Like a lot of folks around the country today, I’m taking this opportunity to commit to writing my thoughts and memories of THE defining, tragic event of my lifetime (so far). I wasn’t born when John F. Kennedy was shot. I was born during the Apollo program, but I have absolutely no memory of it. Perhaps my earliest newsworthy memory is watching the evacuation of the American embassy in Saigon in 1975 on a small black and white TV. I had no clue what it was all about though. I just remember thinking “Cool, there’s a helicopter on TV.” I have clear memories of both shuttle disasters.
None of those events even comes close in my mind to shock and utter disbelief that I felt after the falling of the Twin Towers. None of those events, in my opinion, had nearly the impact that 9/11 had on American society.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, started out like any other work day for me with one exception. I rode my motorcycle to work. It’s a small detail, but it is important to some of my impressions of later in the day. I rode the bike because there were a few of us in the office that had bikes, and we all had lunch together on Tuesdays when we were in the office as Hooters offered half price wings to anyone who rode a motorcycle in for lunch.
The first plane hit early enough in the day (at least in the Central time zone where I am) that I had barely gotten to work and settled before it happened. I remember talking with one of my motorcycle friends when our director came around and gave us the news. He was on his way to set up a TV in the break room. Practically the entire office of 150 people crowded into the breakroom. We managed to get a clear picture just in time to watch the second tower get hit live.
At that moment, we all knew it was no accident. You’d have to have been a fool to think otherwise. After the initial gasps of amazement and shock, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. For a crowd of jaded insurance adjusters, that’s saying a lot. Needless to say, all work pretty much came to a screeching halt.
After spending a couple of hours watching the news coverage in the breakroom, the needs of the human body took over as groups of us took off to get food. Our motorcycle group headed for Hooters as scheduled. That may seem somewhat incongruous for the seriousness of the day, but there was a practical benefit to our choice of venue. Being a sports bar, Hooters had TVs all over the place. We chose a table right next to the main big screen which was, of course, tuned to a nes station. Whether it was CNN or Fox News, I don’t recall. We ate our wings in a slightly more subdued mood than normal and speculated about what would happen next.
During lunch, we got a call from the office that the company was shutting down for the day. It seems that the powers that be recognized that nobody anywhere was in the mood to conduct business, and they wisely turned everyone loose to do whatever they needed to do.
I made my way back to the house, turned on the TV and watched more news coverage. At some point, I don’t recall exactly what time but it was definitely in the afternoon, I heard on the news that the local blood banks were setting up at Dallas Market Hall and Will Rogers Center in Fort Worth to handle donations. No one had any idea at this point what was going to happen, how many casualties there would be, if there were going to be more attacks or what. Nevertheless, donating blood seemed like a good idea at the time.
To A LOT of people.
I made my way to Will Rogers in Fort Worth on the motorcycle, and I was absolutely floored by the number of people already there to donate blood. It was literally in the thousands. It was probably 3:00 or 4:00 by the time I got there. I know for a fact that it was after 9:00 PM before I got my turn to donate blood, and I was one of the last 50 or so people to be allowed to give blood that day at Will Rogers. I couldn’t tell you how many people were turned away from giving blood that day (since I was trudging my through the line slowly inside), but I wouldn’t be surprised if several hundred and maybe even a 1000 people were turned away in Fort Worth alone.
As I headed home on the motorcycle that night in the dark with light traffic and nothing but the sound of my motorcycle’s exhaust to keep my thoughts company, I was struck by the utter emptiness of the sky. I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. On any given night, I can walk outside and see no less than a dozen aircraft in the sky at any one time. This is a byproduct of living near the second largest airport in the U.S. in addition to a smaller regional airport, at least three decent sized general aviation airports supporting business jet activity and a major military airbase. By 9:30/10:00 that night though, there was not a single plane in the sky thanks to the FAA grounding everything.
It was eerie.
When you become accustomed to something being there all the time and then it it’s just not there, it’s downright disconcerting. For whatever reason, it was that empty sky more than anything that drove home the seriousness of the day’s events. I don’t know if I’ll ever see something like that again in my life time.
I do know this though. Even though I was not a member of the police or fire, even though I was not a member of the military, even though I didn’t lose any family or friends that day, I will never forget that day as long as I live.