Where I was on 9/11/01
I lived in San Francisco.
September 11, 2001
I lived in San Francisco.
If you’ve read any of my Break-Up Chronicle articles, it’s worth noting that September 11, 2001, took place shortly after the collapse of my relationship with Heather.
Back then, I was living in the East Bay and had about a two-hour commute (each way) into the office, located in the financial district of San Francisco.
On that Tuesday morning, I woke up around 5:00 am PT(8:00 am ET) and let the dog out, showered, and got ready to go to the train station just as I had the day before …and the days and days before then.
It must’ve been around 5:50 am PT as I was driving, and some breaking news came across the NPR station. I pulled into a gas station to get a pack of cigarettes and asked the clerk what was happening:
“What’s going on?”
He replied: “I dunno. I guess a plane crashed into a building in New York City.”
“Oh really? Which one?”
“I think they said the World Trade Center.”
“Huh. OK, thanks,” and I left.
I didn’t give it too much thought. I lived on the east coast, and weird shit happening in New York City was normal. This was a period before fake news, and it was definitely weird for that kind of odd NYC news to go national. While I listened a little more intently to the radio on the remaining five minutes to the train station, I still didn’t think too much about it.
Now the train mass transit system in the Bay Area is called BART — Bay Area Regional Transit. And I HATED it. I was literally BART’s walking enemy. The train was never on time and behaved more erratically than a cocaine and sugar-fueled seven-year-old with ADHD.
I also witnessed and saw things on BART that I NEVER encountered living in New York City and traveling the NYC subway system. If a BART train couldn’t get the train doors closed and the conductor tried twice, they would kick everyone off the train. In NYC, they keep slamming those subway doors closed with the periodic male monotone “Stand clear of the closing doors” until the conductor gets on and says something. I experience that, MAYBE three times, in NYC. In SF? It was at least twice a month. No joke.
I once saw human excrement on a BART train.
On the inside wall of the train.
At 7 am.
And the shit was positioned on the wall in such a way that the person must’ve been about 8' tall.
Wanna guess how many times I saw human excrement on a NYC subway car in a cumulative 16 years? Never.
But I digress.
I guess I still have PTSD from riding BART.
Back to September 11, 2001. I took the book I was reading — A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggars — and got on my train. It being 2001, cell phones were present but not prevalent.
After about 60 minutes into the train ride cell phones started buzzing.
Slowly the train car I was in reached a kind of rhythm that began with the ring or buzz of a cell phone almost immediately followed by a gasp. And this went down the train for the remainder of my commute.
There were whispers and murmurs, but I couldn’t hear anything definitive.
As I got off the train to the office, I noticed almost everyone was on their phone, and several were upset. By this time (+/- 8:30 am PT), both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed, and I still had no idea.
I suppose I could’ve asked someone, but I’m not a morning person. And BART just always made me grumpy …well, grumpier.
So I made my way to the office and found the door locked. Luckily, I had a key and opened the door to find one of my colleagues, Seamus (James, but he was super Irish, so I called him Seamus), was sitting in the vacant office watching television.
I walked in: “What the fuck is going on?”
“We’re being attacked.”
“What do you mean?”
“There have been plane crashes all around the country.”
I grumbled: “What are you talking about?” throwing my crap in my cube as I walked into the office with him.
“Two commercial jets crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, and one crashed into the Pentagon. The World Trade Center towers have collapsed.”
My brain was now officially scrambled as I tried to process this. I stared at the television and watched whatever it was that he was watching. It didn’t matter because it was on every station. I stood there stupefied.
It dawned on me that I wanted to contact a couple of friends in New York City, so I walked to my desk to try and reach them.
Luckily, I was able to reach one friend who lived on the Upper East Side. He was fine. We chatted briefly before he said he had to go.
I called another friend who lived in Tribeca and worked at the Wall Street Journal at the time. He was on the digital side of WSJ, which was then located at 7 World Trade Center (the third building in that area to collapse). For whatever reason, he was running late that morning, and just as he was about to leave, the first plane hit the North Tower.
We must’ve stayed on the phone for about 15 to 20 minutes, barely speaking before saying goodbye.
Seamus emerged from the vacant office, saying: “Well, no sense in staying here. We should probably go home.”
Still operating in some kind of fog trying to process it all: “Yea, I guess so.”
We locked up the office, shook hands, and said we’d talk later.
On the train ride home, I called my friend up. He said he had closed his office for the day and was home, so he invited me over.
By the time I got home, loaded up the dog, and picked up a six-pack of beer, it was about noon. I drove over to his house listening to the radio, and by then, the country had a pretty good idea of what was happening.
My buddy’s wife was at work, and we literally just sat around watching CNN all day drinking beer and taking periodic smoke breaks outside. I don’t recall talking too much, but we both did speak openly about joining the service (neither of us did).
Even the 275 lbs of dog (two Rotties and one Chocolate Lab) around the house didn’t do too much. I suspect the dogs were picking up on the vibe in the room.
The planes crashing into the World Trade Center were constantly repeated no matter what station we turned to. It made for a depressing and strange afternoon for us, as it did for everyone in the country.
After about seven hours, I decided to go home. I loaded up the dog, and I sifted through my CDs in my Jeep Cherokee Sport and popped in Uncle Tupelo’s first album, No Depression.
The thought of listening to more news was too much, but somehow the first track, “Graveyard Shift,” was soothing.
Once home, I called Heather to check in and see how she was. She said she was fine, and we talked about our mutual friends we knew back east. It was a brief conversation. Even given the events of the day, the talk was devoid of emotion.
I don’t really recall how I ended September 11, 2001. If I watched more TV or just went to bed. I do recall feeling a void in my stomach. Does that make sense? I also felt so far from home, an almost immeasurable distance from my adopted east coast home.
As I lay awake, I knew then that I wanted to move back.
Over the next few days, we heard all the stories of close calls. My colleague had a cousin who worked on the TV show Family Guy (she was a Simpsons fan and could not understand my fascination with Family Guy) and told me the story about Seth MacFarlane.
While it would be a couple more years before I made my way back east to New York City, I did eventually make my way back home.
Despite the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and all the loss and havoc and pain it has caused over the years, it allowed me to find my way home. And the security and comfort I found again came at a tremendous cost.
I will forever be in debt.