Monday, September 11, 2006
Where Were You When the Planes Hit?
Like many of you, I recall exactly where I was at 7:46 CST on September 11, 2001 when the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center. Oddly, it was the exact same place I was at 7:46 CST this morning. Southbound on Highway 41 on my way to the hospital to make rounds. Unusual only because these days I get to work much earlier. For some reason, I was running behind this morning. But I really need to back up about 2 weeks to fill out the story.
In the waning days of August 2001, I was on a family trip to New York to visit my folks. The words "September 11" came up as I was sitting in a bagel place on Union Turnpike, getting breakfast for the kids. An old friend, whom I had not seen for 20 years, came over to me and handed me a leaflet, asking me to vote in the September 11 election in which he was running for some public office. I told him I had moved to Wisconsin 10 years earlier. So much for leaving a lasting impression.
A few days later, we were debating our sightseeing trip. Yearly, we would pick a "tourist" destination to entertain the kids and show off the city. One year it was the Circle Line. A year before it had been the Empire State building. This year it came down to either the World Trade Center or the USS Intrepid.
We had been to both in the past. I was always partial to the Twin Towers. They were born roughly the same year I was, and they grew in height as I did. By the time they were open to the public, I was dying to get in and take an elevator to the observation lounge and ogle the city. I loved looking down at the tiny yellow cabs as they crawled around, imagining they were small toys that I could pick up and play with. I loved seeing the bridges, the Statue of Liberty, even trying to see my house from the unbelievable vantage point of the building. The last time we had been there, Curly was in a stroller.
Still, having seen the city from the top of the Empire State building the year before, we wanted something different, and walking amongst jet fighters on the deck of an aircraft carrier seemed just the thing to keep a bunch of young boys and girls interested. Next year, we figured, we'd go to the Trade Center.
So, two weeks later, I was back in Wisconsin, and driving down the highway on my way to work, listening to the morning show on the local Classic Rock station. I was nearing the Stadium interchange when the "color" guy interrupted some celebrity report with something like "What the--do you guys see this?" He was commenting on the TV in the studio. There was an image of flames coming off the top of one of the Twin Towers. The conversation then turned to this, the announcers trying to figure out what was going on, finally finding a report that a plane had apparently struck the tower.
My first thoughts were that some private two-seat plane must have strayed off course and hit the building. It didn't occur to me that a large airliner could crash into a building and it could still be standing. They had some confusion on the matter as well. The gist of the conversation at that point was that this was a small plane and a freak accident. I continued driving.
I made my way into the Hospital parking structure and then up to the 4th floor in the North Building to see my patients. I walked into the room of Mary T., an 80 year old woman who'd suffered a mild stroke. I spoke with her. She was doing better. She asked me about my trip to New York, about my kids. I turned to look at the TV suspended over the foot of her bed.
There was smoke rising from two towers now. The crawl at the bottom of the screen indicated that a second plane had hit the other tower. I don't remember the rest of that hospital visit. Mary eventually went to rehab but later suffered a more massive stroke and ended up in a Nursing Home. All I remember from that point, though, was that was when I realized that this was NOT an accident, that somebody had specifically aimed for and hit the World Trade Center, with not one but two planes, and that suddenly, the world had changed.