StoryCorps Buffalo: Julia, Patrick & the taxi driver

Sep 11, 2017

Across the country, everyone has a different memory of the September 11th attacks. But for counter-terrorism and human rights lawyer Julia Hall, one of the most poignant experiences of the day was that of another human being. Julia told her 9/11 story to her husband Patrick Mahoney during a visit to the StoryCorps mobile tour booth in Buffalo last September.

Julia Hall and Patrick Mahoney recorded their story at the StoryCorps Buffalo mobile tour stop on September 25, 2016.

Originally aired on September 11, 2017 on WBFO.

Read the transcript below:

Julia Hall (JH) and Patrick Mahoney (PM)

JH: I was in the air over Manhattan, I don’t know, maybe fifteen minutes from Manhattan when the first plane hit the first tower. And because Jet Blue has those little TV things on the back of the seats, we watched the full course of events for that day. Because then, you know, airspace was shut down and we were in the air for a while. We watched it all in real time in the air. And then when I got back home I got in a taxi, don’t you remember, and because I understood Arabic, the taxi driver was speaking Palestinian Arabic and he said, he was on the phone, remember?

And he said to his wife, “Go to the school, get the kids out of school, bring them home right now. You remember what happened the last time.” And then he was very emotional.

And I said to him in English, I said, “I’m so sorry.” He said, “The last time this happened was the first World Trade Center bombing and it was horrible for us, it was horrible for Arabs.” And then I started to cry, and he started to cry.

PM: So I was at work, and you’ve always traveled – ever since we’ve been together – to Europe. And this was just another trip. And you left that morning and I was at work and I happened to walk into the lounge, and as I walked in the World Trade Center was on fire and I thought it was a movie. And so I walked over towards it, I thought it was one of these action movies. And I sat down and I realized it wasn’t a movie. I was a bit confused and then suddenly the second tower was hit.

At that point, some other people came in and people were talking. And then all of the sudden I remembered that you were on your way to New York City. And I remember I couldn’t breathe and I wasn’t sure what to do, but I remember I couldn’t talk to anybody because I was so afraid. I was afraid if I talked about it, somehow it would make it more real.

And then it was, I don’t remember how long, but there was an overhead page in the hospital. It was my boss contacting me to tell me that you had called and that you were alright.

JH: I was downstairs in the hospital. I asked the taxi driver to bring me to the hospital.

I’ve only seen you cry twice in so many years. The first time was when your brother died, and the second time was that day when you walked into that room and you got down on your hands and knees – I was so worried about you.

PM: The interesting thing about this is you’re a human rights lawyer and, ever since then, your whole career has been based on the aftermath of 9/11 in terms of terrorism and the world’s counter-terrorism measures.

JH: It’s defining in so many ways for so many people, and mostly what people say is, ‘I remember where I was that day.’ But I really feel like that day lives in our house every single day in a way that’s different from people who are still mourning lost relatives and loved ones.

Like every single day, I go to work, and I am still seeing the effects of 9/11 all over the world, and there are these waves. And so, I feel like our marriage and our family are very defined by 9/11 in a way that I really want to end. I really want it…I can’t actually see a point in time, given what I do, what you support me in what I do, when it’s going to end and I can’t stand that actually.

Some of the stuff that I’m writing about right now is about how Muslims – our Muslim brothers and sisters – and foreigners are profiled and attacked and made responsible for things that they’re not responsible for. And that taxi driver was such a signpost for what was to come.

And whenever I think of 9/11, I think of my mother and you, Pat, being so worried. But I also think of how an entire religion got stereotyped that day and still hasn’t been able to dig itself out. And we haven’t been very helpful with helping to dig itself out. So that taxi cab driver is like a symbol, in many ways, of all that has gone wrong in terms of the response to 9/11.

I did not cry in the hospital when Pat came in. He did. I only cried with one person that day. I cried with a Palestinian taxi driver because it seemed like he knew what was coming and somehow I plugged into that, and I thought, ‘this is going to be bad for all of us.’

So, yeah, I think of that taxi driver a lot, actually.