Attacks, patriotism linger in valley
And except in rare cases – we had a cousin working in a building next to the World Trade Center, a brother visiting downtown Manhattan, a friend on the 105th floor –we were detached here in our cozy ski town.
But the fear, shock and uncertainty that billowed from the smoke of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon made its way fiendishly west and over the Continental Divide.
It was on the unsettled faces of people who gathered at vigils at the Vail Interfaith Chapel on Sept. 11; in the faces of folks who dropped by the Half Moon Saloon and Bob’s Place to see if a few beers would smother the uncertainty even though the horrifying footage of 747s slamming in the World Trade Center was replaying on all the TVs in the bars; and in the faces of worried Vailites who stocked up on gasoline on their way home from work that bizarre night.
A year later, the Vail Valley is still a relatively detached string of ski towns, where the number of tourists arriving at Eagle County Airport, Vail Resorts’ quarterly earnings reports and the occupancy rate at hotels in Vail Village are the top concerns.
There have been no FBI terror alerts warning Americans not to ski or kayak in Colorado’s High Country. The economy, the drought and wildfires have caused jitters in North America’s No. 1 ski resort, but most who live in the Vail Valley say the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had almost no impact on their daily lives.
They skied all ski season, they flew home for Thanksgiving and got their mountain bikes out when the snow melted. Still, many also say the memories of that miserable day, and the gut-wrenching emotions it sparked, have not disappeared.
“Here in Colorado, we’re a little distant from it. It definitely didn’t touch me as an individual,” says Deb Hein of Edwards. “I don’t think about it everyday. But it’s always in the back of your head. It doesn’t go away.”
The valley was not immune to the less than completely genuine barrage of patriotism that erupted after Sept. 11. People hung American flags all over their homes and cars but didn’t necessarily become more considerate, compassionate or tolerant toward their countrymen and countrywomen.
Americans, as a whole, probably didn’t sober up or become more aware of the world seething around them. We certainly may not have changed as drastically and indelibly as predicted by the hordes of blathering TV commentators, journalists and politicians who seemed to be everywhere as the fright of 9-11 morphed into the fear of anthrax and the terror of shoe bombers and dirty bombs.
But Melissa and Tim Caudill of Minturn say they saw more clearly what was special about the U.S.
“Myself and a lot of people I talk to feel more patriotic and more proud of the country we’re from and the freedom it stands for,” Melissa Caudill says. “When you go overseas you appreciate coming back home.”
Tim Caudill says he saw a change in the children with which he works.
“It didn’t deter me from doing anything,” he says. “I work with kids, and kids were apathetic about nationalism until this happened. Now I see a greater appreciation.”
While Sept. 11 didn’t disrupt daily lives, the attacks put questions and doubts in our mind that weren’t there before, says Jen Babcock of Minturn.
“I worry about my sister. She’s a flight attendant and she flies every day,”
Babcock says. “But it doesn’t seem to bother her.”
Babcock’s friend, Amanda Smith of Minturn, mentioned she’s got plane tickets for Sept. 13, which is also Friday the 13th. Before the attacks, she says, the silly superstition of Friday the 13th would have been the only odd thing about her flight. Before the attacks, she says, she wouldn’t have noticed anything about her flight.
“You’re probably more aware of the people around you, in a good and a bad way,” Smith says. “Now you’re thinking about relationships and how they affect you.”
The Vail Valley is still a place for vacationers to get away from it all. But after Sept. 11, a new home Avon was a haven for Scott Miller and his wife.
“We basically saw the whole thing. We woke up and went to work and saw all the smoke,” Miller says. “We came out here after seven years in New York City, to enjoy the peace.”
But even in Manhattan, people got back on their feet and on with their lives in the weeks after the attacks, Miller says.
“I think people pretty quickly get back to normal,” he says.
David Mayer says he moved to Eagle-Vail from Manhattan a few days before Sept. 11.
“I had a lot of friends there,” Mayer says. “One guy was in the World Trade Center and he got out. Another friend was across the street and got evacuated. He saw people jumping from the buildings and said that was the worst.
“He said when the second building went down, his whole apartment went black,” Mayer adds. “He handed out bottled water to firefighters and they gave him hits off their oxygen tanks.”
There was a cold comfort in being all the way out in the Rocky Mountains, Mayer says.
“Here you feel pretty safe and distant from it,” he says. “I’m sad I wasn’t there to help. I have no idea how the anniversary is going to play in the community. It’s going to be a really weird day.”
But shortly after the attacks, people not only recovered but pretty quickly returned to their mundane concerns, says a house painter from Crested Butte who identifies himself only as “Frog.”
“They’re still building great big, fancy second-homes in Crested Butte,” he says.
But the plunge in the stock market after Sept. 11 will force him to put off his retirement a few years, he says.
“I still get up in the morning and paint houses,” Frog says. “Things haven’t changed in Crested Butte.”
Stephen Botts says the jitters now crackling throughout the valley could be the recession, the wildfires or the Sept. 11 attacks. Even if it’s all three, people have no choice but to keeping going, Botts says.
“My life hasn’t really changed,” Botts says. “I’ve travelled a lot with no qualms. You’ve just got to keep living.”
Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.