Thoughts on the World Trade Center

Last week, I visited New York City for the first time. Part of our tour included a visit to “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan. This is the first time I have ever written any of my thoughts on the events of 9/11.

When 9/11 happened, I was living in Dallas and 3 months into my career at Southwest Airlines. I was engaged to be married within 4 months, with my fiancee living in Houston. I heard about the first plane crash just as I was pulling into the parking lot to arrive at work. Like everyone else, I first thought it was an accident due to weather (not knowing the NYC weather that morning) or mechanical failure of the aircraft. Shortly after work started, I went online to read the news about the incident. My radio was tuned to my regular morning show. Then the radio DJ broke in with an exclamation of how another plane had hit the Trade Center. Because my job at the time involved answering phone calls from frequent fliers, we had no access to televisions. We were all shocked and very confused about what was happening and what might happen next. Would it happen to Southwest? Would it happen in Dallas? Nobody knew. My fiancee called and I assured her everything was OK in Dallas. By then I had seen photos online of the burning buildings. My co-worker was informed that one of the buildings had collapsed. I was in disbelief that this was even possible – that something to tall and strong could fall back to earth. I figured the top portion above the impact sight was what collapsed. It was not until I saw the video during my lunch break that realized the worst had actually happened. I expected an influx of phone calls from Customers. However the opposite occurred, and it was eerily calm. Like everywhere else in the country that day, we were worried about what could happen next. The cowards who took over the aircraft had accomplished their mission of provoking fear in the minds of all Americans.

The site now looks like any downtown construction area, except ringed by tour buses. The memorials to the fallen now reside across the street at Trinity Church. This was the most moving time for me, viewing the letters signs and patches dedicated to the fallen. The WTC site was not my first visit to a place where thousands of people had died as a result of an act of terror. Auschwitz was the other one. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos there. I took none at the WTC either. Like at Auschwitz, what I saw at Ground Zero will never leave my mind.



Reflections on Katrina

I grew up in Houston, Texas – no stranger to the threat of hurricanes. Houston’s last big hurricane was Hurricane Alicia in 1983. I was 5 years old. Alicia was the only major hurricane that year, and the first hurricane to strike the US since 1980. We were lucky enough to be out of town on vacation at the time. We lived about 30 miles inland from the coast. We arrived home to see a couple shattered windows, lost shingles and a damaged backyard fence. Otherwise the storms I experienced were minor tropical storms and category 1’s.

In college, I studied natural hazards including hurricanes. We learned that because of the topography (land shape) around New Orleans, a direct hit by a large hurricane would be catastrophic for the city. The government knew it. City planners knew it. Citizens knew it.

One year ago today, as Hurricane Katrina pounded the central Gulf Coast, I was making my way to central Texas for a golf tournament. I was awestruck by what I saw unfolding live on television and the internet. Katrina would strike New Orleans almost head-on with awesome force. The media noted the shape of the “New Orleans Bowl” and how the storm surge was coming from the ocean, while Lake Pontchartrain could spill into the city from the North. Catastrophe was inevitable. Late that evening, news outlets reported how New Orleans had “dodged a bullet” because the brunt of the storm stayed to the east of the city. The city had suffered major wind damage, but the true disaster was knocking on the door.

The following morning, August 30 I woke up to see aerial images of the flooded city. Thousands of residents had remained in the city in spite of mandatory evacuation orders. Over the next several days I asked myself how they could be so lazy & dumb. If the government tells me to evacuate, I’m getting the heck out of Dodge! If I know this area could flood, I don’t move my family there. I questioned how they could let themselves get trapped in their own attics.

In hindsight a year later, I realized that not everyone was able to just leave town. Some of them had no vehicles, or money for a plane, bus or taxi. Some of them were caring for elderly, bed-ridden parents. Some of them could afford no other housing but the below-sea-level 9th Ward. The world really began to see the decline of humanity in New Orleans over the following week. Elderly people and babies were dying in the streets, in the heat for lack of food, water and medicine. At first I thought that there was no way for help to reach the victims due to the flooded streets. But if NBC can find a way to get a box of beef jerky to Brian Williams, there was a passable road somewhere and the National Guard had a way into the city.

Back to the point of this whole thing… I now regret thinking all of the negative thoughts I had toward the people of New Orleans. I was overcome by the scenes of crime and lootings. I looked down upon them. I assigned the fault to them for not having an education or jobs. I don’t know what I would have done in their situation. But I surely would have given my life to feed my wife and daughter. I see that is all they were trying to do for the most part. They were just trying to survive in a world where they had been failed by their own government.

America had never experienced an event like this on such a scale. The powers that be sure did make a mess of it all, beginning with the New Orleans Police Department all the way up to President Bush. It is my hope that they have all learned from their mistakes. The heroic efforts by many are not to be ignored, such as the NOPD officers who remained on the job after the storm working around the clock. The doctors who stayed downtown at the convention center assisting the sick and dehydrated. Ordinary people understood that if they didn’t make something happen, it wasn’t doing to get done. Help from the government was trapped in a web of red tape. My hope and prayer is that this all goes more smoothly and safely next time around.

A Dog’s Life

Reading the best-selling book “Marley and Me” helped bring to me a new appreciation of my own dog, Shelby. Like Marley, Shelby is also a yellow Labrador Retriever. She also shares Marley’s eagerness for affection and playfulness. Unlike Marley, Shelby has never been stubbornly disobedient and destructive. Shelby is an English Lab, known for their lower, stockier build, well-balanced behavior and friendliness. She is all that and more. She has never failed to greet me at the door when I come home. She has never hidden her disappointment when I leave.

Growing up, my younger brother was severely allergic to animal hair. We had Beagles and later a Border Collie, but they always lived outside. Unfortunately like most “outside dogs,” they tended to get ignored when it was hot, cold, rainy, or dark outside. I vowed to myself a long time ago that when I “grow up” that I would get a dog of my own, and that dog would live inside with me. Having Shelby inside allows her to express her natural affection for us and we enjoy her company in return. She does lose a lot of hair indoors, but this motivates us to keep our house clean, especially with a new baby at home.

Seeing how Marley’s life ended at a ripe old age, it tore me up to think of having to say goodbye to our wonderful friend. I know that day will come with sadness. Shelby has already returned dividends on the investment we made to bring her into our lives. If you’re a dog-lover looking for a good book to read, I highly recommend reading “Marley & Me.”

Yosemite National Park

For photographers, Yosemite National Park is a pilgrimage one must make. My incredible wife understood my need to get away from work for a few days and take a little trip with my buddy Shannon. From Houston we flew on Southwest to Reno, NV by way of Las Vegas. After getting our rent car we headed to In-N-Out Burger in Sparks for lunch, because it was already almost 1:00pm in Texas! In-N-Out is always a first-stop when I travel to a Western state. After a quick “Double-Double,” we were on the road in our rented PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser drove just fine on flat roads, but I soon realized it was under-powered for all the hill climbing which began just south of Reno on Hwy 395. We topped out at 65 m.p.h. and 4,000RPM going uphill. Most of the driving I did for the week was on hilly curvy roads, for 540 miles round trip.

We made our way South through the State Capital, Carson City – which has a poor excuse for a State Legislature building compared with ours here in Austin. It was just more validation that things in Texas really are bigger.

We eventually reached Lee Vining, California – resting on the edge of Mono Lake. Here was a rest stop where we topped off our gas and stocked up on supplies (beer & water). From here we began the long, winding trek down the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. We made several stops along the way to photograph breathtaking snow-capped mountains, streams & waterfalls. It was by far the most beautiful and scenic drive I have ever made.

We arrived at our destination, Curry Village, and checked in. We were given cabin 401, right on the edge of the parking lot by the trash cans. Thank goodness I had ear plugs. The screen-doored canvas cabin came with 2 single beds and one double bed. I claimed the double, agreeing Shannon would have it the next night. Somehow I ended up getting it both nights. Anyway, four towels were provided along with sheets and multiple blankets for each bed. Extra towels and bedding were available in a linen hut further down the row of cabins. For lighting, a single bulb hung from the ceiling which was illuminated by a beaded pull string. We were expecting low temps in the 30s but it never made it below the mid-50s. The heater was not operable, nor did we have a need for it – so we unplugged it and used the outlet to charge our camera batteries and cell phones. The soft sheets and pillows gave us a great sleep each night. Showering facilities were located in a trailer a short walk from the cabin. For dining, Curry Village has a pizzeria, a taqueria, a coffee bar that sells various pastries, an ice cream shop and a buffet that serves lunch and dinner. We found the buffet pricing to be beyond what we wanted to spend.

During the day we visited the famous Yosemite landmarks like Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. The morning after our arrival we hiked out to Mirror Lake, just under 4 miles round trip from our camp. We were rewarded with perfectly still waters that justified it’s name.

Bridalveil Falls

The final morning, we left Yosemite with plans to stop by Lake Tahoe on the way back to Reno. We were held up by some traffic & road construction along the way. Our plans to watch the MLB All-Star game cut our trip to Tahoe short but we did stop a little while to snap photos and call loved-ones. We checked into our hotel in time to watch the game. We visited In-N-Out once more for dinner then watched the rest of the game in our room before going down to play some Blackjack.

The trip was entirely rewarding and enjoyable. It was great to be able to travel with a friend I’ve known for so long. Special thanks to my loving wife.