It dawned on me today that it’s been over a month since my last bike ride. I have a vague memory of October 22nd – I remember the weather promised to be unseasonably warm with abundant sunshine, so Old Bessie and I made sure to take advantage of the day.
Riding along Elbo Lane towards my parents’ former neighborhood, something caught my eye at the local fire department and prompted me to turn around after passing it.
It was a large piece of twisted metal rising toward the heavens against a beautiful blue sky. Now, I’ve ridden by this facility dozens of times and never noticed the 9/11 Memorial on display in front of the building and questioned my awareness. After learning that the memorial had just been erected the month prior on the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, I was reassured of my knack for acuity.
Not knowing from which tower it fell, the twisted metal was recovered at Ground Zero and donated to New Jersey to be put on display. Other artifacts included a piece of limestone taken from the Pentagon and a rock from the crash site of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.
It reminded me of that day and how much I really don’t like to think about it. September 11, 2001 was the kid’s “half birthday” – she was exactly 2 1/2 years old. The kid was busying herself with play while I worked out to a video in our living room. A few minutes after 8:46AM the phone rang. Still working out, I listened to the answering machine as it recorded my mother’s voice on the other end. Panic was in her voice, and she demanded I respond to her call. Picking up the receiver, I asked her what was wrong. “Turn on the t.v.! We’re under attack!” As ordered, I turned the channel to CNN and watched as the North Tower burned. Now it was my turn to panic. The kid could tell that something serious was going on as I desperately attempted to calm my mother down. Trying to figure out what had happened, I watched as a jetliner crashed into the South Tower at 9:03AM…then the Pentagon at 9:37AM…and finally, a crash in rural Pennsylvania at 10:07AM. In memory, most of that day was an emotional roller coaster of hysteria and complete terror. And then the skies grew quiet…very quiet…and it stayed that way for 48 hours. For weeks I was glued to CNN, paralyzed by the incomprehensibility of events on that mild Tuesday morning with the beautiful blue sky. It took months before I didn’t cower when planes flew overhead, and the kid became so frightened by our reactions she refused to leave my side for over two years. At some point I turned off the news and never watched it again…
And then I saw something in the parking lot that delightfully lightened the mood:
A practice dummy lying face down after being “rescued” during a drill…time to move on!
Heading toward Church Road and making the usual pit stop at Johnson’s Farm, I found myself passing Kirby’s Mill (Seeing, May 25, 2017) and discovered a small house behind the mill.
“This simply detailed, 1 story, three bay wide frame house with a shed roofed porch across the front was built in the late 1700s. It may have been a tenant house on the Jonathan Haines farm. Jonathan was one of the men who petitioned the New Jersey Assembly for permission to build a dam, a gristmill and a sawmill on the land bordering the South Branch of the Rancocas Creek, “one end abutting on the land of the said Jonathan Haines.” In 1778, the mill was completed and started operations. This building became the home of the sawmill foreman and therefore was called the Sawyer’s House.”
After a cautious look around, I decided to explore the road further, not having ever ridden it before – Fostertown Road. A little over a mile later, I came upon an airport.
It’s called the Flying W Airport and Resort:
“Flying W Airport & Resort was built in the 1960s by Bill Whitesell; hence the “W” in its name. Mr. Whitesell initially envisioned a place to provide air transportation services to those involved in building the Alaska Pipe Line. He also wanted to provide a place where both travelers and local families could dine al fresco in a restaurant that also doubles as a bar and cafe, stay in the quaint Flying W Motel, and swim in the famous airplane-shaped swimming pool. Over the years, the restaurant, lounge and swimming pool have provided enjoyment and wonderful memories to many who still visit.”
What a quaint little place! Thinking about how much Michael would have loved this place, I looked at the small single-engine planes and remembered hearing how some of the 9/11 hijackers took flying lessons at little airports like this one in order to gain the knowledge they would later use to kill thousands of people…time to move on!
Continuing down the road, I pulled Old Bessie to the side of the road so as not to miss the perfect photo op of all rides:
Yup…some days, when everything is right with the universe and the sun is high in that beautifully cloudless blue sky and you’re just coasting through life feeling groovy without a care in the world, a huge pile of shit is going to find you. So why the challenge? I believe that G-d gives us what we can handle and maybe sometimes we need a little humility to remind us of our fortune in life. But how does one explain pure evil? Why do we need the challenge of men full of hatred turning jetliners into weapons of destruction and killing thousands of innocent people? Perhaps we need an occasional reminder as to why we all need to be better human beings. Some would say that if the test is passed successfully, we are rewarded in the end…
Four days after 9/11, on a quiet Saturday morning with a beautiful blue sky, a friend decided to go ahead with the wedding she had planned over the past year. This friend spent decades dating all the wrong guys until she happened to meet up with an old acquaintance from elementary school when in her late 30s. In a storybook fairytale, they fell in love and got engaged two years later during a romantic getaway somewhere along the Florida Keys. Originally planning to exchange vows on the beach, the ceremony was transferred to a little church on the main drag due to public restrictions being enforced throughout the region. Wearing her fantasy wedding gown purchased on ebay months before, she and her husband exchanged vows to a tearful congregation. I had known this woman for ten years and watched her struggle from one relationship to the next. I was truly happy for her, but couldn’t stop thinking about the collective sorrow resonating silently throughout the chapel. For a year we helped plan the perfect wedding never anticipating something as horrific as 9/11. As we gathered together to leave the church and head to the reception, we thanked our friend for providing a moment of peace and love desperately needed after a long week of tremendous despair.
“I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”
I Shall Be Released – Bob Dylan
“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump