The Day Of and The Days After

Yesterday was, of course, another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. As I walked into the building, a big United jet flew overhead, and I looked up to watch it climb into the soft morning sky and thought it was a good sight to see. Then I walked into the lobby and saw the big flag that was hung there for months and months after the first 9/11 and teared up, remembering the fear and dread that gripped our country (and still grips some people, apparently).

I had dressed more soberly than usual; I wore a dark purple pinwale corduroy overshirt, and black slacks. The colors of mourning seemed more appropriate for the day, yet not too distracting if other people happened to forget and wear something casual.

In 2001, the day after the attacks, when I got to work, I was also dressed in more businesslike attire, as jeans hadn’t seemed appropriate. Word had filtered in that both my husband David and I had lost co-workers who were on one of the planes or in the buildings. As I stepped into the elevator that morning, others boarded with me. Everyone, I noticed, was very quiet, and we were all dressed more formally than is usually in my suburban office building. The men, in particular, were all in dark suits and none of us would have looked out of place at a funeral. Our nation was in mourning, apparently, and would be for a long time to come. We’re still in mourning, but the feeling of heaviness around the heart that I bore like 20 extra pounds for months and months after “the events” eventually lightened that first year.

The day of the attacks, I have a clear memory (rare for me) that there was nothing on the radio news as I drove to work. I was still a mile or two from the office at the moment the first plane struck, listening to WXRT’s morning DJ and some music. Then after getting logged in for the morning, taking a call or two in the meantime, I noticed more people than usual heading into the break room, where there was a TV. Someone said a plane had flown into a building in New York, and I immediately thought “oh, those poor people in that small plane;” I had visualized something like a Cessna or a Piper Cub, because a full-sized airliner hitting a city skyscraper was, at that moment, still unthinkable.

Then someone said “It’s a big plane, they’re saying,” and suddenly there were so many people standing in the break room door (which was right next to where I used to sit) that it was propped open. I got up to see what was going on, and saw the second plane hit. A collective gasp and cry of horror went up – it seemed so unreal, like a bad action flick with a D-list actor in the lead. But it was real, and the smoke billowed up, and everything in the office came to a halt.

The phone lines lit up, we gradually tore ourselves away, and started taking calls. There were a few hours of confusion, as for some reason, our email system was almost completely dead. It’s got a number of servers all over the country, and many of them didn’t seem to be working, so directives were coming via fax and being printed and passed around by hand. It was some time before anyone made the connection that it was the New York servers that were down – most of what we did was on the Minneapolis or Phoenix servers, but they were apparently dependent on the NYC ones. That was when I first found out that we had a very large building at the WTC complex, and that there were some onsite people who actually worked in one of the towers. It would be several days before most of my company had relieable email service again as the new server addresses were set up and faxed around.

That day, we talked to travelers who were stranded all over the country and the world. My own team leader had flown to Japan the day before for a “fam trip” and was incommunicado. The second team leader was coping with a double load of tasks and trying to deal with team stress. We heard soon enough that the FAA had grounded all flights, which we could see for ourselves as our building (it’s more than 10 stories high) is the tallest thing around near O’Hare Airport other than some hotels there and is usually on the flight path. We’re used to seeing flights go overhead, either inbound or outbound depending on the wind. That day, and for days to come, there was nothing. The company “our” travelers worked for, a retail company, sent out a directive to all their travelers on the road to stay put, which was happening anyway as there were no flights. In retrospect, some of them could have been driving their rental cars home then, but that didn’t happen for a few more days. We heard stories of people banding together to rent limos and buses, paying crazy rates, just to get home from wherever they were.

There was one traveler who became legendary on our team. Never pleasant to talk to and always demanding, she called repeatedly to demand that we get her on a flight and get her home. Agent after agent dealt with her and tried to explain that 1) there were no aircraft flying in the United States of America and 2) her own company’s travel manager had told us to tell everyone to stay where they were and make a note of their cell phones so they could be contacted. Yet she would scream and harangue and say that she had children to care for and needed to get home. We would explain, as patiently as we could but with rising stress in our voices, that it was not possible due to items 1) and 2), but we would try to find her a rental car. She would holler at us for a while and hang up, and then after an hour or so, call back and start the whole process over again. We had to deal with her anger and fear for days, as we tried to cope with the enormity of what had happened to… everything that we took for granted up until Tuesday morning.

She was no longer with the company after a few months. Her performance, apparently, was lacking, and formal complaints from our team leader about her abusive behavior on the phone reached her travel manager’s desk and were in her file and didn’t help her situation. When we heard she had left our client’s company a few months later, a collective cheer went up. It was one small victory, but not a very nice one.

I was in the role of lead office counselor on my team then, and although I didn’t have any real leadership status, I decided that it would be better to buck up and put on a brave face, as much as possible, and support my team mates in the interests of morale. It feels silly now to recount it, but on the elevator on the way up, I’d be crying, then I’d get my self together, put on mental armor, and walk confidently to my desk, greeting everyone I saw with a smile. I tried to be patient with questions (I was mostly doing a lot of help-desk work then, plus keeping spreadsheets and acting as troubleshooter in addition to taking calls). Much of what I was doing was trying to keep some travelers stranded in France from freaking out, and trying to get them confirmed on the first available flights home once the FAA cleared everything to start flying again. They were starting to feel uncomfortable in Paris, because there were some demos near the American embassy that weren’t very supportive, so we did manage to move them to London for a couple of nights. This turned out to their advantage, as there were a lot more nonstops to Chicago from London than there were from Paris. With the lone team leader, we worked on getting space confirmed with the airlines for our stranded passengers and co-worker; I still remember the triumph we scored with a United customer service rep when we got the space for our folks in London confirmed and their e-tickets revalidated. The United rep and I cried on the phone when she found the space.

That night, like most nights that first week, I went home at 8 or 9 o’clock, fixed myself something to eat as David was in Canada, and didn’t bother to turn on the TV, because it was all replays of the images and news commentaries.

As I’ve blogged previously in 2004, I was home alone in the evenings, because David had flown out on the 10th to Canada to a company teambuilding and training week. We talked on the phone and discussed options, but he decided to stay for the entire course because, first of all, it was a good training session and he was learning new stuff. Second of all, his company (a small software company) had lost someone who was on one of the planes, and it seemed to be important for morale to remain with his Canadian colleagues. Also, he’d been invited to a company hockey game that had been turned into a memorial, and although he wouldn’t be able to play, he wanted to be there.

He made it home, eventually, by driving his rental car home via Detroit along with his boss. Like thousands of other people who hadn’t had a chance to return their rental cars because they were caught out of town with no flights operating, he participated in what I later described as the “Dunkirk rental carlift.” That week, I had been communicating via email and phone with “our” corporate rep with Avis, and like other rental car agencies, Avis eventually decided that all normal one-way drop fees and mileage charges would be waived, if people wanted to try to drive their rental vehicles home that they had previously confirmed . New rentals, however, were at the going rate, so there were a lot of informal rideshares set up (that was the point of my client company wanting a database of people, locations, and cellphones). We struggled to coordinate people and rides. So I told my husband, who had coincidentally also rented with Avis, that he could drive the car home with whoever needed a ride back to Chicago.

And so he did.

For that first anniversary, we made a point of traveling by air on the 11th; we went to Maui for a week’s vacation, and on the 11th, took a morning flight to Honolulu and went to Pearl Harbor to the Arizona Memorial. As we waited for our flight, the TVs in the departure lounge showed the proceedings from the memorial events in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and New York. The mood was sombre, and there was definitely tension in the air. But, we were all flying together that day. We got to Pearl Harbor after taking a rather scary wrong turn and ending up at the entrance to the military base, being stared down at the gate by big military policemen with sidearms. However, there was a stream of cars all making the same wrong turn, so it was all routine. We were politely but firmly re-directed, and got to the memorial visitor’s center in time to actually make it on to a shuttle boat headed to the memorial in time to be there for the official Hawaii state moment of silence. A female ranger made an announcement a few moments beforehand, which I think was 10:05 AM local time.

Everyone came to a stop, and all conversation ceased.

The wind blew, the water lapped beneath the memorial platform, the brass on the US Park Service ranger’s uniforms shone brightly, and the old veteran-volunteers wearing embroidered caps with their unit or ship insignia stood at attention (or as close as they could get). It was very, very still.

I remember looking for rainbow patterns on the water, remnants of fuel and oil that still leak upwards and float to the surface from the sunken ship(s) below the platform.

Soon, the ranger announced that the moment had passed. We shook ourselves, throats were cleared, and we all moved on, speaking quietly about the memorial to each other and thanking the old vets for their service. Another shuttle boat, whose departure had been delayed until after the observance of silence, came to take us back to the visitors’ center. We returned to Maui after spending the day trying to find a parking place in Waikiki, getting lunch, and driving around Oahu.

For the second anniversary, David and I decided we’d travel more boldly, and we were in Britain for our first trip there. We were actually in a small Cotswold village on the day, and didn’t mark it in any special way. I remember looking toward the church steeple in Stow-on-the-Wold as the church clock chimed in the morning, and thinking about the anniversary.

On a walk that day we fell into conversation with an older couple in beautiful “country life” clothes walking their beagle. They wished us well and said “Oh! You’re American!” as if surprised to find any of our kind blundering around out in the world on that day of all days. Yes, well, I said something about making a point of traveling fearlessly instead of hunkering down at home, and I think that the lady said “Well done, you.” We picked that up as our little congratulatory “attaboy” phrase and still use it whenever completing a project or getting somewhere after much effort.

I’ve already linked to the post for 11SEP04, but in 2005 I was more focused on the aftermath of Katrina. The amazing photo gallery by Alvaro that I linked to then has been moved here.

In 2006, I was moved to mark the date by blogging about an NPR special from the night before called The Price of Security, along with some comments about 9/11 family member Marilyn Rosenthal. She has since died. There’s an excellent interview with her, also from Metro Times, that lays out her thoughts on 9/11 and the supposed “war on terrorism” that was so thoroughly used and abused by the Bush administration.

In 2007, I had very little to say – that was after the rot had set in here at Blogula Rasa and I had fallen into evil, mini-blogging times such as sending cameraphone pictures in via Flickr. On 11SEP07, I got my driver’s license renewed.

In 2008, the last September 11th of the Bush administration, I blogged this:

Remembrance Day

When I flipped my desk calendar over, there it was.

“Patriot Day.”

No, it’s “Remembrance Day.” Enough with the posturing and the framing and the spinning already.

We remember family, friends, colleagues, total strangers, and maybe one or two saints.

Many were not American – workers at Windows on the World, business travelers from many lands, and maybe some tourists. We remember them too.

Please, let’s not Hallmark this day with cynical, politically motivated labels and imagery.

This is a solemn day of remembrance.

Yesterday was the first National Day of Service and Remembrance, a law that Sen. Ted Kennedy sponsored and President Obama signed into law in April. It’s a relief to know that “Patriot Day” is officially a thing of the past.

The president didn’t stand on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn with rescue workers, several days later after it was deemed “safe enough.” He stood in the pouring rain in Washington, greeting 9/11 family members, service personnel, and others. For some reason, he did not have an umbrella, and as you can see, his suit is completely soaked.


Here, he returns a salute from a service member, who is slowly bringing up his arm to snap one off.


And a few moments later, he greets a family member, one of those without an umbrella.

According to an article at Stars and Stripes, he had one when he started, but put it down when he stepped to the podium to speak.

“Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed — almost one for each of those taken from us. But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day. No passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.”

I’m not sure if it was a security issue that he didn’t have someone standing there holding an umbrella over him and Michelle Obama. Maybe. But I think that he may have seen how many people waiting to be greeted by him were in line without umbrellas, getting soaked. And in these images, he is showing he is with them in “this moment.”

Recent Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *