The post-9/11 generation; and an electric future

By Jayson Jacoby April 11, 2014 07:40 am

I was in a Boise hotel the first weekend of spring break, watching my two younger kids frolic in the swimming pool with half a dozen others, when I realized that none of these children was alive on Sept. 11, 2001.

This thought struck me with some force.

At least one of the swimmers looked to me to be 11, although he might be a precociously tall 9 or 10.

But I’m as sure as I can be, without getting a look at boy’s birth certificate, that he isn’t as old as 12 1/2.

Time, of course, gets away from us no matter how closely we think we’re tracking its progress.

It seems to me, though, that this somehow frightening accumulation of hours and days and months never feels as inevitable as when we measure it by some epochal but ever-receding event such as the terrorist attacks of 2001.

As I relaxed in the tropical atmosphere of the swimming pool room I wondered whether the post-9/11 generation, as represented by the group splashing the deck (and, occasionally, me), will grow to understand that terrible day in much the way that I understand the milestones I missed.

Which is to say, to understand them incompletely.

I was born in 1970, so I have no personal memory of any of the trio of landmark assassinations of the 1960s — John F. Kennedy in 1963, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

And I arrived about 14 months after Neil Armstrong hopped off the ladder and made the first human footprint in the lunar dust.

I have read a fair amount about each of those events, and probably I could post a credible score on a pop quiz (so long as it’s multiple choice).

Yet my knowledge of them is necessarily limited. Sterile is the adjective that occurs to me.

There is of course a gargantuan supply of data about the assassinations and the moon landing. Indeed, unlike events of comparable significance from previous centuries, we even have video to supplement the millions of words. We can watch Zapruder’s film, and see Armstrong’s boot land with its eerie grace.

But what I can’t do is revive my memory and so relive my own feelings on those momentous days.

I can, though, do that for Sept. 11, 2001.

And it seems to me that the visceral nature of these personal memories have more power, more resonance, than a shelf crammed with detailed historical analyses.

I can’t find in any book a description of my emotions as I watched on the TV in the Herald’s conference room as the second plane crashed into the skyscraper.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything unique about 9/11 in this regard.

My children, and those they shared a swimming pool with for one afternoon, will learn about that day. Perhaps one or two will be so intrigued that they’ll invest time and try to understand more fully a tragedy they didn’t live through.

Probably that will be the case.

JFK’s death, for instance, has retained much of its status as an American icon even as the number of people who were alive that day continues to shrink. 

. . .

I took a ride into the future the other day and it very nearly made me sick at my stomach.

It was probably my most exciting bout of nausea, though.

I called Richard Haynes when I learned that he had bought a Tesla Model S, the most advanced (and expensive) fully electric car sold in the U.S.

Haynes not only graciously agreed to tell me about his car, he offered to take me and Herald photojournalist S. John Collins for a drive.

Neither of us was prepared for the Tesla’s accelerative thrust. I felt queasy for a few hours afterward.

But my admiration for Elon Musk, the founder and president of Tesla Motors, has continued long after my guts settled down.

Musk, without the massive financial resources of an established car company, has built a vehicle that makes the most compelling case yet for the notion that electric motors might one day replace the internal combustion engine.

Which isn’t to say Tesla, or any other automaker, is even close to doing that.

Cost is one issue. Haynes’ car cost $97,000.

Nissan’s all-electric Leaf is much less expensive — about $30,000 for the cheapest model — but its maximum range of about 84 miles is well below the Tesla’s 306 (Haynes, who has put 2,400 miles on his Tesla since he bought it in December, said he can go about 275 miles on a single charge).

Clearly electric cars won’t be anything but a novelty until someone can build one that combines the Leaf’s price and the Tesla’s range.

Based on what Musk has accomplished with his Tesla, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets there first.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.