Anyone born before 1996 most certainly knows where they were and what they were doing 22 years ago, this day.
My wife and I were getting dressed for work. I was at the bathroom sink when my wife called me over to the television. On weekday mornings we kept the little TV in the bedroom on, as we got ready, so that we could monitor the traffic reports. An accident on the Bay Bridge, even before six in the morning, could gridlock the entire Highway 80 corridor for miles, and late into the morning. We weren’t so much interested in the news. What could possibly be happening at six in the morning (even on the East Coast, three hours ahead)? How much havoc could Congress wreak at the beginning of the day?
Almost immediately, Cora called me over to the television. I stood in front of the TV to see a replay of an airliner hitting a skyscraper. I had no idea that it was the Trade Center. I blew it off as a freak accident and continued getting myself together. A few minutes later I heard Cora, “Oh my God.”
It was 6:03 and a second plane had hit another skyscraper and we were frozen, frozen with the rest of the nation and much of the world. And like the rest of the nation, we knew that we were at war. With whom, we didn’t yet know.
As we continued to get ready for work we wondered if we should even be going to work. Sure some people are essential; first responders, teachers, doctors, medical staff. Cora and I? Just office schlubs.
I went to work that day, as did Cora. I remember listening to the news all the way through the drive. Our son, who was at Santa Clara University, called me as I was rounding the turn on Highway 80 into Berkeley. He asked me if I’d seen the news and I responded that, yes, I had. We talked until I got off the freeway in Emeryville.
Much of the remainder of the day was, and still is, a blur. As the morning wore on, my coworkers and I were largely in the dark about what was transpiring. We spent much of our time on the phone with friends, family, vendors and customers, passing information, both real and pure speculation. Many of those contacts drifted from their offices as places of business shut down for the day. At some point, Cora, who was working at Clif Bar, in nearby Berkeley, called to say that they were closing for the day.
Not because we were dedicated, but because Dick Cotter, the owner of our company, a miserly, old skinflint, didn’t see the need. It surprised me, but at the same time I figured, ‘fucking par for the course.’ America was under attack, the biggest since Pearl Harbor, and he was afraid he might miss out on a dime of profit if he shut down for the day.
This was a day when people who could’ve been, should’ve been, with their families. We stayed all day long. Stayed and spent most of our time trying to glean whatever information we could.
“The Pentagon was hit,” came a report.
“People are jumping,” came another.
My son called to tell me that the South Tower had collapsed.
I guess it was my wife who called to tell me that the North Tower had collapsed.
And still we stayed. Stayed and shuffled our feet in place in the parking lot, looking up in the sky in vain, trying to catch a glimpse of the occasional fighter jet that screamed overhead, while we exchanged hunches and rumors. Someone heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was a target. Or maybe the Bay Bridge. What about the TransAmerica Pyramid? The Air Force was going to start preemptively shooting down airliners. Supposition mixed with uncertainty, mixed with fear, mixed with anger, mixed with the disbelief that we were not being told to go home.
Eventually we drifted out of the office as our eight hours were completed. One thing that stays with me about that day is that Cotter never relented. Sat in his office, like the old curmudgeon he was, probably forcing himself to remain oblivious to the tragedy that was occurring on the other side of the nation, all the while worrying if the events of that day might affect the bottom line.
The people of a nation clung to each other. We wept when we saw, either in real time or in replay after replay, the horrors of that day. And when we didn’t weep, we raged, wanting that eye for an eye.
Ten days later, we wept again, but for a different reason. The tears were a cathartic release as baseball returned to New York. Every American was a Mets fan and every fan rose in awe and jubilation when Mike Piazza hit another, “shot heard round the world,” homering in the eighth inning to seal a win for the New York Mets. Baseball came to apply a salve to our collective wound.
As the events of September 11th were made clear, the best of what America can be strode to the forefront. We were all of one mind and one goal. We were one America that the world stood in solidarity behind.
Of course the worst also showed up, uninvited, as it is wont to do. Anyone who vaguely looked like they came from the Middle East was subject to verbal and physical abuse. Women wore hijabs at their own risk. Conspiracy theorists crawled out from under wet rocks, putting forth theories that the 9/11 attacks were part of an ‘inside job.’ Well, why not? In the internet age a conspiracy, no matter how abhorrently false and hurtful, is a good way to gain attention and fluff up your bank account.
We went to war in Afghanistan seeking justice and much of the nation was behind that.