Back to work, not back to normal; With heavy hearts, area residents trying to return to routine

Thursday, September 13, 2001
Page 6A

Back to work, not back to normal
With heavy hearts, area residents trying to return to routine

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

John Jackson rose before the sun Wednesday, looking for calm waters.

He found them at his usual fishing spot on White Rock Lake. But they couldn’t provide all the solace he sought.

“I couldn’t sleep last night,” said the 74-year-old World War II veteran, who had been awake since 1 a.m. “I couldn’t stop thinking about all those innocent people. It’s so terrible.”

A day after the terror in New York and Washington, much of North Texas reacted as Mr. Jackson did. People tried to go about a normal day’s business.

Students returned to school. Downtown buildings reopened. Friday night football was back on schedule.

But it was clear that life had changed, almost imperceptibly, perhaps irrevocably. Children struggled to understand why so many people were dead, and parents searched for the right words.

Some workers stayed home, and others were evacuated after false bomb threats.

People returned to their routines, but they didn’t return to normal.

“I’m still not believing it,” said Bill Spear, a businessman who attended Mass on Wednesday afternoon at St. Jude’s Chapel downtown.

He went home to pick up his whole family so he could be with them.

“I just wanted them down here so we could all try and gain a little peace,” he said.

The number of people attending Mass and confession at St. Jude’s was triple the usual number. Men and women shook and sobbed uncontrollably.

Workers in downtown skyscrapers in Dallas and Fort Worth felt among the most threatened after the World Trade Center towers were toppled. But for the most part, they arrived at work Wednesday morning wary but ready to resume their lives.

“It’s very quiet,” said Jim Kirke, who works on the 23rd floor of Bank of America Plaza in downtown Dallas and was among those evacuated Tuesday morning as a precaution.

“It doesn’t seem real. It’s like something that you see in the movies, but in the movies people get up and walk away. In real life, a lot of people don’t get up and walk away.”

Scattered police presence Wednesday didn’t go unnoticed by passers-by and workers.

In Dallas, officers were posted outside the entrances to high-rises downtown and all government offices. They evacuated Lincoln Plaza, First Baptist Academy and the YMCA at midday after receiving reports that a suspicious package was left inside a vehicle on Akard Street.

Power was cut to Lincoln Plaza during the evacuation, temporarily stranding three people in an elevator, officials said. The package was eventually found to contain small gifts that a group of men had planned to sell at area hotels, police said.

In Fort Worth, a bomb threat shortly after 9 a.m. forced evacuations of three Tarrant County court buildings. After barricading several streets and moving employees several blocks away, the threat was determined to be a hoax. Workers returned to the buildings about 10:15 a.m.

“I think we handled it a little differently because of what has happened this week,” said Lt. Kent Worley, a spokesman for the Fire Department. “Our response was a little heightened, and I think the public expects that.”

Others reacted in small but noticeable ways.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth resumed printing money Wednesday but canceled public tours. Officials said they wanted to minimize the number of nonemployees in the building.

Area schools generally reported normal attendance. Dallas schools are required to alert district officials when daily attendance falls below 90 percent, and none did Wednesday, officials said.

High school sports teams returned to their routines, a day after most games and many practices were canceled. Some volleyball teams played the matches that were postponed Tuesday.

At The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, many visitors found some comfort drawing parallels between the terrorist attack and the Kennedy assassination in 1963.

“People are coming here to deal with their own grief, to remember how resilient our country was after another tragedy,” said Jeff West, the museum’s executive director.

Museum visitors record their ruminations in “memory books” at the end of their visit, and several wrote about trying to adjust after Tuesday’s tragedies.

One tourist wrote about watching the shocking news reports: “Finally, I had to leave the hotel room – try to forget one tragedy by learning the history of another. I’m still numb.”

Some area residents said it was important that the terrorist attacks not be allowed to disrupt events in their lives.

Laura Keith and Sean Weigler long ago scheduled their wedding for Saturday. And though federal restrictions on travel have caused some difficulties, they plan to go ahead with the ceremony.

“It’s hard to know how to feel,” said Ms. Keith, 26, who works for Southwest Airlines. “It’s a tragedy and you’re grieving, but it’s also supposed to be the happiest time of your life.”

She’s concentrating on getting the pastor, two groomsmen and her maid of honor to town from various points in the country.

“At one level, you feel selfish, but canceling the wedding would just let the terrorists win on another level,” she said.

Others, from ministers and rabbis to grocery store clerks, found relief in trying to help people deal with the sense of loss.

Carolyn Thompson manages the bakery at an Albertson’s on McKinney Avenue. She said she has been doing her best to raise customers’ spirits.

“I’ve asked everybody who comes by how they’re doing, and some of them want to talk,” she said.

“One woman didn’t say anything for a moment, then said, ‘I’m very upset. I’m really down.’ Then she kept on shopping.”

Staff writers Laura Heinauer, Connie Piloto, Linda Stewart Ball, Nancy Calaway, Dan R. Barber, Rachel Cohen and Chuck Carlton contributed to this report.