My home office phone rang around 8:15 a.m. on September 11, 18 years ago. It was my friend Randa in Idaho, calling to discuss a memoir I was writing for her.
Randa had been diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer and given three months to live by a dispassionate physician who told her to get her affairs in order. That diagnosis was delivered four years earlier, in 1997, and she was still fighting the good fight, defying the odds. But knowing that percentages were against her, it was important to her to record the lessons of her life in a book for her husband, four children, and legion of friends.
About 10 minutes into the conversation, Randa calmly said, “Have you been watching the news this morning?”
I told her I hadn’t. She said, “There’s a crazy story happening in New York. You should turn on the news.”
She left it at that. Five minutes later, when our call ended, I watched the horrifying video of the second plane crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center and with it all the ensuing events that would forever change our country.
Later that day, I called Randa back and as we reviewed the day with a sense of horror, I remarked that she had seemed nonchalant about the news when she first broke it to me.
“I didn’t fully grasp what was happening this morning,” she said. “Or maybe because I’ve been living with my own death every day, I’ve become numb to news of others dying. I’m sorry if I seemed indifferent to it. I’ve been crying all day.”
Those of us who love and embrace Las Vegas vividly remember where we were that day, and how the tragedy impacted our lives, our economy, and our state of mind. For weeks after it seemed drivers would no longer cut you off on the freeway, strangers in the supermarket seemed friendlier, but of course going through airports turned into a hassle that has only gotten worse through the years.
There are certainly several others with Las Vegas connections that I don’t know about who lost their lives in the attacks that day, but two stand out in my memory: Barbara Edwards, a language teacher at Palo Verde High School; and Stephen Cherry, a Cantor Fitzgerald analyst and the son of the noted professional golfer-recording artist Don Cherry.
In the ensuing months, we would come to learn that Mohamed Atta and most of the other hijackers of 9/11 infamy had made several trips to Las Vegas in previous months. They stayed in low-budget motels on the far ends of the Strip, probably because there were no surveillance cameras.
The theory is that they were in Las Vegas months before the attacks because it’s easier to get lost in the crowds here. It was said they held critical planning meetings while in town. Some theorized they were here to frequent the gentlemen’s clubs, as a way of enjoying their last months on earth.
But if those terrorists truly believed that for their sacrifice they would have a squadron of virgins awaiting them in the next life, why would they waste their time with women who were decidedly not virgins?
We all had friends who lost their hospitality jobs after 9/11, because of the financial setbacks to the tourism industry and the thought that a collective fear of flying would keep people ensconced in their homes rather than spending frivolous dollars gambling or going to shows in Las Vegas. But that mindset seemed to fade away in the following year.
Bouncing back is something our city knows how to do as well as any place in the world. We did it post 9/11, and again after the economic tsunami of 2008. And we rallied after the horrific attack of Oct. 1, 2017 that saw 58 people shot dead and hundreds more wounded.
My children were just five and two years old on September 11, 2001. We’ve made sure to talk to them many times about the meaning of that day. We’ve watched documentaries together, and they’ve asked dozens of questions. As young adults, they are now well-informed.
However, I’m thankful they were too young to understand why it happened when it happened. Childhood is merely a temporary period of innocence. It should be preserved as long as possible.