Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering September 11

Looking back through this blog, I was surprised to see that I'd never specifically written about my personal experiences regarding the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, aka 9/11. I don't see much of a reason to dwell on that sad day, but I do believe that ignoring history tends to cause it to repeat itself. I also think that the people whose lives were affected forever that day deserve the respect of being remembered. So, here's what my day was like.

I was 32 years old in fall 2001, and life was pretty topsy-turvy for me. Things weren't working out well between myself and my then-wife (who would become my ex-wife two years later). My son was only two years old. I'd spent the previous ten years working as a marketing person for the music/audio products industry, and in 2001 I was employed by the famed recording product company TASCAM as their head of marketing.

Much as they remain today (though in a different way), my days back then had a tight routine. I awoke at 5:30am, left my home here in Redondo Beach at 6:30am, and (beating most of the LA traffic with my early departure) generally rolled into the TASCAM offices around 7:15am. That particular Tuesday seemed like any other day. I left the house and drove up the street to the closest Starbucks, as I did every day. On my way there, I turned on my local NPR station, 89.9 KCRW. I was still only half awake, but they were saying something on the radio about a plane crash. Sounded bad. But it just seemed like a typical bad news story. I turned the radio off and walked into the Starbucks. Inside, people seemed to be talking about this plane crash, and I heard something about the plane having hit a building. This wasn't looking good, so when I got back in my little Nissan, I turned on the radio again while I headed toward the 91 freeway. At that point, I still had no concept that a terror attack had occurred. In fact, I was under the impression that a small plane, perhaps a Cessna, had hit a building in New York by accident. That seemed like bad news. I had no idea how bad it actually was.

However, as I drove along, robotically heading into the office, things became more clear. NPR was reporting non-stop about the situation as it developed, and well before I'd arrived in Montebello, I understood that some kind of terror attack against the United States was in progress. I parked my car close to the door (as an early arriver, a decent parking spot was a small benefit), and walked in. Before I got to my desk, I walked by the cafeteria room, and noticed a few people gathered around a television. I will never forget that moment, when I walked into that room, because the very first thing I saw was a shot of the second plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center. That was my first visual image of the attacks. I literally dropped my briefcase in shock, and took a seat. The room was silent except for an occasional "Oh my God!" exclamation.

After a few minutes, the thought occurred to me (as it did to many people, I'm sure) that these attacks might be very widespread, and that the city where I was -- Los Angeles, CA -- might be a target as well. I headed down the hall to my office, and began calling people, telling them not to come into work. Some came anyway; for many folks, their work is part of their family, and they wanted to be among friends. I had all manner of things going through my head, some less appropriate than others. Like a typical businessman, I was aware that we had a planned trade show coming in New York, and we'd been busy getting ready for that. Were we still going? It was hard to wrap my head around the magnitude of what had happened, and I think that considering such relatively unimportant stuff was actually a defense mechanism of trying to bring some normalcy back to a moment in time that was unprecedented in my life.

I stayed at the office for most of the day. Few people were there, and those who were there weren't working. Much of the day was spent in the cafeteria, huddled around the TV and trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I also knew that I had friends who worked in the World Trade Center, and more who worked and lived in the general lower Manhattan area. I did my best to try and ascertain their safety, but it was difficult to establish any communications with that area. I spent a good amount of time on the Internet; this was previous to the start of Facebook or Second Life, but even then I was a very active Internet user, and connected with my friends on Craig Anderton's Sound, Studio & Stage forum. Finally, still feeling like I was in a bad dream, I drove home that afternoon.

I don't have to mention that life, in many aspects, was never the same after that day. About two months later, I was in New York for the trade show that had been postponed. Portions of the Javits Convention Center were still sealed off; they'd been being used as a temporary morgue. On the cab ride to JFK, looking backward and seeing the gaping hole where the twin towers had been was a haunting moment. I will say that if there was any positive aspect of 9/11, there was a noticeable pulling together of an America that had been long divided over many issues. If nothing else, at least we could agree that the USA was no longer a carefree place where one's safety from terrorism could be assumed. And that, of course, in turn led to negative aspects of privacy invasion and loss of freedom that still plague us today, and may never go back to how it was before.

So, that's my 9/11 story. It's probably similar to that of most Americans. In closing, I will say that there are very few events in my life that, even if I wanted to, I could never forget... my first public performance as a musician in 1980, and the birth of my son in 1999 come to mind. But that day in 2001 lingers in my head, second by second, and I can view it in my head today as if it happened yesterday, as opposed to 12 years ago.

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