Random Thoughts About Whatever Comes to Mind

Come From Away - At The Start Of A Moment

May 7, 2017

Tags: 9/11, Come From Away Broadway show, 2017 Tony awards, Gander Newfoundland, odd real estate transactions

It's hard to believe that it's been fifteen-plus years since 9/11, a national tragedy both for what it was and what it set in play (it's not good when your leadership doesn't just lose the white hat but stomps on it, then throws it as far away from home base as possible).

It was certainly one of my odder personal experiences, as only a change in scheduling related to an Atlanta house sale kept me from being in NYC at the WTC Marriott that week for a conference. Instead, that Tuesday I was at home. Having pulled back muscles in connection with last-minute packing for the out-of-town move, I'd begged an early-am appointment for massage therapy that ended at 9am. So, when the world changed forever, as they say, I was lying face down on a massage table in Buckhead, a surburb north of where we lived in Ansley Park. I learned about what had happened only when I turned on the radio as I was cruising south on Peachtree Street, heading back for the last couple of days we'd spend in our home of sixteen years. It took about ten minutes to get to Ansley, where we stayed glued to the TV monitor the rest of the day and were in fact actually watching Peter Jennings when the second tower was hit. It was unreal, like a nightmare.

The closing on the sale of the house was set to take place the following morning. Naturally, I assumed the transaction was off, just as everything seemed to be off; but, when I called the closing attorney's office, he assured me that the buyers had gotten the last flight allowed out of Bermuda, where they were vacationing, just to return for the transaction. He actually sounded surprised that I'd called - of course, a real-estate closing went forward no matter what, he seemed to imply, as long as both parties were conscious enough to sign the paperwork. Wednesday, the closing was over by 10 am, kicking off a flurry of final packing even as we were drawn to the TV monitor as if by a magnet, watching the same images over and over as people wandered around the area of the collapse, trying to get closer, trying to find someone to answer questions.

On Thursday, Robert stayed in Atlanta to deal with the movers while I drove south to Savannah, where yet another real-estate transaction was due to take place Friday. In retrospect, the drive seems to have been made to the strains of American Pie interspersed with heartbreaking accounts of people roaming the WTC precincts, looking for missing loved ones. With no warning, I found myself trembling from time to time, my hands clutching the steering wheel. I may be oversimplifying the soundtrack, but I recall clearly that the drive was so distressing and distracting that at one point I was stopped for doing 95 on I-16.

When I got to Savannah and situated myself (and the two Siamese cats who'd ridden south with me) in a rental apartment on Monterey Square, I remembered that a long-time business colleague thought I was in NYC at the Marriott. I'd been so busy since the towers fell that I'd forgotten to call and say I hadn't gone after all, and he couldn't call me because the phone company had mistakenly cut off our landline a few days early and we'd just gotten new cell phones with numbers he didn't know. Feeling guilty, I called his house. His wife answered and said he was incommunicado on a hunting trip in Upper Michigan but that she'd tell him when he got back. I thanked her and, as all of us were doing during those dark days, started to say how tragic what had happened was. She interrupted me and said that, no, it was God's will, that all of those people on those hijacked planes, all the people in the ruined buildings, had done something that made them deserving of what happened.

I was so shocked, I hung up and vowed never to have anything else to do with her again, which meant I had to forgo the once-and-former business colleague as well, but such is life. I'd had breakfasts on the ground floor of the Marriott, looking across the plaza at the towers. I'd been in both those towers in meetings. I'd done business dinners at Windows on the World on the 107th floor of the North Tower - the food wasn't that great, but the views were incredible and the people nice. That's my main memory of the area - the people I'd met, nice, smart, often-funny people. And that simpering ninny my colleague had had the poor judgment to marry had the gall to say they'd not only deserved to die but to do so in such a horrible and bizarre a fashion.

If anyone had told me, as I hung up that phone on 9/13/01, that one day, a decade and a half later, there'd be a Broadway musical celebrating anything about 9/11, I'd have been incredulous. But there is, and it isn't exploitative and it isn't sentimentalized and it does celebrate something worth celebrating about 9/11. Which is the fact that the huge airport at little Gander, Newfoundland, landed thirty-eight international flights ferrying over 7,000 scared, confused, sometimes hostile passengers and the people of Gander voluntarily took care of them for days, until U.S. air space reopened - and this while a hurricane was on its way.

The show's called Come From Away. It's been nominated for a 2017 Tony as Best New Musical. I haven't seen it yet, but its score is clever and, judging by the show album, the performances surprisingly well-defined given that a lot of parts are played by a handful of actors (a dozen as I recall).

The people of Gander were heroic in a stressful, potentially dangerous situation. It's good to be reminded nowadays that people are capable of amazing and amazingly inclusive actions in an emergency and that making the world around us "exclusive" for those who are just like us will not necessarily make it better or safer.