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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Weekend Edition: Ignorance, Not Bliss

The driver was middle-aged, animated, friendly, and he spoke with enough of an accent that I asked where he was from originally.

“Greece,” he said, looking at me in the rear-view mirror.

Ti kanis,” I said. (“How are you?”—about the full extent of the Greek I picked up in ten years of morning coffee at the Greek diner in Greenwich.)

Kala,” he answered. (“Fine”) And we were off and running, talking about houses and kids and family. It just so happened he grew up in the mountainous region of Greece near Albania, where Debby, the waitress at the Greek diner, had also grown up and recently bought a house. (It looks amazingly like the mountains around San Jose, California…without the houses, smog and highways.)

We were having a great time. He was extremely talkative, almost too talkative—my daughter got out her iPod when he got involved in a very graphic description of the two colon operations he had undergone starting last fall. Way too much detail for her. But he and I had a good conversation almost all the way to JFK.

Almost all the way.

As we drove over the Whitestone Bridge, I pointed out the New York skyline to my daughter, who turned off her iPod to ask me about the buildings. I pointed out the spire of the Empire State Building and the Citicorp building with its trapezoid roof.

“Where were the Towers?” she asked.

I pointed to the hump of buildings rising from the lower end of Manhattan, and started to feel that hollowness that comes with all the sudden memories of 9/11. Being in the business I am in, I know a lot of stories about what happened that day, and they are not good stories.

Figuring the driver probably had his own 9/11 story, I asked where he’d been when the towers were hit. And that was when the conversation all changed.

“I was at doctor’s office,” he said. “It came on the news…” He shook his head. “You know, a lot of people in Europe don’t believe what happened…”

I felt a little twinge. “I know,” I said. “And they’re idiots.”

“Well…it was strange, you know?” He looked at me in the rear-view mirror.

“No. What was strange?” I was hoping he wasn’t going where he appeared to want to go. It could get very ugly very fast.

“Those planes, they take over how many planes? Six?”

“It was four.”

“Okay, four. And how do those planes go 500 miles and nobody does nothing about it?”

Who did nothing?”

“The air control—they see plane leave flight path, and let them fly 500 miles?”

I was getting ripped, and also hoping my daughter wasn’t listening. The funny thing is, he didn’t seem to be arguing from a deep-seated ideological conviction, nor was he trying to provoke me. He just seemed oblivious. “They took over the planes, turned off the transponders, and nobody could see them. What’s the controller supposed to do? Say ‘Oh my God they’re flying it into the Trade Towers?’”

“Well, why they did nothing?”

“They thought it was being hijacked. Before 9/11, hijackers took planes to Cuba.”

This was news to him, as it probably was to most people under the age of 40. Oddly enough, an analyst-friend of mine was on a plane that was hijacked to Cuba in the 1970’s. He was flying from Chicago to a job interview in New York, and had called in sick from work—and the plane got hijacked and he ended up on an airstrip in Cuba.

Like all good analysts, my friend Todd took notes of the whole experience while it happened, on a legal pad. Fortunately the hijacking ended without violence, and Todd got home safely, although with a bit more fanfare than he’d hoped for when he snuck out of town for the day to interview in New York.

Unfortunately, Todd left the briefcase—and the yellow pad with the details of the whole hijacking, from start to finish—on the plane.

I didn’t tell the driver that story, because I had stopped talking to him. For one thing, I didn’t trust myself. For another, I had concluded he was a moron.

So I turned to the sports section and read about the Mets.

I am rooting for the Mets this year—after 40+ years of Yankee fandom—because I like Willie Randolph. I met Willie once, and found him to be the nicest, friendliest, most disarming sports hero I’ve ever met. Not that I’ve met too many, but he was great. Somehow we got into discussing his contract negotiations with Cincinnati, and he talked to me like he’d talk to his agent or to a reporter he’d known for ten years.

Also, I’m sick of the Yankee/Red Sox arms buildup, which is resulting in nothing but a bunch of highly paid old guys going at it. So I am rooting for Willie to turn it around in Queens. And I decided to focus on an article about Willie and his presence in the Mets dugout, rather than get into with a moron.

The driver persisted in talking—but not about 9/11. He switched to a different subject: a proposed bridge to be built between Alaska and Russia.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said without looking up. “Who’d use it?”

“Oh, I would,” he said. “What an experience!” He described how “they” had worked out technical difficulties, such as icebergs crashing into the base of the bridge (the piers would be circular, not square, so the icebergs would glance off the bases).

So, I thought to myself, you’re driving 50 miles across the most dangerous straights in the world, a thousand miles from civilization, winds howling and snow blowing and icebergs glancing off the base of the bridge. But, hey, you could drive to Siberia. He talked about the idiotic bridge until we got to the Jet Blue terminal, and my daughter and I got out of that car as fast as we could.


Still, I learned a lot from the drive. It explains human behaviour as ridiculous as Michael Jackson fans who stand by that bisexual predator, no matter how gruesome the evidence; and as disturbing and depressing as Holocaust-deniers.

In any event, I’m looking forward to some relaxation at Disney World. Given the strong Euro and weak Dollar, I expect a lot of Europeans here, riding Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad.

I hope they enjoy themselves, especially the ones who believe 9/11 was a fake. They’ll be right at home in the Magic Kingdom.


Meanwhile, my nephew Danny is stationed in Iraq, along with other U.S. troops doing their part to make sure America doesn’t “fake” another terrorist attack somewhere else around the world.


Paris, say. Or Berlin.


Jeff Matthews

I Am Not Making This Up

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