A Record of the Day

I guess everyone is thinking about twenty years ago today. I’m not a big one for that kind of forced nostalgia – but I do have my blog – and I thought it would be interesting to review what I wrote down at the end of September 11, 2001.

I keep hearing people say how they were shocked and how much their view of the world changed that day. Of course that is very true for the people that were directly affected… but for me… I’m almost ashamed to say I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even surprised. It seemed like something that was going to happen, we just didn’t know where, how or when.

The world always exists as a thin membrane between our daily lives and the void of chaos beyond. September 11, 2001 was a day that the membrane broke… more than usual.

The Daily Epiphany
Tuesday, September 11, 2001

A record of the day

We have awakened a sleeping giant and instilled in it a terrible resolve.
—- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

I stayed up watching TV way too late last night and overslept in the morning. Luckily, my work has a generous flextime policy; but I had some stuff I had to get done. The City of Dallas had some samplers and I had to be there before they picked up so I could collect my split samples for our own analysis. I pried myself from under the covers and stumbled into the shower – then shaved and dressed as quickly as I could. As I dashed out the door to the car I saw Candy’s mom watching TV in the living room. There was only a glimpse as the front door closed and the show cut away to breaking news of a skyscraper (obviously the World Trade Center) and some smoke. I started the car and headed out late into the heart of the morning rush hour.

Most people watched the horror unfold on television. I listened to it on the radio, tuned in as I fought my way around the LBJ freeway loop. I was at about the Garland Road exit when the second plane hit.

That was it, wasn’t it? The first plane… I kept hoping it was an accident or at worst, an isolated crazy person. When that second plane came in though, that’s when it was clear what was going on, that’s when the world changed.

I made it to work and to my desk. At that point I felt strangely isolated. The Internet was so bogged down I couldn’t get any news off of my computer. The only two ways I could find anything out were reports by phone from a cow-orker’s wife and text reports on my web-phone.

Finally, some guys came into my cube and told me the other building had a conference room set up with a television feed. We decided to head over there. I worried a little about the City’s sampling crew and considered dropping some sample bottles in case they showed up but decided it wasn’t a good day to leave an unoccupied plastic cooler sitting in a parking lot.

I shouldn’t have worried. Considering what we do at my work it was obvious that security was going to be tight. The whole campus was closed – nobody was getting in or out.

Simply crossing the street to the other building was an adventure. The security guard made us dump everything out of our pockets. She removed the batteries from our cell phones. “I know what I’m looking for, but you don’t,” she said. Then everybody was frisked – and a pretty thorough frisking, too. I think that’s the first time I’ve been searched like that – though it’s possible I simply don’t remember it before.

Finally seeing the television pictures in the conference room on the big screen TV… well, you know what it was like, you saw them too. The bizarre juxtaposition of such a beautiful, sunny day with the horror unfolding underneath. I remember being in the Trade Center, it was a calm warm day when I was there, two decades ago. They let us go on up above the observation deck and walk around on the roof walkway. I remembered the sheer size of the two towers and understood why the giant airliners looked so small – why the first reports thought it was private planes.

Both towers had already collapsed by the time we made it to the conference room. They kept rerunning the horrific footage of the crumbling structures hurtling down in a cloud of debris over and over. At that point there was still not very much information coming across from the Pentagon – many reports were that the plane had actually missed and had crashed into a helicopter pad next to the building. That’s always one difficult thing about watching a disaster like this (like this? There has never been anything like this) – the constant stream of rumor and speculation, the slow winnowing of fact.

We watched until it became numbing. By the time I walked back to my office the announcement was made that “the terrorists don’t appear to be targeting defense plants,” so we weren’t frisked again – though the site was still locked down tight.

I was actually able to get some work done – I strongly wanted to try and continue my ordinary responsibilities as much as possible. I talked to Candy on the phone, especially when the kids came home from school. They were doing fine – Lee was more or less oblivious and Nick very curious, but not upset or frightened. I talked to him and his major question was, “Why would anybody do this? Don’t they know what they are getting themselves into?” Nick has been fascinated with Pearl Harbor ever since he saw the movie and seems to see some strong connections here.

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