I got to my office and went to wash the metro off of my hands when a co-worker asked if I had heard the news. I said yes, but that I could give a rat’s ass about basketball so it doesn’t bother me. She told me that a passenger plane accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center, which struck me as strange immediately. I told her that there was no way it could be an accident since there aren’t flight patterns anywhere *near* the World Trade Center, but she said that was all she knew. I got to my desk and my mom called asking if I had heard. Half-joking, I asked who she suggested we nuke. She and I got off the phone and I heard about the second plane hitting, and I was now convinced this was no accident, so I went downstairs to the hotel next door to watch CNN with some other co-workers.
We got in front of a TV and slowly, more and more people arrived to tune in. We saw the repeat footage of the crashes and watched in amazement. At that point, I thought they were going to be fairly isolated incidents.
Back upstairs in my office, I called my brother’s girlfriend Jennifer who was at their apartment, which is across the street from mine. I asked if she was okay and if any of our friends who live and work in New York may have been affected. She said that most of them worked in either midtown or Jersey, so they should all be fine. An instant message came telling me that the Pentagon had been hit. I called Jennifer again and she said that she had felt her building shake from the impact; our apartments are less than a quarter of a mile up the road from the Pentagon.
All of a sudden, reports of fires, explosions and bombs were springing up all over town. Supposedly a building near the White House, where Jenn’s brother,turkishturki works had been bombed; fires were bursting on the Mall; Capitol Hill, where frockazulu works, was in danger. The company executives were debating whether or not to evacuate our building, since it is about 6 blocks from the White House. Word came that the first World Trade Center tower collapsed. Executive decision or not, we were outta there.
The word was that the metro was closed, but damned if I was getting on it anyway. A co-worker who also lives in Arlington offered me a ride, but then decided that he didn’t want to take his car out of the garage and enter the gridlock. We had to walk.
There is a very straight line from my office to my apartment; however, the Pentagon is right in the center of it. Two of the three bridges that would offer a direct route would involve walking past the Pentagon. The only way to go was to take the Key Bridge. For those of you who are familiar with the city, this involved walking from our office on 14th Street over twenty blocks through Dupont Circle and Georgetown to get to the bridge. In order to bypass the Pentagon and having to go around the Arlington Cemetery, Iwo Jima Memorial and Ft. Meyer, I would have to walk up Wilson Boulevard through Rosslyn and Courthouse, across Washington Boulevard and back to Columbia Pike. And, of course, I didn’t wear sneakers on Tuesday.
The streets in DC were packed. The metro was closed, so tons of people who would normally be riding the trains were out walking. From between buildings we could see clouds of smoke and helicopters flying around. Some people were in a full-on panic; others were still jogging. The farther along M Street we walked, the more people there were and the worse the traffic. Blips of news were heard from car radios. The four of us tried again and again to call out on our cell phones, but barely got any lines.
While walking across the Key Bridge, we could see the top of the Pentagon and the smoke rising from it. I got a call from my mother, who told me that they closed the area around the Pentagon, so I wasn’t sure if when I finally got home whether or not I would arrive to find my building evacuated. I tried calling Jenn again, but couldn’t get through. I got through to my brother on his cell phone and told him where I was. He said that a friend of ours worked at the World Trade Center, and I cried for the next few blocks.
Further up Wilson Boulevard, I hear someone behind me call out my name and turn around to see soarjubs’s fiancée, Kristin. She and I hugged, introduced our co-workers/walking companions to each other and talked about the day. As I told them what I had learned from the radio blips and from my mother, how both buildings had collapsed and how the Pentagon area had been closed, her friend challenged everything I said with total disbelief. “How can you know that? You’ve been walking longer than we have. How do you know that?”
I was nearing vivisectandrew’s apartment so I wished my co-workers well and stopped there to rest and try to find out more about whether or not I would be able to get into my apartment. He was already home from work and very graciously welcomed me in and let me use his phone and recharge my cell phone. Those shoes, as it turned out, were not made for walkin’. My feet were cut on the tops and blistered on the bottoms. He and I talked to some people on IM, watched some of the reports on TV and I got through to my brother again, who said that our friend who worked in the World Trade Center had moved offices just last week and was okay. He also said that he had made it home to his apartment, only to find that Jennifer was no longer there, having left with the door unlocked.
I figured there was only a mile or two to go before I got home, so I might as well go for it. Andy lent me socks, which made a world of difference. As I got closer to my apartment, fighter jets screamed over my head, alternating with helicopters as they circled the Pentagon. Finally, finally, I got to my brother’s, and found them both there watching TV. Jenn had walked down the street as close as the police would allow her to take pictures of the burning Pentagon. It had taken me three hours to get home.
The three of us sat in front of the TV watching the news. We were later joined by our friend John, the brother of the friend we had feared died in the WTC and a doctor at the GW University Hospital. The ER had been cleared in preparation for Pentagon victims, only two of which came. John speculated that from the look of the damage, if victims didn’t walk out immediately, they wouldn’t be walking out at all. We spent all day in front of the TV, later going to the bar down the street for dinner in time to see the Presidential Address on the big screen TV. Watching the news coverage outside of his apartment made it that much more powerful. Seeing the damage on the TV and seeing people going about their business at the same time made it all hit home – the reality of it all was heightened by seeing people other than my family. At the apartment it almost felt like we were the only people involved.
After dinner I went home and cried. Maybe it was the weight of the situation, maybe it was exhaustion. I had six messages on my machine from friends and my grandmother calling to see if I was alright. Sirens blared past my window all night and into the morning. I chose to take advantage of liberal leave today.
So there it is, the story for my grandchildren. They’re going to ask about it, and I’ve got it, now, while it’s fresh on my mind.