September 11, 2001 was a gorgeous day, and my final day in the office before a week long vacation. That Tuesday I drove to the metro parking lot like thousands of other commuters, thinking about the event on e-learning to be held in the US Capitol I was scheduled to videotape that afternoon. I was the webmaster for a non-profit in downtown DC, just two blocks from the White House. I arrived at the office at my normal pre 8am time and started checking email, and looking over the video equipment I’d need for the e-learning event.
Just before 9am Ginny, the office secretary, called me to the TV lounge. “Michael, you gotta see this.” I reluctantly go into the lounge expecting to see some crazy talk show guests. Instead I see the reporting of the first jet to hit the World Trade Center. And I’m fairly certain we saw the second plane hit the other tower on live TV, but that could be a fuzzy memory since the networks replayed that footage all day long.
As other staff started showing up to work, the growing crowd attracts many of them to the lounge. We move our prep work for the e-learning event into the lounge to continue watching. We discuss that we’ll need to make sure we take photo IDs to get into the Capitol, and that we’ll need to leave early because the security lines will be long. I call my wife Laura who was volunteering at a church in nearby Fairfax, Virginia with her mother, to let her know that at this point my event was still going to happen. She had no idea what I was talking about, so I told her about the plane crashes.
Then we start hearing reports on TV that there is a fire at the Pentagon, and a car bomb has exploded at the State Department. At some point our e-learning event is cancelled. Shortly thereafter all of the staff is told to go home, leave the office Now. I go into my office and put a notice on my site’s home page to let my family know I am trying to get home. I call my wife to let her know I’m trying to catch the Metro for the Vienna station, which is closer to me than my car at the Franconia-Springfield station.
As I’m waiting for the elevator to take me down from the 11th floor, my friend Megan tells me that the other tower has collapsed. I think that was when I started to get scared. I get down the elevator and go into the Farragut West Metro station to wait for a subway to take me to my family. People were just beginning to arrive in the stations. I ran into one of my friends from church. We get on the train together, and ride two stops, fortunately under the Potomac River so we’re in Virginia, where the train is unloaded at the Rosslyn station.
The rumors are running rampant. Most people are calm, concerned, yet calm, but there were a few people very scared about loved ones. I’ll never forget the young lady crying because she couldn’t reach her father at his office in the Pentagon. WMATA didn’t turn off the down escalators, so people are running up them to get away from crowds on the platform. After a while (5 minutes, 30 minutes?) I started getting claustrophobic from the growing crowds with no trains running, so my friend and I work our way to the up escalator and return to the surface.
We’re greeted by fighter jets flying overhead, and as we start to walk down the crowded streets of Rosslyn, we can see the smoke from the Pentagon, just over two miles away. I remark how surreal everything feels, that it just doesn’t seem real, is it really happening. We hike 1.5 miles down Wilson Boulevard to the Clarendon station where I go underground and force my way onto a crowded train.
The car isn’t silent, but it is quiet. When we are above ground I try calling Laura but I can’t get a connection. Eventually I get through and leave a message that I’ll be at Vienna soon. I arrive at the Vienna station, and walk to the parking lot to wait. I get in line to use the payphone to call and while I’m in line I keep trying my cell phone. Eventually I get through to my parents and Laura. Laura’s dad arrives and we go to their home where Laura and I spend the night.
On the afternoon of the 12th we are driven back to the Metro lot to get our car and we go home. I was very lucky to be on vacation over the next week. While we weren’t planning on going anywhere, it was very nice to not have to go into DC immediately after the attacks.
I didn’t personally know anyone killed or physically hurt in the attacks. It doesn’t seem like it’s been seven years since that day. This is the first time I’ve written out my memories from 9-11.