Becky, Don, Friends, George W. Bush, People, Relationships

Memories of September 11, 2001

The day before, Don and I had finished a house deck in a residential neighborhood near Cheyenne Mountain.  All that remained to do on the site was clean up the construction mess, and that was my job.

So early in the morning of September 11, 2001, I dropped Don off at another deck site, and then drove over to our finished deck to begin picking up the scraps of lumber, discarded screws and nails, and miscellaneous construction trash.

I quickly put together my first load and drove with it to the shop, where we had a dumpster for it.  The shop was almost all the way across town, so it took a while to get there.  I’m not in the habit of listening to the radio when I’m driving and I didn’t have the radio on that day either.   But I had the windows down and was enjoying the crisp air.  It was shaping up to be a lovely Fall.

As I came back from that first trip, I ran into heavy traffic around Fort Carson, which is the home to an Army division.  The roads leading there were stopped up with soldiers in green headed towards the base in their cars, trucks and SUVs.  I had to work around the mess by taking a wide detour through the backstreets, and that took some time.  Finally, I got to the deck and began picking up for my next load.

Altogether I made three or four trips to the dumpster that day.  By four o’clock I finally had the site cleaned up.  I had expected things to go faster, but those long detours around the soldiers had thrown me off schedule.  Something I’d heard the day before seemed tied to what the Fort Carson troops were up to.

National Public Radio reported on the 10th that all our bases in the Philippines suddenly went on high alert that morning.  Mysteriously, the Pentagon refused to say what was going on.

According to NPR, it was anyone’s guess whether the military was expecting its bases in the Philippines to be attacked, or was just carrying out an exercise.  When I saw the Fort Carson soldiers on alert, however, I thought the mystery solved.

Since it would take a whole army to successfully attack Fort Carson, and since no armies were around but ours, I figured the alerts must be part of some large scale exercise.  It was nothing I was really interested in.

I got to the new deck site a bit after four that afternoon.  As I drove up, I noticed Don and two other carpenters — instead of working — were listening to a radio.

The planes began hitting shortly after I dropped Don off that morning.  He and the other two had stopped work immediately.  Yet, despite monitoring events most of the day, there was not much at that point anyone knew for sure.   The questions were large and unanswered.  Who was behind the attacks?  Why had they attacked?  Were the attacks over yet?  Where was the President?  And so on.

It took only a few moments for them to fill me in with all they really knew.  The Twin Towers destroyed by two planes.  The Pentagon hit by a third.  A fourth gone down in Pennsylvania.  All domestic flights grounded.  And thousands of people dead.

After the other two carpenters left, Don and I went to the site I’d cleaned up so Don could inspect it.  It might seem strange to you we thought to do that.  But what else was there to do?

As we drove towards the site we noticed a TV van parked on an otherwise empty street.  The crew were standing outside the van — a reporter, a cameraman, and a couple technicians.  At first, there seemed no reason for them to be there.  So I looked where the camera was pointed, and it suddenly made sense.

They were set up where they had a view of Cheyenne Mountain.  At that time, the War Room that controlled America’s nuclear arsenal was buried deep inside.  The crew’s camera pointed directly at the entrance to NORAD.

I found out later they’d heard the President might be taken there.

That evening, Don and I went out to eat at a restaurant after watching the TV reports.  We sat at a sidewalk table with our food and said very little for a while.  A dozen times that evening, I thanked my luck I was with him — among other things, Don is sober, steady and superbly level headed.

The sun was behind the mountains now, but it was still light out.  I found it a struggle to figure out any implications to the day’s events.  After what seemed to me hours of thought, I said, “Don, I might be in shock because I can only get my mind around three things right now.”

“First, this is the start of a war.  Second, I hope to hell it’s not an attempted coup, because then it’s going to be a civil war.  Just don’t let it be Americans who did this!  And last, we’re going to war with our third string on the field.  Bush is no better than a third-rate president.”

Looking back, I realize I wasn’t thinking clearly.  But I believe I got the last bit right.

Afterwards, we went back to Don’s place.  Becky came home from work.  I expected her to want to watch TV with us, but instead she did her evening cleaning, which is a routine she does every night.  I should have known she would.  That’s how Becky grounds herself; it’s how she stays centered.  She puts her immediate environment in order, no matter what’s going on elsewhere.

When years ago I’d worked as a fire fighter, I’d learned there are some people you do not want to be with in a fire because they simply cannot turn the nonsense off.  Ever.  That evening, I had the luck to be with Don and Becky, neither of whom is given to BS.  They were a bubble of sanity in a world suddenly flooded by insanity.

Yet, it seemed that evening the whole nation had woken up.  On every channel, people were talking realistically about the events of the day.  There was no blustering.  No exaggerated patriotism.  No “talking points”.  No wild lies.  No one trying to sell you bullshit. At least that’s how it seemed. Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and the other media people were shaken but sober.  The politicians joined hands to stand united.

Whatever else 9/11 did to America, it seemed to turn us into a nation of realists for a brief while.

I don’t remember much more from that day.   I don’t even recall how or when I got home that evening.  But a week or so later, I read in The New Yorker that, 13 hours after the first plane struck one of the towers, Pat Buchanan was on the Fox News Network calling for America to avenge itself with nuclear weapons.  An entire nation cannot stay sober forever.  The BS had begun.

Those are my memories of 9/11.  What memories do you have of that day?

6 thoughts on “Memories of September 11, 2001”

  1. The night before 9/11, I was packing a suitcase in my little German apartment, trying to find black shoes that weren’t club-ish for my father’s funeral. I left Germany in a hurry but divereted to Halifax where I spent the next week, in an airport with only the news to watch. My mother, bless her heart, pushed back the funeral (scheduled for the 12th) to the 14th but in the end she couldn’t wait for me to get home to Foster City. I never made it home and caught a return flight back to home where I hugged my dog.

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  2. September 11th was my first day working in the mailroom of a skyscraper in Toronto. We had the radio on. The building pretty much emptied out within minutes of the news, but we were not relieved at first, the logic being that there might still be couriers coming. Of course when all the executives and managers went home it was pretty much up to us, so we did too.

    At home, my fiance was watching the news. I remember being disgusted that all the networks just looping the most sensational (ie disturbing) footage over and over again all day long without explaining anything.

    We spent the next couple weeks opening company mail with rubber gloves and masks.

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  3. A very nice account of that day Paul. I was in Tanzania that day, in dar-es-salaam, and came to know about the even hours later….when someone rang me up from India and told me…I couldnt believe it…

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  4. On September 10th, I had two small children who I felt were watching too much TV, and so that Monday I decided to turn off the TV completely and to allow them to explore their world without the boob tube on. The day came and went, and all was good. They didn’t miss it all that much.

    On the morning of September 11th, I distinctly remember it being a fabulous day and I opened all the windows to let the fresh air in. Once again, the TV was off. The phone rang for the first time that morning, and on the caller ID, I saw it was my mother. So I answered the phone with a chipper voice (because of my good mood), “HELLO! And how are YOU this morning?”

    She answered with a somber voice, “You don’t know, do you?”

    All of a sudden, my heart sank. I wondered if a family member or a loved one was seriously hurt. I wondered if she lost her job or received bad news about a medical condition. And when she continued after my stunned silence by saying, “Two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York,” I couldn’t believe her.

    TWO planes? Not an accident? But two planes that show that we’re under attack?

    After that, I went to turn the TV on, and there I saw what everyone else saw with the burning buildings. I then told my mother that I needed to get off the phone because I needed to keep my composure in front of the kids. And at that moment, I saw the report that the Pentagon had been hit and that there was another hijacked plane still in the air.

    For the rest of the day, I sat mortified in front of the TV. I didn’t pay attention to the advice of childhood experts that the TV shouldn’t be on. I just kept watching the footage over and over again in order to somehow convince me that this was really happening. When I lived in New York, the WTC was part of the skyline that I saw every morning before school and dance class. It was a source of familiarity, and now it was all gone. Once the kids were in bed that night, I tried to cry, but nothing came out. I was still in shock.

    The one thing I remember the most about that day was how easily things change. I went from caring more about whether or not the kids were watching TV to wanting to connect with all my family and friends (even my estranged family and friends) to tell them I loved them. Nothing else mattered in those short moments.

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  5. Beautiful post. Isn’t it strange that under the backdrop of such an ugly event, we see the beauty of humanity (rescue workers, concerned neighbors, even, God help me, politicians) all the more clearly?

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  6. I was listening to Bob and Tom and laughing my ass off as usual in the morning (this is back in my younger days of not giving a shit about what happened in the world) and they were in the middle of a joke when the news hit. A plan hit the World Trade Center tower. Well that was all they knew so naturally everyone listening had envisioned a little dinky plane and a drunk pilot or sumptin.

    I remember hearing, “How the hell do you fly into the World Trade Center tower? They’re kinda hard not to miss.” Then another initial report came in about second tower being hit and suddenly people were confused. The general consensus of the show was that something was odd about this initial report and everyone would have to wait for more information.

    I got to work and right off the bat asked co-workers. They said they heard and everyone was as confused as I was. I kept working and about an hour into work the reports started flooding in. I was working at a college at the time and we hooked up a TV for faculty, staff, and students to get reports. We went to class and the teacher still attempted to teach after students with fancy cell phones were giving up-dates for the first 20 minutes. After class I rushed home and was in complete amazement.

    It just amazes me how drastically things have changed since. And to see what we have let ourselves become.

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