I wrote the following on September 12, 2001. Going through Facebook today reminded me of it. At the time I thought it was important to jot down everything I remembered.
I was working as the coordinator for scheduling and event planning atThe Catholic University of America in Washington, DC at the time, so it references people, places, and events on campus on that day.
For some reason I stopped my account at mid-day and never got back to it. In fact, according to the file properties, the last time I touched it was at 10:33 PM on Sept. 12. The writing isn’t very good because it’s a rough first draft. I’m posting it un-edited to preserve what I felt at the time.
Tuesday morning. I actually got into work on time. Settled to do some work for once. It wasn’t long before Kim was telling us about something going on the TV in Cindy’s office. I take my time to get over there, I really have work to do.
Apparently there has been an explosion?/fire?/something? at the World Trade Center. That sucks. Lots of smoke. But I have stuff to do.
But first, I have to surf the internet. Wonder over to yehoodi.com. Amusingly titled thread called “there’s a huge hole in the WTC”. Just got started, a lot of confusion. I head back into Cindy’s office to see if there’s anything else.
Bryant Gumble is not being very helpful. I think about getting back to my desk . . . HOLY SHIT . . . a plane just rammed the other tower! Fuck! We see the replay. Dear Lord. Gumble interviews an eyewitness. Witness says the plane deliberately hit the building. Gumble does something intelligent and tries to avoid a panic by saying that we don’t know that for sure. The eyewitness isn’t convinced.
This is useless, head to computer to get some news, but everything has slowed down. Can’t get any news sites. Kim comes running down the hall. The Pentagon has been hit.
This is unreal. Before it was in NYC, but now its here. What do we do? Watch and wait. After awhile I decide that we’re closing. No one’s told me that, but it’s a no-brainer. I hit my desk and get to work, when we get word from the top that everything after 5 pm is cancelled. That makes it a little easier for me.
I put together an email to tell people the obvious. I note that a couple of people are in the office and tell them. I find the first in Cindy’s office and I blank on her name until Cindy reminds me that its Tina. I tell her that there’s no International Buffet tonight, but it doesn’t seem to register since she’s more intent on the coverage.
I go to Brad’s office, who’s staring outside his window and he’s unsurprised. He shrugs. As I turn to leave, I note “It’s a beautiful day today”. He agrees, “Yeah, it is”
Shit my uncle works in the WTC. Think about calling home, but no one’s going to be there. Email? Can’t remember my parent’s email address. They keep switching services to get a good deal. Email Lori, to tell her not to worry about not being able to give me a ride. I guess I won’t be teaching my first Lindy Hop class tonight. I look at the change of cloths that I brought for tonight. Ironically I think I might still need it. Email Carla, tell her that class is cancelled. I ask if there’s still balboa. What a dumb question. I hit send anyway. Email Carrie, Capitol is evacuating. Hope she’s alright.
Phones are dead. No, wait, mine’s working. Lemme get my phone card. Pick up the phone. So much for that. All the other phones in the office are just as sketchy. Cell phones are dead.
The news is chaotic and conflicting. I keep hitting the WTC thread on yehoodi. It reflects the mood of confusion, sadness, fear, and anger. People keep coming into the office and you’d think that downtown DC was burning. The State Dept. has been hit, The OEOB has been hit, Camp David has been bombed, more (1-8) planes are unaccounted for, explosion at Union Station. At first I’m concerned, but after awhile, I get skeptical. People are overreacting. Ignore information for now. Get to work.
The university is closing, but I resign myself to stay. The point of closing is so people can be safe at home, but I live by the Capitol. Ah, the cold hand of irony.
Hey, there’s a pay phone upstairs. Run up there, and it’s a waste of time. What about downstairs by the Ratt? Well, at least I got some exercise. Back to the office. There’s another pay phone in the main lounge. Well, there’s nothing else to do here.
I head downstairs, and don’t come back for four hours.
That’s where I left it that Wednesday night. The rest of the story isn’t that exciting considering that I was in DC.
I decided to stay on campus after they dismissed the staff because there wasn’t any point in going towards probable danger. I helped out at the information desk at our student union for the rest of the day. Not that we had any information to give.
The thing I remember most was the confusion and the general lack of reliable information. News websites just could not handle that many people hitting their pages all at once, so they were all down. Same with cell phone service. The night before, a big thunderstorm knocked out the campus’s long distance capabilities. They had just brought that back online that morning before it all crashed again with everyone trying to call home. Even the pay phones were out of service, which is what I’m referring to towards the end.
I decided that day that TV and radio news were pretty much useless because they were in full panic mode. Reporting every rumor without checking. You would have thought downtown DC was on fire if you just listened to the radio.
People weren’t any better. A grad student walked up 30 blocks to campus from Union Station claiming that there had been an explosion down there, so she wasn’t going to trust getting on the metro. The roads were too jammed with traffic to take a cab. Apparently a lot of people had that idea as they abandoned cars to head out of the city on foot.
I was proud of the CUA students that day though. To the person, everyone who came to the information desk only asked what they could do to help. A lot of them wanted to head to the Pentagon to lend a hand. I think the government was discouraging people from doing so as to not get in the way of the firefighters and EMT’s. Eventually, I think Campus Ministry organized shuttles to nearby Providence Hospital so people could give blood.
I stayed until about 7:00 pm in the evening. There wasn’t a whole lot to do once people settled into their dorms in front of TV’s to get updates. No more planes were falling from the sky and I heard the metro was still running, so I decided to head home.
Downtown was deserted. There weren’t even any homeless people out. Although heavily armed military convoys were heading into the city.
I could smell the burning from the Pentagon a couple miles away. That smell would be there for weeks.
After I got home, I tried watching TV, but got sick of it after a few minutes. There were just so many times you could watch that footage. I eventually heard from my father about my mother and uncle (her brother) who both worked in Manhattan at the time.
Even though she worked for the New York City Police Department, my mother was deemed non essential personal and was forced to walk off the island. She stayed with a coworker in one of the boroughs, Brooklyn I think.
My uncle worked for the Port Authority in the World Trade Center. He was one of the lucky ones, getting a few blocks away before the first tower collapsed. This was actually the second time he survived a terrorist attack at that building since he was working there when it was bombed in 1993.
As for me, not much else happened. I sat in silence the rest of that night, and like everyone else, wondered what would happen next.