09/11/01 Plus Seven Years
I rode "Leviathan" - my then-new 2001 BMW K1200LT motorcycle - to work that morning. Even a three mile commute on that thing was a riotous joy to me then, so I arrived to work smiling from ear to ear and in an excellent mood.
Things were fairly slow at work that morning - I alternated between being a Case Reviewer and a Field Inspector for FEMA back in those days - so I grabbed a cup of coffee, booted up my computer, and began working the cases in the queues.
It wasn't very long - I don't think I'd finished my first cup of coffee yet - before someone said that an airplane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The guy didn't sound overly alarmed or breathless, so my first thought was that it was a small private aircraft, and so I just kept working.
Within a very short time, however, someone said it was an airliner, and that one of the WTC towers was ablaze. For some reason I still can't comprehend, I wasn't freaked out by this news either, and I was still working when someone yelled - actually yelled - that a second airliner had hit the other WTC tower. Probably needless to say, this got my full and complete attention, and I had a bottomless pit feeling in my gut.
I can't remember clearly the exact chain of events after that, but I got down to the employee lunch room, where they had CNN on the TV, just in time to see the first tower collapse. I couldn't watch any more of it.
Back in the mid to late 80's, I lived in Hoboken, NJ and worked in Manhattan. I was in a rock band, did some studio work, and during the summer I worked as a bicycle messenger to keep in shape and make some extra cash. Several clients of the outfit I rode for were in the WTC towers, so I'd been up and down them many times. On nice, clear days, which were few and far between in the Summer, I'd take a break on the observation deck to enjoy the spectacular view. Additionally, whenever I went to the towers, I'd walk between them just to look up and capture the vanishing point effect. It was so awesome it made me laugh every time.
The photo doesn't do it justice, but it is the closest I could find.
While sitting back in my cubicle in shock, yet a third call came out that an airplane had hit the Pentagon. Though the Pentagon was several miles across town, because I had a south facing window, all I had to do to confirm this was to look over my left shoulder: There it was, a rising black semi-mushroom cloud against the now fierce looking blue sky.
Everything after that point was a blur, but because we were federal employees the powers that be sent us home around lunch time. I distinctly remember how ironic I thought it was that my mood on the ride home couldn't possibly have been more opposite of that on the ride in.
I spent the rest of the day on the internet and watching TV - I have cable piped into my computer, so I can watch TV in a small window on my monitor as I surf - just trying to absorb it all and make some kind of sense out of it. It was just the beginning of a very long process.
For the next eighteen months, on and off, I reviewed cases from the 09/11 terror attacks, and some of them were heartbreaking in the extreme. I was never sent to New York to do field work, and I was actually thankful for that. Personally, I have no problem with death and destruction that is brought about by natural disasters, as harsh as that might sound, but working those 09/11 cases was positively spirit-crushing. I was happy to be sent out to other disasters, and assigned to work other case files.
Some FEMA people were on the scene almost immediately, of course, and one of them emailed me this picture jut a couple of days later.
I couldn't believe that this was all that was left of those towers I'd been in so many times, and I couldn't believe that over 2,700 people died that day.
My idea to return to Texas and resume being a musician dates from precisely this time. Whether or not I'd ever have to work a terrorist attack again, working 09/11 cases made me lose my stomach for the job. It was only ever an accidental mini-career that arose from a part-time job I took as a DMA candidate while at UNT anyway, but I know for certain I'm thankful for the experience, as strange as that might sound. I can't explain, so I won't even try.