Nine years ago, an anecdote

Nine years ago this month, I had just moved into a new apartment, and my wife had just started a new job. Tuesday morning we both went to work as normal. I was shooting the breeze with a coworker when another guy came into the workroom to let us know that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I recall dismissing the report with a breezy assurance that the Towers had been designed to withstand the impact of a General Aviation plane, and recounted the story of the B-25 that hit the Empire State Building in the 40’s. As the news came through in fragments, it became clear that my initial impressions were, well, wrong. Someone had plugged in a TV in an unused conference room, and we drifted in and out, watching Telemundo between trying (and failing) to get any useful work done. (It was set up before the other stations lost their antennae that were on the WTC buildings; I can’t say why we couldn’t pull in anything else besides Telemundo). My half-remembered Spanish wasn’t up to the task of following the commentators.

The “where were you” moment for me happened while I was standing in the doorway between the main work room and a smaller area off to the side where the laptop imaging stations were. A radio was on, tuned to a news broadcast. They were reporting that an airliner had hit the Pentagon, and I burst out with “My mother works there!” Of course, all the long-lines were jammed, so I couldn’t call down to find out anything, and between that and the reports of a car-bombing of the Main State building (where my father had worked for a long time), I wasn’t in any shape to keep working, though I tried for a while. Coworkers started drifting out to go home, and I eventually did likewise. I could see the tops of the smoke plumes rising in the north once I got home.

Eventually, probably via IM, I got the news that my mother was fine (she had been almost directly across the Pentagon from the point of impact, in the basement, and would later claim that her office had thought a transformer blew until they got to the marshaling areas. The only damage to her offices was the stench caused by a bunch of shrimp in a fridge that lost power) My father had been working in Crystal City, which I had forgotten. But a close friend of mine, who I figured was fine because she didn’t start work until 10 am, had chosen to go in early that day to her job across the street from the WTC, and her husband was half-mad because he hadn’t heard from her. Around dinnertime, he finally heard from her; she had been on the first subway train diverted from the WTC stop, and was actually caught in the dust cloud of the first tower going down. She had walked from there to the Brooklyn Bridge, and then uptown to the 34th st ferry to get across the Hudson. Later on I would hear of college classmates who worked in the area who had survived as well. (As far as I know, anyone I knew personally who was in the area survived).

I have a folder of music made for, changed for, or inspired by the occasion, including a recording of “Fire and Rain” insterspersed by sound clips from that day and following. It was put together by a local radio station.  It has famous sound bites from the president and others, and it also has clips from callers to the station, including an eyewitness to the second plane going in, from which I deduce the man  was Roman Catholic and of a certain age, judging by his shouting “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Some of these songs are rather jingoist (there’s one entitled “Yackety Yak, Bomb Iraq, for example). Others are more solemn.

Three of them can be found on Youtube. Two are rather famous, one is less so.

We have:

Leslie Fish’s Flight 93

Neil Young’s Let’s Roll

 Alan Jackson’s Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)

For this last song, I deliberately chose that video rather than another of Mr. Jackson himself because it includes images (video and still; all very moving) and some audio, from that day and later, overlaid. In particular, there are images some would prefer to be pushed down the memory hole; and I don’t believe they should be. Be warned, though, I wiped some tears from my eye while watching it.

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