Wednesday, September 12, 2001

It's kind of hard to get my thoughts around the events of the last 24 hours. It's still all just sinking in.

I spent the first half of yesterday not doing much more than listening to the radio (still no TV, the cable guy is coming Friday). I had on KCBS and listened to the story unfold: reports of attacks that didn't happen (truck bomb at the state department and a plane crash at Camp David), confusion over whether four or five planes were hijacked, security measures being taken and emergency crews being assembled, and of course the tragedies that did occur.

KCBS made phone contact with a couple of San Francisco locals who were working in the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred. The first interview, which ran about 20-25 minutes, was with a man who'd been on the 33rd floor of tower one. He described hearing the plane approach and the building shuddering and swaying with the impact. He wasn't sure if it was a plane crash or a missile.

He ran into the hallway, which was already filling with smoke, then went back into the office. He phoned his wife (in SF), then his business partner (in NY). The partner told him that he was watching on the TV, told him what had happened, and suggested he get out of there.

In the stairwell he joined the procession coming from the upper floors. He described the slow movement as organized and controlled. They'd all step aside to let those with burns, or pregnant women, go ahead for a quicker exit. Along the way some of the evacuees broke into soda machines on the floor landings to pass out waters to those choking on the smoke. Paper towel rolls, taken from the rest rooms, were also passed; each person taking a square to place over their mouth and breath through.

About halfway down they started to meet the fire fighters on their way up the same stairway; one single-file line going down, another going up. The crowd started handing their stolen waters to the firemen. He described the looks on their faces, as if they knew they were going to their own deaths.

When he made it to the lobby he described the wreckage there as looking like there had been an earthquake (he's from SF, remember). He guessed that at least one of the elevator shafts had collapsed, the pressure blowing out the elevator doors, through the lobby, buckling the floor, and crashing out the windows and doors at the front of the building.

He was about three or four blocks away, heading north by foot, when he turned back and saw one of the towers collapse.

The other powerful interview was with a San Franciscan who was on the 61st floor of the second tower. He had seen the flames coming from the first tower, but didn't know what was going on. He joined a crowd of people heading down the stairwells, just in case, when they were told to head back up and to their offices; the burning building was being evacuated and people in the "good" building should stay out of the way.

Before making it up too many flights back to his office, he felt what he thought was bomb rock that tower. A crack in the wall of the stairwell opened up behind him, and he once again headed down. He too described the faces of the fire fighters, as he passed them, as indescribable; they were already ghosts before going to their deaths.

The local news had to do with security measures being taken, what was closed and what was open, and commentary on events beyond comment. Mayors Brown (SF), Brown (Oakland), and Gonzalez (San Jose), all appealed for calm and help and prayers and reassured locals that everything was fine here.

The calls for blood donations locally were so successful that they had to come back on to suggest spreading out donations over the next week. At one three hour wait to donate blood, KCBS reporters ran into Robin Williams in line. "Type B Positive, B Negative, just be here," joked Williams.

I finally had to turn off the radio around 12:30 or 1:00. It felt better to get out for a little while and do some errands (pharmacy, market, etc.). But when I came back home, I still couldn't get to work on anything, and the radio came back on before too long.

With the radio on I sat at my kitchen table watching the song birds visiting the bird feeder we hung from the awning outside the kitchen window. Across the way I could see the park, and the trees. The visual in front of me did not match with the reports I was listening too, and the irony was hard to bear.

When Leslie came home we went up the street to Double-D's, a sports bar & grill with multiple TVs. As expected (as hoped for), they had CNN on several screens and I got to see, for the first time, what I'd been listening to all day.

Watching the buildings collapse, and the crowds running ahead of the gray clouds of debris making their way up the streets of Manhattan, I thought it looked like volcano footage. The cars and people rising from the streets covered in several inches of ash reminded me of Mount St. Helens.

The video of the second plane flying into, and virtually through, the second tower took my breath away. It was completely beyond any of the descriptions I had heard during the day, or the ability of anybody to accurately describe.

And now, now that I've collected my thoughts on the subject, now I'm going to try to get back to my life that I put aside 24 hours ago.

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