Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembrances of September 11th (History)

September 11th. The mere mention of the words can send shivers up ones spine. It is our date that will live in infamy. Long before I became a blogger, I would write journals, at least occasionally. Sometimes I’d have stretches where I would write every day. Sometimes it would be once or twice a year at best. Following September 11, 2001, I decided to write my thoughts. With my wife pregnant at the time, I wanted a written record of what happened from my perspective, so that our son could read them. The following is from that journal entry – dated January 14, 2002.

To begin, I guess one must understand where we were prior to that day. Just 11 days earlier, I had finished my final Hudson Valley Renegades game and was ready for Labor Day, which I had hoped would be a turning point in my job hunt. That nations' economy wasn’t doing great, but I think we all hoped for the best. In fact, I had just been asked to do some temporary work that would allow me to train for the position in White Plains and work from home for about four months or more. The company providing me with the work would be American Express, and I would work with the Premier agency of White Plains. So overall, I was hopeful. I was to begin my training with Premier on Tuesday, September 11 at 1:00. That morning, I would go to a job fair at the Westchester County Center. But first, I would go to WGCH to do a little prep work for the beginning of football season. Now you know what was on my mind that morning.

Believe it or not, I don’t remember now what I wore that day, except to say that I left the house ready to look professional. I walked out of the house around 8:30 and headed off in the Honda for Greenwich. It was an absolutely perfect day – sunny, warm, my favorite kind of weather. It wasn’t too hot yet it was not cold. As always, I was listening to Imus in the Morning. My ride was uneventful, until just around 8:50. That’s when Imus reports that Warner Wolf saw a plane go into the World Trade Center from his nearby apartment. I had merged from NY route 139 onto route 100, heading for 35 and eventually, Interstate 684. My first thought was of the plane that went into the Empire State Building in 1945 that killed 29 people. As the story began to develop, it appeared that it was a commuter plane that had hit the building, the north tower. Obviously, I felt somewhat horrified that this had happened. There would have to be casualties, and quite a disaster. Looking back now, it seems like we (the media, the general world) weren’t taking this too seriously. Sure, there was a certain amount of horror at what had happened, but things seemed to be calm. As a reporter and media hound, I began to think that I couldn’t get to the station fast enough. I wanted to follow the story via television and radio, and cover it if needed.

Back on the radio, Imus talked with Warner about what he could see from his apartment. But as news breaks, I become a flipper, in that I change stations looking for more information, and to see how different stations are covering it. So I switched between Imus and WCBS. By and large, Imus (who’s extraordinary in these times) was sticking to the normal show, bringing in Warner as necessary, playing commercials, and going to Charles McCord for the news at the top of the hour. They even played a comedy bit at one point. Chuck didn’t seem to have much more to say so I switched over to WCBS for more. By 9:05, WCBS had an eyewitness saying that a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, this time into Tower 2, the south tower. At this point I had two reactions. Number one was to flip the dial to see if Imus could confirm what was being reported (he did), and number two was to look at the sky. Clearly, we were under attack. I was now on Interstate 684, near the Bedford rest area. I looked around at the other cars on the road. If they had the radio on, they now had to know what was going on. What were they thinking? And why didn’t they look concerned?

My drive continued without incident. Imus and WCBS continued to report what they were seeing. I took note of nothing spectacular going on at the Westchester County Airport. As I got into Greenwich, the radio was now reporting the type of planes that had hit the World Trade Center. Armed with that information, I bolted into the station to try and assist if I could. Jim Thompson and Dima Joseph were hard at work, trying to get the story on the air without killing each other at the same time. In truth, that’s the way they always work. The faces that were at WGCH will never be forgotten. Jim and Dima were airing the story; Bob Small was trying to clear coverage with CNN and get the network on the air; John Iannuzzi was along to help Jim and Dima, and to anchor his own coverage on sister station WVIP; Jane Crawford had come in to watch the coverage and prepare for her afternoon show (she had recently announced that she would leave the station); Dana Masini was in her usual role as executive assistant; Peter Baumann (GM) and Janet Beckley (VP) were both playing the “boss” role. Mary Hamel and Audrey Young would also be in during the day. All of this only gets us to about 9:15, and it amazed me that people didn’t seem more horrified. In some ways, I could go sit down and not know any better that the world was going crazy.

The televisions in the newsroom and conference room at WGCH were now humming with coverage of the events. I could see how smoky and badly damaged the two towers were. Around 9:30, the unthinkable happened. Tower 2, the south tower, crumbled to the ground. I wasn’t in the room to see it, having walked out to sit in the WVIP studio to work and make some phone calls. But I heard the yelling and returned to the conference room to see that there wasn’t a tower there anymore. Tears rolled down Dana’s cheeks and I just stood there, thinking this was a dream. The crowd would eventually thin down to just Jane and myself, who stared at the screen and talked casually about the events. I couldn’t help but wonder – were there bombs aboard those planes? And if one tower had come down, how long before the second one? The television cameras – CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox – all focused on the remaining tower. I knew not to take my eyes off of that monitor in the conference room at WGCH in Greenwich, Connecticut on this Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. I was watching history – our day of infamy. Around 10:00, my suspicions, sadly, came true. I watched as the remaining tower, its antennae waving, came down. It was sickening.

Now the news came fast and furiously – a car bomb at the State Department, an explosion on Capitol Hill, a fire at the Pentagon, and a plane missing over Pennsylvania. What the hell was going on, I thought. How much of this information was true? What we would find out was that the Pentagon and Pennsylvania stories were unfortunately true. But now, the United States was under siege, or fear of it. The skies were closed to all air traffic. Monuments and tourist attractions were closed – Disney World, Mount Rushmore, the Sears Tower, the Space Needle and more. Bridges, tunnels and buildings of commerce were also closed – the Hoover Dam, and all crossings into and out of New York City. Back inside WGCH, we wondered what was next. We knew it was terrorism, so they had to be looking at more ways to hurt us. The Sears Tower seemed logical, so did the Golden Gate Bridge. Or maybe something in Las Vegas.

For me, as for so many, it was time to take a personal inventory. Obviously, except for the raw emotions of what I was seeing and feeling, I was physically fine. I called my wife at work, and she was fine. The mighty rock that she is, she was sympathetic to what was going on, but wasn’t overreacting to it. It always appears that she thinks I get too excited when things like this happen. But we’re both realists. And in reality, we had not been harmed. My mom was at her job, and was fine also. She thinks I have all of the answers, so she looked to me for any news that I could provide. I called her back as stories broke. My sister was at home, and she was well. Her concern was with her children. Does she bring them home from school? She decided to leave them there and let the school district figure it out. The kids would eventually be sent home. There was no easy way for me to get in touch with my brother, but I would talk with him later on.

By 11:00, it had become apparent to me that I had some decisions to make. I still had to go to White Plains for both the job fair and training. I quickly decided that the job fair wasn’t worth it. The training was a bigger issue. I felt that it seemed foolish to go, but I don’t like to blow off my responsibilities. I called Premier to find out if we were going forward and they said things were fine. My wife, as always, left it up to me. My sister thought I was crazy to go to White Plains at all. She thought I should go home. Janet Beckley asked me to go into downtown Greenwich and get reactions. This last option seemed the least appealing. I had always wanted to be in on a big story, and here I was with the mother of them all, but I just could not see myself going to Greenwich Avenue to ask people what they thought. On this day, it was just not appropriate. I called Premier and cancelled with them. They were very gracious, if not a bit surprised that I was reacting like this. I called my wife to tell her the latest – I wouldn’t be going to White Plains, but I would stay around Greenwich to report. But she had other news for me. Her building was closing and everyone was being sent home. That clinched it for me – I was going home. The thing that mattered the most to me was to get home and be with her. If this was the end of the world, I was going to see it end with them. I told my WGCH colleagues what I was doing and left.

I turned the radio dial to hear more and was stunned at what I was hearing. Nearly every radio station had committed to following the news. Shock jocks, news people, sportscasters and more were combining to cover the story. On “K Rock”, Howard Stern had appropriately toned his show down. He knew, wisely, that many of the “regular folks” who were in the Trade Center were listeners. And now, many emergency personnel were missing. Many of those people were Stern fans. Over at WPLJ, Scott Shannon and Todd Pettengill were covering it with passion and dignity. The same could be said for Z100, WNEW, and so on. Many stations that traditionally carry music had switched over to their networks for coverage. On WFAN, Imus stayed right where he had been, covering the story as only he could. Charles McCord and Warner Wolf (via phone) would continue to provide updates. Amazingly, nobody was playing commercials. Q104 was the only station that I recall playing music and were making appropriate choices. They too would go all news eventually.

By now, Westchester County Airport was closed. The police stood at the ready in case anything happened and watching cars as they passed by. As I approached Interstate 684, I looked for the road to be clogged with cars trying to get home. Yet it seemed normal. The radio reported that construction projects would be picked up, as I would discover at Exit 6 (Katonah). This would slow me up for a moment. Yet by the time my wife passed by, they were gone. Again, the rest of the ride was nothing special. I followed it all via radio and glanced at the sky occasionally, almost expecting to see an armada of planes bringing Armageddon. I was home by 1:00, heading inside to throw the TV and radio on. My media flipping at these times drives my wife mad, but I could do it for a little while until she got home. Fred (our cat) was unfazed and unaware, living the good life of a cat. He probably didn’t understand why I wanted to pet him. Yet despite getting the media on in full force, I was restless. So I headed back outside, telephone in hand. I had hoped my wife would be home by now. So I tried her at work…no answer. I did the same thing with her cell phone…same result. Patience would have to be key. I called my sister to thank her for making me come home. I called Mom to tell her where I was. As I stood out in the driveway and waited, I could not get over what an absolutely fabulous day it was. The weather was beautiful and the sky was a remarkable blue with a few stray clouds. And there was nothing else up there.

My wife was home by 2:00. I tried not to overreact; yet all I wanted to do was hug and kiss her. I’m pretty sure I allowed myself to tell her that I was glad she was home and talk about my theory of us seeing the end of the world together. Now it was time to watch it all happen on TV. We watched the scrolls at the bottom of the screen tell the details. Of note to me, and quite upsetting, was that Yankee Stadium had been evacuated. We saw the planes hit the towers and the buildings subsequently collapsing over…and over…and over…and over… I checked to see how each channel was following it. Every channel had coverage, except for networks that were aimed at children, like Disney and Nickelodeon. HBO tried to entertain people with family shows. Otherwise, virtually everybody had it. ESPN, ESPN Classic, Madison Square Garden, home shopping channels, VH1, MTV, and so on. The networks had agreed to go with wall-to-wall coverage, no commercial and a sharing of information, at least for a while. Then there were the stations that were knocked off by collapse. Remember that antennae that I mentioned earlier? That took several stations off with it. Many of them scrambled to get alternate options up, but for some it would take a few days. I wanted to watch this story from the local angle, because who could cover it better? But Channel 4 was off, so was Channel 5. Channel 9 was off, and I think Channel 7 was down also. Later in the day, I watched as RCN, our local cable network, tried to get their satellites straightened out to bring us the news on these channels. For a short time, I know we had an NBC affiliate from Philadelphia on Channel 4, followed by a Los Angeles affiliate.

Back on the radio, Imus had gone home but announced that he would start his show the following morning at 5:00 AM. Charles McCord had now teamed up with Mike Francesa and was doing a remarkable job. I don’t care what people say about non-news people covering a news event. Mike Francesa, specifically, gave the story humanity and a different angle. I remember him during the Gulf War also, and thought he was great then. He and his partner, Chris Russo (known as. “Mad Dog”) did a nice job on their September 12 show. So long as it was accurate and dignified, I didn’t care who covered it. I knew I could do it well, and I’m a sports reporter.

My wife and I watched well into the evening. After 8:30 or so, my wife headed off to bed. The pregnancy was tough on her, as it is on any woman, so she called it a night. I just couldn’t – I was too glued to the TV. At one point, I did go to the computer to check my email and wondered if the terrorists could upset the Internet. Were we in danger out on the web? The answer would eventually be no, but strange things go through your mind at times like this.

Up until this point, my emotions had been under control. I felt sadness for the losses, which were surely to be in the thousands, but felt fortunate that my immediate loved ones were fine. Yet it was a bomb threat to the Empire State Building that nearly did me in. This was well into the evening and I watched as cameras again focused on the historic structure. As I always do, I feared the worst. Ultimately, the threat was a hoax. If the Empire State Building went down, I think I would have sat in my place on our couch and sobbed. It didn’t and I decided that was enough for me. It was time to turn off the TV and go to bed.

Sleep did not come easily to me that night. I tossed and turned with a hundred thoughts racing through me. By this point, we ALL knew that billionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden, a man who despises the United States and Christianity, was behind the attack. It was he and his cronies who were behind the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. I was positive this attempt had something to do with him as soon as the second plane hit. I couldn’t help but fear that he had nuclear weapons or perhaps some other kind of weapon of mass destruction at his fingertips. So what was next? And one must always wonder if the government is truly telling us everything. Obviously, they can’t for reasons of national security. So what didn’t we know? And when we will find it out, if ever? Will we someday find out that there was truly a “Bay of Pigs” –type incident that had us just seconds away from destruction? Who knows, and that’s exactly what raced through me that night. I think I woke up every hour on the hour. But I will never, ever forget 4:00 in the morning of September 12. I began to hear a humming overhead. It was obviously a plane or jet of some kind. I lay there in my bed and wondered exactly what it was. It also sounded like it was right over the house. My heart raced as I listened to it. What I didn’t know was that I was not alone. Maybe a minute into the sound, my wife sat up and looked around. At least I wasn’t dreaming. The fact that we were both awake was enough to get us up. We each went to a window. Upon looking out the front window, I saw the newspaper at the end of the driveway. I walked out to get the paper and at the bottom of the driveway, I looked up into a sky full of fabulously bright stars. Among them was one moving star with a flashing red light. I was later told that it was a F-18 fighter jet. Whatever it was, it scared the “F” out of us. I was through sleeping. When Imus went on the air at 5:00 on Wednesday morning, I was there to listen.

The postscript of September 11, 2001 is that I went to WGCH that night to do the final edition of the golf show “Tee Time” that I co-host with Michael Breed. We didn’t talk about golf once. Tom Henderson and Sean Kilkelly, who had both hosted the show at one time or another during the season, joined us. I produced a collection of sounds from the day before that Michael said was perhaps the finest production I had done for him. I will always keep it as a reminder, just as I will always keep a copy of that very sad show, one that I am forever proud of. While most high school football games went on that weekend, the game that I was due to broadcast, Norwalk at Greenwich, was cancelled. Charles Zion, the father of a Greenwich football player, Zach Zion, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and died. I can’t even begin to imagine what he went through.

I would have liked to have the game played but understood why it wouldn’t be. I felt that same way about professional sports. In the days after “9/11” I needed entertainment. By September 12, I vowed to not watch the coverage, except for an occasional check of the headlines. The constant images were too upsetting and I didn’t like the fear it was instilling. So without burying my head in the sand, I checked in at the top of random hours for updates. Our politically correct world went insane. The Clear Channel radio company distributed a list of songs that they felt were questionable to play on their stations. Some choices were questionable. Others were understandable. Still I thought it was stupid. Even President Bush (who at first looked like a dear in the headlights but eventually shined in this dark hour, along with New York Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Guiliani) told us to get back to normal, whatever that was. Clear Channel had “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on their questionable song list. Paul Simon played it on the worldwide telethon broadcast on September 20. So what was right?

In the sports world, baseball, after some hesitation, did not play again for over a week. Football did the same, especially after some of their players, most notably Vinnie Testaverde of the Jets, said he would not play if the league told him to. I thought his stance was reprehensible. This pampered million-dollar prima donna could charter his own flight to Oakland for the game against the Raiders and yet on September 12, my wife went back to work, and so did most of the world. Once the skies opened again to air traffic, millions of business people began flying again, because it was their jobs. But this athlete gets to dictate that he won’t play. Let’s trade places for a day or two, OK Vinnie? Again I understand why many sports shut down that weekend. And the liberal, panty-wearing press screamed at those who didn’t and forced others to. A lot of it had to do with nearly 38 years of guilt left from when the NFL played their games after President Kennedy was assassinated. But many people needed to have sports in their lives that weekend. I know I did. In any event, I know I lost some respect for some people for their actions following 9/11.

How to wrap this all up? It can’t be wrapped up. As I write this, we are just four months removed from September 11. In some ways, it still doesn’t feel real. In other ways, it’s very real. By and large, life did get back to normal. The holidays came and went without incident. Many traditions went on as scheduled. Yet every now and then something happens that either brings panic or reminds us of that awful day. In October, fighting began in Afghanistan to rid the world of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. But there were other events closer to home that rattled us. A commercial jet crashed in Queens after takeoff from JFK. Terrorism was suspected but never confirmed. A man tried to blow up a jet from Paris to Miami with a bomb in his show. There were anthrax scares all across the country, specifically in Washington DC, with several deaths. The World Series went on, though pushed back a week due to the attack, with the Yankees losing a heartbreaker in seven games to the Diamondbacks. I was at Game 5, the first baseball game to be played in November, and the second in a row to end dramatically, with the Yankees rallying from behind to win in extra innings. As New Yorkers, it seemed that we should win this series, but it doesn’t matter in the bigger scheme. Of course, it still matters a lot to me.

When all is said and done, some nearly 3000 people died on September 11. People across all religions, races, nationalities and classes. And while we got back to “normal”, things would never be the same for those of us who lived through that day. I’ve been told that if you were not from the Northeast, you wouldn’t know the difference. Yeah people are more patriotic (“Bandwagon Patriotism” I call it), but in places like Arizona, life IS normal. That’s what I heard during the World Series. But it is very real in New York, and in places like Boston, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC. I know this is only my part of the story and I’ve probably neglected a lot of things. But this is how I will remember it. And I will never hear a jet the same way again.

1 comment:

Harold said...

Excellent post, Rob.

As you are a aware, there pretty much isn't a day that goes by when I don't think of that terrible day.