A Nation Of New Yorkers

FDNY baseball style cap on store shelf
It is impossible for anyone who wasn't in New York when the attacks came on Sept. 11 to know what it felt like to be there. I was in Los Angeles, and saw it on television like millions of people all over the country. My feelings and those of so many Americans consisted of shock, outrage, disbelief, fear, and sorrow. But I don't think any of us can claim that our feelings were exactly the same as they would have been if we were New Yorkers. And we knew that. So what happened was understandable, but nonetheless remarkable: After Sept. 11, America became a nation of New Yorkers.

New York has, rightly or wrongly, traditionally been a symbol in the minds of many people of numerous negative things: traffic, noise, crime, garbage, and general immorality. The city has been vilified as too intellectual, too sophisticated, too much of a melting pot, too materialistic, and too unfriendly. These anti-New York prejudices evaporated as the Twin Towers crumbled and smoldered.

The biggest New York haters in the country suddenly felt that one of their own cities had been attacked. And they got mad. They put aside their hatred of New York as they mourned along with the bereaved families. They couldn't tear themselves away from the television news. They read detailed reports of heroic and tragic efforts. They no longer set themselves apart from New Yorkers.

This change became obvious about six weeks later at the World Series. When the Series came to Yankee Stadium for the third game, the President of the United States threw out the first pitch. An American flag recovered from the World Trade Center flew at the ballpark. Sportswriters, commentators, and fans all talked about how New York's hosting the World Series was a great way to show the world that New York, and therefore the United States, was still defiantly going on with its National Pastime. Political, cosmic, and karmic forces combined to make us believe that there was no way the Yankees could lose that game. And they didn't.

This transformation of the Yankees from "Damn Yankees" to "America's Team" was startling. For generations, the Yankees have been the team to hate for everyone who isn't a Yankee fan. They are the haves in a country that roots for have-nots. They are Wall Street in spikes. They are the bully who beats up the little guy. Their blowhard billionaire of an owner buys whatever players he needs, and the rest of the country boos. But after Sept. 11, nobody was booing the team from New York.

Now as we commemorate the first anniversary of Sept. 11, the Yankees are once again in first place. I don't know if our entire nation will cheer them on again, but I do know that New York is no longer separate from the rest of the country. New York's tragedy is our tragedy. So are the Pentagon and the Flight 93 tragedies.

No matter where we live, most of us know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who was directly affected by the attacks of Sept. 11. Fire and police departments all over the country have rallied to support the departments and their families in New York. Americans everywhere continue to tune into the morning news programs to learn what's going on in the lives of the heroic survivors of the tragedy.

Every day, I see people here, 3,000 miles away from where the World Trade Center used to be, wearing NYPD and NYFD hats and shirts. Maybe some people in South Dakota now begin their day with a bagel and end it with an egg cream. Perhaps there's a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who shoos away an errant cow with a cry of, "Hey! I'm walkin' heah!"

Events of Sept. 11 have obviously unified the country. We have a feeling of solidarity with our New York brothers and sisters. Putting some jingoistic and xenophobic excesses aside, overall that's not a bad thing. To see ourselves as different but all part of one country may be a first step in seeing ourselves as different but all part of one world. The spirit of America is strong. If it could cause people all over the country to cheer for those Damn Yankees, it can accomplish anything.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver