Tag Archives: 9/11

That Morning

I wasn’t in NYC that day; I was working at a terrible job doing construction administration for the acoustical abatement of houses near O’Hare and Midway Airports in Chicago, for people who bought a house next to the airport and then were shocked to discover that planes make noise. Our office was a collection of small construction trailers on the periphery of O’Hare Airport, and during my drive to work that morning I had heard something on the radio about a plane hitting theĀ World Trade Center. I figured it was a little single-engine prop plane or something.

I got to work just after the second plane hit, and everybody was gathered around a small black and white TV in the boss’s office. There was lots of chatter and speculation about other planes being hijacked, and then a plane hit the Pentagon. And then another crashed in Pennsylvania. I then realized the magnitude of what was going on, and I went back to my desk thinking I had seen it all. A few minutes later, a co-worker poked his head in the room and told me the south tower had collapsed. My exact response was, “You’re fucking shitting me.” I went back into the boss’s office and, a few minutes later, watched the north tower collapse on live television. We all just knew the Sears Tower and Hancock Center were next. We also knew that our world had suddenly changed.

After that, the rest of the day is pretty much a blur. All flights had been grounded, and at one point our bosses called us into a meeting and told us we might be needed to assist stranded travelers over in the terminals. It turned out that wasn’t necessary, though, so they just sent us home for the day. I’ll never forget how quiet the airfield was when I left the trailer. Complete silence. I took the bus into downtown Chicago later in the afternoon because I had nothing better to do, and the place was a ghost town.

It wasn’t until the following weekend, while I was helping restore a vintage Chicago ‘L’ car out at the Illinois Railway Museum, that I was finally able to think about something other than burning skyscrapers, people jumping from windows, and trapped firefighters.

Now it’s thirteen years later and I try not to dwell upon it too much. I’ve been living in NYC off-and-on for over a decade now, and it’s hard for me to remember what the WTC site looked like before it was covered in construction fences. But I still get a lump in my throat whenever I see the names stenciled on the fire trucks downtown.


2001 in Review

2001 started off okay, with a decent-paying job for an architecture firm in the Sears Tower. But the firm turned out to be run by idiots, and simply finding the energy to show up each morning was becoming difficult.

In March, I managed to scrape together enough money to spend a week in London. It turned out to be the high point of the year. But a week before leaving, I received a call informing me that my father was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon after getting back, I bought my first car in about 6 years. Right around the time the first payment was due, I lost my job, and remained unemployed for about the next two months.

Soon thereafter, my just-purchased car began showing ominous warning signs that the engine was on its last leg.

I finally got a job with the noise abatement program out at O’Hare. I soon learned more about commercial aircraft than I ever cared to. I also learned more about rotted framing, NIMBY politics, shady contractors, and incompetent subcontractors than I ever cared to.

After lots of hesitation, I finally got involved out at the Illinois Railway Museum. And in early September, I led a group of SubTalkers on the first-ever field trip to IRM and all over Chicago. This turned out to be another highlight of the year.

Less than two weeks later, I watched in horror as over 3000 people in one of my favorite cities were murdered on live television.

It was around this time when I was relieved to learn that my father’s cancer seems to have been put into remission.

In October, my car finally crapped out once and for all, leaving me in a financial mess and unable to make it back out to IRM for the foreseeable future. I ended up replacing it with a $450 Trans Am, which I have grown to like.

December found me filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, but looking forward to possibly getting a fresh start on life in Philadelphia next year.

And the year finally ended on a positive note, with me taking a week off to ride Amtrak down to NC and back for the holidays. Exploring the DC Metro for the first time was an added bonus.

The year had some good points, but overall it was mostly pretty crappy. I feel pretty confident in saying good riddance to 2001, and here’s hoping 2002 is better for all of us.

Happy New Year from Chicago.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

On Edge, Feeling Helpless

Today was very quiet out at O’Hare, literally. I make my living from airport noise, and O’Hare was completely silent. It was spooky.

After work, I headed downtown to try to donate blood at Northwestern Hospital. However, so many people were standing in line, also to donate blood, that people were being turned away due to lack of capacity. Chicagoans are stunned, and Chicagoans want to help.

So I drove around downtown a little bit just to see what’s up. It was busier than yesterday, but still more quiet than normal. In some ways it was business as usual, but there were differences. There was a massive police presence, with at least 2-3 cops on most downtown intersections. Illegally parked cars were being aggressively towed.

And the flags. American flags are appearing all over the city, thousands of them. Large and small. Sometime yesterday, two young Hispanic men quietly walked to an overpass above the Kennedy Expressway, and hung a giant Stars and Stripes from the guardrail. This is America at its finest.

Driving down Michigan Avenue in front of the Tribune Tower, there is a construction barricade in the median. A large hand-written sign was taped to the barricade: “STILL UNITED!”

I had always been fascinated with World War II, and have tried to imagine what it must have been like on that day we found out that we had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. From what I know, it was a cold and snowy day in my hometown of Cincinnati when it happened. Cold, gray and snowy seemed appropriate for the occasion.

Today, however, was a beautiful day in Chicago. Not a cloud in the sky, and perfect temperatures. It feels very weird. I came around a bend on the Kennedy Expressway, and our beautiful skyline opened up in front of me, blazing bright gold in the setting sun. I looked at the Sears Tower and Hancock Center and thought: It could have been us. I still get a shiver everytime I hear a police siren of fire truck. I want to break down and cry, but right now I can’t seem to get it out. Right now I feel more numb than anything else. I’m sure the numbness will pass. I want to be there in New York helping out, doing something, but I can’t. I feel helpless.

I have a large collection of old newspapers in a drawer in my closet. It includes papers from Lincoln’s assassination, World War I, the Pearl Harbor attack, World War II, V-E Day, V-J Day, JFK’s assassination, the Moon Landing, Nixon’s resignation, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

I added a couple more papers to the drawer today, the Tribune, Sun-Times, and NY Times. The Sun-Times front page screamed “OUTRAGE”.

I hope to add another Sun-Times to that drawer soon, one that screams “VICTORY!”

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

The View from Chicago

I first found about the attack this morning while driving to work down Lawrence Avenue towards O’Hare. I came around a corner and saw a large black cloud of smoke over the general direction of O’Hare, and immediately thought that a plane had crashed. “Oh my God,” I said to myself.

I had been listening to a CD up until then, but immediately turned the radio to NewsRadio 780 AM to find out what the story was. They were frantically talking about a plane wreck and large fire, so for a few seconds I assumed they were talking about O’Hare. I then gasped in horror when I realized they were talking about the World Trade Center towers.

I never did find out what had caused that smoke cloud over O’Hare, so I assume it wasn’t anything major. By the time I got to the office, everybody was already gathered around a small TV set in our director’s office. 30 years from now, I’m sure we’ll all remember where we were when we found out about this attack.

We soon had a briefing at our O’Hare field office, where they told us we were free to head home, or to stick around in case help was needed over at the terminals. We hung around and watched the TV coverage, and then finally headed home around 3:00 when we were told that the situation over at the terminals was under control.

I got home and watched the news some more, and then headed down to my church, Fourth Presbyterian in Streeterville, for an evening prayer service. At this point Fourth Church seemed like the only safe place I could go. The prayer service was very moving, and I said a prayer for New York City and our nation.

Downtown Chicago was eerily quiet in what should have been the height of evening rush hour. There were still people around, but very few compared to normal. The Hancock Center and most of the other high-rises were still shut down, there was a heavy police presence, and cars were being towed away left and right. My ride home on the CTA Red Line was uneventful.

Chicago, along with the rest of the nation, is in total shock over what happened in NYC and Washington. Because we also have a number of tall landmark skyscrapers, and because we’ve traditionally had a very close relationship with New York City, I think we feel particularly shocked and vulnerable. In some ways New York is like a big brother to us, and our brother has been badly hurt.

But make no mistake: New York will rise again. Early Chicago was built in large part by former New Yorkers seeking fortune in the country’s heartland, and when Chicago burned in the Great Fire of 1871, New York helped more than any other city to rebuild the devastated Chicago. I think I can safely speak for all Chicagoans in hoping that we’re able to return the favor in kind.

God bless all of you, and God bless America.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum on nycsubway.org)