I suppose we can all say what we were doing when it happened. I’ll spare you my recollections; they’re unremarkable and who really cares? What I think about at this distance isn’t just what happened that day, it’s what happened after. A mental data dump in no particular order, with a media-centric focus:
It was the beginning of the end of
John Bob Edwards on “Morning Edition.” (Yes, yes — trivial.) I remember driving to work, wondering why the hell NPR wasn’t live with this, when I had just heard a phoner with their correspondent in the Pentagon, who’d said, “I just heard something. I think I have to go now.” It was the plane hitting, somewhere on the other side of the building. (That’s the amazing attack, to me. It’s one thing for a half-trained pilot to fly into a building standing 110 stories high. But to essentially bellyflop into one with only five floors? Damn that guy’s luck, for sure.) But here it was, after 9 a.m., and “Morning Edition” had segued into Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and if there’s a voice you really don’t want to hear when your adrenaline is racing and you want information, dammit, it’s that one. I think Keillor would agree. NPR had no structure in place to go live for national breaking news. That would change pretty soon, and Mr. Sleepy Morning Avuncularity was shoved aside.
Flying went from bad to worse. I remember racing onto a flight in the ’80s, a remarkable flight that didn’t last long — Fort Wayne to Toledo on Delta. Fourteen minutes in the air, $14 one-way. That doesn’t seem possible, that price, but that’s my recollection. J.C. was in Toledo for a night, working on a station there, and I left work early to meet him. I was running late and blasted through the terminal with my carry-on, a newsboy’s delivery bag. Threw it on the machine’s belt and zipped through the metal detector, and was the last one aboard, while the stewardess tap-tapped her foot impatiently at the jetway. Total time from parking lot to fasten-seat-belts, about five minutes. Now when I have to fly, I rise hours early, remember to keep my ID handy and always wear slip-on shoes. I remember flying maybe a year afterward, watching a TSA agent wanding a septuagenarian in Newark, the wand beeping at his belt line, the old man plaintively barking, “It’s my artificial hip!” Well, at least we didn’t profile.
It was a dark, dark night for my section of the newspaper — features. Jesus Christ, but my brain nearly exploded, seeing what the features editors of the world came up with to help us process the pain. They made Sports look profound. I distinctly recall one around Christmastime on “the new comfort,” which quoted a Land’s End representative saying yes, they were selling more cashmere throws and other soft things this season than last, and yes, it seemed to indicate the nation planned to spend its first post-9/11 winter on the couch with the covers pulled up tight. Imagine if the Slanky or Bleeves or, what’s it called? Right, the Snuggie — imagine if we’d had Snuggies then. The mind reels.
But the worst was the Wall Street Journal features section, which ran a story saying more people were eating in as part of the new comfort and new austerity, but it turns out that’s not much of a savings over restaurants, because have you priced a set of All-Clad lately? Nine hundred dollars! And here’s some girl who invited some friends over for a dinner party, and was shocked at how much truffles cost, and don’t even get her started on lemongrass. One magazine had a short item on how the Carrie Bradshaws of Gotham were changing their fitness routines as a result of the attacks. One had started swimming laps, so she could make her escape from Manhattan by water, if necessary. I only wish I were making it up.
This marked the rise of the blogosphere, too. Everyone wanted a blog, so they could tell their story and share their feelings. I recall being amazed at how many people took the attacks personally, and by that I mean really personally, people in places like the Midwest who were convinced Muhammed Atta went to his death screaming, “You’re next, Bob Smith of Kansas City, you and your twins Jason and Jordan, and also your filthy dog Bingo!” If nothing else, 9/11 made me glad I lived in a Hoosier backwater no one would bother bombing. Alan had a job interview with a non-profit the following spring that would have taken us to Traverse City, Michigan, and that would have been even more suitable, being too far north to be downwind of Chicago, surely next on al-Qaeda’s list.
(I often wonder how many police agencies in places like East Methane, Tenn., went to the county commissioners with a wish list in those immediately-after months, in case terrorism came to town. I mean, they have an armored police vehicle in Defiance, Ohio, these days. Why?)
Oh, but that didn’t stop people in Fort Wayne from feeling very, very threatened. I sat next to the police scanner, and listened to it the Friday after the attacks. Call after call after call to investigate a swarthy individual seen walking on a downtown street. I really couldn’t blame them, though — we all went a little crazy. To this day, I forgive anyone who wrote or said something insane between 9/11/2001 and 12/31/2001. Crazy times provoke crazy responses. Four crashed airliners followed by anthrax via mail? Maureen Dowd was reduced to jibbering. (That’s a straight line for anyone who wants it, btw.) So were a lot of other people. Ego te absolvo.
Needless to say, irony didn’t end.
What came after for you?