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9/11 L.A.: All About Us


On September 11, I had a debate with myself I have just about every morning – should I go to the gym or lay in bed and watch the news? Usually, this debate begins when the morning paper makes a thud on my doorstep and continues until it would be too late to actually go to the gym and make it into the office on time.

But this Tuesday morning was different. In my half-comatose state, the snooze alarm – set to a Top 40 station – became all-news all of a sudden and started blaring something about an airplane and New York City. I rolled over and grabbed the TV remote just in time to see Katie Couric and Matt Lauer – appearing more than an hour earlier than usual for Los Angeles – reacting to news that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Quickly, my thoughts turned from New York to my own situation. I was supposed to be in the office earlier than everyone else. A courier was coming by to pick up the invitation proofs for for a major event we were putting on, and I was the one he would be getting them from. What, I asked myself, is the likelihood that a three-story low-rise in Sherman Oaks, California was a target of the folks who had just launched the New York attacks?

Sensing that likelihood was low, I jumped in the shower to go about my day despite my news junkie’s desire to stay at home and gawk at the television. When I got out of the shower and saw the reports from the Pentagon, I called my brother and sister-in-law…they had no TV and I figured they would have the same instincts as me. For that much, I was right.

Over the two days, the reaction across Los Angeles was striking: How narcissistic we were. If the terrorists would attack New York and Washington, well, L.A. was obviously all on their list. Rumors spread quickly. The “hit list” at various points ranged from the tallest downtown buildings to the largest studios to the localest of neighborhood bars. Businesses – the local Starbucks, my gym – shut their doors as their employees were too afraid to come in.

Even though the tragedy struck a continent away, we all felt a part of it.

Within two days, spirits changed. But then, Los Angeles was ready to stage one of the first large public events after September 11. Madonna was in town playing at the Staples Center and after two nights of cancelled concerts, she, and the city, were ready to let loose. After the apprehension of the added security at Staples Center, the crowd seemed to collectively realized that if we were voluntarily making ourselves a target for terrorists we’d better have a good time. Fourteen-dollar vodka tonics flowed like it was dollar drink night until the crowd was lubricated enough to forget the world around us and focus on the Material Girl.

This semi-fatalist mentality poured into the streets of Los Angeles in the coming days. We knew not when we would meet our maker, so collectively, we decided to make the most of the time we had on this earth.

Some people might call it hedonism, but this attitude served a higher purpose. Traditional barriers we Los Angelenos put up between each other – be it over race, class, neighborhoods or body-fat percentage – were torn down by the collective experience we all felt on 9/11. The new normal almost felt good.

But it was too good to last. By the time then-Mayor Jim Hahn tried to exploit the tragedy for political purposes, placing a 9-1-1 bond on the next ballot, our cynicism had returned, and maybe for good.

Share  Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 12:00 AM | Permalink

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