PLYMOUTH, MASSACHUSETTS (September 11, 2006)—Had we been on another planet, we could not have seemed farther from the real world and the real truth than we were right now, in this empty New England town where something called the Mayflower II looked far too spiffy for a ship that had changed the course of history.
The town is spiffy, too, as if the fathers and mothers of this particular slice of Commonwealth required at least a nod to the inherent uncleanliness of history. Today, five years after the big boom, nothing has changed here. There was nothing and no one to see—no brass band, no local fireman playing taps in homage to the skyscrapers and the planes that came tumbling down in a new kind of history, one our forefathers and foremothers would never understand any more than destroying a village to save it. The only sign of an event of any kind was a heavy metal band blaring away down the avenue with almost no one watching.
The only sign of life were runners running along the waterfront in “Plymouth” T-shirts—for Plymouth State, or so I assumed. But I wondered how in God’s name we had ended up here, with the Mayflower II, on a day when I wanted to think of catastrophe at a safe distance. In a day that was all about America we had somehow landed, without a plan, at the one place where it had all began.
Life is funny that way. We had seen the stray reporter on a television in a bar room saying something about 9/11 that had been said about a million of times before. We ignored him, and instead of commemorating the dead we took the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) bus from the town to Siasconset, the most remote part of that remote island. One of the stops was called Lover’s Lane. Another one was at the airport. It was easy not to pay too much attention when you could look at shingles and greenery and how pretty it all looked in the near-fall sun.
But the bus had one of those moving text messages at the front, like superscript, and after it said the next stop was Lover’s Lane, it would say “September 11, 2006, 11:17 AM”—and you had to wonder exactly what was happening at that moment five years ago. And then it said “September 11, 2006, 12:06 AM”—and it kept going on and on like that for all the way out and all the way back, and there was no way not to think hard about what had happened..
In Sconset we had the chance to watch the sea and think of the whalers coming back with blubber and scrimshaw to the widows who walked and waited for them. On the beach at Sconset there was nothing between Fortress America and England except endless, indefatigable ocean.
We wanted to see Ocean-Spray bogs rather than Plymouth proper, but we kept going and there was Plymouth and the replica of the small, famous boat lolling on the dock like a sequel. There were no extra security measures here and the Mayflower II did not seem to be at risk. But there was still the rock to be seen—the famous Plymouth Rock where the Pilgrims landed and begat what we have become.
The rock is in a kind of cage along the waterfront and is not much bigger than a breadbasket, so small you can’t help but feel America would never amount to much. On the other hand, the rock is still standing—and so are we.