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Letters To America On The Drive Home
Part Four: An OK City, September 17, 2001
Thank you, everyone for your response to these letters I wrote 20 years ago this week. It‘s because I was more concerned about 9/12+ — what we did as a country in the days and years after, and how we sadly didn’t use these lost decades to defeat the real terrorism of racism, income inequality, 30 million without health insurance, the lack of child care and elder care, the terror of our planet’s rapid extermination, and the terrorists who seek to bring down our democracy.
On my weeklong trip to get home after 9/11, I was filled with the fear we would lose ourselves in endless wars after those attacks. I wanted to believe this madness could be stopped. Sharing these letters with you now is my way of asking you to join me in hitting a major reset button. Although few listened to me or Rep. Barbara Lee (or you) back in 2001, nor again in 2003, I thought one way to launch my first month on Substack would be to try these ideas out one more time. Because by now, after everything we’ve seen and lived through, I know all of you have had it — and we all know that we are finally the majority of this country — and it’s about f---ing time we got our way. Here’s what I wrote to many of you, 20 years ago tonight…)
An OK City
September 17, 2001
Pulling out of Albuquerque, on our way back to New York City, we pass by the exit that invites us to visit the "National Atomic Museum," but figuring we probably couldn't get a New York Times there, we decline the offer and head out across New Mexico.
The amazing thing is that you can even get an NY Times or Wall Street Journal out here in the middle of nowhere. As I write this late Sunday night, the captains of Capitalism at the WSJ are declaring that the stock exchange will re-open on Monday, even if they don't have running water or phones, just to show its enemies that NOTHING can stop the march forward toward the accumulation of more wealth.
The vast majority of the dead this week are those who labored to bring them that wealth, and it dishonors them and their families to so callously crank up the greed machine within days of this tragedy. Their bodies -- thousands of them -- are still buried under the rubble just down the street, but, hey, why wait to give them a proper burial -- let's get busy making some money! I can only hope that the stench from the innocent corpses of their former employees will haunt them for the rest of the day and remain in their consciences for years to come...
The Wall Street Journal has not missed a day of publication this week, even though much of their operation has been moved to New Jersey. Perhaps this explains why they lifted a portion from the first of my letters to you from the road this week and reprinted it out of context. As this is a publication whose editorial department has no moral compass, I shouldn't be surprised that they would appropriate my words and twist them to fit their own agenda. I thought I'd write them a letter about this, and then I went, “Ah, jeez, do I have to explain satire to these people?” I gotta drive through Texas!
We entered what I thought was Texas, but we were never sure because there was no "Welcome to Texas" sign on the road. All states greet you with some oversized proud billboard when you cross their state line. Not Texas. Is the implication that you don't need to know you are in Texas because, as long as you are in the United States, you're essentially always in Texas? I decided to see how fast we could get across Texas without stopping. Of course, we were in the panhandle, so how hard could that be?
Eventually we had to stop for gas, and so we did, in Groom, Texas, a skanky little hole of a place where obviously a typo inserted the letter "R" instead of the intended "L" in the town’s name. A newspaper article near the cashier proclaimed that Groom's mayor has been the big winner in the Texas state lottery -- twice. I wasn't sure if the posting of this news was to warn us not to bother buying a lottery ticket here 'cause the fix was already in — or to simply remind us just how lucky we should feel to be in Groom.
It seems like every sign and flashing marquee along the road has some sort of message regarding the massacre in New York: "GOD BLESS AMERICA UNLEADED. $2.09 GAL." and "REMEMBER WORLD TRADE CENTER PORK CHOP BREAKFAST $5.99." But then a Southern Baptist preacher comes on the radio and says the following: "Perhaps America has some repenting to do. We propped up the Shah of Iran when maybe we shouldn't have. We have used the poor of the world to make our goods so we can make a profit when maybe we shouldn't..."
These were stunning words to hear, but it coincided with much of what we have been picking up along the road; namely, that many, many Americans are not in support of going off to war and bombing innocent people, no matter how much we all want those responsible to be brought to justice. I continue to be hopeful...
Sunday morning we pull into Oklahoma City. The clerk at the motel notices the California license plate on our rental car and asks about where we are going. I tell him New York City, and he tells me that this has been an especially hard week for Oklahoma City. He puts his hand out to me and says he went to three funerals himself after the Oklahoma City bombing, one of which he sang at. "It was the father of my best friend." Tears are pushed back.
We go four blocks down the street to the OKC Federal Building memorial. The streets around it had been blocked off all week for fear that someone may want to copy-cat bomb it again. The barriers are down now, and the place is full of people stopping to pray and reflect. A large granite slab says "9:03" and I am struck by the fact that this is the same exact minute that the second plane slammed into the World Trade Center.
Kids are writing messages to the people of New York with chalk on the sidewalk. Nearby, a man tells me he hopes that our leaders pay heed to the words inscribed on the memorial about violence never again being used. Another lady points out that the business of vengeance is the Lord's, not ours. Again, I am hopeful, but the sadness of this site is too overwhelming, and we decide not to stay in Oklahoma City. We leave, and don't say much for the next hour or so on the road.
I wonder if New York will honor those lost by turning the former blocks of the WTC into its own quiet, peaceful memorial site. Or, as the pundits insist, will they rebuild it immediately to show our enemies that the business of America shall continue uninterrupted? At that moment we enter the "Will Rogers Turnpike," and I think I know what he would say about all this, let alone what he would say about this state naming a toll road after him.
Later in the evening, we pass by the birthplace of French's Mustard somewhere in Missouri, and we eventually make it to the city that houses the National Bowling Hall of Fame, and it is there where we decide to spend the night...
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