On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 Jason had an 8:00 a.m. (central time) breakfast meeting as part of the Evanston Human Relations Commission, and he would be going to work in Chicago after the meeting. We only had one car at the time so on the way to the meeting he dropped me off at Motzart’s, a coffee shop around the corner from where I worked. As I was getting out of the car the news mentioned something about an airplane hitting one of the World Trade Center’s towers in New York City. My mind immediately filled with an image of a little Cessna 172 hitting one of the huge buildings, I got my bagel and coffee and walked over to my office.
I fired up my computer, logged in and replicated my lotus notes with my company’s servers in California. I worked as a Field Sales Coordinator for the Trinchero Family Estates, they are the owners of many different California wine brands and you will not find a better group of people to work for or with.
I turned on my radio and heard the news that the plane that had hit the North tower was not a small private plane but instead a commercial airliner filled with passengers. It seemed impossible that had happened, was it an accident, was it intentional? What? I jumped onto the Drudge Report website to see what was happening and saw the news update that a second plane had hit the South tower. I still remember the feeling of every hair on my body standing on end.
I called my husband’s cell phone – voice mail – left a message about the planes. Asked him to call me when he got out of the meeting.
Our little office was over a steakhouse in the ‘middle” of Evanston and only my boss and I worked out of that office. Though, on this particular Tuesday his boss was in town from St. Helena and they were going to be visiting distributors, on-premise locations and retail outlets so she’d be there at some point after their visits. I was sitting there by myself and getting more and more agitated as the radio kept updating the unfolding story.
As I listened the news became more urgent about the belief that the attacks were purposeful and the intent to kill many people was real. They talked about the WTC bombings years earlier and speculated who had orchestrated this attack. They wondered how many more of the planes up in the sky were waiting to be used as bombs. They attacked New York… would they also attack Chicago? San Francisco? LA? Dallas? DC? What was next? The news came shortly that the Pentagon had been hit.
Tried Jason’s cell phone again – voice mail again – left a message again – 3 jetliners into 3 buildings, still more in the air. Don’t go down into Chicago, call me when you get this message…
I knew my boss Bob was in town and left a message on his cell as well.
I called Joy, our travel agent in New York, she handled all of our corporate travel, I knew she was in Midtown. My boss Bob traveled a lot, so did the other sales representatives, directors and managers in the 22 states that I assisted – all in all we had about 70 or so people on the sales team and on any given day at least one of them was probably traveling. Most of my guys were accounted for. Joy was very worried about what was going on in New York but promised to keep me updated.
I decided to leave the office and see if I could go find a television somewhere to see what was going on. I would have bought one and taken it back to the office if I could have found one – the Osco in the middle of Evanston didn’t have any for sale (I though they always had those 13 inch things). I went back to the office.
Even though it was still very early out west, winery personnel in California were trying to account for every single one of our people across the country. We set out a plan for a couple of us to handle making calls to everyone’s cell phones, home phones, office phones etc. until we had spoken to everyone – especially our east cost folks. There was one we couldn’t get in touch with – he lived in New York. He wasn’t scheduled to travel that day and we hoped and prayed he was out of danger wherever he was.
Joy called from New York – “the building fell down Ellie, the whole f***ing building just fell down!” were her words. WHAT? “the building fell, the whole building fell.” She told me they were evacuating and she didn’t know how far she’d be able to get out of the city and she gave me her cell phone number to keep in touch. I had never met this woman in person, she handled travel for my team so I talked to her multiple times a week but I felt like she was another one of my co-workers, I knew she had just had knee surgery, I knew she was not able to walk far distances, I wondered where she had to get to in the evacuation – I promised to stay in touch.
Around the same time the news came in about the plane crashing into the field in Shanksville, PA. Why was this all happening? What was next?
Jason got out of his meeting, came to my office and called his boss to say he wouldn’t be coming in that day. It made no sense to head into Chicago when a million people were trying to get out in case we were next. I wondered if we should go pick up our 2-1/2 year old daughter from the babysitter, we decided not yet.
The second tower fell.
We went to the Evanston Hotel Orrington restaurant – we weren’t really hungry but they had TVs there. We watched. We didn’t talk, we just watched. We stayed for a while watching and then we went home. We put on the TV and we watched some more. In awe, in horror, in fear, in confusion. We watched footage over and over and over and over. Terrified people falling or jumping from the buildings, others running in the streets from the debris of the falling building, burning buildings, images of planes crashing into buildings, fire and rescue personnel. Shock.
The news put forth numbers like crazy. How many people on the planes, how many people working in the towers on a given day, how many people died at Pearl Harbor – would this day have a higher loss of life? As the afternoon drew on the horror unfolded on the screen in front of us.
Images of the suspected hijackers, phone conversations from people on Flight 93 as the passengers took on the hijackers, images of the rubble. Images of people celebrating in the streets of the middle-east mixed with the pictures of horror from New York assaulted us from the TV – I had to finally turn it off for a while – but then back on because I couldn’t stop watching.
Word came that the Evanston Ecumenical Council was putting together a mixed faith service to be held at the Presbyterian Church because it was likely big enough to hold all of those who would want to attend.
We went out side, many other neighbors were also outside, just talking, quietly – in shock over the events of the day. The sky was silent – there were no planes flying overhead any more. O’Hare wasn’t exactly close to Evanston but there seemed to always be planes in the sky – it was Chicago airspace after all – and it was quiet.
One of the most surreal moments I remember from the day had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, which may be why it stands out in my mind. There were two women who lived in the downstairs apartment of the 2-flat that we lived in. They were a couple and always arguing. Judging from what we often heard it seemed to be an abusive relationship. That afternoon these two women were having a screaming fight right in front of the house. It was about money, it was about respect, it was about lying, it was about “them” etc. one in her car and the other on the porch and I wondered if they even knew what had happened so wrapped up in their little world were they.
I called family members. I went to get my daughter from the baby sitter.
We decided to go to the prayer service that night - Priests, Rabbi’s, Ministers and an Imam brought their flocks together than night to pray for the people in New York, the people in Washington, and Pennsylvania and for all of us because at that moment we knew that nowhere was safe. Someone wanted us dead simply because we existed. A simple commuter flight was no longer safe and even going to work held a risk that it never had before.
We watched the rescue efforts long into the night and the next day and the next and the next and on…and then it became recovery efforts when all hope of rescue was gone. Planes flew again, my Mother flew from Ohio to California on the Tuesday after 9/11. She and her brother were going to visit another of their brothers for a couple of weeks. She told me that there were only 5 people on the plane – one an air-marshal.
We saw photos of the missing, we heard tales of the dead. An old college roommate lived at that time in New Jersey let me know that classmates of her children had lost parents – their town had lost over a dozen people. Recovery would take months – plans to rebuild were already being talked about.
Everything changed that day.
Ten years have passed. I remember like it was yesterday.