Friday, September 11, 2009

Where were you eight years ago today?

Eight years ago today I was in Arlington, Virginia (near the Ballston Metro Stop) attending a training course which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. As we were getting ready to start the class, a blackberry went off stating that a plane hit the World Trade Center and we were lucky enough that the location had a TV connected to cable and therefore it was immediately turned to CNN. The class watched as the reporters were unsure what they were seeing and we tried to figure out if it was small general aviation accident or something more serious. Just then on live TV we saw the second plane hit the tower and we knew that the first plane must have been similar. We sat in awe with the rest of the world as we watched that screen to try to comprehend what we were actually seeing.

At about 9:30 half of the class was on the telephone seeing what needed to be done as the other half watched the screen. The facilitator of the training class was a contractor who wanted to start the class (in order to get paid?) and after a 5 minute argument with most of the remaining students in the room, a supervisor made the call and said that the TV should be turned off and the class should go on. Not less than 2 minutes later, the person with the blackberry (in 2001 he must have been pretty special because they were probably rare.) stood up and yelled that "the Pentagon was just hit!”

The Pentagon is located in Arlington, Va the same city as the training course and my hotel was even closer as I was staying in the Crystal City area, just blocks from the Pentagon. People scrambled, everyone was dazed, cell phones didn’t work, locals jumped in cars to get home to their families and I decided to try to get back to my hotel since most of my co-workers had already left.

Thousands of people decided to go home the way they came and the Metro mass transit subway system wasn’t made to accommodate that level of traffic. People were reflective, several were crying, scared, shoulder to shoulder, a mass of humanity, now a hundred of feet below ground in a subway station that was build to be a fallout shelter in case of nuclear attack. On top of everything else, it seemed that the trains had now stopped running.

Underground, time had stopped. I might have been there an hour, but it seemed ten. What was happening up on the surface? Were we now at war? What was next? Babies were crying, mothers were holding them tight but there was very little other sound. A Metro conductor, held the microphone to his ear and yelled that the trains were now running again, the platform erupted in cheers; 10 minutes later I was on a train heading back to my hotel.

As I got out of the Crystal City Metro Station, I could smell the Pentagon burning less than a mile away and I was able to walk faster then the stream of cars who were trying to get out of the area. Back in the hotel, I sat alone in a very dark hotel room surfing channels to get as much information as I could absorb. I watched in horror on the Spanish Channel as they showed in graphic detail of people jumping to their death and then I watched as the towers fell. Finally I got a hold of my wife to let her know that I was fine and where I was located.

At the time Kristin was a United Airlines flight attendant, based out of Newark, NJ who was on medical leave because she was eight months pregnant with my son Gavin. Had she been flying, it is very likely that she would have been on United Flight 93 because it was one of her regular flights. Flight attendants obtain trips based on seniority and with Kris’s 12 years of seniority at the time, was able to hold the cross continental trip scheduled for San Francisco. Flying all of her trips from the Newark base while we lived in Atlanta meant that she shared a flop house with other flight attendants near the Newark airport. She and 15 other flight attendants shared a room at the Hampton Inn that contained a bunch of beds and was permanently set for them on a first come, first serve basis. Two of Kristin’s “roommates” in the flophouse were working Flight 93 that day and crashed in the field in Pennsylvania. From that day on, Kristin never flew again as a United Airlines Flight Attendant.

My return flight possibilities back to Atlanta were non-existent and I didn’t have a rental car since I was taking public transportation around D.C. Luckily my super social wife spread the word to her friends that I was stuck in Washington and the very next day I was picked up by the husband of one of her friends from a Dunwoody playgroup who was working in D.C.

As we departed Arlington we pulled onto I-395 and the Pentagon with the huge black hole in the side came into view, we knew from that day forward the definition of the word "normal" was forever changed.


Momfirst said...

I had heard your story before but thanks for retelling. Brought tears to my eyes. We must never forget that day and strive to make our country safer! God Bless America.

Dunwoody Mom said...

Will any of us ever forget where we were when we first heard the news of the attack on NYC? I know I will not. I do not think it will ever leave my mind - nor should it.

Wishbone Nolan said...

And the debacle continued when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (two chicken hawks who never fought in a war) had to politicize this tragedy and loss of American lives by lying about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and conned the world and the rest of the country into invading Iraq, resulting in thousands of America's best and bravest dying or being injured needlessly. I pray that our current much more enlightened president has the courage, insight, and wisdom to never commit the same malfeasance against humanity and debasement of American ideals as the Bush/Cheney administration did. And may the Lord protect our troops still in harm's way.

Pattie Baker said...

John: There's a flag hanging at the community garden today in honor of 9/11, if you need a peaceful place to reflect.

Wishbone Nolan said...

In a bit of irony, although not gentle irony as what he was known to author, O.Henry was born September 11, 1862 and wrote most of his short stories where he lived in Manhattan just a few blocks north of where the twin towers were to have been built years later.

Bob Fiscella said...

I was working at CNN that day - talk about crazy! It was hard not to let emotions take over.

Momfirst said...

Wishbone Nolan. On a day like today, of all days, can we not put politics aside and just reflect on the loss of the day and renew our patriotism?

Rob said...

Thanks for sharing this story John. We can never forget. And as Tony Blair said just the other nignt on Letterman, it is up to us to continue our steadfast resolve to see that those who did this are never able to do so again. As Blair noted, they would have killed 30,000 or 300,000 if they could. The fact that they did kill 3,000 is enough to maintain our resolve to see this through.