It was a Tuesday morning and I was at work, of course. I worked at Arthur Andersen, at the Office of Federal Tax Services, at 1666 K Street Northwest in Washington DC. I was on the tenth floor. At some point my boss Bethany came by my cubicle and asked if I had heard what was going on in New York. I hadn’t.

So I made my way down to the ninth floor, to the legislative practice, where they had TV sets, usually with C-SPAN on them. It may have been Rachelle Bernstein’s office, or maybe Andy Prior’s, I’m not sure. Maybe Carol Kulish, now that I think about it. But she wasn’t in the legislative practice, I don’t think. I seem to remember John Rooney being there as well. Anyway, doesn’t matter.

Both planes had hit the World Trade Center by then, but the news anchors or reporters or whoever were still talking as if they might have just been small planes. They weren’t sure yet that they were airliners, that they were hijacked airliners. I went back up to my desk and turned on my little radio, my little ten-dollar radio shack transistor radio, that I had bought to listen to coverage during the recounts in November and December 2000. I still had no idea of the magnitude of what was happening.

It must have been soon after that that I heard about the plane hitting the Pentagon. That was a good bit closer than New York City, just barely over two miles. What was more worrisome, though, were reports on the radio that the Old Executive Office Building, right next to the White House, was on fire. That was 450 yards away. The radio also said that there had been a car bombing at the State Department (a rather safe 11 blocks away) and that there was a plane circling the Capitol. Really was turning into the craziest fucking day.

I went downstairs again to check the television news. I saw that someone had wheeled in and turned on the TV in the main conference room. Nobody was in there watching it, but it was on. And amid the chaos and chatter they were saying that one of the World Trade Center towers had collapsed.

My God. There were tens of thousands of people who worked in there. Tens of thousands dead?

I wandered back upstairs in a daze. I went into Bethany’s office and mumbled that one of the towers had collapsed. She put her hand over mouth and just stared at me. Then she said we were leaving. This was about quarter after ten. I saw Glenn Carrington, the office managing partner, in Jim Malloy’s office. I think it was just a few minutes later when he shut the office down and sent us all home, but we were on our way out anyway.

Bethany, Abbie, and I went across the street to the Metro, to the Farragut North station, on the Red Line. We were under a vague sort of impression, one of us had heard somewhere, that the Metro had shut down, but we went down into the station to make sure anyway. The trains were in fact still running. We hopped on the next train and rode it to Friendship Heights.

I had been in phone contact with my brother. It was at the Friendship Heights station where he told me that the second tower had fallen. He also told me that our sister was not in New York City this particular morning, that she was still at the Coach facility in New Jersey.

I drove Abbie and Bethany to their respective homes, then went back to my apartment, a couple blocks past Western Avenue, just outside the the city line. My girlfriend had moved out the previous weekend, taking her TV with her, so I didn’t have any way to watch any news the rest of the day. And I lived right by a top-forty radio station tower, so all I could get on the radio was that crappy music station, and they weren’t having any news. And by this time phones lines were all jammed, and all I had was dial-up Internet, so no news there either.

So I spent the rest of the day just lying around with my kitty Gwen. I knew that the FAA had grounded all air traffic, so I would get pretty rattled when any jet would come screaming low overhead. They were low, and so very loud. Military fighter jets, evidently.

One thought on “9/11

  1. It was a strange, awful, terrible day.

    I was working at the Freedom Forum, directly across the street from the USA Today and Gannett buildings in Rosslyn (also just across the Potomac from D.C.) I had gotten married in May, so my wife and I were sharing an apartment. Strangely, it just so happened that my car was in the shop, so for the first and only time ever I walked to work that morning, all the way down Route 50. I must have just missed seeing the plane that hit the Pentagon, which was a mile or less away.

    I went inside the building and up to my office. Once I got there I saw that I had two messages. Both Dad and my wife had called to tell me that planes had hit the WTC — we were under attack. I walked down the hallway to the vacant VP’s office, which had a large TV. Christy, Publications Director, was already watching, head in hand. We were speechless. At some point I called my wife back. She was already urging me to go home, but I wasn’t yet ready to make the call myself.

    After hanging up, I was back in the TV room, and rumors were flying like mad — they’d hit the Mall, etc. Then someone yelled, “The Pentagon’s on fire!” I ran down the hallway and looked out the window in time to see a huge orange fireball at the top of the building. Very shortly thereafter, Richard Fulks of the General Services Department came through our section and said, “We’re going home.” Immediately everyone left. It was a good thing, too; our building was directly in the flight path of National Airport, and nobody knew what was going to happen next. As long as they were knocking down buildings, they might just come after “The Nation’s Newspaper.”

    Due to the evacuations of all of the buildings in Rosslyn at once (including USAT and Gannett) there was a tremendous traffic jam down there, which made it doubly difficult for police and firefighters to get to the Pentagon. That’s why it was so strange that my car was in the shop that particular day. I was able to simply walk home in the midst of tremendous chaos.

    As I walked home I had an odd clarity. What had happened was clearly tragic, yet I, myself, never once felt in danger. Some of my friends (and at least one family member) were mightily unnerved and freaked out by it, but I was not fearing for my own safety. I remember walking up the hill thinking, “OK, the bastards are hitting symbols of the country — the WTC and the Pentagon.” Don’t get me wrong — I hated it, and I hated them for it, but I didn’t feel that I was in immediate danger. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but another thought that I had during that walk home was, “Aw, hell, the bastards just re-elected him.” I knew then that if Elmer Fudd were president and this had happened on his watch, even he’d get re-elected. And I was right. My point being that those terrorists had screwed this country in ways that they couldn’t even have imagined. (And the screwing continues five years later.)

    My wife was at work in Maryland at the time. Her building, owned by the govt., was also evacuated, and she went home with a co-worker and close friend, and spent the day at her house in Potomac, watching the news. I kept in contact with her from our apartment, and later I met her at the subway.

    While watching the footage into the evening I was most unnerved by those who jumped. I wish I could remove those images from my brain, as well as the images of those on the top floors waving to get the attention of news helicopters. So horrible.

    That night we didn’t get much sleep. Our apartment wasn’t far from the Arlington Courthouse, and military jets were flying over all night long.

    A little while later I found out that David Charlebois was the co-pilot of the plane that hit the Pentagon. He was a nice guy. We graduated in the same high school class at Yorktown. His senior candid photo in my 1980 yearbook shows him sitting in the cockpit of a big airplane. I’m not sure which kind. My twin brother and I attended his memorial service in D.C. Poor David. He didn’t deserve this. None of the victims did.

    Anyway, as I stated earlier, although I felt that 9/11 was a horrible tragedy for the country, and while it made me tremendously sad and angry, I was never actually frightened. I suppose that’s because I felt that they were going after the military and symbols of commerce. Strangely enough, I was much more frightened and panicked by the string of sniper shootings in D.C., MD and VA. It was the unpredictability that made that situation much more terrifying. Those assholes could be shooting at my dad, my brother, my friends; and it was going on with no end in sight.

    One final thought I remember having on 9/11 was that the difference between (most) Americans and the people who planned and carried out those crimes was that Americans couldn’t even conceive of doing such a thing.

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