Personal

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.

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7 thoughts on “12 years hence

  1. I live in a NYC commuter town. As far as I knew, my husband Jeff had a meeting in World Trade Center with someone from a financial firm that morning (on a higher floor). I was writing – had radio and TV off – and close to 9 Jeff called to ask if I knew what was going on. He told me to turn on the television. His client lived in the next town from ours and on Sept. 10th called Jeff to say – “we live close to each other. It’s silly to meet in the City first thing in the morning. Let’s meet here.” Jeff was calling from nearby and both he and his client were watching from a restaurant TV. Though relieved about Jeff, I watched the news all day curled in a fetal position on the couch, waiting for the next strike, thinking that it may hit my city. We know lots of people who work downtown NYC but none were lost that day. However, many of our friends lost dear ones.

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  2. I live in Chicago.

    When the first tower was hit I heard of it in the TV room of the local car wash. It was a tragedy, far away.

    When the 2nd tower was hit I was at a local breakfast diner having biscuits and gravy. The TV announcer said a 2nd tower had been struck by a 2nd object, perhaps a plane. Then I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. One tower was a tragedy, two towers was a life altering moment.

    On 9/11 I think of NYC, D.C. and a Pennsylvania plane crash. But I also think of a young man now 25 whose birthday is 9/11. His childhood was bent horribly with 2 alcoholic parents. Then on his 13th birthday, perhaps the happiest day for a teenager, America’s way of life was shattered on 9/11.

    May the dead rest in peace, may the living be comforted, and happy birthday to a young man on his 25th birthday.

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  3. Steve Miller says:

    To shift the focus slightly, you recount the effect on your then-employer. Do you think the recent revelations of NSA’s corruption of security protocols will be as damaging to America’s software industry?

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  4. Lone Primate says:

    I was working in suburban Toronto and one of my contacts on ICQ, a code-writer in Dallas, suddenly pinged me and told me that an airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center. As bad as I felt for the people involved, at that point, it just seemed like a strange, accidental occurrence, like when that plane hit the Empire State Building round about WWII. It was when he pinged again a few minutes later that a second plane had hit the other tower that I, like most people, suddenly realized it was no accident. That was pretty much it for work that day, of course. I remember my mother phoning, worried that I, working on the ground floor of a three-story building, might be in danger. Even then, that seemed comically absurd.

    But at that point, we didn’t know the scope of things. I remember the rumours were thick and fast. There’d been a car bomb on Capitol Hill. A plane had hit the Pentagon. Another had hit the White House. Another had crashed in Pennsylvania. Most weren’t true. Some were. But it was still a couple of days before we knew.

    What I remember was how strange it was not to see a plane in the sky for the next couple of days, as if it were a hundred years ago. And the attitudes of people. The Texan who’d told me about it in the first place was an extremely liberal guy and rather critical of US policies and motives. But that day, he was so hurt and angry that even he was ready to unleash the nukes, if only they knew who, and where. Within a day or two he admitted he was a little embarrassed by his reaction, but it was very human. You didn’t have to live in New York, or even the US, that day to want to lash out, strike back, circle the wagons.

    I don’t think the world has changed much for the better since then. I’m struggling to find the “but…” silver lining to the cloud to end this… I really can’t think of one.

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    • Thanks for telling your story, LP, especially for the perspective on how easy it was to fall into a circle-the-wagons mentality then, and how things haven’t improved. I’d say I feel less free as an American now — not just because of programs implemented, but because to some extent the scales have fallen from my eyes.

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