Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 years later

Everyone else out there has written a 9/11 post. Here's mine. 10 years ago, I was at Interop in Atlanta with my friend Jim. We'd flown down on Friday night, and stayed with my friends who lived down in Alpharetta. Played golf all weekend, then went in on Sunday evening for registration and to get our rooms at the Marriott downtown. Monday was a day of classes. I still have all the curriculum books.

Tuesday morning was gorgeous. Jim and I had breakfast at the hotel early, then walked to the convention center for the 8AM classes we were in. Different ones. The room started buzzing right before 9AM. Pagers were going off, and cell phones were ringing. Seemed odd to me. Right around 9, someone from the conference went up and spoke briefly to the lecturer - who announced what had happened at that moment and dismissed class.

I walked outside to see both towers burning on TV. A short time later, the Pentagon was hit - and suddenly news coverage was cutting in for that as well. Cell phones were overwhelmed, though my email-only Blackberry (the Blackberries we all know and I make fun of didn't exist yet) worked fine. So I had some access to information, though not much.

The biggest thing about those first few hours is the uncertainty. Two major cities had just been attacked. I was in the downtown of one of the biggest other cities in the country - and nobody had any idea what, if anything, was coming next. It didn't seem likely that terrorists would be attacking a convention center full of nerds in the middle of Atlanta, but on the other hand it wasn't unthinkable anymore either. After all, a few hours before nobody thought that planes would be used as missiles, and that the WTC and Pentagon were invulnerable.

Later that afternoon, after the towers had fallen and before the fires were out, we left Atlanta, got a ride back out to my friend's house, and sat to regroup. We all thought getting out of the city was a Good Idea. My wife's parents were back in Salem visiting her while I was away. They'd driven up and they stayed at the house with her - home was all set. One of Jim's relatives worked for TJX at the time and was originally slated to be on Flight 11 but got moved to a different trip.

When we got back to Alpharetta, we realized quickly that we wanted to get back home. We also had no idea when and how we could do so. The air system was shut down, no estimate on reopening (it wound up being about a week before the system was back up to normal). My wife had been planning to fly down to meet us the following weekend (we then were flying home together) - that was cancelled. After some brainstorming, we arranged to rent a minivan (we had a lot of gear, plus our golf gear needed to get home with us), and made plans to drive home. We picked up the minivan at the Atlanta airport. Otherwise deserted. We left Thursday morning, drove the back highways through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and after stopping at Jim's sister's house outside Philly overnight Thursday, we made it back to Boston Friday afternoon - again taking back roads to avoid New York City. We didn't want to see the smoke.

In my small, relatively insignificant life there was minor fallout in comparison. A friend of ours back home stopped speaking with Jane a few weeks later - she basically felt Jane was insufficiently sympathetic to her 9/11 experience (which was a tough one - she heard the doomed traders on the box at her office, working inside one of Boston's high towers). Jane was focused on her family's safety and getting her husband home. I can't blame either side for it. There was other personal things that were strained over the experience. There were people we had strained relationships with before that we reconnected with - 9/11 was an experience that put a lot of little things into perspective.

Time marches on, things happen, and the world heals somewhat. We had scheduled a vacation for the end of September to Martha's Vineyard. After some discussion, we went ahead on the trip. It was nice to get away, though obviously subdued. After coming home from vacation we found out that Jane was pregnant. And our son was born that following May. I grew up in a world where 9/11 doesn't happen. He's growing up in a world where that does happen, in a nation that's been at war for 10 years, and where suspicion is the new normal. Times change. We lost more than 3000 human lives that day. It's a cliche, but we lost our way as a nation and as a planet on September 11th, 2001. I only hope, for my son's sake and the sake of an entire generation, that we find it again.