Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Whatever It Takes

I live and work in Washington D.C. During the summer and fall of 2001, I commuted between Washington and New York City. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I had just recovered from a lung infection sparked by a particularly combative summer cold. At about 8:40 that morning, I left the Hotel Intercontinental on East 48th Street and walked toward my local office at 120 Park. I cut through Grand Central Station -- I presume I did that at approximately the time a jet flew low from north to south. I make that presumption because I know I would have noticed a jet so obviously removed from New York's normal flight patterns. I got to my office shortly after that jet slammed into the WTC. There were people running around, but I assumed it was just the standard business emergency. I began my day, checking e-mail and conducting other routine morning tasks. About 9:00 am, a face peeked in my office, creased with fear. "What's up?" I asked. "Where have you been?" she replied, "come with me, a plane hit the Trade Center."

As we headed toward a conference room, a loudspeaker voice announced that there had been a tragedy at the WTC and our building would lock down. I walked into the conference room -- located on the 24th floor of 120 Park. The room had a mostly unobstructed view to the South. I could see smoke billowing up from one of the Towers, immediately eliminating my initial suspicion that a drunk doctor had flown his single engine plane into the structure. As I stared at the smoking building in the distance, the second Tower exploded before my eyes. It knocked me back. The gasps of my colleagues stole every breath of air from the room. The television in the corner replayed the impact -- the same television that would later bring images of people just like me leaping into space from the upper floors of the towers, people just like me whose final decision was to dictate that their world would end not in fire, but in ice.

I immediately returned to my office to call my wife back in Alexandria, Va. The fear in her voice was palpable -- she did not know where in NY my office was, and was overcome with emotion when she learned I was okay and removed from the tragedy. After speaking with her for a few moments, I wondered back to the conference room. This time, the television was showing pictures of the Pentagon -- a building two miles from my home and that I pass everyday on my hellish 395 commute. The Pentagon was in flames. I called my home again, this time to make sure my pregnant wife and our 2-year old daughter were okay. As I again made my way back to the conference room where I would spend the rest of the day, I walked past a middle-aged woman, sitting behind her computer as she did everyday. I don't know her name, but I will never forget her. She stared into the middle distances, her lower lip quivered as a single tear ran down her check, leaving a glistening trail behind it.

I vividly remember that blackest of days, and the surreal days in Manhattan that followed. I was trapped for three days. What I remember most is the silence of September 12. The city was hollow, no traffic flowed. You could have napped in the intersection of 42nd and 5th. I remember that eeirie silence and it being regularly punctuated by screaming sirens heading to and from Ground Zero -- sirens that wailed all the louder for the absence of sounds of daily life.

I don't trust John Kerry to take every step to ensure that we never live through another week such as that. I don't trust John Kerry to respond appropriately in the event that it happens again. I trust George W. Bush to do whatever it takes, even if it takes measures wildly unpopular with the self-appointed custodians of virtue. As for the rest of the world and what they think we should do, fuck 'em. We'll drain this swamp with 'em or without 'em. God bless our true allies. Together, we'll fix this thing.

Bonus: I'm not alone in expressing this thought -- but then I never thought I was.