WAY OUT HERE - 9/11: That unforgetable life-changer


A few days in every generation stand out among the rest, days that are instantly burned into our minds and we never falter in response to the question: Where where you when ... ?

I'm 40, so I recall the day Elvis died, the solar eclipse of 1979, the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, the day John Lennon was shot, the day President Reagan was shot, the first Space Shuttle launch along with the two times the Shuttle didn't come home, and the day Curt Cobain committed suicide.

There are sports moments as well. The 1980 Olympics when the U.S.A. won the gold medal in hockey, "The Catch" that Joe Montana threw to Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFC playoffs, the ground ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs in the 1986 World Series, the day Jack Nicklaus improbably won his fifth green jacket at Augusta. And the day my dad's softball team (sponsored by Doofers Tavern) won the Renton tournament and he earned the MVP trophy.

But I know there's one day we all remember all too well -- Sept. 11, 2001. The day that changed the world in our time.

This was not an icon dying, a sports event, a natural disaster. This was an attack on US -- you, me, every single American -- directed at everything we hold dear -- personal freedoms, free enterprise, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was the day we all stood up and said, "Don't tread on me!"

Ironically, the reason my wife and I live way out here in Walla Walla County is a direct result of a chain of events triggered that fateful day.

We had meet on July 3, had our first date at a fireworks show in Kirkland July 4 and began living together by Labor Day weekend. After moving into our new apartment, we were slow in scheduling the cable guy to come out and hook us up, so we had no television reception. It was no big deal. We just listened to the radio or occupied ourselves in other ways.

We awoke early on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and as I got out of the shower the future Mrs. Walker told me: "They said on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center."

I pictured a little Cessna accidentally hitting one of the buildings.

After I got ready for work and walked back out into the living room, she updated me. "They just said another plane hit the World Trade Center," she said.

That's when I knew: One was a fluke and two had to be something much more.

"Osama bin Laden," I said.

"Osawahwah?" she replied.

"Osama bin Laden," I repeated.

"I've never heard of him," she said.

"You will."

Then I called my mother, who was in Los Angeles for a Mariners game. I asked where she was and she said, "We're just hanging out by the hotel pool, getting ready to go to the airport."

"Mom, you're not coming home today," I said. "Every plane in the country has been grounded. Go look at any TV."

The world changed in so many ways that day. We were all angry, scared and uncertain -- yet, stoic, united and fearless.

My wife worked in the car rental business, which was devastated in the aftermath of the attacks due to wary air travelers. Within the next year, we were married and decided to move to greener pastures on the east side of the Cascades.

Originally, we moved into a single-wide mobile home she inherited from her grandparents. It certainly wasn't ideal, but it was a stepping stone to our new life -- life after 9/11.

I had a five-year plan for us to save money, get to know the real estate market and then see about buying a home. I thought perhaps if we got lucky, we could get a half-acre or so.

After a couple of years, my wife came across a deal that seemed too good to be true. I initially dismissed it because, as they say, if it sounds too good to be true ... .

But then one Sunday we were out and about and I said, "What the hell. Let's go look at it."

Within the hour, we laid our eyes on what was destined to become Walkers Ranch.

Years later, on May 1 this year when we learned on the news that Osama bin Laden was killed by a Navy Seals team, the story had come full circle. The world felt a little more at peace and we could move forward in a more positive fashion.

Not that there aren't other evils in the world; there always will be. But we're still Americans, we've still got our mojo and we won't take terrorism on our shores lying down!

Burbank-area writer Erik D. Walker, author of "In Pursuit of the Perfect Burger," can be reached at erikandtina@walkersranch.com.


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