Sunday, August 13, 2006

A Tuesday in September

I was running late for work as was par for the course at that time. It was hot and I was sweating with the bright sun blasting through the El train windows. The train was packed. I was forced to stand, basically hovering over this woman wearing a Walkman in a single seat near the window. We were approaching the Armitage station as she talked to someone on her cellphone. She was talking louder than normal and I took it as she was doing it on purpose to get attention. After she was finished, she turned to those of us standing up and said a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. Still believing she was looking for attention, I completely ignored her. People are always trying to get noticed in the crowded city, so it becomes force of habit to ignore attention-getters.

Where I worked at the time, I was among a group of people who kept up with the latest happenings via the internet. One of us always following the latest news events or sports scores. So when I got in I immediately asked what was this thing about the plane. I figured it was just some errant Cessna. They told me it was two commercial jets and one flew into each tower.

By then someone had dragged out a TV from somewhere and was watching it all live. I went over and saw the replays of what had happened. But there was this odd ambiance in the office. We were an office of close to a hundred at the time, but only about ten people stayed glued to the TV. Only half of the others like myself checked in from time to time to see what was the latest news. The others just kept on working.

My father called up and asked if we thought the buildings would remain standing. You see, the company where I worked designs the structures for skyscrapers. The branch office that I worked at has worked on many tall buildings in Chicago while the head office in New York office works on some of the world's tallests. Only having a few years experience, I asked around. Nobody thought they would come down. They had survived the initial impact. That was quite impressive in itself. We figured the fire would be put out.

So I wandered back to the TV. One guy says to me very emotionlessly, "One of them came down." WHAT!?! You have got to be kidding! Being so early in my career, the thought never entered my mind of a building coming down. I have seen first hand buildings being demolished with explosives, but still. The building didn't come down in Oklahoma City. I even saw the wreckage of Miller Park crane accident up close. Where the strongest and largest steel members around were twisted and deformed like rope. But still, I could not believe this. So I stayed and watched the second one come down, still in disbelief.

But now what. Two other planes had crashed and there were rumors that there were still a couple planes unaccounted for. We were a couple blocks away from the Sears Tower. If the building fell, it would probably not hit us. But what if the plane missed and hit us? Offices downtown were letting out for the day and people were flooding the streets to get home. Again, the aire in our office was odd. There was no official notice that the office was closing. Word of mouth got around that they said you could go if you like. So many just kept on working. Finally it was both that rumor about the unaccounted for plane and that my wife had left work that I decided to go.

I got outside and the masses were gone. The streets were eerily deserted with just a few stragglers like myself. I was even able to get a seat on the El. And of course the sound of planes passing overhead was missing.

At home, my wife and I watched the coverage into the night. We just could not stop watching. I could still not believe the buildings had come down. I wanted to see the footage over and over to figure out what happened. I wanted to hear the stories of those that experienced it. Is this a one time event or the start of something? I wanted to any information they could offer. I guess I was trying to understand it like everyone else.

It has become the "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?" of our time. There are and will be so many other accounts like this. I figured this is my space and there is a different perspective being in the construction industry.

1 comment:

cousin cathy said...

It was a tough day all around. I didn't hear the news until I pulled into the garage at work and someone who parked next to me told me. Two former co-workers were on the first plane that hit the World Trade Center. A horror and disbelief that I had never experienced before came over me. It just made no sense at all. The eeriest thing for me was when all the planes were grounded. To not have planes circling O'Hare Airport was spooky.

My husband was in Houston at a tradeshow with his staff, and I remember going home to an empty house, and wondering how many others would go home to an empty house, but empty for an entirely different reason. Hard to believe it'll be 5 years ago already in a couple of weeks. I want to see the films Flight 93 and World Trade Center, but somehow can't bring myself to do it yet.