I was a sophomore in college on September 11, 2001.
I woke up at 7:30 that Tuesday morning, put on my old sweaty baseball cap, and walked across the campus to my composition course. I still remember the lesson, we were discussing the various types of citation style, Chicago style, MLA, etc. The class began at 8:15, 8:48 passed and went. Incredibly bored, I stared at the clock and finally got out at 9:30.
Like I did every Tuesday and Thursday, I went to the Connelly Center, the ski lodge style student union, and bought a muffin and smoothie from Holy Grounds.
The Connelly Center has dozens of televisions that broadcast the news, sports, and other programming at all times. By 9:30 all of those televisions were tuned to CNN, or the local news. But the only sign I saw that something was amiss was a curious comment from Andreas Bloch.
He was a basketball player from Germany, he had a nice shot but was not overly-impressive on the court. My only relevant memory of him was on 9/11. As I walked away from Holy Grounds, I overheard Bloch saying something to the tune of “something hit the World Trade Center.”
My first thought was to dismiss the comment. If something significant had happened I would have seen it on CNN.com earlier that morning. Nonetheless, I made my way back to by dorm room to turn on my T.V.
Walking to my building, there was little to indicate that there was anything wrong. What I remember most from the walk was the sky; it was blue with just a few clouds. It was crisp, and I felt like maybe I needed a jacket. I walked up to the third floor and saw one of my neighbors and his girlfriend crying.
I didn’t put the Bloch comment about something hitting the Trade Center and the crying together. My thought was that my neighbor and his girlfriend had suffered some sort of personal tragedy. In retrospect, maybe they did have family and friends in the towers; who knows?
I entered my tiny room, turned on my tiny T.V. and immediately saw the helicopters flying around the north tower. It was a close-up shot, and the announcers on CNN had already concluded that it was an act of terror, and were haphazardly trying to figure out who would do this, Osama Bin Laden was the default enemy.
Not knowing what to do, I opened up my door and saw that my next door neighbor’s door was open, I walked in, “do’ya believe this?”
His response, “Tom Clancy predicted this.” Now, my next-door neighbor was a jerk. Living in a single dorm your sophomore year is code for “I’m incapable of living with other human beings.”
“Tom Clancy?” I thought sarcastically. Whatever.
I made my way to the Connelly Center, still clutching my muffin and smoothie. My stomach was churning. As I made the short walk I saw dozens of people freaking out, desperately trying to call relatives on cell phones. Of course, all across the east coast cell phone networks were jammed; no one was getting through.
There were no screams in the union; just soft statements of disbelief.
I did not believe the tower fell. I was not trying to be optimistic, the camera angle on CNN which showed the tower falling was obstructed with so much smoke I believed there was some sort of secondary explosion.
That day was in slow motion, it was still only 9:45 A.M. I had a ten o’clock accounting class…I went.
Being enrolled in the College of Commerce and Finance guaranteed you two things, a laptop, and accounting. I walked into class, plugged in, and along with the rest of the class tried to get to CNN.com. It took ten minutes to get a page. “Damn” I thought, “it is still going on.”
My professor walked in and said, “I know something is going on, if you need to leave you can, but the University has suggested that classes go on. In here we will be doing accounting.”
For the next hour I watched on CNN.com as the second tower collapsed, and word of the attack on the Pentagon spread. Everyone in the class whispering to each other the latest rumors.
The one I remember most was the report of the bombing of the State Department. After class when I got to a T.V. CNN was showing footage of nothing happening at the State Department, suggesting that the bombing took place on the other side of the building.
In downtown Philadelphia, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) shut down as a safety precaution. At the same time, thousands of workers in downtown Philadelphia flooded the streets after being sent home. For awhile they were stranded, but eventually SEPTA began running trains to get people home.
That night, I attended a prayer service at the Pavilion. The Pavilion is the campus arena where the basketball team plays many of its home games. That night, it was a candle-vigil attended by thousands of students. The speaker gave a lovely speech about how we can only imagine what is happening just 90 miles north of here, but we can pray.
I looked around at the wood bleachers, the thousands of candles, and realized it was a small miracle that the building did not start on fire.
I walked back to my dorm alone with the stars shining down upon me. Something was different, no planes. Except the occasional formation of A-10’s flying up and down the east coast I would see no planes for several days.
And that there is my 9/11 play-by-play. The next morning I woke up, checked CNN to see if the day before really happened, and went for a run. I was astounded by all the American flags. They were everywhere.
What is so interesting to me about that day is what you learned about friends, families and neighbors. Who was scared, who was logical, who was a conspiracy theorist, who was rational (or irrational), who wanted vengeance, who thought the chickens had come to roost, and who you didn’t hear from. There are, thankfully, so few days that exist as a collective memory.
It is incredible that it has been this long. Back in 2001 I took a political theory course and the professor asked us to write an essay on evil, every single person in the class wrote about 9/11. His reaction was that like everything else, the horror of this will fade. I suppose he was right, 17 years of war, politics and distractions has faded our collective memories. Still, it is remarkable how clearly I (and presumably most everyone else) can recite the events of that day. Just thought I’d share.