Thursday, September 11, 2008

Random Thoughts: 9/11

K called from Florida, "Planes crashed into the World Trade Center and one of the towers just fell." Unemployed and half asleep at 7:30 AM, I shuffled downstairs to the TV, past MDW as she prepared for work. At first, all I saw was a dirty cloud obscuring southern Manhattan. Then a stunned announcer said the second tower had just collapsed. MDW joined me, work forgotten as we learned of the attack.

Other friends phoned throughout the day. Paul Rugg speculated about the pilots of the doomed aircraft, certain they weren't Americans forced to crash. TJ, a Vietnam vet, was incensed at the footage of jubilant Palestinians with their candy and AK-47s. He wished he could surprise them with a nice buttering of napalm. In a grim mood, I agreed.

Watching TV and power-chewing Nicorette, I mostly felt numb — except when the subject was jumpers. Then I felt horror. Go to work, sip coffee, joke with your pals, then decide whether you'll suffocate, burn alive, or leap a quarter mile to certain death. Questions of etiquette arise: jump solo or hold hands with a co-worker? Perhaps several of you link arms and form a chain, finding courage in numbers. Or do you clutch a table cloth and step into the air, desperately hoping it slows your fall?

The journey takes ten seconds.

Air velocity rips away your shoes.

You explode on impact.

I will always be haunted by the jumpers of 9/11.

Oceans of paper were blasted from the towers, filling the New York sky like the Devil's ticker tape. Invoices and wedding invitations floated down to gray sidewalks.

My friend Cathy, who worked in D.C., reported chaos as the government sent everyone home at once following the Pentagon attack. One jammed intersection turned scary as a man leaped out of an SUV brandishing a pistol and attempting to direct traffic.

Being murdered is not a heroic act, though it can be. Flight 93 passengers fought back and died, saving many more in their sacrifice. North Tower Port Authority employees rescued over 70 people before perishing.

There were many heroes that day.

MDW tried to give blood, but the hospital was overwhelmed with donations and refused.

Vulnerability, grief, dismay, anger.

Such a beautiful morning with a sky so blue.

(Photos from: Little Green Footballs.)


Anonymous said...

For me, I was getting ready to go to work late as usual, but decided to call Linda, who was visiting her sister in Seattle, since I hadn't spoken to her for a couple days. I was chatting about mundane stuff for about a minute before she finally said, "You haven't turned on the news, have you?"

Of course I hadn't; I never turn on the news before going to work.

After watching for a few hours, I called in to work and they still wanted me to come in, so I did, and worked a full eight hours.

A couple years earlier, when bin Laden declared war on the U.S., it was a two-paragraph blurb deep in the newspaper. Some crackpot in the Middle East who doesn't even run a country thinks he can declare war. It was almost as though the editors threw it in there as something to laugh about. An Afghani coworker saw it, though, and pointed it out to me.

"This is bad news," he said. "That guy can do nasty shit."

A short time later, as I was riding past all the abandoned barracks at the Fort Ord land on my way to Laguna Seca via the back entrance (I'm a part-time motorsport journalist), I got to thinking about how, with the end of the Cold War, there seemed less need for troops.

"What would the next war really be about?" I wondered to myself. "The threats probably will come from individuals who have lots of followers, rather than actual governments. How do you fight that?"

Then I wondered how they might attack. Thinking about how the WTC had been a target in the past (the bombing), I imagined hijackers forcing a pilot to crash a plane into the WTC.

So, when I saw what happened on the 11th of September 2001, I was perhaps one of the few people who was not at all surprised. It was almost entirely as I had imagined it. All I got wrong was multiple planes and that the hijackers flew 'em themselves.

Alex said...

I was in the senior year of high school at the time under an odd split period system, meaning we started classes at 7 AM. Needless to say, I didn't hear anything about the attack for a while.

It wasn't until after gym class that the rumors were starting. That was third period, so it's probably around 9 AM when I first heard that something had happened. I remember hearing many different whispers of "Did you hear what happened," with different renditions of some calamity that had happened. The worst scenario, and most improbable, was that two planes hit both World Trade Center towers.

A sort of sick irony on how that one ended up being true.

We didn't get any full news until my 5th period English class when the teacher broke the news. It would have been nice to be informed by the principal, but oh well. There were worries (or rather hopes) that classes would be canceled because of what had taken place, but those were just wishful thoughts.

What I'll remember most is my drive home from school. Classes were over by 11:50. I put on the radio to Q104.3 (NYC classic rock) to hear Dark Side of the Moon being played in its entirety. The DJs were trying to get more information and were on emergency standby until they knew what they were doing. Great Gig in the Sky was playing. Another sort of irony, but I couldn't imagine a more perfect album and song to be on in such a confusing period of time.

Things didn't settle until I finally saw the reports on TV. The planes crashing, the people falling from astronomical heights to their ultimate doom. It was all disbelief. I don't even think I was angry, just incredulous at the events, but also at the stupidity of such an act. Selfishness, power, greed, hatred, all against innocent people, and for what?

John P. McCann said...


I think the buildings collapsing was a surprise to most as the aircraft impact blasted fire retardant off the steel and made it vulnerable to high-temperatures.

Still and all, a grim day.

John P. McCann said...


I recall the shooting of JFK when I was in grammar school. In the middle of math class, a scratchy radio announcer spoke over the sound sytem — a "tell" that something big had occurred. We learned of the president's death. Being a Catholic school, we paused to pray for him, then got back to math.

Over time, I've learned there are wicked people who do terrible things for obscure reasons. I'm often saddened, but never really surprised.

And I take comfort in the acts of decent people who I find doing the most wonderous deeds in the most commonplace of settings.

Mary McCann said...

September 10th I had finally talked my employer in high tech Silicon Valley into letting me work at home in AZ rather than flying me out all the time and renting an apartment for me. I had a flight ticket out of San Jose on the 11th that was never used. After assessing the local situation I was able to rent a van and loaded my office furniture and computers into it and hit the barren road home.

I drove by your house that day, John, from Silicon Valley. We met for dinner and the comfort of each others company. The freakiness of being in L.A. at afternoon rush hour finding the freeways empty was the perfect setting to illustrate the gruesome, conflicting narration of talk radio, my companion from Mountain View to Tempe, AZ.

My boyfriend was a firefighter whose partner had been murdered in an arson fire earlier that spring. My friend had been hospitalized with smoke inhalation. We were going to a fallen firefighter’s ceremony at the monument in Colorado Springs within a fortnight. My grief was compounded with every mile as the realization dawned that most of those brave souls who has rushed in to assist had also perished.

John P. McCann said...


We dined at the Hill Street Cafe. The waitress was rather chipper. "And how are you today?" Her pleasantness seemed odd. (At the time, the casualty projections were in the tens of thousands.)

But that could've been the balm of routine.

A most surreal day.

Anonymous said...

What I thought they'd do is dive a plane in at an angle -- 30 to 45 degrees -- and hit the building on the lower half. Given that skyscrapers are expected to survive accidental aircraft hits high up, a purposeful one down low would put a lot of weight on the weakened area and perhaps knock it down in one go -- taking the legs out from under it, so to speak.

I'm no structural engineer, but that's how I imagined it might be done when thinking how such a "civilian warfare" attack could take place.

Yeah, it is a bit surprising that the first tower to be hit eventually did collapse, given how near the top it had been hit. By the time I woke up, they were both long gone, so I never had that singular moment of surprise that that hit had caused that collapse.

The second tower hit went down quicker, having been hit lower -- and perhaps the corner being taken out and the angled strike (though via roll and not pitch like I imagined might happen) helped, as it really got the top part leaning into the damaged area.

But again, I'm no structural engineer, so maybe the height and angle of entry didn't have as much to do with it as I think.

Seven years already. That means there are teenagers out there who were little kids when this happened. They barely know a pre-9/11 world. To them, a Big Brother, Homeland Security, world at war is all they've ever really known. To them, the state of the world is perfectly normal.

That's the sobering thought for the day.

Anonymous said...

Like most everybody else, I remember that day in sharp detail.
I remember seeing jets scramble later that afternoon, and I wondered why they were out. After all, we were an awfully long way from both DC and New York.

Back then my brother worked as a consultant for an Austin TX based company which created software for the Army. He was slated for a flight to DC Tuesday morning to negotiate military contracts. For whatever reason, he stayed in Austin that morning and one of his co-workers went instead. The man's life ended along with the others who went down in that beautiful Pennsylvania field.
My brother hasn't mentioned it since our initial discovery so long ago, but I know it must be in the back of his mind. He happens to be somebody who feels so much that he shuts down. Unfortunately at that point he's often mistaken for somebody who doesn't feel at all.


John P. McCann said...

I hope your brother finds a way to release that some day.

Survivor's guilt can chew and chew.

1389 said...

The jumpers...that is what got to me also.

And one other thing. After all these years, the church destroyed when the South Tower fell has never been rebuilt - yet our enemies want to build a mosque there.

Rebuild St. Nicholas CHURCH at Ground Zero, not a mosque!

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