9/12: The Day After

The part of San Francisco that I live in is called the Sunset. It starts on the western slopes of the ridge of mountains that runs down the city's spinal cord and descends to the Pacific Ocean to the four-mile long Ocean Beach. That's where I live. Every night the sound of the surf lulls me to sleep and every morning screeching seagulls wake me up.

For three or fours months every summer a heavy layer of fog moves in from the ocean and blankets the area. The mournful sounds of the deep bass foghorn on the Golden Gate Bridge and the tenor horn on the lighthouse (marking a dangerous shoal further out to sea) are carried for miles in the soft blanket of fog.

The Sunset used to be the cheapest neigborhood in SF because no one wanted to live in what is known as the "fog belt." It was built on sand dunes during and after WW11 for the working class and returning soldiers. The houses are small identical two story row-houses which originally sold for $5,000 and now cost $500,000.(Since 2001, they have gone up to $700,000.) Supposedly they inspired the song with the line "ticky-tacky houses."

But everyday in summer between 8 and 9pm when the sun is just about to set, the fog dissolves and we are treated to breath-taking sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. That is the ideal time to take the dogs for a walk along the beach. This is not a southern California beach. It is usually cold and windy and the surf is heavy and dangerous and icy. It becomes very chilly as soon as the sun sets and you can imagine it rising in Japan.

This is where the planes from Japan, China, Hawaii and Alaska begin their descent to the airport 13 miles to the south-east. The planes are still high enough that the noise is not overwhelming but, when I first moved here, they were noticeable. After a while you get used to it and stop noticing - except when they are not there.

Yesterday afternoon while I was glued to the TV watching what was happening in New York, I heard the roar of a plane that I thought was coming in too low. Later I heard that it was the last plane to land in the USA since the attack on the World Trade Towers. It was a plane from Thailand and the roar was because it was being escorted by a squadron of F16s to make sure it did not suddenly crash into the downtown skyscrapers.

Since then the only planes are so high up you can hardly hear them. These are military planes patrolling the skies. The silence is shocking. The last time we had that silence was after the 1989 earthquake when the airport was damaged and closed for days afterwards.

And the people are also subdued. When I first came to the US, I was shocked at how loud and extroverted Americans were. They talked loudly in public and often shouted from one side of the street to another. Girls sometimes screamed in glee and the boys would whoop and holler. Now I miss their exuberance.

After the quake of 89, we were all pulled together as a community and talked to total strangers and helped each other - much as New Yorkers are doing now. But there is no local disaster to bring us together in this city. People are quiet and serious. Many look lost and stunned.

I sit and watch reruns of yesterday's footage of the falling towers. I cannot believe that planes were used as bombs; bombs loaded full of innocent civilians. The video footage is almost unreal, like bad special effects in a disaster movie.

I think the only thing that will bring us out of this shock is revenge. We need to punish those who planned this. There's no need for formalities. Let's just go find them and kill them.