My memories of 9/11 after 20 years
I repost my own personal experiences of the morning and day of September 11, 2001, as a resident of Washington, DC. I did not personally experience any loss or any personal danger on that day.
It’s been two decades since the morning when I was driving home from my ex-girlfriend’s apartment in Dupont Circle, along Massachusetts Avenue, in an interrupted diagonal across downtown Washington, DC, only to discover, via WAMU 88.5FM, that a plane had crashed into a Twin Tower in lower Manhattan. I need to dig deeper into The Wayback Machine because I know there are things I wrote on the day of, but this is all I have recovered so far. I tend to post it every year on 9/11 but I thought I would jump the gun this time and send it out to the world the afternoon before.
A year ago this morning at 0719, 11 September 2001, I woke up with Michelle. Michelle had recently moved out of our shared apartment and into her new condo in the Chandra Levy building in deepest, darkest Dupont, Washington, DC, US.
Michelle felt sick. I got up, had some water, used the loo, and then left the little Studio flat with our dog. I walked Suzi up to P Street, grabbed Michelle some food from the convenience store. The kind of care package one collects for a friend who is under the weather. As everyone knows, I always over-buy. She could have camped out in her little apartment, under the covers, for a week on my supplies.
Driving the Jeep Home on 9/11
I must have spent some time with Michelle, as she was under the weather because on my drive back from Michelle's pad in Dupont, I had the windows rolled down and Morning Edition on the radio. It was then that I heard about the 0850 and 0904 crashes into the World Trade Center. First into the first Twin Tower (as I knew them) and then the second, respectively.
The weather was pristine, in the low 80's like it is today, and I had the windows down and the radio was on loud. I looked over to other drivers and we shared looks. The looks were not terror, they were not panic, they were not any of those things. They were not even numb, dumb looks. They were looks of incredulousness. Disbelief. Dumfounded.
There were rumors of all sorts of things at that moment. There had been no sort of anything in DC yet, but there were rumors that there was a bomb in the State Department.
At this time, 9:30, I was driving fast down Massachusetts Avenue, returning from a night's sleepover with my ex-girlfriend, Michelle.
I was staying there because I had double-booked my apartment and as there was a bed for Isabelle and a bed for Kate, I was either sleeping on the love seat (I am 6'3") or in the bed of a friend. Michelle was my friend. Michelle is my friend. So are Kate and Isa.
Lincoln Park and the Explosion on 9/11
I returned to the Hill and was rounding Lincoln park, on 11th Street, SE, and I heard an enormous, muffled, but distant blast. There were rumors on the radio that there was a bomb at the State Department. Michelle works at the State Department.
I hit the gas and hustled home to Isabelle, to Kate, to the television, and to the phone so that I could call Michelle to see if she was okay.
Before the blast, I was in the Jeep, listening to Morning Edition on the radio. I was returning to my home office. I had the windows down and saw everyone in the other cars with looks of disbelief in their faces. My face must have been similar.
When the day began, I woke up in bed with my Ex, Michelle. She had let me spend the night because I had double-booked my pad and needed someplace to crash. She was sick so she didn't plan on going to work in the Library of the Department of State.
Upon Arrival at the Grotto on 9/11
Upon returning to the Grotto, my pad, I joined Kate and Isa on the blue Ikea loveseat. They were hunched over, squinting at the little Sony 19" TV with all their might. The room was dark. Kate told me my mom had called to tell me what was going on. When she called, Kate and Isa had turned on the TV. Neither of them watches. Only my obsessive NPR-listening kept me informed as returned from Michelle's.
It was really only then did I recognize what was going on in NYC. It was only then, as they alternated between live news feeds and the looping looping looping footage of the crash crash crash of the two planes into what knew as the twin towers, but now learned were called Tower One and Tower Two of the World Trade Center.
I had been in New York city just about a month previous. I had been staying in Brooklyn in Anne and Ian's apartment. While they were gone. When they returned, I commuted into the City with Anne. She works for Moody's. Ian works for the Port Authority. She worked right next to the WTC towers and he, Ian, worked in them.
We had walked from their gorgeous walkup apartment in Brooklyn to the Subway. It was only a short ride to the Subway right there at the WTC. I walked Anne to her building, gave her a hug and a kiss, and then headed uptown to the trains back to DC.
I wrote this first weblog entry the week before visiting Anne, Ian, Marlise, Minna, and Mark; I wrote this second weblog entry the week after.
Funny that. It bears no importance that I was at the towers a little over one month before the terrorist events of 9-11, but I hadn't realized it.
Collecting My Family on 9/11
When I realized the import of what was going on, I called Michelle Nolan, my recent Ex, and told her that I was jumping into the Jeep and dashing back over to Dupont so that I could collect her from her 10th-floor condo, right up the street from the State Department and relatively close to the Executive Branch. And she lives in a Studio apartment, one wall of which is glass. And she lives with our dog Suzi.
So although she didn't want to come at first, I sped over there anyway. To collect her. To collect them. Big Little Erz and Little Little Erz.
There was a lot of traffic forming. There were the first signs of the military. I hustled up 13th, and then made it up to Florida and cut around above the city center and after some nasty jams, I made it into Dupont and there was Miss Michelle and Miss Suzi, all packed up and ready to bail.
I got her in the car. As I said before, she was feeling sick anyway. She was looking kind of out of it; I knew I was kind of out of it. It didn't matter. When I need to perform, I always do, thank God.
As I recall, there were already Hummers at some of the corners downtown, so I avoided downtown again. I tried my best to do the circuit, but as I recall, I believe I tool Mass Ave mostly.
When we got into the Grotto -- Suzi, Kate, Michelle, Isa, and I -- I felt better. And by that time, Anita was back home and her crew was starting to drink some beers. Isa had made plans to bail town to the 'burbs to avoid the inevitable, I was blogging and sending emails on the kitchen table, Michelle and Kate were glued to the TV, and Suzi was just chillin'. She's good like that.
Of course, the towers fell. They fell and many people didn't get out. And there is something wrong when the rescuers need rescue.
By noon, Kate and I headed over to Al's to grab some 'za.
And, then there was the plane, hijacked, and apparently on its way to the White House. And then there was the report of it going down in a field in Central Pennsylvania.
And the day passed.
I just drove out to Target on rt 1. The car's batts were acting funny, so I wanted to get a charge on, so I went to Target so that I could buy a can opener and some laundry detergent and dishwashing machine liquid.
I didn't see the damage to the Pentagon. What side was it on? Anyway, aside from a little more intensity with regards to to the police presence, all the roads are open and I could even travel up Independence back to the pad.
It's very weird to see it heal at least superficially so darn quickly. There are roads closed off, but I don't see the National Guard or anything.
Why I Don't Have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Post 9-11
There is a study I heard reported this morning on NPR that explored the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on New Yorkers and then on the rest of the nation.
The most interesting aspect of the report was that the citizens of Greater Washington don't seem to be exhibiting any signs of PTSD. There were a few theories, but I believe I know why from my experience living in the District for the last 14-years.
I was listening to NPR this morning while prepping for work and I heard a news story that discussed the following:
Doctors expected to see high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in the months following the September 11th attacks. But a new study shows that while stress disorders have risen for those living in the New York City area, national levels haven't changed much. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.
Apparently, Washington, DC, is the least affected by PTSD in the entire nation, despite our obvious vulnerability and the unpopularity of the current administration abroad. Why is this? Well, I think I know the answer. It's in me.
When I arrived in DC in 1988 to become a Freshman at GW, I didn't think about much at all. Over time, it began to become apparent to me, especially in Cold War America, that Washington, DC, was, in fact, Nuclear Ground Zero.
The truth of our impending doom, the actualized nature of self resulting, was certainly something that I had to struggle with, but that was a long time ago. I was more than done with my resignation to nuclear annihilation by 1991 when I had left DC to study in the UK and then had to decide if I wanted to come back.
Of course, I did. And of course I did, and I am still here. But I was not surprised at all by what happened on September 11, 2001; in fact, I was grateful that it wasn't worse. I was grateful -- and still, am -- that there hasn't been a follow-up, that the Pentagon was the only successful target, and that the attack was conventional.
I think that the reason why so many people don't like Washington and don't like Washingtonians is that we are a little hardened. We are in a lot of ways war-weary, and we have seen a hell of a lot worse than this, by-in-large.
In the article cited on NPR, it was suggested that the number of people "in the business" had a lot to do with our insouciance regarding 9-11. Why yes, in so many ways. We are certainly in denial about a lot of things here. Certainly dating and the opposite sex and how to me Mr. or Miss Right, but there are a few things we understand.
We understand that we are a certain target, and we have known this from the days of the Cold War, when the little kiosk at the center of the Pentagon's courtyard was known as Ground Zero; we understand that we are the Soldiers, we are the Secret Service, we are the Military, we are the Spies, we are the State Department, we are the Consultants, we are the Foreign Aid Consultants, we are the Specialists, we are the Travelers, and we are the Diplomats. There is quite a weight, a dignity, a seriousness, and a Professionalism in Washington that cannot really be replicated anywhere else.
We have seen worse; I have seen worse; I can conceive of much much worse. So, instead of becoming even remotely scared by the events of 9-11, I returned to much of what I had learned when I was a younger man: we Washingtonians are a juicy target for obvious reasons and anything less than Thermonuclear War and Scorched Earth is a blessing that I am quite grateful for.
I have chosen to live here and despite what anyone believes to the contrary, we are brothers-in-arms with New York City, instead of sisters, in this instance, because in many ways, we have always been co-icons for everything that America represents -- to the Soviet Union in 1988 and to the Axis of Evil in 2002.
I think that maybe we thought about it more; I think we could think about it more; I think that by being less pretty and glamorous than New York, in general, we had more time to come to terms with the pro's and con's of living, breathing, breeding, loving, and thriving in a Rome of sorts. Some day -- and I hope this will never happen -- Rome will burn. Will I run to the hills as a direct result? No. Will I get married and have a couple of kids? Hell yes!
Do I have hope that we will be able to weather this international storm unscathed? I am sorry, but to be honest, I am prepared to need to lash myself to the mast, but I am quite certain we will never sink.
And that is why I believe my city, Washington, DC, and I are not suffering undue stress post-911; that and New Yorkers are a Neurotic Mess by default. We might be dull and unfashionable here in the Nation's Capitol, but we also are not even remotely as nuts.