My 9/11 Story

(I thought I had posted this on 9/11 but I just found it in my “drafts”)

Everybody remembers where they were on 9/11. I was supposed to be on a plane to Washington D.C. that morning. I was signed up to attend a technical conference in the D.C. area. It happened to be sponsored by the military. We didn’t usually do much of this sort of thing, but it was a new conference and we knew some of the committee members and were sort of helping them get started.

I usually would have flown out the night before, but I had been travelling a lot and didn’t like burning up my weekends for The Company. So in a small bit of rebellion I scheduled this flight on Monday morning, on their time. Monday morning I came downstairs and my wife was watching the TV in the kitchen. “I don’t think you are going anywhere today”, she said. There was a building in New York with smoke billowing out of it. There wasn’t much information. I was arguing that it was probably ok, that I was flying into D.C. when, in the background, on the TV, I saw the second plane hit.

No, I wasn’t going anywhere today. There was no real information on the news, just increasingly chaotic scenes. My daughter was in pre-school and we wondered if we should pick her up. My son was almost one. It was a beautiful day, so we put him in the stroller and went for a walk to get away from the TV.

I happen to remember that at any given time, there are about 10,000 airplanes over the US. I did some quick math. Suppose 10% of these planes are hijacked. That’s 1,000 airplanes. Enough to crash ten planes into one hundred US cities. It would be a disaster without precedent. We were in Austin, the capitol and home of the president at that time. It seems like a probable target. The skies were eerily quiet and I kept listening for an incoming aircraft. We were pretty far from the capitol, but it would certainly be a target. We would be close enough to hear, and perhaps see, any airplanes headed that way.

I didn’t share these thoughts with my wife. I kept listening for an incoming jet, but one never came. Oddly when I learned there were only four planes, I was actually relieved. I still believe it could have been much worse.

In the afternoon, the phone rang. It was my father. He was surprised when I answered. He thought I was in D.C., or worse. I didn’t even realize I mentioned my travel plans to him. He was afraid to call, but a friend told him he had to call, expecting he would talk to my wife. But all was well, I hadn’t even gotten out of Austin.

Some of the people I knew at the conference in D.C. said they evacuated from the conference immediately, perhaps with information from the military attendees. Four people I knew realized they were stuck in D.C. for a while and rented a car and drove all the way back to California. I remember not much happening at work, or anywhere for the next week. Only gradually did the shock wear off.