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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

December 3rd, 2001

It has to come for all of us, eventually. For most of my friends and
colleagues it has come before this. I’ve been lagging behind. I had no
great need to travel so I didn’t press the issue and when I needed to I took
the train, which seems to have become the preferred method of getting between
New York, Boston and D.C. [Everyone I know who has taken the shuttle since
it began running again has a tale to tell, often of being diverted because
someone forgot the new rules of the game and stood up during the time period
when you can’t do that, even if you’re desperate for a bathroom break.]

But, here I am, starting this week’s column on a 767 on my way from New York
to Los Angeles. At the end of the week I am privileged to be best man in a
friend’s wedding up in San Francisco so I built a necessary business trip
around that event so I didn’t need to make two trips in one month.

Last night, while packing, friends dropped over and we had some New York
white wine and sushi while I continued organizing myself. I had forgotten
the rhythms of packing and made a number of false moves. At one point I
remember staring in my closet thinking: Oh my God! I’m having to think. I
used to be able to pack on auto pilot. But not this time.

So we all sat around and ate our sushi and sipped our white wine and talked
about traveling these days. Tripp was smiling, quite satisfied with himself,
saying he doesn’t see any reason in the foreseeable future to get on a plane,
if ever again. He smilingly sees that this feeling might get worse the
longer he lets it goes on but for right now, thank you very much, there is no
reason. He’s back on the east coast and trains take him everywhere he wants
to go right now and if he doesn’t make a trip over to London this year, well,
too bad.

I smile back. What am I going to do? Each of us has to work our way through
this on our own at our own speed. September 11 was bad enough; the crash of
AA 587 was the deciding factor for many of my friends. It was too soon, too
close to home and pushed several of my nervous friends into confirmed

Andrew and Cheryl, who are our dearest friends, nodded and shared how they
were afraid when they took a trip to England three weeks ago but they had
managed to do it. However, the conversation seemed to drift unpleasantly
toward the subject of flight horrors and I quietly remind everyone that I’d
appreciate a bit of sensitivity about my having to get up and face my first
flight since 9/11.

It went fine. There was, of course, a plastic knife, which I personally find
a little silly but that’s because I watched the episode of OZ where it was
demonstrated on how a plastic ballpoint pen can become a lethal instrument.
I have also decided I probably want to be on the first flight out anywhere
because the lines were great at 5:00 a.m. but got progressively more hellish
after that.

Someone asked to get off the flight after they shut the doors, which they did
and it didn’t bother me because I saw him, a pocket protector sort of guy,
balding, a nebbish whose traveling companion missed the flight and so he
wasn’t going to go. It didn’t bother me though the fifth announcement of
his reason for leaving wasn’t leaving me excited…

Also, the jumpiness of the passengers around me was a bit more than I
remembered plus I had the pleasure of being seated next to a woman who
flapped her arms and requested the universe to "make it stop" every time the
plane hit a bit of turbulence [and, trust me, this was one of the smoothest
flights I’ve been on in years]. Around the ninth time she wanted it to stop,
I wanted to stop her but I smiled indulgently.

The biggest thing was the strange silence at the street level at LAX – no
private cars. It seemed deserted – and it was, compared with my memory –
and it was the single moment of the journey that made me realize how the
world was different.

And in that quiet I realized how much I missed the chaos and the freedom.

That sense grew over the week in Los Angeles. In a couple of places, I was
asked to show my identification almost as many times as I was at the airport.
I have had my trunk searched and had my body electronically wanded as I
walked onto a studio lot, having left my car on the street to save time.

There is a rhythm to security and I don’t know if I have found it yet in Los
Angeles. I have it in New York. I know how it works there because I’ve been
there as they have started it all. But I will be gone from Los Angeles
before I get the rhythm here.

It has felt so good to be in Los Angeles, to see friends, to stay with
friends, to drive Sunset Blvd., to do all the things I did when I lived here.
But what I was sadly aware of was that this city, thankfully physically
untouched by the events of September 11th, has not escaped psychologically.
There is more security, there is a certain tenseness that is in the streets
now and because I don’t live here I don’t know its rhythm, just as I don’t
yet know the rhythm of the security measures.

We have all become tense, more aware, ready to jump at the snapping of a
twig. Here in Los Angeles and in New York. Next week I go to Minneapolis
for the 80th birthday of a favorite relative and I wonder if it will be the
same there?

It would not surprise me if it was; I do not want it to be. Leaving New York
and coming, for the first time to a city physically untouched by terrorism,
has made me realize the degree to which we have all been altered since
September and that no one, so far, is untouched.

Around me everyone is preparing for Christmas and I am also but my heart is
not in it as I want it to be this year. Oh yes, I want to rush up to the
little safe haven in upstate New York and make it seem like Christmas so I
can be surrounded by the safety of nostalgia but my heart is not in Christmas
presents as it was last year.

But that was last year. And this is this year. While all of us seem to be
striving to rush back toward normality, we are only passing for normal. It
is a different world. We’re going on, we’re doing our jobs, we’re
submitting to security, we’re walking not into any brave new world but into a
scared new world that is the new world we will be living in, probably for the
rest of our lives.