Monday, September 11, 2006

The day that changed everything

It was a day no different than any before it. An average Tuesday as I plucked away at the pile of work sittng beside me at my large u-shaped desk on the second floor of the downtown Austin, MN office building.

By 7:30 AM (CT) I had hit my stride and was preparing the individual pages for that day's newspaper. Working at an afternoon newspaper meant that we spent at least a portion of the morning outputting pages and tinkering with advertisements and their associated late as usual changes from sales representative who had no concept of the meaning of the word 'deadline' which was 4 PM on the prior day. I did my usual tasks, outputting the classified section of the newspaper and moving on to assembling and outputting the comics/crossword page for Tuesday's edition.

I can't remember for sure but I assume that I greeted both the sports editor and the photographer as they entered the office shortly after myself. Our new managing editor was on his second day at the job. Dan Fields had joined us from being bureau chief with some newspaper in Idaho and he was barely older than myself. He would have a rough road ahead of him with that obstacle alone.

And so the day trudged along. Conversations were had along with the usual prodding. But around 9:30 AM (CT) the production director from the pressroom downstairs in the back of the buildng ran upstairs and told us that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The TV in the newsroom was turned on immediately. Most of us assumed that the plane was a small single engine Cessna or, at the very worst, a commuter jet that seats 30-40 passengers.

That is when we saw the footage of a jet. It was replayed nearly in a loop. Over and over again, a large commercial jet crashing into one of the towers. Minutes later a second commercial jet crashed into the second tower. This happened on tape for us. We were watching a replay of the impossible.

Things in the newsroom ground to a halt. Two of the editors and myself scrambled to prepare something - anything for that day's front page. Suddenly the local happenings of the garden club or a priest helping his church's youth group had little significance. That stuff could be put on hold for a couple days.

As news of the attacks in New York spread, access to the world wide web slowed. We waited and waited for stories on the Associated Press wire to begin appearing regarding the events in New York City. As we continued to watch the TV and slowly type away on our keyboards, more details surfaced. A plane had crased in Pennsylvania and another in Washington, DC. Where in DC? The news was so sketchy and the reports all differed. Version after version of stories slowly crawled in through the AP server in our newsroom.

Soon, we could wait no longer. Nearly an hour after our deadline and after rejuggling nearly every page of that day's newspaper we 'put it to bed'. Feverishly, though, we met informally to discuss how we would handle updates throughout the day. Would we print a special edition later that afternoon and have it in stores by the time employees came home from work? That idea was quickly axed. It would simply take too much time and the information kept changing.

We decided that I would take care of the national aspect of things for the next few days with that information appearing exclusively on our web site. The local aspect was to be the print focus for the rest of the week. In those few hours before lunch that day, I knew things were going to change.

By late in the day, there was talk of gas prices skyrocketing from the cheap prices of $1.30/gallon at the time. The profiting from a crisis would soon begin.

That night I returned home where I lived with two great friends. We flipped through the channels on our cable television. Every channel had news. CBS News was on VH1 and MTV. We settled there as we watched Dan Rather recount the events of the day. More of the buildings surrounding the World Trade Center towers fell. Images and names of the hijackers were released. I called my parents once I was able to get through on my cell phone and talked for a few minutes. We made a trip through town in my buddy's silver Chevy Cavalier for one reason or another and listened, over and over, to R.E.M. sing 'It's the End of the World As We Know It'. Little did we know how true that song was.

After we ate smaller meals than usual, we decided to escape the house. To get a different perspective, we took to our mountain bikes and headed through the painfully straight streets beginning from our vantage point on the city's far east side close to the city's airport. There were no planes taxiing the runways that evening.

We pedaled down the city's main east-west street to main street. Through the downtown business district and up the hill past the hospital. We meandered through the quieter than usual residential areas of town towards the city's shopping mall on its northwest corner. Even the children that would be playing in the tree-covered front yards were inside. We pedaled freely through the vacant parking lot of the mall -- it had closed early at 5 PM due to the day's events. We rode past gas stations which were packed as Austinites panicked over the supposedly skyrocketing gas prices.

By shortly after 9 PM, we returned home and left the TV off. After all, we had seen everything there was to see and anything else would likely be repeated throughout the next decade. I went to bed late that evening after visiting with a number of friends who stopped by wondering what tomorrow would be like.

Would I be able to afford the 100-mile drive to visit my new girlfriend for the upcoming weekend? Would the person responsible be swiftly killed for spearheading these attacks? Would we end up in a war with Afghanistan? After all, these hijackers were Afghani - Army Guy would surely be sent there to fight in this war. What would happen? Why weren't they stopped? The world's most powerful military couldn't stop or divert four commercial airliners? Why?

1 comment:

Jacki said...

You are right, we did have similar thoughts and feelings. What a day!