I was considering not doing this post, mainly because others who were more directly impacted by the events of that fateful morning have been sharing their thoughts. Their memories, their losses, are much more poignant than mine.
But I have been reflecting on that day, how much has changed since, and how much the fallout from the attacks continues to be felt today.
I was working at the Merced Sun-Star in California then. I remember watching the news stories come across the wire, the constant updates on the TVs in the newsrooms. The discussions as how to lay out the front page – I was working the hard news side for a few months down there before permanently moving back to sports – went on for some time. The Managing Editor – a gutless wonder – went with a bland, safe headline as to not “offend” certain members of the community. It was so punchless that I honestly cannot recall what he settled on. I was pushing for “Another Day Of Infamy” myself, the head of the copy desk had a good suggestion too. Both were rejected.
The one paper published that day that really stood out was this one from the San Francisco Examiner – ironically enough, the last print newspaper I would work for before calling it a career:
It said everything that needed to be said. It summed up everything we were all feeling as that horrible day unfolded.
Obviously, those images, the images of the chaos and destruction, of people choosing to jump from a height of over 1,000 feet to their death rather than to choke to death on toxic fumes or be burned alive, of first responders charging in to try to save lives and those that did not make it back out, of the towers collapsing, of the Pentagon burning and the smoldering remains of Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania remain with all of us today.
I got off work that night around 11, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and facing a 30-minute drive home from Merced to my house in Turlock. Septembers in the Central Valley are very warm, so I dropped the top of my Sebring and let the air flow over me. There was a wreck on Highway 99 that night, and traffic was stopped long enough to move the cars off the road. I sat there for 20 minutes and looked up and the night sky .
Because we were in the approach lanes for the three Bay Area airports there are always planes in the sky up until around 1 a.m. On this night, there was nothing but those stars visible on a Moon-less, cloudless night. I realized that all over the country, this was the case. Nothing was moving up there. I wondered then how long it would be before the old normal would come back.
Nineteen years later, I’m still wondering…