

For a couple of years where people respected police officers and firefighters, putting forth that the word “hero” should be reserved for those willing to lay down their lives for the rest of us, almost to the point where it became cloyingly sweet. People didn’t just back down from that point. They forgot it, the first time a police officer or firefighter screwed up. Hero worship even when it is deserved, can be dangerous.

People started bashing Muslims and divided over the course of the war, and then old-fashioned blame somebody different bigotry rose. Then came the devolving that surrounded the election of 2008 and Obamacare and now, pretty much, folks are ready to fight over anything. Not sure how much of that can be blamed on Sept. 11.

We used to be able to walk into airports with only a simple metal detector to go through, and we could actually go to the gate to wait for people flying in, or accompany a family member flying out. We could go to sporting events, even ones where tens of thousands gathered, without being wanded, searched or delayed other than the natural delay caused by filing through a narrow gate with 100,000 other guys. You didn’t feel unsafe if you left your cell phone at home for a few minutes.

You didn’t look with suspicion at anyone just because he carries a backpack.

It didn’t seem like every idiot was trying to come up with a new way to blow stuff up, from shampoo bottles to pressure cookers, although the school bombers and shooters already were at work before Sept. 11.

America was still the good guy, despite its faults, before we got lied to with “faulty intel” about just who to attack at just the right moment to drive patriotic fervor into a war that maybe we didn’t need.

Everybody you passed on the street wasn’t armed and dangerous and wearing their macho on their sleeves. Patriotism morphed into tattoo-wearing machoism. This wasn’t always a country where the tougher you look, the more patriotic you are.

In other words, Grandpa grew up in a country that had Nixon and Vietnam and a bad economy in the late 1970s and early1980s, but it wasn’t a powderkeg where, fearing enemies from abroad, we have begun to consider one another the enemy.


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