Remembering 9/11: Where I was when I heard

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I had thought that perhaps there would be a service nearby at the Pentagon today, and there will be, but it's a private service, so the memorial there will be closed until noon. So am taking time here at the hotel room desk to remember the events of that day, to remember why they happened, and to remember my friend Jayesh Shah, a graduate of Tulsa Memorial High School and TU, who was working at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center north tower that day.

I don't have anything profound to say today; just some personal memories of the day, the aftermath, and the very ordinary times that were interrupted. Before I get to those, here are some reflections and first-hand accounts of the attacks from other bloggers:

Gerard Vanderleun was watching from Brooklyn Heights when the towers fell, recording his observations online: "Lower span of Brooklyn Bridge jammed with people walking out of the city, many covered with white ash. Ghosts. The Living Dead. BQE empty except for convoys of emergency vehicles."

Juliette Ochieng remembers the architect of the towers, Minoru Yamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. (Yamasaki also designed Tulsa's Bank of Oklahoma Tower and Performing Arts Center.)

Robert N. Going had been to New York City the day before the attacks to drop a foreign visitor off at the airport, pausing on the way for the guest to snap a photo of the skyline. He volunteered at Ground Zero, and he met the man who found the steel cross in the ruins of Building 6.

The Other McCain calls us to remember with the Falling Man documentary.

Midnight Blue Says remembers Cantor Fitzgerald employee Marcello Matricciano and uses clips from that day's morning news shows to remind us what was on the national mind before the towers were hit an hour later.

Now for my memories of the day (click continue reading if you're on the home page)...

My wife and baby daughter had gone to Arkansas on September 10th for a couple of days, so I was to pick up my son at noon on the 11th. I scheduled to take the afternoon off and planned to take him to the zoo.

The evening of the 10th he had come with me to a meeting with our county commissioner, Fairgrounds officials, and neighborhood representatives about a new plan to build a partially enclosed roller coaster at Bell's Amusement Park -- an approach that promised to make all parties happy and allow Bell's expansion to go forward. My son played quietly, making designs by pushing pegged, colored tiles into a little pegboard. After the meeting, Commissioner John Selph made a point of complimenting my boy on his good behavior.

On the morning of 9/11, I was taking my son to school -- he had started pre-K just the week before. I was driving south on Yale at I-44, listening to Michael DelGiorno on KTBZ, talking about a plane that had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The impression that came across was a small private plane had hit the tower. I dropped my son off at Regent, then drove to the nearby Fontana Center to take a walk -- get some exercise and enjoy the cool, crisp, cloudless morning. At some point, either on the way to work or at work, I tuned in to the radio again, and DelGiorno was saying that the towers had "toppled." Surely not. Surely this was exaggeration, overdramatization on his part. Then I got to my PC, found a news site, and saw the video for myself.

I went to pick my son up at noon, switching the radio off just before I pulled into the parking lot. For his sake, I was careful to keep the radio off and to stay away from the TV and any talk of what had happened. We stopped at Harden's Hamburgers on Sheridan to pick up lunch to eat at the zoo. The zoo was very quiet and peaceful, and if anyone there was aware of what had happened, they weren't letting on. My five-year-old son enjoyed the animals and played on the playground, blissfully unaware of the attacks.

When we left for home a few hours later, the car was almost on empty, so I drove to the Pine and Mingo Quik Trip. There was the first indication of Tulsa's reaction to the attacks: Long lines of cars waiting for gas. Were people worried that supplies might be disrupted? Did they want to make sure they had a way to leave if an attack were made on Tulsa? I looked in the back seat and saw my son asleep from trotting around the zoo, so I quietly turned on the radio to get caught up.

When terrorists blew up the Murrah Building in 1995, when they tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, people didn't line up for gas or jam the supermarkets to stock up on essentials. This was different. This was a well-planned, coordinated attack on symbols of American power and prosperity. This was another Pearl Harbor. This was war, and we all felt the need to do something to feel prepared for what might come.

It must have been later that day when I heard that someone I knew was among the missing. I hadn't known that Jay Shah had moved from Houston, where he and his brother and their families had lived for many years, to New York earlier that year. I remember spending hours thereafter looking at websites that were set up to allow survivors to check in and let their family and friends know that they were OK. Some sites tried to aggregate all the reports. There was a moment of false hope when someone else named Jayesh Shah turned up on a list of names from one of the hospitals.

Jay's brother Niloy and Niloy's wife Darshi got to New York as soon as they could after the attacks and began going from hospital to hospital looking for Jay. You can read a newspaper account of their search here. It was 16 agonizing days before they knew for certain what had happened to him.

In October I had to go to San Antonio for work. Instead of flying, I drove, going first to Houston where Jay's family was holding a memorial service. Prayers of the family's Jain religion were said, there was a slide show, and friends shared their happy memories of Jayesh.

Years before my wife and I had gone to a celebration at the Williams Center Hotel in downtown Tulsa, a local reception for Jay and his wife Jyothi, who had been married in India a month or so earlier. We enjoyed all sorts of Indian delicacies; there was some diamond-shaped sweet topped with thin, edible silver foil. I was told it symbolized a wish for prosperity and happiness.

I thought of that as we headed over to the family home for a simple dinner of traditional food. We talked about Jay, about plans for his wife and children, about the support they would have back in Houston -- they had only relocated to the New York area a few months earlier.

On the wall was a family photo portrait. In the picture someone was holding the photo of a family member who had passed on -- no longer physically present but still a part of the family in memory and spirit. Now one more family member would have to be remembered in the same way. Thousands of families across the country would now have a gap in the family photo, an empty chair at the table, the bitter fruit of the Islamists' implacable hatred of America.

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» Remembering 9/11: Ten years from BatesLine

Links, thoughts from myself and others: Hot Air's Allahpundit was in his downtown Manhattan apartment when the planes hit the towers. Two years ago he serialized his memories on Twitter; Lori Ziganto put them in order and posted them on her blog for po... Read More

I don't remember exactly what I was doing this morning at 7:46 a.m. Central time, eleven years to the minute after Islamic radicals flew a large commercial jetliner into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, but I was probably scrambling to find a... Read More

» 9/11, 15 years on from BatesLine

Time flies. The five-year-old boy I took to the zoo -- and kept away from the TV and the radio -- the day the terrorists flew planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center is on his way back to college after a short visit home. Sonia Shah was... Read More

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 11, 2010 7:57 AM.

"Thanks, teachers' unions" was the previous entry in this blog.

9/12 March on Washington; Blogcon overview is the next entry in this blog.

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