Eleven years later

WTC Memorial

Amidst tales of bad PuGs and twink gear and which build is best, sometimes I need to take a step back and remember the things that really matter.

Though Sept. 11, 2012 is almost – almost – just another day, today is the 11th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. To be honest, I nearly forgot (which actually isn’t that easy since it’s also the day before my parents’ anniversary) until I turned on the TV and came across some really well-done programming on the History Channel. The images, videos and accounts, many of which I’d seen but even more that I hadn’t, brought back a lot of memories.

WTC Memorial

I was working as an MIS specialist – which was occasionally interesting and technical, but more often a glorified data entry job – during the day in Montoursville, PA (which is somewhat famous for another tragedy, the loss of 16 high school French club students and five adults who were their chaperones in the TWA Flight 800 crash of 1996). We were allowed to wear headphones to listen to music while we worked. Since the MIS department was in the basement, radio reception was terrible, so most of us had portable CD players (iPods and MP3 players weren’t in vogue yet). But my friend and co-worker Deanna was addicted to the Dr. Laura radio show, and every morning she tuned in even though most of the time the static was so bad she couldn’t hear it very well.

It seemed another typically uneventful day. Even when Deanna looked up, took her headphones off, and said, “I could have sworn they just said something about the World Trade Center being bombed,” no one really reacted. I remember there was a fluorescent light bulb that was starting to burn out and buzzing really loudly, and between that and the static, Deanna gave up on radio and popped a CD into her player. About an hour later, our manager, Shelley, told us that corporate headquarters had called to let us know they were shutting down for the day “because of some kind of terrorist thing, I think,” and that since they were closing, so were we. Again, nobody got upset; most of us didn’t particularly like our jobs and were glad for an early day. I was especially glad because besides working 8 am until 5 pm there, I also worked 6 pm until 1 am as a sports writer for the local newspaper. I remember thinking, “YEAH! SLEEP!” as I walked out to my car.

WTC Memorial

My poor Neon – nicknamed “The Pickle” by one of my fellow sports writers because of its cucumber-ish hue – had no radio antenna at the time; if I remember correctly, it had snapped off in a wind storm a week or two earlier. So once again, I was in the Land of Poor Reception. Still, I tried tuning into a local station that carried the Bob & Tom Show, thinking that might be good for a few laughs on my way home.

If you’re not familiar with Bob  & Tom, they’re generally raunchy and about as far from politically correct as you can get; in other words, standard morning radio fare. Without the antenna, I could barely hear the show, but I thought I made out something about flying planes into the World Trade Center, and I remember thinking that was pretty offensive even for Bob & Tom; I just assumed it was one of their skits in exceptionally bad taste.

I decided to stop at Wegman’s, a supermarket near my apartment, before I went home. I pulled into a parking space next to the cart return, put the Neon in park and opened the door to make sure I had room to get out  before I turned the ignition off (the car on the other side was way over the line). And all of a sudden someone was screaming on the air, “Oh my God! Oh my God! The second tower collapsed!” I turned it up; this time somehow I knew it wasn’t a comedy bit gone wrong. There was an older woman who’d just returned her cart; she stopped and turned towards me and we just listened like that for – I don’t know. It might have been five seconds; it might have been five minutes. Finally she said slowly, “Is that some kind of ad for a movie?” I don’t remember what I replied.

WTC Memorial

I know I went into Wegman’s, just because I was there and maybe because I was hoping for some kind of information that was better than what I’d gotten from staticky Bob & Tom. But the news hadn’t traveled very fast yet; everyone in the store was going about their business as usual. I must have bought something because I remember standing at the checkout.

I don’t remember driving from Wegman’s to my apartment – it was only a few blocks anyway – but I remember unlocking the door, dropping my grocery bag and purse on the floor, picking up my kitty for a hug, and heading into the living room to turn on the TV… just in time to see a replay of the second plane hitting the south tower. And that was when it hit me. That was the first time it occurred to me to fish my cell out of the bottom of my purse and start calling friends and family, and I remember being very, VERY glad that no one I knew lived in or worked in or was visiting New York City at the time.

WTC Memorial

Eleven years later, the images and sounds from 9/11 can still bring me to tears – or inspire me, as with Flight 93’s “Let’s roll” or the members of Congress standing on the steps of the Capitol building and singing “God Bless America.”

The photos above were taken on two separate trips to Manhattan, both in 2007; I’m sure Ground Zero and the memorial site have changed a lot since then. I’ve only been to Washington once since 9/11, a one-day business trip so I didn’t get a chance to see the Pentagon Memorial; I’ve never been to Shanksville at all but hope to visit someday.

I remember a commercial that came out a few months after 9/11. It started out by showing a street full of ordinary houses while a voice-over talked about how Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda had tried to change the face of America. “And they did,” the voice said – and the image changed to the same street with the same houses, only now each house prominently displayed an American flag. I always liked that commercial. It reminded me that sometimes the worst of times brings out the best in us.

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