Friday, March 14, 2014

Airliner Mystery a Reason to Always Remember

News of the disappearing Malaysia Airlines jet earlier this week prompted many emotions in people. Everyone loves a good mystery and despises the thought of a resurgence in terrorism. Yet that is still one of the operational theories, primarily because stolen passports were used to buy tickets for the flight.

It has been almost 13 years since the events of 9/11 in Manhattan and Washington, DC. Buildings have been replaced, the missing have been mourned, and people have moved on with their lives. The world is somewhat the same but there are many differences.

To the youngest among us, many of these differences (and infringements to our civil liberties) are going to feel like they've always been here. The NSA? Wiretapping? Waterboarding? Who cares – it's part of day-to-day life in this new generation.

My company relocated in 1997 to a "Class A" building in New York that could be considered a landmark location. Also a potential target for terrorists. Security was remarkably lax. I was asked to run many variations on types of security in the company's internal newsletter, which I edited. The items ranged from "lock your office, drawers, or cube door when you're not there" to "Don't allow tailgaters (i.e., people who follow you through a door that requires a security card)."

Coworkers reported wallets stolen from their purses, which were hidden in desk drawers. There was a high rate of laptop theft, as if the portable devices magically walked themselves off the premises. Temp workers were blamed for most of the thievery, but that's partially the mindset of wanting to trust and believe your colleagues aren't out-and-out criminals.

This situation changed after 9/11. We were all required to carry two separate IDs – one for the building and our internal security cards. The building hired more security people and started locking one set of doors, forcing people to alternate sides every month when we got to work.

There were some complaints and many people simply forgot their ID at home or left it on their desk when they went out to lunch, requiring them to call upstairs to have a coworker bring them down to regain access. On the other hand, I took my IDs, put them on a cardholder from Madison Square Garden (a promotional giveaway item), and did not make negative comments.

In time, we replaced the antiquated internal security system and downsized to one card. Over the years, people who forgot their access IDs would stop by my desk and whisper, "Can I borrow yours and run down to buy lunch?" I would take it off from around my neck and wait patiently, busy at work while they ran their quick errand.

Others kept theirs in back pockets or at their desks, or relied on the kindness of colleagues to move around the building, refusing to "buckle" to the pressure of "the man." This civil disobedience dwindled through the years. It became commonplace for people to pocket their IDs. Yet I continued to wear mine around my neck. This proved comical when I once went to MSG to pick up tickets. I'd forgotten that it was a stadium-related cardholder. And the guards (there are now many at the Garden) quickly waved me through, seeing the ID and thus assuming I worked for the facility.

People at my company wonder aloud every so often why I don't just chuck the cardholder altogether and pocket my ID. After all, it's now just one simple card that fits right in your shirt or pants pocket.

But the vanishing Malaysian airliner reminded me why I've continued to wear and exhibit my ID for close to 13 years. It's a badge of honor, a way to show that I remember the events from 9/11. I may not have been personally affected by the death of a loved one but it was an attack against my world, my people, and my city. As long as I can look down and see that ID hanging around my neck, I can remember the profound way the world changed on September 11, 2001. Much the way the world has changed for the families of those who were flying on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
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