September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:We?re All The Same

?You are in line to fill out your paperwork to donate blood,? boomed the small, bearded gentleman using the black electric megaphone. ?From this point in line, it will take you between an hour and fifteen minutes and an hour and a half to get to the counter to get your paperwork for giving blood. The good news is, it only takes about 5 minutes to fill out the paperwork and the bad news is, there?s about a 5 hour wait before you are able to donate blood,? he bellowed.

?Man!? I thought to myself, ?that?s a sure way to clear out this line.? To my surprise, no one moved. Instead, they just seemed to listen more intently to this Red Cross volunteer bark out instructions to the line. I suppose I wouldn?t have been surprised if I was observing this scene in some third world country that had just been devastated by a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, but this scenario was about as far from the Third World as one could get. I am sitting in the parking lot of the Fountain Valley American Red Cross building in the heart of Orange County, California where the upscale population won?t wait 60 seconds at the drive-through window at McDonald?s without demanding a coupon for a free Big Mac for their inconvenience.

This crowd of people didn?t even flinch at the news they would have to wait six and a half hours to let a stressed, overworked Red Cross nurse stick them with a 2? needle and drain them of quick pint of blood. Today is September 11, 2001, and the smoke, dust and debris still hangs in an ominous cloud over the spot where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once proudly stood. As I watch this crowd of hundreds of people waiting to play some small part in the healing and recovery that must follow and event like this, I am sure this scene is being played out in thousands of other locations throughout America. These are Americans, the ones my dad told me about after he survived the attack at Pearl Harbor. I never really got it when I heard my dad tell the stories of sacrifice and commitment and how America was united, until now. As I listen to what?s going on around me, I?m even more amazed. I can only understand about half the conversations; the others are in Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean and many others I can?t speak or recognize.

?We appreciate you all showing up to give blood and I hope you?ll bear with us as we try to move everyone through as quickly as possible?, screeched the megaphone man again. ?We only have 7 beds and it takes about 15 minutes per person to give blood so we can take care of about 28 people per hour.?

I was sure this announcement would weed out the faint of heart, but I was wrong. No one moaned or complained, or even shook their head in disgust at this news. I expected to see a barrage of cell phones being whipped out so they could call their attorney or congressman or someone to help intercede and speed them through this process. After all, we are Orange County citizens and how dare you make us wait or inconvenience us in any way.
?Free snacks,? squeaked a tiny little voice shaking me from place of deep thought. I was staring in the face of a blonde, pony-tailed 6-year old as she thrust a box of cookies, chips and granola bars into my face.
?Thank you?, I replied while grabbing a small bag of cheese nips. I watched this little American for the next few minutes weave her way through the crowd of the hundreds of us who had already filled out our paperwork and were now, just waiting for the time to do our part.

?You must be at least 18 years old and weigh more than 110 pounds; and if you have given blood in the last 60 days, you will not be able to donate blood today,? bellowed the fellow with the megaphone.

Finally the crowd reacts. A 12-year old, freckled faced boy complains, ?It?s not fair, my mom said it?s OK?. Two pretty and very thin young girls drop their heads and slowly leave the group of friends they had been traveling in line with. A frail looking older Vietnamese lady slowly walked out of line toward the command center table set up by the Red Cross in the parking lot. As I followed her movement through the crowd, I noticed a group of college-aged boys dressed in the same type athletic wear. As one of them turned around, I could read Orange Coast College Baseball on the back of his shirt. It looks like the entire baseball team had decided to skip practice to do their part. In the crowd, there was an atmosphere of charged excitement subdued by genuine reverence for the situation we were facing. There were many animated conversations taking place but there were no outbursts of laughter or expressions of joviality. This crowd was energized with the resolve to do something that would benefit those impacted the most by this terrible tragedy inflicted upon the people of the United States.

?Cold drinks; does anyone want a cold drink? Dad, do you want some cold water,? came a voice I recognized immediately. It was my 21 year-old daughter who had asked me to bring her to give blood today, and was now making her way through the crowd of Americans with both arms full of the official Orange County Drink, bottled water. Following along behind her, pushing a shopping cart FULL of cases of bottled water, was the old, (not so frail after all) Vietnamese woman. She was leaning all of her less than 110 pounds of weight against the shopping cart as she maneuvered it through the crowd.

I felt a surge of emotion as I rapidly blinked back the tears that were trying to force their way out. I remember watching dad do the same thing every time he told the story of America?s reaction to Pearl Harbor.

?Thanks Noelle,? I said, reaching for the bottle of Crystal Geyser. As I slowly drank the cold water, I surveyed the entire crowd once again. Everyone was so completely different, but exactly the same. From the Paul Mitchell hair stylist students who were barely 18 years old, to the hunched-over brown robed, Vietnamese monks to the tall, beautiful African American mom holding the hand of her 5-year-old daughter, we all were the same? Americans.

Jim Blankenship
September 11, 2001

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