Low Flying Planes,
Subway Trains and Automobiles

  

Memoir-Essay by
Afrocity Brown

 

April 2009

  

King Kong flights, New York City, 1933

Our memories do not lie dormant forever. Whether happy times, sad times, or simply unpleasant details, our collection of events will always be with us. Waiting to be triggered by sights, sounds, and smells.
  

  
Chicago "L" train Crash, February 4, 1977

Chicago L train crash 1977 I have always been fascinated by trains, especially subway cars. Commuting suits my need to people watch. It was the safest place I could be, high above the buildings in Chicago. I would get as close to the conductor as I could and take every stop, every curve with him ... I wanted to be him. Things changed for me one day. There was a terrible accident involving two Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) "L" trains. Feb. 4, 1977, during the evening rush hour one elevated train plowed into the rear of another at the corner of Lake Street and Wabash Avenue, 11 passengers died and another 180 were injured. It was the worst subway accident in Chicago history. Photos of the "L" cars dangling from the tracks persisted in my memory for months. Mother could not get me near another "L" and if I did occasionally take one, it had to be underground. No elevated trains. "Not in the air", I would say.

She worried that I would never see my favorite places again. The Museum of Science and Industry was a pain to get to by bus. By 1979, I had not been to the museum for two years. Their was an elevated train track near my school. The Douglass "B" train as it was called then (Now the Blue Line). I would only walk under the tracks if a train was not coming. If a train passed, mom and I would stand stationary a kazillion feet back until it passed. Unexpectedly as we were walking under the tracks one afternoon, my hand in hers, Mom stopped.

"Why are we stopping?" I asked.

"I think I dropped something," she answered looking at the ground.

She would not let go of my hand. All I could think of was that a train would be coming over our head soon. Not letting go of my hand didn't help. I couldn't run. Sure enough a train came and she would not release my hand.

"Stand still. Nothing is going to happen ..."

And it did not.

"See" she said raising her eyebrows, "It did not fall. That was something that happens only once."

That weekend I went to the Museum of Science and Industry. We took the train. I rode with my eyes closed most of the way but I got there safely, went to see the Fairy Castle and the Circus exhibit. I came home too. No "L" crash.

Lesson learned: face your fears.
  

New York City aerial attack, September 11, 2001

Years later I lived in New York City during 9/11. It was an event that I later developed panic disorder from. I would take the subway to work always running late, never prepared with a book. I needed to pass the time away. I did this by looking up at the advertisements making words out of the words they contained. Other times I would just sit thinking of nothing. Outside the train was endless black tunnel. I turn my face towards the window to see me looking back at me in the glass. Then the train slows down.

What's wrong? I smell smoke. Or do I? Do I have my Xanax? Oh shit, I left it on the night table ... Be calm Afrocity. I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE. My knees start to shake.

Excavated from the Black Heart of a Negress - Kara Walker, 2002 This is different from the Chicago "L" trauma. In New York, my fear had company. Everyone looked nervous. Despite our collective perseverance since the horrible events of 11 September 2001, we were still paralyzed and bound by collective fear.

There is no doubt that we each have our own mental archive of imagery, sounds, triggers that function in different ways but that trauma is indeed collective.

It does not matter if that collective trauma involves the Holocaust; the after effects of slavery, the Vietnam War, an exodus from Cuba, the riots of 1969, apartheid. No matter what it is still there and is that group's to own. The Obama administration has the propensity to forget that we remember. We will never forget.
  

New York City aerial photo-op, February 27, 2009

At the heart of yesterday's ill conceived low flying aerial photo op in New York City is a reminder of our collective tragedy and the troubling ignorance and disrespect for historical fact that persists within the ranks of Obama's White House. The perceived external threats in our current "post 9/11 era" include Iran, Al Qaeda, China, Hamas. Comparatively, according to the genius of Janet Napolitano, United States Secretary of Homeland Security, America's perceived internal threats include former military personnel, and anyone with a faded McCain/Palin bumper sticker on their car.

Who is surprised that they forgot that we NEVER FORGET?
  

Obama Said to Be ‘Furious’ About White House-Sanctioned NYC Flyover
Recriminations fly after NYC jet flyover photo-op

CNSNews.com - Tuesday, April 28, 2009
by Ula Ilnytzky and Sara Kugler, Associated Press

It was supposed to be a photo op that captured images of an Air Force One plane with a majestic Statue of Liberty in the background. Instead, it turned into a public relations nightmare that led to recriminations from the president and mayor and prompted thousands other to ask, "What were they thinking?"

Just before the workday began on Monday, an airliner and supersonic fighter jet zoomed past the lower Manhattan skyline. Within minutes, startled financial workers streamed out of their offices, fearing a nightmarish replay of Sept. 11.

For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and F-16 jet circled the Statue of Liberty and the Financial District near the World Trade Center site. Offices evacuated. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes were flying dangerously low.

But the flyover was nothing but a photo op, apparently one of a series of flights to get pictures of the plane in front of national landmarks. ...
  

Yes indeed. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
  

How does one get over 9/11? You don't. There are times when my day gets off to a leisurely start. I wake up slowly. I drink my tomato juice, turn on Fox and Friends, feed the cats, humming a tune from The Smiths or Steely Dan. Everything is bright and normal. This lasts until I glance at the digital clock on my microwave and it says 9:11. Damn! I stop whatever I am doing and a ritual follows. I get down on my knees and pray for the victims, their families, and continued peace in America. At 9:12, I start my day again.

Autographed Letter Signed,
Afrocity

  

© 2009 Afrocity Brown


  
Afrocity Brown blogs at Autographed Letter Signed;
this memoir is reprinted by permission from
Low Flying Planes, Subway Trains and Automobiles
  

  
Silhouette of running women:
"Excavated from the Black Heart of a Negress"
by Kara Walker, 2002
  


  

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