Thursday, September 11, 2003

Two years' blog.

I distinctly remember listening, as I sometimes do, to All Things Considered two years ago today, in the morning as I prepared for work. At about 7:45 central time, I turned the radio off, just as a report on an incursion by Israeli forces into the West Bank was beginning. I remember thinking that I didn't want to hear about it -- it's hard to listen to what amounts to the same damn story, year after year.

I walked through my neighborhood, and there was no unusual buzz at the Westmont station at 8, because like me most people meeting the train are temporarily away from any media except newspapers. Maybe some people heard something on their portable radios, but it generated no discussion that I noticed.

We got into Union Station on time, a little after 8:30, and there was a crowd around the TV at one of the bars. I'd never seen people crowding around a TV before at Union Station, so I figured something big was going on. The towers were still standing then, but clearly on fire. I watched for a few moments, but since no one knew what was happening, most especially the on-air commentators, I figured I would hear more on the radio at my office, and I didn't linger at the station.

I had planned to buy stamps in the Sears Tower, but as I got there, I was met with a large flow of people headed out, with the talk of evacuation in the air. So I decided to buy stamps later, and I headed down the street to my building, which is three blocks north of the Sears Tower.

Gail was in the office and had the radio on. Bonnie and Christina soon came in (Tony was off that day). Before long, Bob Edwards -- the morning man on NPR -- announced in the most astonished tone I've ever heard him take, that one of the towers had collapsed. There was nothing to do but listen for more bad news, and of course it came.

I'd scheduled an interview by phone for that morning, and when the time came -- 10 or so -- I called him, and we both decided to go ahead with it. I don't remember what we talked about, or even who it was now, but I do remember sitting at my desk, going through the motions of an interview.

The consensus in the office was to go home. By 11, everyone else was gone, but curiously I didn't feel an urge to leave. One line of thought was that something bad was going to happen to the Sears Tower. Not an off-the-wall idea, but somehow I didn't think it would happen. So I stayed in the office a while, even after calling Yuriko, who wanted me to come home right away. I didn't do any work, but wanted to sit alone and listen to the radio, so I did.

My company's New York offices are in Midtown, about two miles north of the site. The phones weren't working then, though we did get through the next day. Electronic mail was functioning in and out of New York during the day, however -- at least to my company's offices, with whom I traded messages late in the morning as they were leaving. One fellow, and I suppose this was a coping strategy, sent me messages asking questions about an article that I had written for Real Estate Forum, as if nothing unusual were going on. He didn't keep it up for long, however.

By late morning many of the downtown Chicago workers had made a reverse commute. Our office-of-the-building never asked anyone to evacuate, but most people did. I was there till about 1. When I left, the Loop was emptier than the quietest Sunday I've ever seen. It was bright and warm. I went to get stamps at the Haymarket Station Post Office, and absolutely no one except the workers was there.

Soon after I rode the train back to Westmont. Walking back through my neighborhood at 2 or so, I made a point of looking and listening to the sky, since it was hard to believe that air traffic had completely stopped. The sky was quiet.


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