Download: Out of the Blue
The second Tuesday of the ninth month of the first year of the century began like any other normal day in my sophomore year of high school. The alarm violently vibrated against the headrest’s shelf and with each passing moment the endless beeping sounds grew louder. The alarm is not what drove me to get out of bed every morning, but rather having to race my younger brother in a daily battle of who would be able to take a hot shower. Jumping out of the shower, I would hastily check the weather forecast to determine the attire for the day. With forecasts in the high sixties, khaki shorts and a solid colored t-shirt would work.
Around 7:15, just like every morning my father, brother and I would depart in a blue Ford Contour and head up a small rolling hill towards Blondo Street. The ticking sound of the blinker, as it signaled a left turn, dominated the conversation as my brother and I desperately fought for a few more minutes of sleep before we would be dropped off. The repetitiveness of the morning commute always bored me but never quite enough to put me out cold. The car lurched forward and began the westward descent towards two major arteries of West Omaha: 120th and Blondo.
The drive down Blondo Street from the house has not changed much in fifteen years, the dark brick Vanderbilt and the bright red Biltmore still stand tall. Separating the two sprawling apartment complexes is the Papillion Parkway, the first of two intersections on the way to 120th and Blondo. The Papillion Parkway runs a few blocks east of the Big Papillion Creek; which itself has gone through numerous changes. On the way home one day, my brother and I cut through the Miracle Hills Golf Course and were temporarily stopped at the creek which borders the eastern edge. We threw our backpacks across and then with a running start we leapt to reunite with our books. Back then the creek was a few feet wide but just mere inches deep with easily scalable sides, it has been transformed into a narrower but deeper transport of water, with steep banks for when the city of Omaha receives excessive amounts of rainfall.
On the northern edge of the golf course is the second intersection, which is T-shaped, and if you turned right you would drive into a mixture of multi-million dollar business established in their big box shaped buildings, and across the street is a modest strip mall of restaurants, hair salons, and other local merchants. As professional baseball’s playoffs heated up, I made a bet with a friend and owner of the Blimpie’s sub and sandwich shop. He believed his Cleveland Indians were superior to my Boston Red Sox. Though the Indians took a gut-wrenching 3 games to 1 lead, the Red Sox recovered from the shock and emerged victorious. Blimpie’s has been replaced with a candy store. While I didn’t venture into the strip mall for a few months, a new restaurant, Pepperjax Grill opened up business and whenever I return to Omaha, I make sure to stop by.
The car would roll past the second intersection and into the left turn lane where the blinker renewed its dominating song until the driver, Dad, maneuvered the vehicle into its proper lane on 120th Street, heading southbound. Immediately to the right sat a Kum & Go gas station, its old brick facade and structure going the way of the Dodo Bird in 2010, and being replaced with a larger more modern structure with more pumps, more parking, more amenities. In the front passenger seat, another hard won battle against my brother, my eyes rolled back as the car lurched up the steep rolling hill. At the top of the hill, you could see the traffic from Omaha’s main street, Dodge, zipping past at a million miles an hour. Most of the traffic on Dodge in the early morning hours is going eastbound from the suburbs.
I enjoy coasting down hills, it saves on hard earned money for buying gas and today the physical attributes of the hill before school is no different. There is a series of apartment buildings dotting the road, followed by yet another strip mall with a Subway sitting beside a Navy and Marine Recruiting Center. Both have given way to the times. On the west side of the road is the new Menards, which constructed a new building near the old location during my school years. Sharing a parking lot with the new Menards is the old English-styled pub, Fox and Hound still standing proud as ever. I remember countless afternoons in the art department staring out across the street and watching the beams and concrete of the new Menards building being planted and poured. Construction and destruction is a never-ending fact of life.
Today the landscape from the art department hides behind the Dodge Expressway, whose elevated lanes supported by concrete pillars have transformed the daily commute of thousands. Dodge has been transformed from a singular east-west lane into two, an upper level or the Expressway, and the lower level, Dodge Street. Immediately after Menards, the Ford Contour would once more go up a small incline to reach the overpass which traversed Dodge Street. I remember countless times when walking home, stopping in the middle of the overpass watching as traffic zipped by, oblivious to my brother’s and my existence. When the Expressway was constructed, the overpass was torn down and where 120th and Dodge streets met became a four-way intersection.
Once across Dodge Street, the vehicle slowly maneuvers downwards toward Burke Street, where my father performs the trip’s first right turn. My eyes awaken from their half-conscious slumber and already a row of vehicles is lined up along the street. At the time I wished to be able to one day drive my own vehicle to school but at the same time dreaded the fear because if I wanted to park on campus I would have to scrounge up the change or park far away from campus and hoof it by foot. Under two circumstances would my brother and I get the front door drop off treatment, if we were running late and if the parking lot congestion stood at a minimum. More often than not, the vehicle came to a stop and my brother and I would hop out and walk the remaining distance to the entrance.
My brother and I would go our separate ways once we hit the entrance. I had gym class the first period and remember the non-descriptive black shorts with a white strip on the left leg, and a Gray t-shirt with an enlarged face shot of a bulldog dead center and a white strip right below the face. In both white strips the students were supposed to write their last name and initial of their first name. The uniforms were a small fee and unfortunately were taken away years later when the school district lost a lawsuit about having students and their parents pay fees even though if a family could not afford a fee the school had a simple wavier program.
As water that washed the sweat began to dissipate away near the end of gym class, rumors began swirling around, though nobody could quite confirm anything. A lanky classmate who I also had art with said he had heard a plane had crashed into a building in New York. Part of my brain doubted him, wondering how he would know but the other part recalled how B-26 had crashed into the Empire State building almost sixty years prior. I departed the intoxicating sweat and hormone filled locker room and went off to my second class where additional numbers were thrown into the rumor mill. One plane became two, and soon followed by three and four. Math class always served as an interesting part of my day, as my next door neighbor was the teacher, and if I were ever sick or skipped, he would personally find out. Grayson, a classmate from math, and I made a lasting friendship and during the latter parts of our junior and all of senior year we would often walk right out the front door and down to his house just a block away. Nobody would stop us simply because we were respected members of school organizations, and always returned after a nice home-cooked meal, courtesy of his mother.
From the northwest side of the building, where math class met, I traversed the halls and the ever constant whispers of fellow students followed all the way to the art department, where at a table in the front I sat, not quite sure how to compute all the information I had received. As classmates trickled in and we gathered our tools for the clay sculpting projects, a school announcement came which quickly turned the rumors into fact. The student teacher tried to reign us unruly art students into line, but his authority faded with the arrival of Ms. Hanisch, who assented to our demands which were driven out of fear and the need to know more. Hanisch turned on the television. The now late Peter Jennings tried his best to look calmly into the camera, but you could see it in his twitching eyes. The world had turned upside down.
The student teacher, did have an ambition to teach and his ideas and critiques were helpful later in the semester, but that day of academia was forever forfeited. At the end of every class whispers of uncertainty filled the wide halls as we traveled from class to class. The television pundits poured out petrifying unknowns. My gut carried an uneasy feeling as the pundits pondered while I watched, mortified at the thought of witnessing one plane crashing into the first tower, then moments later watching a second crash into the other. The pundits didn’t calm any nerves as they wondered aloud if what had happened would serve as just a preview or if the curtain had been pulled on the show. Nobody knew.
Smaller rumors swirled that school would be cancelled and everybody sent home early. From third period until the end of eighth period at 2:50 pm, I went from class to class. In every class we watched in horror as the planes hit the towers, then the towers collapsed and first responders emerged from the dust and resumed rescue operations. A thousand repeating images assaulted our minds but I clearly remember that there were no people cheering at our morbid silence and anybody who says otherwise is doing so for nefarious gain. It didn’t matter what social class you found yourself in high school on that day. Everybody felt a gut wrenching punch and cold shakes paralyzing down their spines as our fears ran unchecked.
As the murmuring students were released and I patiently waited to rendezvous with my brother outside the main entrance, the flag eerily waved in the slight breeze. I looked up and saw a sight I would never see and never have again. A crystal clear blue sky without a cloud in sight. No faint vibrations of engines fired away thousands of feet above. The only engines which had arrived and departed from Omaha that day were those of the President’s plane and his military escort, shared by the news hours after he had left. I see myself standing in the same spot today, peering upwards for evidence of a plane and wondering if the same scenario which occurred on the that clear crisp day were to happen again, if we would understand that every action, no matter how secretive, always has a reaction.