The world before 9/11 was different for many of us for diverse personal reasons. Before 9/11, I lived another identity, as a managing director at Goldman Sachs by day, transition writer and activist by night.
A few months afterwards, I left investment banking and havent looked back. That Tuesday morning became a similar turning point for thousands, some by tragic circumstance, some by choice based on stark illumination of their mortality, life's too short to be stuck in the wrong job, relationship, or place.
That morning, a few blocks away from the World Trade Center on Broad Street, in my corner office on the 29th floor, I was rummaging through hundreds of bureaucratic emails when the first signs of impending destruction flurried by my window in the form of paper airplanes. Those sheets, we'd soon discover were files, documents, resumes. With more adrenaline than panic pumping through our veins, we huddled in front of the CNN screens dotting the trading floor. The second plane flew right by my window, so close it seemed you could touch it.
The chaos that followed: at Goldman, at the World Trade Center, in New York City and beyond changed people. For me, it was the last straw in leaving an old life for a new one. Today, I make less money than I did then, far less. But, I've got something in exchange that is far more valuable. Freedom to say what I think. And happiness to be who I am.
Something else happened that day, as I walked with thousands of fellow New Yorkers north, napkins covering our mouths to deflect the white layer of ash and building from the land that became Ground Zero, I noticed something. People in a crisis, help each other. Stores offered free water and juice. Cafes passed out sandwiches. Bars handed out free beer before the President's 9PM speech.
People checked in with each other. I heard from friends I hadn't spoken to in years, because they knew I worked somewhere near the Twin Towers. Heroes were not merely made, but showcased by the media, firemen and survivors, far more important than Suri Cruise, Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan.
This year, that path from 9/11 and Goldman to journalism took me around the country. To write my second book, JACKED: How Conservatives are Picking your Pocket (whether you voted for them or not), I traveled. To Detroit, Portland, Oklahoma City, Austin, Philadelphia, our Gulf coast, where Mississippians relayed tales of individual heroism and pulling together after Katrina. To 32 states. Taking America's pulse.
Yes. In a pinch we help each other. Particularly in tragedy. But, in the everyday economic reality of our lives, many of those heroes have been getting jacked by the government and corporations. JACKED tells the stories of our ordinary heroes and what their daily concerns are, beyond or besides terrorism attacks and money spent in Iraq.
Inside our borders, people care about very personal securities. They care about basic needs which are all represented by various cards in their wallets, their drivers license symbolizing the high gas prices they pay to get to work, their student ids and the tuition to get an education, their insurance cards and the obscene cost of health care to survive; the fights with insurance companies to receive post-Katrina claims.
In the rush to capture the extreme, the government has failed to protect that every-day set of needs. The people I met notice, and have some ideas about how to make things better, to help each other for the long term. These form the foundation of JACKED.