As if I need one more reason why living in the D.C. area is largely unappealing, but here's reason number three hundred and sixty-seven:
The sound of planes at odd hours--including jumbo jets and military hardware.
It's 12:05 a.m.
National Airport should be long closed for the night. And yet, I just heard a big plane. Most peculiar. The other day, I watched a big plane fly across the Mall headed east toward the Capitol and I knew this was a wrong picture. In fact, out loud to myself in the car I said, "That can't be right...."
A couple of weeks ago, NORAD announced it was conducting drills over Washington. These aren't rinky little drills done in simulators. These are the real deal with fighter jets. You know, the type you only see up close at air shows. The scary part is, in these drills, you hear the fighters long before you see them--if you see them, that is. They're so far up and moving so quickly, you're lucky if you can get a line of sight on them. All you know is, you can hear them bearing down on you and you have no clue where they are. You just know they're there.
Just a week's worth of these exercises is enough to leave you with some semblance of empathy for the citizens of Iraq (or anyone who lives in a war zone) who hear that sound every.single.day. It must be totally unnerving to hear the scream of a fighter jet and know that it may be followed by the delivery of munitions meant to kill. Frankly, I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of an F-16 or any other high velocity fighting machine in the American arsenal.
Supposedly, after September 11, aerial surveillance was a daily occurrence in the skies over Washington. I moved back here six months after that fateful day. I remember the first time I drove along the perimeter of the Pentagon. Bearing down on the roadway was an armored personnel carrier with a gun-mounted turret manned by a soldier who had the aforementioned gun trained on the road to fire on any vehicle that chose to deviate from its course or that might present an immediate threat to the perimeter. It was the most unnerving feeling to see that and know that the soldier with his finger near the trigger was trained and willing to engage any one of us if we so much as flinched wrong.
I can't help but think sometimes how crazy it was to move back to a city where terrorists flew a plane into the side of a building and to know that, in the event of a nuclear attack, this city is a prime target and therefore it's toast. It's equally unsettling to think that it's only a matter of when, not if, before this city experiences what other metropolitan cities have dealt with for decades: car bombs, bus bombs, suicide bombers.
For a long time after September 11th, when I'd watch a plane bank on approach, I would gasp in horror. All I could see in that instance was the image of that second plane banking and flying into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Eventually, I mostly got over it, but occasionally I still gasp in horror.
And this is why, at 12:05 a.m. on an otherwise peaceful night, I sit up in bed at the sound of a jetliner because somehow it just doesn't seem right.