Friday, September 14, 2007

World Trade Center, Dave Day and Me

My World Trade Center memories
I am a few days late for the sixth anniversary of the destruction of New York's World Trade Center; but those events remain seared into my memory like those of no other date. I have not previously written about how the events of September 11, 2001 affected me. Certainly I was affected me far less than the people in lower Manhattan. Certainly my place and time were untypical; but as the years move along I realize just how life altering those events were to me and many others far from the action. We should all remember where we were when we first heard and saw the news.
To my mind, September 11 is both the day that New York was attacked and is also Dave Day. It was named that by my nephew. His father David, my brother, died on September 11, 1999. (I have a David 'Sorry' Memorial Page). I am sure that many people died in traffic accidents on 9/11, babies were born and there must have been storms. Movies were reviewed and books published. Any particular day evokes different memories and feelings for different people.
I have made several short visits to New York City. I have some nice WTC memories and photos. (Many are shown at my WTC Page and NYC 2006 page). I have been to the top, I have taken pictures from the Statue of Liberty and just 18 months before I had several early morning meals in the basement PATH station.
One of the curses of modern travel is that it is just as easy to visit places such as Hiroshima, Bamiyan or Lower Manhattan as it is to visit places of beauty and happy memories.
Morning in Fremont, California
I awoke early on September 11, 2001. I remember feeling well and healthy. I was working at NUMMI in Fremont and I had to leave early to beat the intense morning traffic. I am a Canadian and was working
a Silicon Valley job.
Just before I left home I stopped and turned on the television for a check on the stock market pre-opening news. On the west coast the stock markets open at 6:30 AM local time. I had been in the habit of watching the antics of Joe Kiernan, Mark Haines and crew on the MSNBC Squawk Box. Their studio in New Jersey was directly across from lower Manhattan and they often showed the view out the office windows. Sometimes we saw the morning sunshine, sometimes the local dockside construction and sometimes the twin towers as seen across the Hudson River. I have often wondered why we have not seen more from their cameras. There must have been few cameras trained on the World Trade Center before the second plane crashed.
In the years since I have seen many time-lines and documentaries. I have often wondered exactly when I turned on the TV that morning. It must have been between the first and second plane crash. I remember MSNBC's Mark Haines talking about hijacked planes in the air and talked about an airplane hitting the World Trade Center. I know that for several long minutes I thought he must be talking about some small private plane or perhaps an off-course commuter jet. It took quite a while before I got the concept through my mind that large passenger jets attacking New York City. I remember mention of multiple planes and multiple targets.
Having some prior knowledge of history and politics, having some curiosity and a reasonable imagination; it was immediately clear to me that America was at war. My physical reaction was complete shock just like in my first-aid courses. I was in a cold panic and shook for at least 15 minutes. I must have made a half dozen irrational phone calls back to my family in Canada. I have no idea what I said.
Imagination and Emotion
In my imagination on that day the American President would already be firing up the bombers for an overseas attack. I had no idea what the target would be but I knew that a response would be immediate and unmeasured. I was really quite amazed when Bush gave a sincere and calming speech that night. I was expecting a far more emotion and anger.
For a couple of hours that morning I clicked between channels but kept coming back to that MSNBC view across the river and the voice of Mark Haines. When I changed to street level television coverage I remember seeing the jumpers. There were many and they were shown live. I think that the later news coverage removal of those shots was a mistake. We should not sugar-coat what happened in any way. Some of those people stood at their windows and gazed out at the sky and made a final prayer. Then they shose to jump as the only logical choice. Their actions should be remembered.
Sometime after the second tower collapse I decided that I might as well go to work. I did not want to stay all day by myself. I needed other people. I was thinking that I might be clearing out my desk and leaving town by the end of the day. I had thoughts of which route I could drive back to Vancouver that had the fewest bridge crossings. I thought that the banks would be working in the afternoon and stopped at the ATM to withdraw $500 cash gas money in case I had to flea.
It was a crazy time and I was not acting completely rational, but being crazy was the sensible way to be that day. I am still astonished at the people who were so uninformed, so unimaginative and so unperceptive that they did not panic at all that morning. I have met many since who did not really how much the world had changed.