I used to meet a good friend on Tuesday mornings for coffee and bagels at the Einsteins in Briargate. 9/11 was a Tuesday morning, and just before 7 a.m. I was driving down Fillmore getting close to I-25 listening alternately to NPR in the Springs and KOA in Denver. The Broncos had just opened their season the nigh before on Monday night football, and with it, the new, audacious Bowlen Bowl, Invesco Field at Mile High. The local world was still humming about how dare they rename Mile High something so corporate as “Invesco Field” at Mile High. The Broncos won that night, beating a good Giants team, but lost Ed McCafferty to a horrible broken leg. It was actually the last play of beloved Eddie Mac’s career. KOA was the place to be that morning to make sense of our world.
In Colorado, The Duke of Denver, John Elway is treated like royalty. I’ve heard people say that the media only wants royalty in America, not the general public, but throughout Colorado, John owns the state. He is royalty, and no one dares dispute that fact. He is quite simply, the most popular member in modern Colorado history. And KOA had John booked to comment on the Bronco game at 7:03. I turned to NPR at the top of the hour to hear the news with the plan to toggle back to KOA to hear John. At 7:01, I heard Carl Castle announce that a plane had hit one of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. It was clear that Carl either had no clue as to the severity of what was happening, or NPR was just being extremely cautious in how they reported the utterly surreal events that were unfolding on live nationally televised morning shows across the country. I still remember thinking that it was a Cessna or something that had glanced off one of the buildings creating some morning rush hour spectacle. It wasn’t clear at all that it was a 767 that had blazed a cavern into Tower One, that a classmate from my high school was on the 50th floor of Tower Two and considering a descent down at that moment, that three more planes were still to fall from the morning sky.
As NPR continued to read other news that the sands of time have undoubtedly forgotten, I anxiously flipped over to KOA knowing something was not right, but hey, John was on in 30 seconds. Alan Roach introduced the segment and asked John what he thought about “last night’s game”, and especially the loss of Eddie Mac in the first half. I remember John saying something like, “boy Alan, it’s always so hard to lose a guy of that caliber” and that’s about when the second plane hit tower two. Before John could complete his sentence, Alan cut him off and said, “John, I’m very sorry, there is a really tragic story developing in New York City right now and we need to cut away immediately” and that was the end of the Bronco coverage.
It’s such a strange, local memory, but I knew then that all was not right in the world, because Alan Roach had just cut off The Duke.
I remember going to see the Broncos fly home from Cleveland after “The Drive” in January 1987. There were thousands of people at Stapleton Airport in 15 degree weather going nuts. The Broncos had not won the Super Bowl, they merely earned the right to the game (where they were pummeled by the same Giants) and it seemed like anyone who was anyone was out in the freezing temps to cheer home the mighty victors. I remember John waving to the fans coming down the jetway and Vance Johnson and Mark Jackson pumping their fists. My father still works in the Denver media and he always hated covering “Bronco News” because it was just the former and not the latter. The Edward R. Murrow in him despised crowds of bleeding orange and blue and smelling like stale Coors.
I was supposed to fly into Logan in Boston the Sunday after 9/11 for a vacation to Cape Cod. My folks were already out there. By the time I got to the office, the morgue-like silence had everyone huddled around portable TV’s, hitting refresh on the web browers, the front desk switchboard eerily silent. I kept trying to reach my folks at the phone number where they were staying in Massachusetts and they wouldn’t answer. I just wanted to chat. I finally reached them around noon eastern, and they had enjoyed a delightful fall morning on the Cape Cod beaches, and had no idea why no one else was out. It was weird breaking the news to them, my father the veteran newscaster, my mother, the German immigrant, my parents who had just flown into the airport where the hijackers boarded, my folks, a few miles away from Otis Air Force Base where the F-16’s were scrambled too late.
The thing I will probably never forget about 9/11 was how it quieted the world for a week or two that I may never see again. It forced a terrifying introspection on so many people. Amy and I obviously did not make that trip the next weekend to Massachusetts as air travel was suspended and Logan was the last airport to reopen. We instead went to Steamboat for a week and the place was a ghost town. I don’t think I had a real estate call the entire week. My colleagues who covered my business that week not only had nothing to do, they did not get a showing on any of their listings that week. The collective shock slowed things down to a complete crawl.
What is weird today is how much less introspective things actually are. The chatter about “nothing will ever be the same” was not only untrue, it seems that civilization has become even less connected and less introspective than before.
I’m totally annoyed that AT&T has lousy 3G coverage and my iPhone drops calls. The Denver Post had an article on it today.
I have 368 friends now that I did not have on 9/11 thanks to Facebook. And close to 400 some Tweeps on Twitter. I get leads and business referrals via these powerful media, but I now know more about my friends political persuasions than I do about their hearts.
Compare our present day “connectivity” to this: David Sedaris, the satirist, had a moving, tear-filled tribute to 9/11 the week after it all unfolded on This American Life. It was the retelling of an agnostic homosexual American ex-patriate in France attending a gigantic, impromptu memorial service at Notre Dame for the victims that Tuesday night, and if memory serves me, his agonizing personal movement to prayer and reflection amidst great emotional pain. This hysterical writer became a lens for a citizenry, a disaffected population group living abroad, individuals commonly know for thumbing their nose at American conservatism and habits, but at the same time, a population that was felled by tears, anger and remorse in the City of Light. Remember how we banned French Fries the following year? The French wept for someone other than the French that night. The disaffected American Citizenry abroad entered their beds haunted and afraid just as we listened to the drone of midnight fighter jets patrolling the skies.
I realize this is all very stream of consciousness, but that’s how I remember 9/11. The violent images broadcast in real time still resonate, and I distinctly remember NPR playing on my office radio that morning, doing a cell phone interview with NYC apartment dwellers two blocks from Tower One when it collapsed and the screams of the people on the air and the rush of the building imploding in the background. Their building stood, but they were in the full force of the debris wash. To my memory, the less visual recollection of their anonymous voices is so much more powerful than the constant replay of explosions.
What really sticks in me was the collective connection of sadness and loss that I doubt I will ever experience again. I have no language for communicating that to my children, the youngest of which just started pre-school this morning. There are violent historical records to point to that say “that was 9/11”, but I’m not sure that was 9/11. That is not intended to be the doubt of a conspiracy theorist; rather, 9/11 was so much more jarring emotionally, partly on the personal terror level, but also on a very different level, the global intimacy of shared pain and loss. No one would dare say that they wish 9/11 would happen again… but sometimes, I wish for the perspective and brotherhood that we all seemed to share for the few days afterward.