An earlier version of this post exists here. I’ve since updated it with new information, perspective and thoughts.
I’m certainly one of the lucky ones. I’m still here today. I flew, I landed and made it home. I went on to get married (eventually divorced), have two amazing children, love again and make a life. I was fortunate, no one I knew suffered any tragedy that morning. This has always stopped me in my tracks. The majority of my family lives in or works in New York. To escape that horrible day, otherwise unscathed, is a miracle.
Frankly, when I look back on September 11, 2011 I marvel at the events. That morning, I left the house, kissed my girlfriend (she’d later go on to be my wife) goodbye and got into a cab headed for Midway airport. I boarded a Southwest flight from Midway airport with my great friend and colleague Reed Roussel. We were both headed to Ft. Knox Kentucky for a full day worth of meetings with our United States Army client. When we landed in Kentucky, the first plane had already met its fate by flying directly into the twin towers.
We were oblivious to everything that had transpired as we hopped into our Enterprise rental car and started the 45 minute trek to Ft. Knox. During the ride over, little did we know, plane #2 had also crashed. This was 2001 and cell phones weren’t exactly in high use or even reaching mass adoption levels. The behavior of having it practically glued to your hand just didn’t exist. I did notice a call from my wife and Reed noticed a call from his mom, but we ignored them both. Cell reception in the Ft. Knox, Kentucky area was spotty and we didn’t want to incur the wrath of roaming charges. They were well aware of the tragedy and were trying to reach us to make sure we were both OK. I’m still amazed that their calls made it through. If you remember, nearly everyone was receiving the “all circuits are busy” message that morning and throughout the day.
When we arrived at the post, there was something off. The vibe was all wrong. An hour into our visit (55 minutes of which were spent waiting for the client) we finally learned from our client that 2 planes had flown into the twin towers and it was to our “advantage” that we leave the post immediately. Why? Because, in about 10 minutes the post would be on lock down and all non-military personnel would be placed “under suspicion.” To be honest, we were still confused about the situation, but we had no desire to be locked up on the post.
Reed and I hopped in the car, called the airline, learned all flights were canceled, then called Enterprise and explained we would not be returning the car to the airport. Instead, we would be driving to Chicago and returning it there. If I remember correctly, she informed us there would be a incremental $150 charge, or so, since we hadn’t intended to return the vehicle out of state. The fee was irrelevant, we just wanted to get home to see our families. So, we hung up the phone and started the journey from Ft. Knox to Chicago. The roads were strangely empty. Keep in mind, at this point, while the rest of the country was transfixed to the television coverage, we hadn’t seen anything. With no smartphones, our only real option was the radio. The irony, was, the only radio station that was coming through was the one carrying Howard Stern. Crazy, right? There was no XM, no Sirius, no internet streaming, just your FM/AM tuner. That meant for the next 2 hours we listened to Howard Stern. He was our connection to the outside world and was the one who brought us up to speed on what had happened. It wasn’t till we stopped for lunch, that we saw our first visual. We were awe struck. Stunned. It’s hard to put into words the emotions running thorough me. I’m a born and raised New Yorker; this hit hard.
I’ve always traveled for work. It’s just part of the job. But, travel for me changed after 9/11. I paid more attention to my surroundings. When someone got up to go to the bathroom, I stopped what I was doing and took notice. Those were simple things. They were things that I think many of us did. But, what really changed for me was something that I still do to this day. I make sure to let the ones I love know I’m leaving…I try to call them, just to hear their voice…just in case. And…I always let those loved ones know I landed…same thing, I try to connect live if I can….though these days, I rely on text messaging because of convenience. You value the people who matter the most to you, just a little more, when you realize that flights aren’t as routine as we’d like to think they are.
10 years ago, I learned about 9/11 via the radio. I learned about operation Desert Storm via television. When Sadam Hussein was captured, I learned about it via the web. The death of Osama Bin Laden was shared with me via text message first, then Twitter. The text message I received instructed me to check out Twitter, not turn on the TV. After reading the news, I found a TV and saw the president’s speech. As I watched his delivery, I couldn’t help but think about how we’ve evolved as a society…how our sharing has changed…how our means for connection have evolved. We operate in a real time and always on demand society. I think this was the first real moment where that wasn’t just rhetoric, for me, but a truly shared experience.
I’m so thankful for technology and how it’s evolved…how simple it’s made keeping in touch with those who matter most. Texting, Facebook, foursquare…hell, even the ability to simply make a phone call from anywhere; these are all things we take for granted, not unlike the people in our lives who matter the most. A good friend of mine shared this with me via twitter last year:
Life is largely fleeting. A series of momentary intersections with other people. It is truly incredible to find someone of permanence.
My experience on 9-11 reminds me of that concept every day.