Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reason #367

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 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.


Jess said...

Oh, DC. You're right that if you think about it from that angle, it can be a strange decision to live here. But still, I'm pretty happy here.

Di said...

I still can't watch planes bank or come in for landing anymore without having flashbacks - every time.

Cele said...

The Oregon National Guard has long conducted manuveurs along the coastline. I remember once, decades ago, outrage at the destruction done by a fighter jet doing a slow cruise over Florence. For years there want not one test flight, manuevuer, nada over this section of the coast.

Suddenly they have returned. I think I must be a reincarnate of someone who survived long enough to see the liberation of Paris, because that slow rumble thrills me. You can feel the jets pulsing the air around you. Hear the rumble long before you can sight them off the coast a thousand feet off the ground.

But there are still no more slow cruises, I guess businesseshated having to replace their plate glass windows.

I do understand what you are feeling though. When I moved to Germany it was at the height of the Bader Mienkof reign of terror. As we approached Frankfurt you could see a glitter lining the runways. As we touched down you could see the glitter was the chrome of automatic machine guns in the hands of troops lining the runways. Freaked me out.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Jess: Welcome! How goes the wedding registry? I notice in your profile that one of your interests is San Francisco. Are you from there? I moved back to D.C. after seven years in the Bay Area. Anyway--glad you're happy here. I'd be grateful if you'd impart your secrets to those of us who struggle with life in this area.

Di: I hear you, friend. I hear you. It's stunning, isn't it? I caught my breath the other day as a plane banked over the Potomac. When it happens on days with strikingly clear, blue skies, it's especially poignant.

Cele: There's definitely something awesome about fighter jets. I've yet to go the air show at Andrews AFB, but I've wanted to since living here again. And I always intended to go to Fleet Week in the Bay Area when I lived there, but I always missed it for one stupid reason or another. That said, though, the flip side of the coin is, they scare crap out of me.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

I like how you got up to write this post ~ the posts that are inspired like this one are usually very good.