I remember I was on the bus going to work, even though I had a car, parking in town was an expensive bitch. There was a woman sitting next to me talking on her cell phone. I could overhear her part of the conversation and it sounded like she was talking about a movie but I couldn't remember if I saw the trailer for it. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center? Is that a new Bruce Willis flick? Then she said "You heard they got the Pentagon, right?" At this point I knew this had to be a movie. The only way the Pentagon could be attacked is if we're at war with another country. And as far as I knew no country in their right mind would do that, not even crazy ass North Korea.
Getting to my stop in Center City in Philadelphia, I stepped off the bus and while walking to my job, I noticed everyone had an "oh shit" look on their face. It wasn't until I got to the office that I saw everyone crowded around a couple of TVs in the place. The World Trade Center Buildings were on fire. The lady on the bus wasn't talking about a movie but suddenly I felt like I was in one. Everyone stood stock still and watched as the buildings burned and the news reporters tried to make sense of what was happening. The word terrorist kept being repeated. And it was clear that it was a terror attack. The precision, the coordination all pointed to an unconventional enemy. But it was still surreal to me. That is until I picked up the phone to call home to see if my mother was watching and there was a busy signal.
I don't mean a busy signal after I dialed her number, I mean when I picked up the phone and put it to my ear there was a busy signal. The lines where so busy there wasn't even a dial tone. Now the situation was getting real to me. Soon there was a buzz in the room about what happened and what could be next. If New York got hit and DC, could this be the beginning wave of a larger coordinated attack? What other major cities are on the target list? Suddenly being in a tall building didn't feel so safe. The lines cleared enough so that I could get through to mom and my brother. Both were stunned silent as well. Mom urged me to come home and hearing the concern in her voice coupled with my growing fear, I agreed. I don't remember if our office manager ever made an official announcement, I just remember everyone moving toward the exits kind of in a zombie like fashion. Stepping outside of the building onto JFK Boulevard, I could see people looking up at the skies as if they were expecting to see another plane hit a skyscraper in our city.
My brother came to pick me up and we discussed the events and what it all meant on the way home. Later that evening, I got a call from my supervisor asking me to check on something in the office. Since I had a car and lived closer to the office than anyone else, I agreed to do it. Plus I was curious to see how the city was doing this night. The airlines were shut down and in my neighborhood it was real quiet. Which was just eerie. Center City was a ghost town. I had never seen that before. Ever. Even when I was hanging out late at night, 2, 3, 4 in the morning there was always people and vehicles on the street. Trucks and trains, buses and cabs, in a way, I always took some level of comfort in hearing the sounds of the city. That night there was no one on the streets. Nothing moved. Going into the city it seemed like I was the only person other than official authorities to even travel into town that night. All I could see were police cars slowly criss-crossing the intersections. It was the most bizarre thing I ever witnessed. It felt like the whole country had been punched in the face and was still reeling from it. That night when I went to bed, it was the quietest most still night I ever experienced.
When I was a kid, I would hear my parents and grand parents talk and reminisce about the major events and defining moments of their generation. I would listen to stories about Pearl Harbor, MLK and JFK's assassinations, WW2, the Cuban Missile Crisis and it all sounded so exciting, the stuff I read about in history books they actually witnessed those moments. It seemed so cool to hear the tales. And I wondered if I would ever have a story like that. And now that I have, I finally understand what they felt and how they dealt with it and that its not cool. It was just scary and fucked up and it stayed that way for a long time after. For them and for me. I hate the idea that some people in the younger generation who are listening to our stories about 3000 people dying in such a senseless manner is exciting, like I thought when I was their age. I hate the idea that we'll romanticize that event and moment just like we did with WW2 and Pearl Harbor.
We should never forget nor embellish or allow it to be embellished to future generations what happened and how it affected us.
What did September 11, 2001 feel like to you?