Remembering 9/11

Every generation has moments seared into their memories. For me, there are three: the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin wall, and 11 September, 2001. The first two are just fuzzy recollections, but I still remember 9/11 well.

On 11 September 2001, I was working for a company that rented trade show exhibit equipment, and part of my job was to be the ‘field engineer’ (or Exhibit Support Specialist, as the formal job title read) and supervise the installation of booths at venues for the company’s customers. I don’t recall exactly how we found out about it, but we didn’t know what was going on until we found an old black and white TV to watch it on. Why a company that does A/V support for trade shows didn’t have a nice color TV to watch it on is beyond me. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, and we were all taken back by the events of the day. There was a shadow of despair and disbelief over the office for days after that.

I still have a nagging fear of flying, and back then it was a full-blown phobia. I was scheduled to fly to Houston to support a trade show that was scheduled for the weekend. I was horrified. What if there were more attacks coming? Having separated from the military a year before, and recalling an incident [1] (that turned out to be nothing) and was mentally expecting the worst. The news was so unreliable that morning, and I didn’t know if this was a coordinated attack or what it might be. I was a little paranoid and asked my boss to let me drive to Houston instead of flying. I was told that such an action would be seen as my voluntary resignation. To my relief, the trade show was cancelled, but it made me think about my future there.

Later in 2002, I was working a trade show in the Javits Center (I was still working for the same company; I try not to do anything in haste) and had a chance to talk with some of the NewYorkers about that fateful day. I was in awe of some of the first-hand accounts I was given and I had opportunity to look down into the hole that used to be the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It was a deeply saddening moment to imagine the chaos and death that occurred that day.

[1] There was an incident in the late 90s when a black duffel bag mysteriously appeared against an interior wall of the drill hall for my unit. When it was noticed, the tenor of the day changed at the possibility of having a bag full of explosives waiting to detonate. I can’t recall what led to this heightened sense of apprehension, but I recall vaguely this being the first time I recall hearing the name Osama bin Laden. To make a long story short, after many anxious hours, the bomb squad ‘blew up’ the bag, and later that day its owner returned from the field to find his change of clothes utterly ruined.

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