I’ve been leaving the blog started-but-on-life-support for a while. I guess I just need to start writing something or I’ll never write anything. The Topic of the Day seems to be a reasonable thing to write about, so here goes:
On September 11, 2001, my wife and I were running a little late for dropping The Kid off and getting to work. We had The Today Show on the TV because Willard Scott was supposed to be wishing my step-grandmother (along with a host of others) a happy 100th birthday. By about 8:35-8:40, we were ready and Willard hadn’t been on yet, so I set the VCR (remember them? pre-DVR?) to record NBC and we headed out the door.
Back in those days, our car audio listening was limited to kiddie music, so we were effectively cut off from the outside world for our drive to the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany. We got to The Children’s Place day care center at the Plaza and brought The Kid to his classroom. We were heading out to go to our respective offices when Mike, the cook/handyman, called out to us from the kitchen and asked if we had heard. “Somebody flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”
Our first thought was that some private plane pilot was lost and flew into the building. “Idiot,” I remember thinking. “Probably killed himself. Hope he didn’t take anybody else with him.” Little did we know.
My wife went to walk across the Plaza to her office and I got into the car to drive the couple of blocks to my parking lot and then get to my office. I figured I’d listen to the news station on the radio to see if there was any more information. By then, the second plane had hit, there was much confusion, and I had the realized with growing horror that some serious shit had hit the fan.
My parking lot was full, and I was redirected to a State Employee lot closer to my building. The extra time in the car let me listen to more of the information. I got into the office and turned on the radio at my desk. (This was back in the days when I still sat in a cubicle where I had good radio reception.) None of us could concentrate on work much as the day continued.
I had a 10:00 meeting in a conference room at the other end of the floor. By then we had already heard about the Pentagon. A TV had been set up at the entrance to the room and a number of people were clustered around the set. I arrived just in time to see the first tower fall. The meeting was cancelled. Nobody had the ability to concentrate on work after that.
I went back to my desk, listening to the radio, trying to find out up-to-date information on the Internet (not as easy 9 years ago as it is now), calling my wife, calling and emailing family and friends that I thought or suspected were in the area of the towers.
An all-staff email went out that the Empire State Plaza was a suspected target for further attacks and that all state employees were to evacuate and go home for the day. I called my wife and the The Children’s Place. The day care center was preparing all of the kids to go home, and were in the process of calling all parents to come and get their kids. I went out to the car, drove over to the Plaza, picked up The Kid, and went around to a closer spot for my wife to meet the car.
For some reason, she felt that there was work that she just had to finish, and was one of the last people out of her building (the tallest building between NYC and Montreal, and between Boston and Buffalo, not a target at all). Finally, after I was frantically calling her and telling her to just leave it, dammit, and let’s get out of here, she came down and we drove home on an eerily deserted New York State Thruway.
Sitting at home, I couldn’t turn off the TV. I kept staring at what was happening. I couldn’t believe what was going on. My wife told me to stop staring at the TV or I’d go crazy. She said that we had to get out of the house for a while, and we packed up and went to Central Park in Schenectady.
By then all flights had been grounded, so there was no background noise from planes. There was apparently nobody out on the road, because there was no traffic noise coming through the trees. We were alone in the park, so it was eerily quiet. Suddenly, a C-130 from the Air National Guard base in Scotia came roaring overhead at a low altitude. I nearly had a heart attack from the sound and from the sudden panic that there was another plane coming at us.
We finally went back home and I went back to staring at the TV. Word trickled in from the various family and friends. My friend Rich was away, and wasn’t in the City. My friend Mark was uptown when it happened and had to walk most of the way home because they shut the subway down. My stepfather had been in midtown and tried unsuccessfully to make his way downtown to help.
Other stories were of those lost. The pregnant daughter of my mother and stepfather’s across-the-street neighbors had lost her husband, who called her from an upper floor of one of the towers between the crash and when the tower fell. One of the companies that my stepfather provided life insurance for lost all of their employees except one. Mercifully, my family and friends were otherwise unhurt.
My friend John was at a conference in Denver, across the country from his home, his wife and his four-month-old son in Virginia, outside Washington, DC. Since there was no plane travel, they finished their conference, and then he and his colleagues rented a car and drove cross-country from Denver to Virginia. He tells amazing stories of his experience, and I hope that he writes them down at some point.
Obviously, we were relatively unaffected, compared to those who did lose their family and friends in these dastardly attacks. Those in the Twin Towers, in the Pentagon, and on Flight 93, which was crashed in Shanksburg, PA, to prevent it from reaching its targeted destination. Also, all of those who rushed in to help and died while trying to save the victims. Those true heroes who, while everyone else was running away from the World Trade Center, ran into and up the buildings to try to get people out, and were killed when the buildings came down.
The terrorist attacks changed our country forever, and the scars will take a long time to heal, but we will survive, we will persevere, and we will Keep Moving Forward.