Sunday, September 11, 2011


Cricket prepares to enter the lock at Devola
on her way to the Ohio River Sternwheel Festival, 2001.
Picture taken from the deck of the
Michael J.
My 9/11 memories actually began the week before. On Labor Day weekend Carl and I had joined some friends on their boat, the Michael J, to make the trip from our home port in Lowell, down the Muskingum River to Marietta, Ohio. Our boat, Dresden Belle, was still undergoing repairs so we couldn't take trips much farther than the immediate area of our dock and were happy to help out in return for a nice cruise. A couple other boats, the Nancy Ann and Cricket, also joined us, the owners all taking their boats to Marietta for the annual Ohio River Sternwheel Regatta. Once there, we would tie up at the levee for the week along with about thirty other boats to enjoy the week's festivities.    
    The pictures here were taken while we were in the canal lock at Devola, one of  the locks and dams that make up the Muskingum River Improvement Project. Opened in 1841, the low-rise dams and locks were built to maintain a consistent depth to the river, allowing steamboats to navigate the Muskingum from Marietta to Dresden, just above Zanesville, where it joined the Ohio and Erie Canal. In 2001, the Muskingum Improvement system was designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and is maintained as one of the Ohio State Parks.
    As the pictures show, it was an idyllic time. With the last of the summer sun shining on the river, friends and family members enjoyed the ride. The gentle rhythm of the boats' paddle wheel splashing the water created a soothing sound. Carl and I helped get the Michael J. into and out of the locks, holding her against the lock wall to keep her from bobbing around in the lock while the water level dropped. Then the gates were opened and we went on our way.
Next stop, Marietta!
    When the boats reached Marietta later that afternoon, they were tied up on the levee in the spot where they would spend the week. Some people stayed on their boats all week, while others left because they had work obligations. We returned to our home and jobs in Indianapolis because Carl, who was chief pilot for a local company, was scheduled to fly his employers to New York City for meetings that would last over the following weekend. He expected to return early Tuesday morning from an airport in White Plains. I went to work that morning looking forward to Carl's return and seeing him that evening.
    Just about everyone's impression of that morning is how beautiful it was -- sunny, cloudless blue skies. Mine was no different. As I approached the front entrance to my office, a co-worker asked me if I'd heard that a plane had crashed into the side of the World Trade Center. I hadn't, but the beauty of the day suddenly became incongruous to the events unfolding in New York City and elsewhere. As my co-workers arrived, we all gravitated to the break room to watch as the horror played out on our TV screen. 
      It was a few minutes before nine, our start time. Nobody yet understood exactly what was happening. The first plane had already hit the WTC, the second one crashed into the North Tower a few minutes after nine. Somewhere in the confusion of people coming into the break room to watch the news coverage on TV, I looked up at the screen to see the pieces of a white jet strewn across the Pennsylvania countryside. I knew Carl had to fly over Pennsylvania to get home, that he'd been scheduled to leave sometime that morning. I didn't think it likely it was his Bombardier Challenger but my knees started shaking anyway.
      Shortly, I got an outside line to call Carl's dispatcher to ask if he knew when Carl was expected back. I guess he knew why I was calling, because Glen told me the jet had just landed, everyone was OK and he'd get Carl. He did and I was so glad to hear his voice. Apparently Carl's plane left just around the time the planes were being hijacked, and was probably in the area when Flight 93 ran into trouble over Pennsylvania. Not long after Carl had taken off, the FAA had ordered the air space over New York be vacated, then, while in the air, all civilian flights were grounded. In essence, he and his crew had flown through and on the edges of the tragedies, making it home just in time.
Bombardier Challenger, AKA "Miss Piggy" with her Captain,
Lake Tahoe, 2000
     Not long afterward, we were all sent home for the day. I got a ride home from a co-worker. At a time when the roads are usually full of traffic, there was none. Other than for one delivery truck, Diane and I had the entire, wide expanse of the expressway to ourselves as we drove from one side of the city to the other. Carl came in a few hours after I did and, together, we watched the news coverage as it unfolded, then became cruelly repetitive:  the TV news network used a video clip, reduced to red and black, of the planes driving into the towers, over and over again. It became unbearable and we retreated to the quiet of the boat as soon as we could.
    Civilian aircraft had been grounded. Nearly all my life, I'd watched the skies, looking upward as the jets' contrails wove a fabric across our country and around the world, connecting people and places I could only imagine; for the first time I could remember, the blue sky was devoid of those white threads. As I sat on the boat's deck with Carl, fishing while he worked on a project, I noticed a lone contrail, rising in the west at a very steep angle until it disappeared into the atmosphere. I asked about it and Carl told me it was probably a large military plane taking off from Wright-Patterson AFB at Dayton.
    Carl was particularly solemn over the weekend, thinking of the people who had lost their lives, men with whom he shared a proud and skilled profession. I watched him as he worked on the boat, the man I quietly adored beyond reason, whose skills and intelligence I respected and admired. The shaking knees I'd experienced earlier in the week were nothing compared to the wrenching grief being experienced now by so many others, who'd lost someone they loved.
    My man came home that day; so many others did not and never would.
    Since then, it seems that the deaths of so many people have been perverted into a religious war -- their extremists versus ours. Many of our people seem to be caught up in politics tainted by religious ideology masked as patriotism. And this frightens me just about as much as another bomb. What is that saying -- "you become the very thing you dread the most"? I am afraid we are becoming them. 



dive said...

Eloquently and powerfully stated, Speedway. And made even more powerful by setting the scene with your idyllic boat trip (and beautiful photos); the end of the innocence. It's a sadder world today but it is still good to be able to look back on better times like those as a hopeful model for the future.

Speedway said...

Thank you, Dive.

My memory of 9/11 always begins with the sight of that little boat entering the lock behind us. That and the one contrail against the sky, left by a bomber from the AFB, going who knows where. It seemed like such a visual oxymoron. And then, to have the events of that day twisted to suit politicians' ends --just pisses me off.