Everyone of this generation has a “where were you when September 11th struck” story. Here’s mine.
We’d just gotten back from Burning Man about a week ago (at that time, much less mainstream than it is now, perhaps.) It was a work day morning, and we still had cable TV. Most of the time, we had it on, for the morning news, casually checking up on the stock market while we brushed our teeth.
I was also working on a write-up of our trip to Burning Man, since I didn’t want to be forced to recite an account of it with each of my friends who was curious about it. So I was working on the computer in our study when Joe hollered from the bedroom,” Come quick, an airplane just crashed into one of the World Trade Towers!” I thought he was joking, but as the news replayed clips of the first crash, I thought the event looked authentically real, although surreally bizarre. In my naiveté, I asked, “How could the pilot be so incompetent as to be unable to avoid such a huge building?” I mean, it wasn’t foggy or anything. Pilot instruments, radio control towers, etc, weren’t all those fail-safe technologies that made millions of Americans board planes with nary a qualm?
Although I realized that many people were hurt and killed, I was still a little fixated on the Hollywood action-movie explosive spectacle of the whole thing.
Until the second Tower was hit.
Most of my colleagues came to work that day, although the office was suffused with a mood of unease, uncertainty. None of us knew personally anyone in New York who might be affected. The closest degree of connection was one young staffer who was originally from the East Coast, who decided to go home early, too unnerved to be able to concentrate on work that day.
I remember thinking it would have a better idea to go see a movie that afternoon, to truly escape the world for a few hours, the last chance to hold onto to a sense of normality. The inkling that our world would never be the same again would become an indelible stain tomorrow, when the news and the aftermath broke.
In the days following, I was glued to the TV for the news (the infant Internet was a negligible source of video news then.) Seeing the moonscape of New York smoke and ash swirling; emergency workers dusted to the pores in desiccating grey flour, wearing face-masks scurried to search and save. Only when they took sips of water from plastic bottles, did they pull down their face masks.
It was uncanny that I knew what that felt like, physically. Because, not so long ago on the Playa (the dried our lake bed desert where Burning Man was held) I, too had scurried around the ashy landscape, dusted to the pores in desiccating grey flour, wearing a face-mask which I only pulled down when I took a sip of water from the bike bottle caged on my down tube. Only my wanderings were in search of art, music, and titillating experiences. I wrote September 11th into my account of Burning Man.
As it turned out, it had been a close call for my family. A few weeks ago, we had celebrated two weddings in our family. Two cousins (not brothers) had gotten married on back-to-back weekends in the Bay Area (giving the out-of-town relatives a two-for-one deal on their plane tickets!) One of my new cousins-in-law had flown back to Boston after the wedding to pack up for the move back to California for graduate school. They had opted for the Boston to SF flight with a stop in Chicago, because it was cheaper than the non-stop flight, UA 93.
As her flight was grounded in Chicago, the parents of new cousin-in-law number 2 who lived in Chicago were able to take care of her; she stayed with them until she could fly back to California.