“I see water and buildings. Oh my God! Oh my God!” Flight attendant Madeline Sweeney, 35, mother of two, on board American Airlines Flight 11 as it collided into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:48 a.m., EDT, September 11, 2001.

“The people who know the most about it are the people who are the most scared.” Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of theWashington Post, on the likelihood of additional biological attacks upon the United States.

“…many call germ weapons the ‘poor man’s atom bomb.’ A nation that obtains plans for a crude nuclear device is at the beginning of a complex technical challenge.… But scientists like Bill Patrick or Ken Ailbek say they could teach a terrorist group how to make devastating germ weapons from a few handfuls of backyard dirt and some widely available lab equipment.” Judith Miller, New York Times correspondent and coauthor of Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War.

  • Damon Meeker
  • Job: Bonds Department, Salomon Smith Barney
  • San Diego Neighborhood: Little Italy
  • Single, 26 years old

“Where were you when the World Trade Center was hit?”

“At home.”

“And you happened to have the TV on?”

“No, my little sister called. She woke me up and said, ‘Turn on the television. We’re under attack.’ I yelled, ‘No, we’re not.’ But she kept telling me, so I turned on the TV and watched the plane go into the building, and then the building fell down.”

“Nice way to get up in the morning.”

“I was in shock. I wondered what it meant, because I own an online travel agency [on September 11, 2001, Mr. Meeker was part-owner of InstaTix, which can be found at www.instatix.com on your Internet dial].”

“How long did it take before you knew your business was in big trouble?”

“About a day. After getting over the shock of it, I logged on to our site to see what was going on. The government had shut down all air travel, and I knew for sure our clients would be calling.”

Our first national shelter in place. “How many clients called?”

“Quite a few. We spent the next two weeks trying to reroute people and explain what the airlines were telling us, which was changing every five minutes.”

“What were the airlines saying?” We had nothing to do with it.

“Some were offering refunds, and some were allowing people to cancel their flights if ticket-holders felt they were in danger, and some were not doing anything. They were saying, ‘We’ll have to see how it works out. We’re not going to refund your money, but we’ll give you a ticket at a later date.’ ”

“I assume some of your clients got stuck away from their homes?”

“Most of them were understanding. They understood why they were stuck. They didn’t like it, but nobody got terribly upset at us.”

“Did the airlines finally make it right?” Do pigs share food?

“A lot of airlines, in my opinion, handled it very poorly. They were handed billions of dollars by the government, then turned around and said to the public, ‘Screw you.’ ”

“Which airlines were the best?”

“Southwest was the only good one.” Meeker sounds disgusted.

“Did you go to work on September 11th?”

“I remember closing down our phone-in center because the airlines couldn’t make up their minds about what they were going to do. We put a message on the recorder that said when air travel resumed, we’d begin answering the phone again and apologized for what was going on. There was nothing we could do.

“But some clients got through anyway. One woman called from New York. She broke into tears because her mother needed to cancel her flight. Her mother’s sister was on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center. They couldn’t leave New York until they knew what happened to her. After that call, I had to go home.”

Meeker heaves a melancholy sigh. I wait a moment, then ask, “Looking back, what effect did the attack have on you?”

“I ended up losing everything. My company still exists, but I no longer work there on a day-to-day basis because the business can’t afford to pay me.”

“How big was the business before 9/11?”

“We processed over $100,000 a week in ticket sales. It wasn’t a huge company by any means, but it sustained me, my two business partners, and three employees. My partners are still there, and they work two employees.”

“What’s the weekly gross now?”

“About $30,000.”

“That’s a tremendous hit.” The twin towers and a chunk of the Pentagon were destroyed. Within 72 hours, from Seattle to San Diego to Chicago to Atlanta, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs.

“I went from $100,000 to zero. Any time we refund a ticket, we have to give back the commission. So for two weeks after the attack, we were giving back everything. Business dropped probably 80 percent for the entire travel-agency industry. A lot of agencies have gone out of business.”

“Has business come back, or is $30,000 a week the new normal?”

“Everybody is afraid to travel. I’ve gotten another job in another industry. I hope travel comes back — I think it will, but I think it will be two or three years before it gets back to where it was.”

For weeks after September 11th, the odor of burned human flesh saturated lower Manhattan. “It’s like a barbecue, except the meat is rotten,” said a New York friend.

“Do you watch more TV than you used to?”

“I did for a while. Now I don’t watch TV. I’m very tired of hearing about it.”

“Have you noticed anything different about your dreams since the attack?”

“I didn’t sleep well at all for two weeks. I feel a little more secure now that I have an income.”

As of today, December 4, 2001, fires continue to burn beneath the World Trade Center rubble. “How are you dealing with the anthrax attacks?”

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