9/11 hits closer to home for Andy Schulkind than he thought. Here’s how.
Ask anyone on September 10, 2001 from what city a terror attack would launched, and Portland, Maine probably wouldn’t be on their list.
However, that evening at 5:43 p.m., Mohammed Atta and Abdul-Aziz al-Omari checked in to the Comfort Inn at 90 Maine Mall Road less than 1000 yards from the Portland International Jetport runway just hours before their date with infamy. Atta and al-Omari had driven a rented Nissan from Boston to Maine’s largest city.
They used the same ATM in South Portland, which I frequented and went to the local Wal-Mart in Scarborough, a short 10 minute drive from their motel.
The next morning they boarded the commuter flight that took them to Boston and the end of their lives.
I worked for an insurance company whose east entrance is located across from the access road to the airport. At that intersection two sets of large blue letters PWM (IATA code for Portland-Westbrook Municipal) act as a gateway to the airport.
It is likely that I could have passed the hijackers that morning. It wouldn’t be inconceivable as I was early riser and liked to get to work before eight am. It also was conceivable that I looked out my window and saw their plane take off for Boston.
There was a collective response of shock and disbelief, when it became known that two of the hijackers began their mission from this small city on Casco Bay.
Reports surfaced that they barely made their flight. The staff at check had a “funny feeling” about these guys, but dismissed it. For months after the attack, the manager of the hotel where they stayed had serious mental health issues.
For months afterwards people talked about the tragedy as if in some part they were responsible for it. They were not.
As a native New Yorker living in Maine, I had a variety of feelings, none of them good. While I didn’t know anyone who lost their lives at the World Trade Center, I found I did know one of the victims of United Flight 175.
I knew Jim Roux, a 43 year old attorney, who I met when he was an aspiring politician in the early 1990s. Jim was a Bowdoin graduate and was the grandson of Independent Maine Governor James Longley.
I can’t say I knew Jim well, I didn’t. Just a couple of meetings, and a few hello’s in passing on the streets of Portland. But his loss was a real loss for Mainers who saw one of their own perish.
The grief associated with the attacks struck many who lived in the state. I thought of World Trade Center site, where as a child had watched the demolition of the Radio Row neighborhood where the towers would be built.
In the early 1970s I went to a job interview at Tower 2. I went to the observation deck in the 1970s shortly before I left New York for the next 35 years.
I cannot compare my sadness and grief with those who lost loved ones that day. We all lost something as Americans that day and our lives are markedly different as a result of that day. Fourteen years later I am back in New York, and while it’s conceivable that I put my life at risk by working here, I am also well aware that an attack could happen in any city at any time and can start from a place as non-threatening as Portland, Maine.
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