A Valley In The Shadow Of Death
Three thousand miles from the mayhem, Salinas residents reel from the shock and do what they can to help.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
On the Street: Above, Erin Finley and Mark Boothe struggle to make sense of Tuesday''s events. At right (from left to right), Rickey Valentine, Robert Pletcher, Ricky Rotenberg and Jim Pletcher at the Salinas skate park. "We look like punks," said Valentine.
Tuesday morning at 8:45 Eastern time, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center; by 9:03am, when United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower, many Salinas residents were already glued to their television sets in search of answers. They found none.
The surreal events played out on every network and echoed through the local radio stations. At 9:43am, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into a newly reconstructed area of the Pentagon. Shortly thereafter, at 10:10am, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed to the ground in Somerset County, Penn. The day''s events reached an unbelievable climax when both World Trade Center towers collapsed, trapping and killing innumerable employees and rescue workers. It happened before 10:30am.
Though 3,008 miles separate Salinas from Manhattan, the community did what it could to reach out and offer a hand. While it was difficult for most Salinas residents to pull themselves away from watching the ever-changing scenario on the East Coast, Mark Boothe and Erin Finley felt they needed to "do something, anything." So the young couple made their way to Tri-Counties Blood Bank on North Main, where they waited several hours to donate blood to victims of the atrocities.
"There''s not much we can do, but this was the first thing that came to my mind," says Boothe. That feeling was echoed by Betty Carmack, a diabetic who called her doctor to ensure she could donate. "I wish there was something more I could do," Carmack says, "but there''s not, so I''m here to do what I can."
Blood Bank employee Kelly Migotti says the outpouring of support has been remarkable. A bank that normally gets three to four donations per day, Tri-Counties saw or spoke to between 300 and 400 donors in the first four hours of business on Tuesday. "People have waited for hours, and we''re now sending people home and calling them later to set up a time when they can come in," Migotti says.
Migotti says that in light of the bank''s inability to fly its supply to destinations, as usual practice dictates, the many units of blood will be shipped by road. Tri-Counties is now asking donors to wait a couple of days before coming in. "We''ll need it just as much then as we do now," she says.
By noon Eastern time, Salinas residents were feeling the effects of the devastation in a multitude of ways. Choking back tears, Carmack, who does not have any immediate family in New York or Washington, says of the cities'' residents, "I feel like they''re my family. They are my family."
Carmack says she''s angry. So are Finley and Boothe.
"We need to deal with this responsibly, with justice," Boothe says. "It''s a wake-up call for the United States--an unjustified one." Reacting to videotape of Palestinian residents celebrating in the streets and burning and stomping American flags, Boothe says he''s disgusted. "But we can''t let them win," he says.
The Salinas Airshow board agrees. After deliberation, the board decided Tuesday that the weekend''s annual show must go on, with two exceptions. The Wall of Fire finale scheduled for Friday night has been canceled. The Thunderbirds will not perform, either. The Airshow board, in an effort to turn tragedy into triumph, has decided to make the weekend''s show a fundraiser for victims of the devastation.
The Macerich Company, owners of the Northridge Mall in Salinas, decided shortly after opening the mall''s doors that it would be locked for the day, "out of respect for the victims and the safety of our customers," says Melina Trujillo. The four major department stores with outer access quickly followed suit. Trujillo says that the mall is now and will remain at a heightened level of security. "It was orderly and well-received by customers and merchants alike," she says.
A group of young men skateboarding at Salinas'' skate park may have put it best.
"How safe are we?" Rickey Valentine says. "It''s wack." Valentine says American kids have it easy. "We have MTV and music videos. We take [safety] for granted. It''s a slap in the face, and we look like punks."
Jonah Yowell agrees. "Our priorities are messed up," he says.
When asked if he''ll go to bed tonight feeling more vulnerable than before the attacks, Yowell says he won''t. "I always feel vulnerable," he says. "This is East Salinas."
The skaters said they''d watched television coverage all day long in school. Most Salinas area schools kept the news in high profile in front of their students and their flags at half-mast. Off-campus meetings for teachers were canceled in an effort to keep as many familiar faces on local campuses as possible.
"We want to keep them talking about it and keep a sense of normality for them," says a spokesperson for the superintendent.
Campus supervision had been stepped up. Security personnel, who already maintain a high visual presence on area campuses, were committed to keeping the kids feeling safe at school. "They''re keeping their ear to the ground to pick up on kids who may need our extra help," says a staff member at Everett Alvarez High School.
By late Tuesday night, the massive loss of life was beginning to come to light. At press time, at least 375 rescue workers alone were reported missing, including New York City''s fire chief and assistant fire chief, and thousands more civilians were feared dead. In a show of support and thanks to their colleagues who were charged with the task of running toward the tragedy rather than away, many Salinas fire and police officers blacked out their badges Tuesday night. The generosity of the men and women who ran in to help was summed up by one Salinas officer who says, "They don''t pay us for what we do; they pay us for what we''re willing to do."
President Bush promised to make no distinction between those responsible for the attacks and those who harbor them, and vowed to bring all involved to justice. Eighteen-year-old Valentine supports that aggressive attitude. Amid widespread speculation that Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden may be responsible for the attacks, Valentine is blunt.
"Take him out," he says. "Let''s make him an example."
Mark Boothe takes a less belligerent position, believing that a knee-jerk reaction is not in order. "Keeping the faith" and investigating "responsibly," he says, are foremost--letting the hands of justice guide us to eventual answers in places where today there are none.