The most surreal day in my lifetime began around 7 AM, September 11, 2001. The morning had a mundane, but unpromising, start. My tire was flat. I did not have a spare. I called work, told them I’d be late, and called a tow truck. Great. There was $60 I didn’t really have to spend. An hour later, I was up at Anderson Automotive handing Bruce the keys and heading across the street for breakfast.
There was nothing to suggest September 11 would be anything but a gorgeous fall day where I’d be muttering all afternoon about being stuck inside at BigHugeCo. In fact, while sitting at the Servatti Pastry, I began contemplating what sort of horrific problems I could come up with to get me a day off. I thought better of it. We were having a huge departmental meeting with our CIO, and it would be bad enough I’d miss part of it already. I headed back across the street, handed Bruce my credit card, and took my keys. On the battered 19-inch Panasonic in the lobby, one of the Twin Towers was smoking, which left us scratching our heads. What the hell?
Well, that was going to make water cooler talk interesting. “Moron Buzzes World Trade Center, Splatters Self All Over North Tower.” We speculated on the luck of the drunk, how they could have gotten past the safeguards that kept air traffic out of Manhattan. I waved, went home, and flipped on CNN. Might as well just take half the day off and go in after lunch.
I tuned in just in time to see the second plane hit. Ladies and gentlemen, things just got really, really bad. This wasn’t some jackass in a small plane buzzing skyscrapers and getting exactly what he deserved for his stupidity. This was intentional. This was murder broadcast live on national television.
From that point on, I was fixed on the news. I switched between CNN and Fox trying to get as much news as I could. I remembered just over a decade ago when NBC struggled to get information out of Moscow when a bunch of panicked hardliners tried to take over the Soviet Union. A different world.
The Fox commentators pointed out smoke rising in the general direction of the Captitol Building (which was still intact), wondering if it was the White House or somewhere else in DC. We found out later it was the Pentagon. Fox mentioned that Dick Cheney and Condaleeza Rice were at the White House, keeping the President up to date. I knew why the President was airborne and out of sight. Hell, they talked about that plan way back in the Cold War in all the hype leading up to The Day After. (Remember that oddball piece of fear mongering?) What I wanted to know was why the second man in line for the presidency and the head of national security were in the biggest target in the world right now. (They were in a bunker, stupid. I didn’t know that until later.)
I remember getting an IM from a friend of mine in New England asking what was happening? I turned around to see one of the towers collapse. My eyes stayed on the television the rest of the day, until four that afternoon before driving down the hill to my favorite watering hole. I needed a shot and a beer and got one. Really, needed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels.
Then it started. Some unscrupulous gas station owners jacked up the price of gas to $4 a gallon. Gas went for $1.75 a gallon at the time. Marathon and Ameristop closed the violators down almost before the news report ended.
At first, the tragedy seemed to bring America together. Someone dared to attack us on our own soil, and we were going to fight back. Hey, we just invented the Internet. We could do anything. But the attacks, the protracted wars, the financial messes, and the natural disasters all seemed to take the wind out of our sails.
Personally, I’ve refused to give into fear. I don’t look sideways at Muslims. Most Muslims I’ve met would like to see a few clerics’ heads on pikes. I never gave in to the political division that’s ripping this country apart. The whole liberal-conservative model bears little resemblance to reality.
But America has been kicked in the teeth over the last ten years. Hurricanes, terrorists, and the economy have many convinced we live in the last century of the Roman Empire. I’ve heard that talk before – in the late 1970’s. I didn’t buy it then, either. We face a lot of problems – We’re broke; our politicians are a bunch of fear-mongering, preening reprobates; and we don’t know where we’re going to get enough oil to keep the lights on and the cars running. But you know what I look forward to?
I’m looking forward to having a drink at Windows on the World at One World Trade Center.
And maybe looking in the general direction of the Taliban and raising a one-fingered salute to them.
Sure, it’s just a building, but it’ll finally put that horrible day to bed. We won’t forget it, but we’ll finally be able to move on.