All of us that were alive on 9/11/2001 have memories of that day that we will never forget.
Like the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, we can recall where we were and what we were doing when we heard the terrible news. I myself was sequestered in my home office all morning working on a client’s web site – not listening to the radio or getting news feeds on my computer as I like to work with no outside distractions. It wasn’t until I took a break for lunch that I turned on the television. At first, it didn’t seem real as I watched footage of a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers and no sound or voiceover. I thought it was part of the soap opera I liked to watch. When a newscaster finally spoke, I knew it was not a show. My husband worked in the old Walter Industries building near the Tampa International Airport. It was several stories tall and had a walkway at the top that connected the two towers, an inviting target for a terrorist controlled plane. I called but there was no answer. He was thankfully on his way home as they thought it best to evacuate the building.
I had a side gig picking up a young ice skater from a local high school in the afternoon to take her to the ice skating rink near my home as her Mom worked at a hospital and the girl was not old enough to drive. Her Dad worked for American Airlines. Her Mom called and said he had been on a flight from Dallas that morning and she had been unable to get ahold of him. I was not to say anything to her daughter. As is the way with teenagers, her daughter already knew by the time I picked her up. Her Dad was safely on the ground in Dallas.
Before 9/11, I had been traveling every few weekends up to Washington, DC flying into Dulles. Dulles is one of my favorite airports with its modern design. I had remarked to my husband that the security at Dulles seemed lax, too easy to get through to airsides without much checking. On 9/11, I could only wonder was this a harbinger of events to come?
I continued to fly to Washington, DC, sometimes on planes that were only a third to half full. I got used to the increased airport security and arriving at airports extra early as well as excising patience waiting in long screening lines. A couple of times I have been patted down. Once I was allowed to skip the long line and go through a shorter security checkpoint. I enjoyed having Pre-Check status.
In March 2003, I flew to Washington, DC to attend the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships as a practice ice announcer. The U.S. had just declared war in Iraq and city was on heightened alert. I was flying into Reagan National instead of Dulles. Stricter rules included no passenger being allowed to get up during the last 30 minutes of the flight (as well as 30 minutes after take-off as the plane approached DC. There were some military personnel seated in the row behind me. We chatted about recent events and why I was coming to DC. One of the guys told me he was Special Ops and if I needed a body guard while there to contact him.
Security was very high at the competition venues with ID checks, metal detectors, bag inspections, lots of security, even explosives sniffing dogs. I remember one dog kept stopping in front of one of the volunteers. Poor woman just sitting on her stool at ice side and this dog kept stopping in front of her, freaking her and us out. On another day, someone left their breakfast too close to the edge of the table we were at and one of the dogs grabbed a croissant off a plate. The handler was nonplussed about what his highly trained dog had done and said something about his grandkids feeding the dog people food.
When I was done with my duties at the championships, I went to see some of the great sights Washington has to offer. I especially love that most of the Smithsonian museums have free admission. I selected the National Museum of American History. Just like at the airport, there were line security lines and metal detectors. Once inside, I was stopped in my tracks by a most stunning sight – the huge American flag that had been draped at the Pentagon where the jet had rammed into it. You could see the soot and tattered edges of it. I continued on to see a couple of exhibits. One of the things I wanted to see was the 9/11 exhibit. The room seemed dimly light to set a somber mood. Some things that stand out to me even today – a twisted hunk of metal, a single shoe covered in soot. The thing I will never forget is the telephone. It was an old fashioned black telephone with a handset. I picked up the handset to listen. As I started to listen, a guard came in to tell us the museum would be closing in a few minutes. I don’t remember how I did this, but I made it so what I was hearing could be heard by the whole room – the recordings of people who have left voicemail messages trying to reach their loved ones. Everyone stopped where they were and grew silent as we listened. Even the guard said nothing. The anguish and desperation in those voices haunts me. A person would have to be cold hearted not to have been affected by what we heard. When the recordings ended, we all silently filed out of the room forever touched, forever changed.