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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.


outofAMMO said...

how melodramatic

Shira Salamone said...

OutOfAmmo, every now and then, a blogger posts something serious. I almost lost my sister that day--she lived almost literally across the street from the World Trade Center.

LittleBirdies said...

I used to work right near there. I was newlywed and not familiar with NY yet. I was trying to get to work (and was lost due to the rerouted trains) and ended up walking down Broadway, toward the World Trade Center, instead of the opposite direction. I was not far from the buildings when the first tower collapsed. The ground shook and everyone was running. It looked like a scene from some Godzilla movie. The shaking was the collapse of the first tower. I was cover in dust and soot. We evacuated the street to the nearest hospital and I was about to leave to find a way home when the ground shook again and the second tower collapsed. It was a 6 hour hike home over the 59th Street Bridge to Forest Hills, Queens where I met my husband and drove the rest of the way home.

A Simple Jew said...

The picture you posted says it all.

PsychoToddler said...

My brother in law used to work in Jersey and he took the PATH train every morning which ran under the WTC. I was worried about him that morning, but fortunately, he was delayed.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

My brother was supposed to be at the WTC that day...but was sick and couldn't make it. My wife's uncle worked in Tower 2...high floor...missed his train by 10 seconds, and survived as well.

I was at work in Jerusalem, just like now, 5 years later. Someone yelled to turn on a TV...and I saw the first tower burn, and the second plane crash into it.

I called my wife and told her to turn on the TV...she asked which channel...I said it didn't matter...any channel would work.

I sat glued to the TV for a few hours before being able to drive home.

Ezzie said...

I'm still somewhat ashamed of my initial reaction. I'd arrived in Israel about a week earlier, and I was in the dorms with a few friends that afternoon (Israel time). We started to walk outside when my friend got a text message that one of the towers were hit. We laughed. We were thinking it to be something straight out of a movie (and under the false impression that nobody was hurt). After a few minutes, we heard both towers had been hit, so I called my father, who was glued to the TV. At this point, we honestly weren't sure if the whole thing was a joke.

I asked my father if it was true, and he said that it was - he was watching the fire billowing out of the buildings, and was telling me that a close family friend who works there was sent elsewhere that day. Upon news of the first hit, her sister in Israel had called to make sure she was okay, assuming terror attack before the second even hit. This is just 30 minutes after the first hit, but it's finally sinking in that there are actually people who work in those buildings... but from what we hear, they were still just small planes, and the buildings seem fine overall, and the fires are right near the top, and everyone is okay.

I ended the call with my father, and a bunch of us were somewhat joking around about it, though we finally started getting some reports as to what was going on. I think it was when a friend said he couldn't reach his father that we all quickly shut up. Suddenly, we were all calling the US, only to find that all the lines were jammed. For two and a half hours, no calls made it outside of the country. Thankfully, I had plenty of family friends in Israel, and they said I could keep calling for updates - nobody was doing anything that day but watching the news.

I remember the rumors we were getting: 8 planes in the air, Sears Tower in Chicago hit, White House a target, some building in Miami a target, 10,000 killed. A nice lady on the moshav carried a large TV all the way up the hill: She realized that in the American school, a good percentage were from NY, and none of us had any good way of finding out what was going on. She gave us the TV for the afternoon, and people spent all day coming in and out of the large dorm house where it was placed, watching the footage over and over and over again. I have it in my head that she gave it to us just before the towers fell, but that seems too quick to make sense.

The next day, our trip to the waterpark was quickly cancelled, replaced with a trip to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. We passed by the beautiful, tall Azrieli (?) Towers on the way (they were under construction). They have so often been compared to the Twins and so often targeted that it was a bit spooky.

One more tidbit: I remember about 2-3 weeks before 9/11. I was arguing with my friend's mom about the plans of my friend and his triplet sisters. Due to the terror attacks, she was not sending any in their first year of post-HS education to Israel. I argued that they were just as safe, if not safer, in Israel.

On 9/11, one of the thoughts that ran through my mind around when the towers fell was 'Oh man. I was right.' It was a sombering, depressing realization.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Wow is all I can say!

Ralphie said...

My brother, who worked for an Israel advocacy group in the US at the time, often called me with the latest news on attacks in Israel. So when he called that morning and asked if I had the television on, I asked if there was another attack in Israel. "It's not in Israel," he replied.

My wife and I were trying to get ourselves and our daughters - 22 months old and 2 months old at the time - together to attend a bris. We were, of course, utterly shocked at what we saw on TV. I didn't think I'd be able to move, but my wife said we have a bris to go to and we're going. And so we did.

Now that was an odd feeling, being at that bris. It was sparsely attended - not everyone is as much of a shtarker (strong-willed person, I think) as my wife. But celebrate we did, even if it was somewhat muted.

I went in to work because we had a team of developers visiting from Israel. Turns out the deal between our two companies had somehow soured the day before, and they were actually supposed to go home. I don't know how long they wound up staying in L.A. after that.

In any case, the bosses sent us home and we spent the rest of the day watching the news, dumbfounded, while our older daughter and some other kids pranced around, oblivious. It all seemed surreal. Too bad it wasn't.

How's that for melodramatic? Can I get a maudlin?

Sweettooth120 said...

I think almost of all us can remember exactly where we were when we first heard of the first plane, the the second, then the others.

I was in working in Bethesda at the time, and reports were coming in from everywhere that planes were being shot down over the White House, over the Capitol, the metro was closed, streets were closed, one federal building after another may have been hit. Noone knew for sure. Where I worked, like many people who work within and outside the beltway, had family members who worked in DC for the government. Cell phones weren't working and it was very difficult to get through to see if your love ones were ok, what was really happening. Driving by the Pentagon, days and weeks later was such a horrific sight.

Unfortunately my department had no time to mourn, we were on a "war room" mentality. We had to put together a television program within days to air what had just happened - 24/7 days at the company, each of us, taking turns.

Nati said...

What a photograph . . . 9/11/01 was about a month and a half before Alex and I got married. It was my second week of work at a public school out in Freeport, Long Island, and some of the staff and students were in a terrible panic until they confirmed where their loved ones were - thankfully we our school had no related casualties, although there were several throughout the district. After reassuring my mother-in-law-to-be that Alex, who was in YU, was miles and miles away from the WTC, I got in touch with my dad, whose appliances store was still in the Lower East Side at the time. He was pretty shell-shocked, having been driving on the Williamsburg Bridge and seen the second plane go in before his eyes. After that, my principal called in those of us who lived within the 5 boroughs and told us to head home - although all highways heading into NYC were closed. He proceeded to very calmly explain the route back to Queens from Freeport avoiding all highways, and the ride home was endless and devastating, listening to the news and comprehending the extent of what had happened.

Neil Harris said...

Very powerful writing. Great picture, though.

The Observer said...

One September Sunday we were driving up the BQE from Borough Park. It was about 9pm and at some point along that stretch where you look over the river at Manhattan I said to the kids, "Look! There are the Twin Towers!" They'd never seen them before, and they really stood out. 9/11 was two days later.

parcequilfaut said...

I don't have a good story. I was in bed, because I didn't have class until late that morning. My friend Jessie called me in hysterics from the student lounge and I thought I was dreaming.
So I bought doughnuts and brought them to the student lounge and watched the footage. Over and over. It turns out my classes were cancelled.
I called my friend Allison to find out if our friend's dad still had WTC offices; she said no. I almost got into a fist fight with some guy who was blaming the entire thing on gays in the military, and then I almost got beaten up in a Waffle House when someone misunderstood the story as I was telling it over the phone.

That night I went out to the dock with Nicole, and we burned a candle, and talked about the end of the world. I remember a lot more about the national memorial service, which was the first time it hit me emotionally, and my mom turned the TV off when I started sobbing during The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and I yelled at her to turn it back on. About three weeks after that the footage got to me so bad I stopped watching TV. Everything since then is just filler, I guess.