Originally posted to my website in 2002
With the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaching, I’ve decided to post my 9/11 story to my blog. Compared to others, my story of September 11 is nothing. I was not there; I was home in Detroit. I had no family members or friends directly involved [I did have a friend report on the aftermath, though], although my brother-in-law is a Federal employee.
When I woke up on that Tuesday morning, it was with some anticipation. If you look elsewhere on my Website, you’ll discover that I am an admirer of Tracey Ullman. Well, she was going to appear on the Today show that morning, presumably to promote her new TV series Visible Panty Lines on the Oxygen cable channel. I made sure that the VCR was configured to properly record the interview. I made sure to use a T-160 tape so that I could record most of the show, since I did not know when she would be on. Well, I knew she would not be on during the first half-hour, for that time is always reserved for hard news. So I set it up to tape from 7:30 AM to 10 AM, or 7:29 to 10:01 to be exact, as I pad my recordings with a minute on either side. Other than that, it was a normal morning getting ready for work. I left at my usual time with my usual stuff – my Day Planner and my backpack for my laptop, with the Detroit Free Press and the Wall Street Journal tucked into the outside pocket.
The work day started like it usually does, with several of us having our morning coffee or pop or water and discussing what was in the papers about Ford or whatever else interested us. The Free Press lead story that morning was about Charlie Batch losing his starting job at quarterback with the Lions. He had done poorly the previous Sunday; so had the team. [Little did we realize then that they were heading for a 2-14 season, but I digress.] My schedule for that day was open; the big items for me were to publish the agenda for that Friday’s design review and to ponder changes in the wire sizing strategy for our vehicles.
Around 8:40, I went to the next-door building, known as Building 3, so that I could use the money machine and get some money. I went right back to my building, but as I was traveling along the first-floor corridor, I could hear a loud news report coming from one of the offices. Someone had a radio on; that was very unusual, and I stopped in to listen. I heard a reference to Canal Street. Clearly, something newsworthy had happened, but I did not know what. At first I thought something was happening in New Orleans; isn’t there a Canal Street there? The occupant of the office returned and said that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Whoa! That was indeed newsworthy. I rushed back to my desk and attempted to check the various news websites for more information. My co-workers had the same idea, and so did a lot of other people in the company – and in the world.
The Web was getting very slow. Sites would update slowly if at all. Some people near me were trying to get the CNN Website to come up. I had gone to MSNBC and found the article on the crash. I also opened up some other browser windows for checking on other sites without losing the MSNBC article. But all of the sites were busy.
I don’t know how I heard that another plane had hit the second tower. Was I the one who called it up on the Web first, or was it somebody else? It doesn’t matter; we heard, and we knew that things had changed. One plane crash could have been an accident. Not two. No way. The Websites got busier; retrieving the latest news became more difficult. MSNBC’s site had some shots of the plane flying into the second tower and shortly after it hit, with the huge orange and black fireball. It was difficult for us to get any work done because of the news, but we tried. A co-worker and I met with our supervisor and manager, discussing various collaborations with GM and Chrysler on fusing and wire sizing (this would be done under the USCAR umbrella, which permits such collaborations without creating antitrust difficulties). When we got back to our desks, we found out about the latest news. Then the developments kept coming one after the other. Something had crashed near the Pentagon – no, a plane had crashed INTO the Pentagon. All airplanes were being ordered down, effective immediately. This was unheard of in my experience.
People were gathered at the TV’s. Normally, they’re tuned to the internal communications network, but now they were carrying CNN. I watched for a moment. Then somebody told me that one of the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed. Collapsed? I was incredulous. I was stunned. I think I may have said “Holy [4-letter word for excrement]!” I was getting sick to my stomach. I rode the escalator upstairs to my desk. From that point on, work was the farthest thing from my mind. Somebody had a small TV at his desk; a few people were gathered around, watching Peter Jennings on ABC. There was a report, later proved false, that a Palestinian group had claimed responsibility for the attacks. There were other reports that the remaining tower was in danger of collapsing. Those reports proved all too true, as we know. The collapse of the second tower was less of a shock to the system than hearing about the first. With the one gone, you had the feeling the other one would go, and it did.
The News Websites were extremely difficult to visit. I couldn’t get any updates that way. I decided that the guys with the portable TV’s or radios had the right idea. I was going to go home and get my portable TV/VCR combo, then bring it back to the office. So a little after 10:30, I decided to leave for what I thought would be an early lunch break.
Naturally, I was listening to WWJ Newsradio 950 on the way home. They were reporting that it had been commercial airliners that had been crashed into the Trade Center, and that ANOTHER plane had crashed somewhere southeast of Pittsburgh. Could this day have gotten any worse? It just did. Our country was under attack from forces as yet unknown. I heard that Ford World Headquarters was in lockdown. Had I left the office just in time to avoid being locked in? [no, I hadn’t; that lockdown was just for the World Headquarters building]
My locality was having a primary election for city council and for some ballot proposals, so I went and voted. The election had not been canceled! I got home shortly after 11 and put on the TV, then found the portable TV/VCR and got it ready to go. I did not need to immediately return to the office, for it was my normal lunchtime. So I sat down and watched the coverage, flipping through the channels. Fox 2 had their local anchors on, alternating with Fox News coverage. NBC and ABC were with the network. C-Span2 was carrying the WUSA Channel 9 news out of Washington. I watched that for a while, as I was a regular viewer of 9 Eyewitness News whenever I would visit my sister in Culpeper, Virginia. They were focusing on the Pentagon attack, naturally. When I saw for the first time the video of the second plane striking the South Tower… Words can’t describe the shock and horror I felt. My God! Total, stunning incredulity and disbelief. And then seeing the buildings come down… It didn’t happen, did it? But it did happen…
I received a phone call around 11:30 or so. It was Jason, a co-worker; he said don’t bother coming back to work, for everyone had been sent home for the day. The rest of the day would have been a waste; no real work would have been done – no real work COULD have been done, not after this. So I stayed home glued to my television and followed the developments.
I found some time to scan the tape of the Today show I had made. Did Tracey appear before the attack started, or was her interview canceled by breaking news? She did appear around 8:20, or some 25 minutes before everything started. I did not watch the interview at that time; it would be a couple of days before I did, for I was not in the mood. I also knew that the tape carried the opening moments of the attack. When I watched it several days later, I found that it had everything up to a few minutes after the first tower had collapsed. History in the making – hah! A good tape to watch, if you were in Hell – or if you wanted to feel like hell. And in an eerie foreshadowing of the day’s events, Matt Lauer was commenting on Tracey’s appearing in the fenced-off area in Rockefeller Plaza at the start of the 8 o’clock hour by saying “we’ve had a breach in security here,” or words to that effect. It was right at that time that one of the hijacked and doomed flights had left or would soon leave Boston.
I sent e-mails to my sister near DC and to a friend who lived in New York. I would later learn that he was fine and that he had gone down to Ground Zero to cover the aftermath for a legal news service. I also sent an announcement to the DetroitBahai mailing list about a prayer meeting for western Wayne County that would be held that evening. Until that meeting, I was more or less glued to the TV.
When I went to the prayer meeting, one of the other attendees pointed out the lack of contrails in the air from jets. Of course there weren’t any; all of them were grounded. That had never happened in my lifetime. It was a strange sight to behold.
And that is my 9/11 story. As I said, compared to those who survived, or those who lost loved ones, my story is nothing. But I wanted to tell it.