12 years hence
My family was spending most of the week living in an extended-stay hotel while a crew of plumbers were replacing all the pipes under the money pit we called home. My wife was leaving the hotel late in the evening to sleep in the house to keep our dogs and cats company.
I chose a hotel across the street from work. As I started the family minivan for the short drive that morning, the radio came on. As I pulled into the parking lot at work, the disk jockey gave a preliminary report of an accident, of what was thought to be a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
I wasn’t sure whether to believe the disk jockey. This was a funky free-form radio station not known for its news coverage. But I sat there in the parking lot listening anyway, and soon the disk jockey turned the mic over to a reporter from a news service the station used. As he read wire reports and related what he was seeing on television, I started to believe this was real.
I got out of the car and ran into the building to my desk, where I brought up the Web sites of the local TV stations, hoping to find a live stream. That was pretty new technology in 2001. Two stations’ sites wouldn’t load, which I learned later was because they were overwhelmed by people trying to find out what was going on. I can see now that it was amazing luck that I was able to bring up the local ABC station’s site and watch coverage there for several hours. Co-workers crowded around behind me.
My ex was frantically calling my cell phone, which I forgot to turn on, trying to find out from me if I had heard the news and whether it was true. She had recently left military service, and was highly emotional because just a short time before she would have been part of a greater mission of protection for our nation. But stripped of her status, she felt helpless and useless. Worse, one of the fellows working on our home had served in Vietnam and was clearly still twitchy from the experience; upon seeing the news he had a full-on meltdown in our living room. My wife finally remembered my desk phone number and reached me there, crying. That’s when the emotion of the morning finally hit me, too. By then, both towers had been hit and it was clear that this was no accident.
My company’s entire executive team was offsite that day in strategic planning. I learned later that they instead spent the day watching the news. It was a turning point in the company’s history. We had become a public company only a couple months before, a risky venture at any time but, it turned out, especially so given these national events. It seemed like the executives lost their will to lead for a while, and then our company’s fortunes began to flag. By the following January my company could no longer afford to pay me, and let me go. The entire software and technology industry experienced difficult times in the months following September 11. The dot-com bubble had burst, and it was harming the entire industry. The attack didn’t cause the burst, but it seemed to accelerate its impact, and so I still trace my unemployment to that morning in September.
Please tell your September 11 story.