Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My 9/11 Story

Hello family,

It's been 12 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Back in 2009 I wrote a Facebook note (remember those?) about my experience that day and I'd like to repost it here. On my drive home today I realized that my son will learn about this day in much the same way I learned about the Holocaust; from a page in a history book. When he asks this is likely the story I will tell him.

My 9/11 Story

September 11, 2009 at 11:27am
In the passing years I had always felt it was kind of cliché for people to have their "Where I was on 9/11" story. It had occurred to me that I never really told my own account. This is it.

I was a senior in High school. While all of my friends were in class I was having the time of my life out in San Francisco over the weekend. My dad's union had a convention there. My mom was working for Delta at the time so we flew out for free. The Falcons coincidentally played against the 49ers that Sunday so I got to go to my first west coast game. I ate the freshest sea food, saw a lot of sights and was just having an all around awesome time. Mom and I were supposed to be flying back home Monday the 10th but she let us stay an extra day since I was doing well in school and it was early in the semester.

The next morning we were at the airport to check our bags. Like any other teenager I had my head buried in headphones, oblivious to all of the adult conversations going on around me. I slowly became consciously aware that the line was not moving and was wrapping around the concourse behind me. I figured it was just the business rush of people flying in and out. I took my headphones off to see if I could make out what the holdup was. Just ahead of us there was a group of deaf travelers. One was signing in a calm but urgent sort of way. She then made the gesture of a closed fist slamming into an open palm. The group began to converse amongst themselves for a minute. I knew very little sign language but I watched them, trying to piece together any bit I could recognize. One of them shook their hands in a kind of trembling manner and actually said the word "scary", in that muddled way that deaf people speak.

Many people including my parents began to crowd around a television in a nearby eatery. Assuming this was more "adult business" I pulled over to the side and sat near a support post guarding the luggage. I could see more faces of shock and concern piling into the restaurant. I tried to pick out pieces of the conversations going on from the personnel quickly passing by: Towers. Planes. Building. New York. World Trade. Crash. I switched on my radio. Most stations were silent. I heard a voice that sounded like Howard Stern saying "Jesus Christ it just fell". At the same time a simultaneous gasp fell over the concourse. A man went over to the line where a few people were still holding places. "Oh my God" he said, "the World Trade Center just collapsed."

The only word I can use to describe my feelings at that point was null. It wasn't because I didn't care, but because when you become aware that you're in a hopeless situation like that, you become complacent in the fact that there is nothing you can do. I looked over to see about 25-30 canine units head for the terminals. Slowly people began to leave, knowing that they would not be boarding a plane anytime soon. I'm not sure why we stayed so long. We were one of the last to leave the airport. Luckily we still had our hotel room since dad was staying for the rest of the convention. Everything in the city just seemed to stand still. It was so much quieter than in days past. Everything was closed. We were beginning to run low on money so some of the executive members of dad's union pooled together to put us in another hotel, one of the older historic places you see on T.V., with wood floors and antique beds and warped wooden doors that jammed. We were down stairs from one of my dad's executive friends who was there with her husband( former Falcon Joel Williams) and both their mothers. He suggested that my mom and I go with him on a drive, since there wasn't much else to do. Being seventeen years old at the time, I wasn't exactly thrilled with taking a road trip in the middle seat between two old ladies.

We headed out for Berkley, making several stops along the way to see things and meet people. The place that stuck out in my mind the most was a fruit stand by a farm, that a lot of people seemed to frequent. It was some of the sweetest fruit I ever had. My mom struck up a conversation with the cashier, telling him we were stuck out here. He told me that some of the most important lessons he learned were outside of the classroom, just doing the things he loved to do, being out working with his folks, etc. It wasn't anything I hadn't heard before but this time it made more of an impact on me.

After being unable to catch a flight for another 7 days, we try our hand at Greyhound and head for Los Angeles. I wondered why LA seemed to have a lot of satellite stops. I found out that Hispanic immigrants used it like a city bus almost. They'd pay a little something to the driver (if he was Hispanic) and get taken a ways down the street. We rode the bus overnight. I didn't sleep well since, through a long string of stops, I shared seats with a dirty man, a young girl, an old man and a chain smoker who all felt they needed to rest their heads on my shoulder.

Not feeling the whole cross country bus experience, we got off at the nearest major city with an airport. I think it was Phoenix. By now I was eager to get back to school, back to some kind of normalcy. My reception was more warm and loving than I could have anticipated. I got hugs from all my friends and teachers. People who I thought never even noticed me came and said "I'm glad you're home". That whole situation was kind of a twisted blessing in a way because it gave me a renewed faith in people. Thousands didn't make it. To be one of the ones that did is a bittersweet victory. They could just have easily decided to fly a plane into the Golden Gate Bridge, then where would I be? I don't know that I am a different person because of what happened that day. But it gave me some new values in life : Pay attention, you're always being taught something. People aren't as bad as they make themselves out to be. Don't ever think that you aren't worth anything because we all have worth, one no more than the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment