Ten Years ago on September 11
By Mohammad Yacoob
On September 10, 2001, our son drove to our house early in the morning to leave his car in our garage and to go to Los Angeles Airport to catch the flight to Kansas City. We live several miles from the Los Angeles International Airport in Hawthorne, in the South Bay-Los Angeles area. Our son lives in Orange County, approximately thirty miles from our house. I drove him to the airport and then went to work.
The next day, on September 11, at work, commotion started in some engineering offices on the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York. Then, confusion and disbelief prevailed as more news, with emotional twists, started pouring in on the radios in the offices declaring that the second tower had been hit by another airplane. The work stopped; everyone was glued to their radios, trying to make sense out of the word of mouth information and tabloid-style utterances.
The emotional, trembling and quivering announcements by the newscasters added more chaos and confusion to the already charged atmosphere. Many employees made frantic phone calls home trying to learn more from their families and to know what was being broadcast on television. At work, the next news item on the radio sent shivers through the minds of everybody at the office. The news item and the commentary were about the terrorists’ next move and intention to attack Los Angeles. The aerospace company where I work is located very close to the Los Angeles International Airport.
I called home to get more information. We started to worry about our son, who was in Kansas City. An announcement came over the public address system at work appealing to everyone to remain calm and saying that the Vice President and Plant Manager were going to make an announcement soon. Everyone was saying, “Los Angles is the next target, and we are right in the middle of it”. Later, the Vice president talked on the PA system about the chaotic situation in the US and particularly in Los Angeles and ordered everyone to leave quietly and go home.
I rushed home. Finally, we received a phone call from our son, and he confirmed that he was fine. In Kansas City, the Medical Conference proceedings abruptly ended and the participants were asked to return to their respective cities. Our son informed us that the government had issued standing orders that nobody could hire a taxi, get a rental car, rent a bus or a truck, or get any other vehicle. These transportation modes were to be used only by the emergency and security personnel. The people were asked to leave Kansas City via train – the only means of transportation available to the public. There were 14 doctors from Los Angeles and the Southern California area. They all got together and went to the rail station. They were informed that tickets would be available that day, September 11, 2011, at 6:00 o‘clock local time. Our son said that he would call us later.
We continued to watch the television without a break all day, looking at the indelible images, frustrations, anger, and shock and trauma that people were suffering. Some of them talked about it. For the Muslims in the United States, it was an unsettling and worrying position because the names of the Muslim terrorists and eventually Islam were being tossed around tabloid style by the hysterically frenzied and emotionally charged newscasters.
At the same time, we were in touch with our daughter-in-law about the phone calls she had received from our son and our two grandsons. We were watching television but always throwing glances at the telephone, as if by looking at it, it would come alive and start ringing. Our son called at six o’clock and said that the train tickets were all sold out. The Los Angeles group will have to wait for 24 hours before they could get tickets for the next train. They went to the emergency authorities and told them that doctors fall into the emergency crew category and that they should be allowed to get a bus or rent out cars to return to Southern California. After much haggling, the authorities agreed and told them to find transportation, then come back for permission to leave Kansas City. One bus company said that they would charge $9000 to transport 14 people, one way, to Los Angeles. All contacted their medical offices and hospitals. Our son also gave the status to his superiors at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. The 14 doctors could not agree on the $9000 and started looking for other companies for a bus or minibuses. Our son hoped that they would leave Kansas City the next day, September 12.
On the twelfth, he called us to inform that they were able to get two minibuses for the 14 people and that the rental charged for each bus would be around $1500. He promised to keep in touch with us and his wife while on the road. It was a traumatic experience for all of us. He called us at regular intervals all day on September 12. Then, in the evening the calls stopped coming; we did not receive any calls from him for more than four hours. We were panic-stricken and didn’t know what to do. At around ten o’clock he called again. He informed that they were going to Burbank Airport, located in the city of Burbank. From there they would go straight to Los Angeles Airport and return the minibus at the rental place near the airport. He further said that he did not call us for 4 to 5 hours because he was trying to save the batteries of his cell phone which was getting weaker. Everyone in the minibus was facing the same problem.
At midnight, on the twelfth, he called us after they had left the Burbank Airport. Now they were on their way to Los Angeles Airport and he said that he would be at the car rental place in about half an hour. My family gave a sigh of relief. I immediately got ready to go to the rental place near the Airport to pick him up.
I came out of the house and opened the garage. It was a very eerie feeling amid the stunning silence and stillness. Two days of watching the entire world in turmoil filled with chaos and now this stillness seemed unreal.
I got in the car and after a mile or so turned on Aviation Boulevard that takes you directly to Century Blvd. When you take a left turn on Century Blvd, you head straight to the Los Angeles Airport. I continued on Aviation. For a mile before Century Blvd the space on both sides of Aviation is open ground. On the left side to the west are the runways and on the right side to the east are mechanical structures equipped with high powered blinking lights for guiding the airplanes to land.
Los Angeles is a very busy airport. If you look towards the guiding light structures usually you see four or five airplanes’ flickering lights any time of the night. It has been said many times that the fifth airplane will land on the runway in five minutes, meaning, every minute an airplane is landing at the Los Angeles Airport. For the first time I saw lights not lit or blinking on those structures. They looked like dark devils. There were no airplanes on the horizon. I looked towards the west; only one helicopter was circling all runways of the airport. It was a very frightening sight. Suddenly my heart started beating faster because of the thoughts that came to my mind.
“What is a Muslim man doing near the Los Angeles Airport at 12:30am, when America had presumed that the next target of the terrorist attack might be Los Angeles Airport?”
I started reciting verses from the Qur’an in an audible toone. Then I started praying, “O Allah, let me go safely towards Century Blvd. O Allah, don’t let any policeman stop me until I reach the car rental place. O Allah, protects me!”
My mind started churning up new thoughts. If the police stopped me, they would ask, ‘What I was doing at this time of the morning? What is my name? Do I have any identity on me?’ My first name is Mohammad – a Muslim, who fits the profile of a Middle Eastern man. The officers would beat me. An image popped into my mind of an American citizen, Rodney King, who was beaten up by police officers almost ten years ago - in 1991 - in Los Angeles. One year later in 1992 the jury acquitted three white police officers and one Hispanic officer. This triggered a violent reaction and thousands of people rioted for six days following the verdict. I started thinking, if the police officers beat me, continue to beat me and keep on beating me, only Allah will save me.
I continued to recite the verses from the Qur’an. Finally, I took a left turn on Century Blvd. and after passing through other streets arrived at the car rental place. The employee at the counter inside the car rental building informed me that no car, van or bus had arrived there in the last one hour. I did not know what to do. A few minutes later, I found myself walking in the parking lot of the car rental business. I said to myself, “What are you doing here, get back into the building.” I virtually ran back into the building. Five minutes later, a minibus stopped at the front door and I saw our son get out of the bus along with other passengers. I embraced him with a grin and a smile, and we went home.