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Before and after 9/11

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The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan are shown in this April 3, 1973, file photo one day before the dedication.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan are shown in this April 3, 1973, file photo one day before the dedication.

Associated Press

A note to our children:

Gather round, kids, and I’ll tell you how different America was only a dozen years ago. You won’t recognize the place.

America has faced trying times throughout its history, times when it seemed the world was about to end — the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, the Middle East, 9/11, Miley Cyrus — but maybe none impacted day-to-day life more than the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sept. 11, 2013 is the 12th anniversary of 9/11, an apocalyptic event that was so surreal it looked as if were generated by a Hollywood computer — think “War of the Worlds” or “Independence Day.” People stood frozen in front of their TVs for hours watching in disbelief as replays showed airlines fly into buildings and skyscrapers tumble to the ground.

A lot changed that day, although it would be an invention of nostalgia to think America was like Mayberry before 9/11. But it was better and less complicated.

You won’t believe this, kids, but befoe 9/11 you could stroll to the gate at the airport without a ticket and greet family and friends as they arrived or see them off as they departed.

Travel was not a nightmare and neither was getting into a football stadium or some other public arena. You could board a plane without having to remove your shoes or belt or some other article of clothing. You didn’t get frisked and exposed to full body scans by grumpy TSA agents and made to stand with your arms raised and legs spread as if you being busted for drugs.

You didn’t have to empty your pockets and stand in line like a cow waiting to get in the milking shed. You could pull up to the curb at the airport and wait for passengers without being chased off by uniforms.

Nobody rifled through your belongings and confiscated toothpaste, sunscreen and bottles of water. Who knew they could be made into bombs.

You could show up minutes before you flight and make it to the gate. In one of the greatest athletic feats of my life, I once arrived at the curb of the airport three minutes before my plane was scheduled to leave and sprinted up the stairs and down the concourse to the gate, making it just seconds before they closed the door to the plane. It was awesome. Nowadays, I would be shot.

When fans went to a football stadium, they could carry a cooler, a large purse, backpacks and seat cushions.

Those were the days.

It’s tempting to wonder if the terrorists won. They’ve changed us.

There weren’t security cameras and metal detectors in public buildings.

Nobody ever heard of al-Qaida.

Or Taliban.

Or Osama Bin Laden.

Who or what was a Fatwa — John Goodman?

You didn’t need a passport to go to Mexico.

We didn’t know a Sunni from a Shite. We still don’t, but we know they’re two groups of Muslims who don’t like each other.

Federal buildings weren’t bordered with concrete barriers. Those barriers are everywhere now. If you had bought stock in companies that sell precast concrete barrier, you’d be richer than Warren Buffett.

In those days, the government didn’t have an excuse to tap your phone lines and conduct mass surveillance programs, as if they were ruling in Cold War Moscow instead of Washington. Nor did they spy on news reporters, obtaining months' worth of their phone records. I’ll explain this when you’re older.

Now they do it with impunity as we move closer to closer to George Orwell’s Oceania.

Nobody got nervous about opening mail, fearing it might have ricin or anthrax in it. You could go to the mailbox and never give a second thought to opening a letter from a stranger.

Government wasn’t as big. According to the Washington Post, some 263 government organizations were created or reorganized after 9/11. Just what we need … more government. More than 1,200 government organizations and 1,900 private companies do work related to counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence. The Coast Guard, TSA and Border Patrol budgets have all more than doubled.

The unemployment rate was 4.7 percent, not 7.4. I suspect that 9/11 had some part in that. Gas was $1.46 a gallon.

Before 9/11, no one ever thought America could be like Northern Ireland or the West Bank.

Nobody knew you could put a bomb in your shoe or your water or — egads — your underwear.

After 9/11, the singing of “God Bless America” returned to Major League Baseball parks during the seventh-inning stretch. Some changes were for the better.

This, for instance: Nobody has looked at first responders the same since then. Policemen, firemen, EMTs — they’re viewed with a lot more respect.

Twelve years later, America is a different place. Do we even want to know what it will be like in another 12 years?

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com