Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Memoriam: 9/11/2001

On this thirteenth anniversary of the attacks, I thought I'd write up my memories of activities around me on that day. One thing I've learned in talking with people about 9/11 is the "localness" effect on what they remember. I work in the DC Metro region so memories around here relate to the Pentagon attack. Friends in North Jersey talk about the World Trade Centers.

I was in Tampa working for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System at their headquarters library in downtown Tampa. The President was reading to school children in Sarasota, FL. Sarasota is the south side of Tampa Bay, which is surrounded by Tampa to the East & North, and St. Petersburg to the West. The bay is split by a peninsula about 2 miles wide and 5 miles high.  The south end of that peninsula is MacDill Air Force Base. With the President in the area, Air Force One was parked at MacDill and I'm sure the Coasties got the rare opportunity to use the call sign Coast Guard One and flew the Prez across the bay in one of their rescue copters.

My desk was in a processing area on the third floor of the Library. All of the Cataloging department staff had desks surrounding a central area that was filled with book carts. I think there were 10 desks in total with space to pull a book cart over to be the "third wall of the cubicle" while you were working those titles. I was the Serials Librarian, having responsibility for all of the magazine subscriptions and that type work, but I also spent half of every day cataloging.  

(THPL Cataloging department saying farewell to me Oct 2001. I don't remember what was the deal with the shoes.)

The cataloging area was designed to be stacks not offices, so we had the type of windows you find in most basements, 24 inches wide by 12 inches high, installed right under the ceiling, so we couldn't look out to see anything. We only knew if it was raining by the darkness.

My shift started at 9 am, so I'm sure I didn't hear anything until I was already at work. At work, we may have had a radio providing background noise in the area. I think that's how we first heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. (Or someone's kid may have called in and said something.)

I do remember that the first inkling we had of something being seriously wrong was a sonic boom. They launched the ready fighters from MacDill and those boys must have been in a serious hurry to get a low cap over the field because they launched on afterburners and broke the sound barrier within 1000 feet of the ground. It shook the building. With 12 years in the Air Force, I knew what it was. (Sonic booms are distinctive.) But I also knew that was serious if MacDill launched fighters without concern for the noise generated.

Shortly after that, we got word from the Director's office that there had been a second plane, it wasn't an accident, and a TV had been set-up in the break area so we could check on the news of the day.  We sent someone from the section up to watch and report back to us what was going on, but someone's kid or husband called in before that to pass on the info that the towers had fallen and all flights were being grounded.

The next big thing in my day was a call relating to a job interview. I was scheduled for a phone interview with a federal agency on 09/12, but they were leaving the office, the government was being shutdown, and they couldn't be sure they'd be back the next day. We rescheduled the interview for a week later.

We'd get random news updates through the day. When my shift ended I went home and saw nothing but news for the rest of the day. We've all seen the same clips now, but I remember seeing as much footage of the President being told about events as we did of the plane crashes into the towers.

President Bush in Sarasota 9/11/2001 

I also remember the news never went off the air. Even though they had nothing new to report, they just kept repeating the same stuff hour after hour. Even the next morning the Today show was still repeating the same old stories.

So, that's my recollections of the event. I'd like you to share your recollections via whatever social media you're most comfortable with. Recording memories is an interesting exercise.