The gorgeous early September day contrasted with my foul mood yesterday morning. I'd caught up with long-lost friends and had stayed up too late drinking and goofing off the night before. As my friend and I left the apartment, the latina next to us was chirping happily in loud Spanish to a friend. "Oy... shut UP!" I muttered under my breath. She heard me, and turned to glare. "Racist gringa bitch!" I was sure she was thinking. "No, just a hungover gringa bitch," I thought.
Yesterday was September 11, and it was one of my best friend's birthdays. We'd been trying to talk her into ditching her classes for the day but she'd have none of it. So I rode the el with her to work - it was my first day temping at at Chicago's NBC tower. We were both pretty tired and didn't say too much on the ride, but as I got off, I wished her a great day.
At the tower plaza, I found a penny. My first thought: "Good luck! But it's head side down. I'll pick it up anyway."
Bypassed the long line of folks waiting to get into "Jerry Springer" and hopped in the elevator. On our way in, someone said, "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center - and the Pentagon has just been bombed!"
"No WAY. NO. WAY!" I thought.
But here at NBC Tower, there's tons of televisions everywhere. As I walked down the hall, I peered into the editing room, only to see five televisions showing one of the towers all ready gone and the other one smoking. I was just in disbelief.
I walked into my office, where a crowd was around the television. Before my very eyes, we saw the second tower crumble down. As it was going crumbling, I heard the announcer say, "and you are watching this LIVE..." I felt sick. I couldn't believe this was happening.
I was supposed to be working and I just decided to start working. I was making copies and watching the footage of the towers going down and the Pentagon in flames.
I felt absolutely numb. And scared. I was in a high rise building in the third largest city in the U.S.; a building that is the Chicago communications center for one America's three major television networks. A building surrounded by major newspapers and another major televsion network. Who knew where these terrorists were going to strike next?
It was at this time that our building was evacuated. This was around 10:15 am, and on weekday in Chicago's Loop, a time in which this very midwestern city is normally abuzz with people hard at work. But instead, the scene looked like a combination of rush hour and a fire drill. People were streaming out of every building. The streets were jammed with cars. I saw an unattended suitcase outside a skyscraper and my first thought was "Oh my god - is that a bomb?!?" That was a possibility I never thought I would consider.
I'd already heard that several of Chicago's most famous landmarks, The Sears Tower and The John Hancock center had been evacuated, and that all state and federal buildings were being evacuated. That meant that my normal subway stop would be closed. I started to walk to the next one, only to turn around when I heard that all of the subways were and the commuter train stations were jammed. I ended up walking about 8 blocks to get a bus home. Walking down Michigan Avenue, Chicago's "Mag Mile" was absolutely eerie as I passed shop after shop with hastily made "Closed for today" signs.
Everybody looked scared, and here in this very segregated city we moved from separate ethnic groups mixing and working together to a family of people shocked by this tragedy. I talked to an African-American man and a Peruvian-American woman on the bus ride home. We all expressed shock that a terrorist attack could happen here. As we neared our stops, we all told each other to "Stay Safe," and "Take Care."
Once at my friends, we were nearly all in a state of dumb shock and glued to the TV. One friend, on a business trip in London, called in near tears at being so far away, and with no apparent way to get back to Chicago.
By the end of the evening we were exhausted, but we could hardly tear ourselves away from the television. As I tried to fall asleep, the images of the World Trade Center Towers collapsing kept running through my head, and I kept thinking of that Soul Coughing song: " A man... drives a plane.... into the.... Chrysler Building..." I was scared to death of nightmares, and wondering how many nightmares people would be having around the country.
Those of us who live in the States have talked for years at how lax airport security on domestic flights is. We knew that was the easiest way for terrorists to attack - but we still felt invincible. No one thought it would really ever happen here.
And now we know, that of course that's not true. We're not safe. And I don't think anyone here will ever feel that teenage invulnerability ever again.
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