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Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I finally made it to work. As I was driving in, I started trying to figure out why it seemed like I couldn't leave at 7:15 this morning when I needed to. Then I started thinking about how much history has just occurred in one morning.

At 6:18 my alarm woke me up. There was something about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. Didn't make any sense. Rick and I both looked up and then I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. 6:27, I woke up again and NPR was still talking about the World Trade Center. Mustn't have been a dream. Rick suggested turning on the t.v. It was real. The two towers were both burning. I decided to wake up Kevin in the other room.

We all spent the next half hour huddled around the t.v. in our bedroom, but I still had one piece of my mind in "gotta get up, get dressed, go to work mode." As I put on my clothes, I kept pausing and trying to wrap my head around it. Then the first tower went down. It disappeared behind a cloud of smoke and dust. We sat there watching CNN, trying to figure out if it was really gone. The smoke wouldn't clear, but it soon became clear that it was gone. One tower gone. I've only been to New York once, but I just couldn't imagine the New York skyline without the towers. Then we heard about the Pentagon. Suddenly, it wasn't just New York. It was both government property and commercial property. It was two different cities. I think that's when my brain stopped being able to hold it all. And that was the same time that I was supposed to be leaving for work. I started making a few calls to see if life had been called off for the day. I figured it must've been, but how many people saw what I was seeing? It turns out, not that many. Most were already on their way to work when they heard about it on the radio.

Then the second tower went down. The first image I saw of it happening had a few spikes of the broken building sticking up for a few moments after it started to fall, and then suddenly those spikes seemed to turn to powder and blow into the cloud of ash. All that was left were some papers drifting down to the streets of New York. There were reports of a fire on the Capitol Mall. The Capitol and the White House had been evacuated. All air travel nationwide was being shut down. I didn't feel like I could walk away now and go to work where I'd be insulated from the news for the next four hours. It wasn't clear at all that this was anywhere near over yet. We were under attack, and we didn't even know from where.

So, after trying to reach my manager and ask for a directive and reaching only voice mail, I called my coworker who was leading user acceptance testing with me. She was in her car, on her way to work, and she was crying. She said she was angry and emotional and upset, and didn't know how she'd get through the day. I realized at that moment just how stunned and numb I felt. My brain was trying to make a pattern out of it all. It was trying to figure out what exactly happened and how it was going to affect me. So I decided to make waffles. I have no idea why this seemed like the right thing to do. I guess I just felt like I had to do something, and breakfast was as good as any.

Then another plane went down in Pennsylvania. It didn't hit it's target. Perhaps that crash holds the most hope for me. For the planes that hit the World Trade Center, we'll very likely never find the black box recorder for those planes. For the plane that hit the Pentagon, we might. But the one that grounded in the woods in Pennsylvania, we almost assuredly will within a day or two. We may find out how it happened on that plane and where they were going.

I spent the next two hours eating breakfast, talking it all over with Kevin and Rick, reading the email that started flying on the Barbarians list and the Mad Lab Rabbits list. It was only after this time passed did I start to realize that it wasn't going to happen here today. It was well after 9 a.m. in California and nothing else had been added to the list of tragedies for an hour or so. Rick went on in to work because his boss was paging him, wondering where the hell he was. It was one of those things. If you didn't turn on the t.v. at exactly the time that we did, it wouldn't hit you the same way. It wouldn't leave you wondering what was coming next. It was just a horrible thing that happened on the other side of the country. We were figuring out for ourselves that the reason they had taken planes that were scheduled for cross-country flights because they had more fuel. We were hearing first hand that a man on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania had locked himself in the bathroom of the plane and called 911 (on 9/11) to say that the plane had been hijacked and that it was no joke. We saw it all in real time as soon as it was happening. And we were realizing that this day had just inagurated a new age. The nineties are now truly over (in the sense that the sixties didn't really end on January 1, 1970). What this new age would be called, we didn't know, but we knew what started it and when knew what was going to drive it. Times have changed. We're no longer in the Information Age, or the Dot-Com age, or anything else. From this point forward, the nation has a new focus. At least that's how it feels to me. Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow.


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