Sunday, September 8, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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One year later: 'A before and an after'

Newhouse News Service

The smoke has cleared, the tears dried, yet many Americans wake up each morning in a country profoundly changed from the one they knew last Sept. 10.

With a somber anniversary falling this week, thinking about life in pre-9/11 America is an exercise in nostalgia.

Remember how tired we were on Sept. 10 of hearing about Rep. Gary Condit and how we chuckled at the prospect of Jesse Ventura running for president? Far from his heroic image today, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was trying to rebound from a painfully public divorce. Our neighbors didn't use phrases like twin towers, homeland security or al-Qaida.

For some viewers, TV's "The West Wing" was more compelling than the real White House. And travelers that day could arrive at an airport less than an hour before takeoff and still make their flights.

Then a slow Monday in September turned to Tuesday. And now, as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has said, "There is a before and an after" in America.

No longer an abstraction

"My antenna is up all the time since 9/11," said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, a freshman House member who commutes between Washington and his Columbus district, where jitters about terrorism are not as intense as back East.

In New York City and Washington, a bomb scare, a suspicious parked truck, even a loud backfire can set off alarms. The threat of terrorism is no abstraction, it is "part of the air you breathe," as one New Yorker put it.

"Every time I look at the Empire State Building, I feel a protectiveness about it," said Manhattanite Tim Bush, a writer and illustrator of children's books. "It is hard to put into words. It is not exactly anxiety. It is the same feeling you have when you wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep."

"Life will never return to normal as we knew it," said Vance Garnett, a free-lance Washington writer. "The best we can hope for is to try to create some kind of new normalcy."

Everywhere in the country, language has changed, mobility is more limited, and the view of the future is obstructed by the possibility of another terrorist strike. If there is a silver lining, it is this: Our ability to sort out the important from the trivial is keener.

A new perspective

"What 9/11 does is distill everything very clearly — what is important in life becomes very clear," said Peter Kirsanow, a Cleveland lawyer who spent much of this year in a political struggle to be seated on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. "You find out that a little appointment does not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things."

Flying to Washington about three months after the attacks, Kirsanow witnessed a hardened attitude among airline passengers.

"A fellow sitting across the aisle from me said, 'If anybody makes a wrong move, I am getting up and I am tackling them.' I said, 'I'm with you.' And that was the sentiment on the plane."

Cynthia Lurie says her life is no different now. But probe a little deeper and she admits, yes, she arrives at airports hours earlier; yes, she jumps at loud noises. She pays more attention to news events, keeps up with terror alerts.

"I guess there have been changes, quite a few changes. I try not to dwell on it. But it's always there, isn't it?" said Lurie, 54, of Newport Beach, Calif.

She chatted as she submitted to security screening at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif. — perhaps the most obvious difference in our lives since Sept. 11.

Frequent fliers now go to the gate prepared to open their suitcases and shuck their shoes, and most do it without complaint, though some have rejected flying entirely; airlines have reported that traffic dropped 6 to 10 percent in July from July 2001.

In some parts of the country, an inching back toward normalcy came sooner and change was often subtle. As Rep. Tiberi sees it, there is a small disconnect between the nation's heartland and its Eastern seaboard where the attacks took nearly 3,000 lives.

Tiberi, his wife, Denice, and friends recently attended an Eagles concert at Ohio State University. "It was packed and I noticed they were not checking bags," Tiberi said. Troubled, he complained about the lax security at ticket gates.

Fellow concert-goers "looked at me like I was nuts. 'This is Columbus, Ohio. Things like that don't happen in the middle of America.' There is a false sense of security."

Likewise in St. Louis, site of the famous Gateway Arch, people "are probably more concerned about getting West Nile virus than they are about a terrorist attack in their hometown," said Thomas Schlafly, a lawyer and brewer.

"I guess there is a feeling that New York and Washington are a world apart from 'fly-over country,' " Schlafly said.

"In the immediate aftermath, it seemed to me people (here) were generally nicer. Now, road rage and lack of courtesy seem to have returned to their former levels," he said. "Daily life is similar to what it was a year ago."

Are we safer today than we were on Sept. 10? The anecdotal evidence is that we are — somewhat.

No major incidents have occurred over American skies since the four hijackings that precipitated the death and destruction in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, although a scary episode over the ocean briefly got the nation's attention.

In December, passengers and crew members aboard an American Airlines Paris-to-Miami flight overpowered a man who they said attempted to set off explosives hidden in his shoes. British-born Richard Reid has been charged with attempting to blow up the plane and is scheduled to go on trial in November in Boston.

Nothing has happened on the ground since October's discovery of anthrax-laced mail that killed five people and nearly shut down Congress.

The Bush administration is asking Congress to create a new agency and provide $37.7 billion for homeland security next year.

A 'new normalcy'

But daily life has changed — perhaps a "new normalcy" — in Lower Manhattan, on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon.

Around the New York island, bawling bagpipes of another firefighter's memorial service, another lost person found alive, and sculptures of life-size search-and-rescue dogs are constant reminders of what occurred there last September. And a debate about what kind of memorial and construction should replace the 110-story twin towers is well under way.

In Washington, Vance Garnett, the free-lancer, doesn't make the social scene as often as he used to. "Now my wife and I and my stepdaughters have a few favorite restaurants, and we go there. Even then, I think, what would happen if someone walked in with a belt of nails and shrapnel they could detonate?"

Recently, the District of Columbia distributed Cold War-era Geiger counters and other radiation detectors to fire stations to help rescue workers track radiation releases in the event a "dirty bomb" is set off.

Rep. Bob Ney, chairman of the House Administration Committee, is in charge of upgrading security for the entire U.S. House. Making Congress safer meant long hours — meetings lasting until 3 a.m. — and "a lot of pressure."

A number of House aides are looking for jobs elsewhere, Ney said.

'Part of something bigger'

But some government workers who are staying are inspired.

"Every day I get up and think about how my job is tied to the protection and safety of Americans," said Mary Beth Carozza, deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. "That motivates me because I am part of something bigger than myself. It is easier to accept the long hours and maybe less of a personal life."

Carozza had been at the Pentagon only four months when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the massive building, the symbol of American military power. She was unharmed.

Nearly 12 months later, she speaks passionately about "The Mission" — the war against terrorism — and calls her work in the post-9/11 environment a life-transforming experience. Part of her job is selling Operation Enduring Freedom to House lawmakers, so tax dollars will continue to be available.

"I believe in fate and destiny, and I believe there is a reason I was in this building and that I am in this job now," she says. "I know that sounds hokey, but that's how I feel."

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.


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