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September 11, 2011

Unremarkable Memories of 9-11-01

What can I say? It was any other Tuesday. I got up, showered, and hopped in the car for the commute to work. At the time, I had an 8-block commute to the office (it's up to a mile & a quarter now), and I already had a CD in the player keyed up and ready to go, so no radio for me. I had no idea what was going on at the time. Since I'm in the Central time zone, my commute took place between the two plane strikes.

I got to the office, turned on the radio, and while I was organizing the tasks on my desk I heard a lot of excited talk in the background. Something about plane crashes? And a fire? WTF?

I hopped back in the car and drove home to turn on Fox News, and while I was watching the first tower fell. All I could think of was "How many thousands will be lying dead in that rubble?" I kept watching the other tower and trying to remember all the facts from my Steel Structure Design class back in the late 80's: Fireproofing materials sprayed on steel beams can only protect them for 30 or 45 minutes, and when structural steel gets hot it starts to deform like cooked spaghetti. And then? Well, you know what happened.

Honestly? My guesses as to the death toll were nowhere near 3,000. I was thinking 10, 20 even 50 thousand New Yorkers were going to be buried in that rubble. I remembered thinking that Tom Clancy was going to have an especially bad day because he used a jumbo jet kamakazi attack against a Presidential address to a Joint Session of Congress at the close of one of his novels. It's funny how some thoughts stick in your head.

And then we heard about the Pentagon. How many planes were still up there rocketing towards targets? Holy shit, this is really happening. And then the gloom set in. What about follow-up attacks? You can kill people with one bomb; but if you want to kill a shitload of people, set a second bomb off an hour later to take out all the first responders and volunteer aid workers. What about releasing sarin or mustard gas onto the bridges leading out of Manhattan? All those people walking out of New York in a daze were just ducks waiting to be shot.

I don't remember thinking "Thank God Gore didn't win the election", but I'm sure it did occur to me sometime that day. Not really a day for politics, just uncertainty.

One thing that I saw that day didn't hit me until hours later. Mid to late-morning, I remember looking to the South and seeing one plane traveling East to West. That's not unusual, since we're pretty much directly on a line between Des Moines & Omaha & most of the Eastern traffic flying into Omaha flies close to Winterset: but didn't the Feds close down air traffic completely after the second tower strike? Well, yeah....unless you're flying Air Force One and you want to get the President to NORAD's command center West of Omaha.

One of the gas stations in town jacked up their prices from about $1.30 to $2.50 by noon, but by dinnertime they had sheepishly lowered their prices back to the original amount....and the manager had a letter to the editor published in the next week's local paper apologizing for their reaction to the tragedy. Small towns, eh?

I do remember thinking "Who could have done this?" for a second or two, but then I remembered "Oh yeah, Muslims! Duh." The USS Cole was still a fresh memory. So I'm a racist. Whatever. I do remember some dark thoughts about how to respond that popped into my head that night. Nukes? Yeah, I went there.

Looking back ten years later, I thank God that my pessimistic death tolls didn't come to pass. I thank God that there were only 19 suicide bombers instead of 190. I thank God that sarin gas, ebola or even a dirty bomb laced with cesium stolen from hospital x-ray equipment didn't make an appearance that day. I thank God for all those who ran towards the fire & smoke that day, and for all the others who came in later and busted their asses trying to pull even one survivor out of the rubble. Especially after a couple of days, when it became clear that a rescue operation had turned into recovery of bodies & body parts. I thank God for the passengers of Flight 93 who decided that whatever else happened their plane was NOT going to become a human piloted cruise missile.

Most of all at the time, I thanked God that my family and I were safe. Because I'm human.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 07:49 PM

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