Thursday, September 11, 2014

How I spent 9/11/2001

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 dawned as a bright autumn day in Pittsburgh. At that time we lived in the Ross Township area of Pittsburgh, around 7-8 miles from my office at the Software Engineering Institute. Lizzy was nearly six and was attending kindergarten at the Winchester-Thurston School, about six blocks from my office. We left the house just before 8am and I dropped her off at school and was in my office by 8:15 or so.

I went down to the vending machines and got my usual Diet Coke and was reading my email when, at about 8:50am my colleague Tony Lattanze came into my office saying that his wife had just called and an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center. We spent a few minute speculating on how this was possible and googling for news and then he went back to his office across the hall. About 20 minutes later he is back saying that another plane had flown into the World Trade Center. At this point we abandoned all pretense of work and attempted to find a TV to see what was going on. Ultimately our tech guys set up a TV feed in the SEI's auditorium. Too soon we saw the towers collapse, one after the other, and learned about United 97 and the flight that crashed into the Pentagon, and the SEI was closed.
The World Trade Center as seen from a boat that Barb and I were taking to Ellis Island on 5/12/2001.
In four months the towers would be gone from the skyline
Barb and I discussed what to do. The options were:
  1. I come home and then pick Lizzy up after school ended at about 2:30pm
  2. I go to Winchester-Thurston and pick Lizzy up and we both come home
(1) was a non-starter for us. We lived on the otherside of the Allegheny river and we could imagine scenarios where the authorities closed all of the bridges as a (probably) over-reaction. We did not think that (2) would be good for Lizzy. We had both decided that we did not want Lizzy to know anything was wrong until much later - after anyone had a real idea of what was going on. Instead we chose option (3).
  1. I go to Winchester-Thurston to be near Lizzy (without her knowledge) and wait until 2:30 at which point both of us go home as if nothing is different.
Barb and I were in the minority because when I got to the school I found a lot of parents picking up their children and going home. Ultimately about half of Lizzy's kindergarten class went home early. Me, I spent the next several hours in the upper school library watching a hastily set up TV.

There is nothing worse that watching a major event unfold with little knowledge flowing into the network talking heads. They have airtime to fill and fill it they do. Well, there is one thing worse, and that is watching the local talking heads who are determined to make the story into a local one (and are much worse at filling the air time.) In this case flight 97 crashing semi-near to Pittsburgh made it a local story, and so they would often interrupt the network to give their latest take on the non-local news. It was so bad that after things had ended I wrote a letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expressing my displeasure. A major offender was a news anchor named Stacy Smith and my letter said something about I'd rather watch Rather blather than Stacy blather.

Eventually it was time to pick Lizzy up and I did so and we drove home singing songs and listening to music on the radio (instead of the news that I would normally listen to). When I got home we watched no news until after Lizzy went to bed (though I was keeping track of things on my computer.)

Eventually Barb and I went to bed knowing that the world had changed in a fundamental manner. Lizzy did not know what really happened on 9/11/2001 until several weeks later and we were able to introduce her to it gradually instead of in a mood of panic.

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