A reporter looks back at two decades since 9/11

A silhouette of visitors at the One World Trade Center at ground zero in New York City.
A silhouette of visitors at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at ground zero near One World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 3. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda on the U.S.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 10. I’m Benjamin Oreskes, writing from Los Angeles.

When not pitching in on this newsletter, I normally cover homelessness and housing for this paper. But over the last few weeks, I spent some time back in my hometown of New York City thinking about a different tragedy.

Let’s start with an excerpt from The Los Angeles Times, Aug. 21, 2011:

“Hours later, I finally made it home to the Upper West Side, where my little night owl, Louisa, opened the door. ‘Mommy, Mommy, your hair is gray!’ she screeched. Ben was sound asleep, but as promised, I woke him. Fear welled up in his face. He grabbed me by the shoulders. ‘I’m scared, Mom,’ he said, and started crying.”


That was written by my mother, former Times correspondent Geraldine Baum. It’s her description of coming home to our New York City apartment late on the night of Sept. 11, 2001, after a full day spent at the site of the World Trade Center attack. I was 8 years old then; today, I’m 28 and a reporter for The Times.

The gray in my mom’s hair was ash and dust from the twin towers — material we now know to have been toxic.

The reality is, I remember very little about that cloudless Tuesday 20 years ago. I’m not sure if I remember or if my mom later told me, but that night, when she got home, I thought she was a ghost because of the dust that coated her clothes and hair.

I felt fear. I know that. But what else? Was I confused? Distressed? Here’s where my parents’ recollections replace my own.

I am part of the tail end of the millennial generation and belong to a select cohort who lived within a few miles of the two buildings that were once the tallest in the world. Twenty years on, I know the Sept. 11 attacks profoundly shaped me but I’m still sorting out how. And in this, I’m joined by many of my peers, who were children then and can see now, with the clarity of hindsight, that the attack by Al Qaeda changed the trajectory of their lives.

But, again: How?

Please give the rest of the story a read here.


My colleagues have published a collection of stellar stories about the effect of those attacks and how we still feel them today.

Maria La Ganga describes how much California lost in the war on terror. Los Angeles Times

Melanie Mason and Janet Hook deliver a dispatch from D.C. about how the terror attacks changed our leaders. Los Angeles Times

— Meena Venkataramanan also reports from D.C. on the impact of 9/11 on the quest for immigration reform. Los Angeles Times

Finally, Brittny Mejia goes in depth on a generation of American Muslims who have grown up in the shadow of 9/11. Los Angeles Times

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:


Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Big shift: All children 12 and older attending Los Angeles public schools must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January under an order approved Thursday by the Board of Education — the first such mandate among the nation’s largest school systems. The requirement cements the standing of L.A. Unified as an early adopter of COVID-19 school safety measures. That wide-reaching and aggressive posture has resulted in both praise and pushback. Los Angeles Times

Plus: As the Delta variant brought another wave of coronavirus infections this summer, the age of those being hospitalized with the illness has dropped significantly in some parts of California compared with earlier surges. That’s because younger people are being vaccinated at lower rates. Los Angeles Times

RIP: Archbishop Carl Bean, a “beacon of light” in the LGBTQ church movement and AIDS activism, dies. Los Angeles Times


Big poll news: By a margin of 60.1% to 38.5%, likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to the final UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times

Western swing: President Biden will fly to California on Monday and urge voters to reject the GOP-backed effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom as part of a three-state Western visit, a White House official has confirmed. Los Angeles Times


Stories from South L.A. : Larry Elder calls himself a “Sage from South Central.” But his ties to Black L.A. are fraught. Los Angeles Times

GULP: Former President Donald Trump is already claiming the California recall is rigged. POLITICO

'The Times' podcast

Our new weekday podcast, hosted by columnist Gustavo Arellano, takes listeners beyond the headlines. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


A fun one: Times political columnist Mark Barabak chats with former Sen. Barbara Boxer. Los Angeles Times

Provocative essay: Why Afghan refugees aren’t actually welcome in California. The Atlantic

A true LOL: The strange and terrible saga of the Willie Brown deck. Mission Local

 A homeless man takes a swing at a staff member for Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder.
A homeless man takes a swing at a staff member for Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder during a tour in Venice on Wednesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)


Scuffle in Venice: The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating an altercation Wednesday in Venice involving a group of homeless people and supporters of Larry Elder, the Republican candidate for governor. Los Angeles Times

Sad: Craig “Big” Batiste, a former gang member turned neighborhood peacekeeper, was killed Wednesday morning near Los Angeles, authorities said. Wall Street Journal

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Burned trees and billions in cash: How a California climate program lets companies keep polluting. Los Angeles Times


Dang: California’s endless summer just got hotter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday confirmed what many people felt and saw: California — along with Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah — recorded its hottest ever June-through-August, known as the meteorological summer. Sixteen other states had among their top-five warmest summers. Los Angeles Times


Dank: This athlete’s weed side hustle turned into a movement to change L.A.’s cannabis scene. Los Angeles Times

In South L.A.: NFL Media kicks off ambitious expansion with new headquarters in Inglewood. Los Angeles Times

Wild story: Fleetwood Mac fired Lindsey Buckingham. So why won’t he let them go? Los Angeles Times

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Los Angeles: Sunny, 88. San Diego: Sunny, 82. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 65. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 78. Fresno: Sunny, 98. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 88.


Today’s California memory is from Peter Alvarado:

It was the summer of 1978. I was 15 years old, born and raised in East L.A. and a die-hard Dodgers fan. My crew, Lefty, Jess, and Mike would head out to Dodger Stadium on Sunday afternoons to “watch the game” from Elysian Park just beyond center field. We would wait until the sixth inning, then make our way through one of the entrances. We pushed our way in as L.A. fans, infamous, for leaving early, were exiting. We would buy a hot dog and Coke and find empty box seats along the first base line. Life could not get better.


If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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