Eight Years Ago Today

By  |  Friday, September 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Would you pardon me if I shared some wholly personal memories? I think about them every year, but I don’t think I’ve ever recorded them. Don’t worry–there’s some tech stuff in here (even a Windows XP reference).

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I arrived at PC World’s Boston office a bit earlier than usual and got to work on whatever I happened to be working on that morning. I hadn’t been at my desk for long when my San Francisco colleague Denny Arar pinged me on IM: She’d received an e-mail from the organizers of a wireless conference that was going to be held at the World Trade Center, saying that there was a fire at one of the towers, but not to worry–the conference would be rescheduled or relocated if necessary.

That’s how I heard something was amiss in New York.

Denny told me there was something on the news about an airplane striking one of the towers. I assumed it was a small plane under the control of an incompetent pilot.

I went to CNN.com and it wouldn’t load. Neither would other news sites. Instant sinking feeling.

Eventually, we figured how to to get news about what was going on (I think a Boston coworker had a tiny TV) and I spent the first couple of hours of September 11th worried about my sister, who had plans to fly from Boston’s Logan Airport to New York that morning. (It wasn’t yet clear that the hijacked planes were all supposed to be flying to the west coast–or that other hijacked planes wouldn’t be smashing into other buildings all day long.) Once I reached her, I learned that when she arrived at Logan they told her the airport was shut down, but didn’t explain why; she then tried to take Amtrak before learning just what was going on. (When she got home, her answering machine had reached capacity with messages from friends telling her not to go to New York.)

We spent the rest of the day at the office following the news, and trying to work. Everybody else anywhere near Copley Square apparently went home early; by the end of the day, the only people in the vicinity seemed to be me, my coworker Tom Spring, and one bartender at the one restaurant in our office building which hadn’t closed early.

Mark BinghamLater, at home, I was watching TV when a list of names of passengers aboard Flight 93, the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, scrolled across the screen. One of the names was Mark Bingham. I knew a Mark Bingham–a PR person who I talked with frequently and who had sent me e-mail that was still sitting in my inbox. At first I thought the odds were against it being the same Mark Bingham, but then it dawned on me that while the world might have a lot of Mark Binghams, relatively few of them were likely to be aboard a New York-San Francisco flight. I started Googling around and learned that the Mark Bingham on Flight 93 was, indeed, a PR person.

My colleague Bud McLeod noted that Mark might have been involved in a passenger uprising against the Flight 93 hijackers and suggested that we publish a story about him on PCWorld.com, which we did. I had my first moments of mild cheerfulness since the morning of 9/11 when e-mails from folks who knew Mark a lot better than I did started to roll in thanking us for the story.

(Most of my encounters with Mark were on the phone, and I can still hear his rich, distinctive voice: “Hi, Harry, this is Mark Bingham.” That Flight 93 movie wasn’t bad, but they shoulda cast someone who sounded like Mark rather than an actor who looked sort of ¬†like him.)

Rudy GiulianiFlash forward to October 25th, 2001. I’m in New York City for the first time since the events of 9/11, for the Windows XP launch. (Rudy Giuliani joined Bill Gates onstage, unannounced; it was easily the most electrifying moment I’ve ever witnessed as a tech journalist.) I still hadn’t been on an airplane–I took the train to New York, as I’d planned to do all along. But after the XP launch, I was flying to San Francisco. From Newark Airport. On United. Which was the same route and carrier as Flight 93.

When I’d booked my flight in early September it had seemed unremarkable. But if you’re going to get back on the horse, you might as well get back on the horse…

I was a trifle skittish; the flight attendants were maybe the most skittish people I’d ever encountered. The plane, as you might guess, wasn’t very crowded. So I got an upgrade. To seat 1A.

After we’d reached cruising altitude, I decided to visit the restroom. There were two doors in front of me at the front of the plane, and for a moment I couldn’t tell which was the cockpit and which was the lavatory. I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to rattle the handle on either of them to see if it would open, and went back to my seat.

I hope it goes without saying that I also spent a lot of time during this period reflecting about those far more directly impacted than I by the events of 9/11 and all the events that followed–and that I still do. May we never forget.

Those are my 9/11 memories–what are yours?



9 Comments For This Post

  1. joshuaweinberg Says:

    I went to New York about four or five weeks after 9/11 and put up a photo essay about what I saw and felt. Interesting to see my thoughts from then: http://www.theweinbergs.com/ny/index.htm

  2. Patrick Says:

    Amazing stuff. I didn’t know Mark was in our industry. Sad.

    I was in a meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when a Marine Corp non comm came into the room and told us that the State Dept. had just been car bombed. We thanked him for the info and continued our meeting. A few minutes later a Marine Captain came into the room and started evacuating us. I spent the rest of the day with some people from congressional offices & gov watching on TV as it unfolded.

  3. Emmanuel Says:

    I remember there was a storm that morning in my city. They suspended classes and pretty much all activities (I was in Highschool at the time). It was all about the rain and such, when suddenly they changed headlines to something along the lines of “Plane crashes on WTC towers”.

    There was this camera looking at the fire in one of the towers, and the anchorman was saying something about how weird this situation was, and then I saw this little thing approaching the other tower and then a fire ball… the anchor then shouted what was that? is that a replay of what happened?… well, it was a live cam. So it wasn’t. I still remember that day vividly. Eight years ago. The storm ended by 10 am and the sun rose.

    I think it’s the first time I saw something so, I can’t find the right word to express it… historical? mad? scary? and on real time…

  4. DaveZatz Says:

    I started to write up my experiences and reflections earlier today for my personal blog and/or Facebook, but then pulled the plug. It’s too much to cover and probably too personal to share. Suffice to say 9/11 was and continues to be a meaningful day in both my personal and professional life.

  5. Backlin Says:

    Quite possibly the best thing I read all day, thanks Harry!

    Not that I had a professional memory (because I was in middle school at the time), but I remember going up with a group of my friends, not hearing any instruments blaring from band class (we were late for rehearsal) and thinking, “Uh oh, people are going to get their heads chewed out.” After walking through the classroom door, I turned to the left, then dropped my jaws when I saw that North tower in flames. If I was actually in New York, I would have tried to convince myself it was a surreal experience. The rest of the day, teachers encouraged us to express how we felt about the attacks, and the serious cases were sent to the nurse and counselor.

    Unlike a lot of other people though, the following years were to be the best in my life. Seems like after high school is when your life starts sliding down in enjoyability (but I still like living, nonetheless).

    I spent all morning today watching the History Channel, and I also downloaded some Alex Jones movies and watched them, to get all the information possible. Got some questions for the government…

  6. NanoGeek Says:

    I remember the day vividly. I was around 10 years old, and practicing violin when my dad called from work to tell us that a plane had hit the WTC. We turned on the TV and watched most of the events unfold. I was pacing back and forth and scared out of my socks. I went to our friends house later that day, and we would rush outside anytime we heard a plane fly over.

    That’s about all that happened to me.

  7. Relyt Says:

    I was only in kindergarten and my parents didn’t tell me about it, so I had no idea anything happened until the next day, when we discussed it very vaguely in school. I wished I was older so I could have seen it when it happened.

  8. DTNick Says:

    I was a senior in high school when the attacks occurred. I was sleeping when my mom woke up my brother and I, explaining what happened. I scurried downstairs and stood in front of the TV, stunned. I distinctly remember it being 6:02 AM Pacific. Moments later, I noticed what I thought was a military plane–that is, until it hit the other tower.

    By the time I left for school around 8 AM both towers had collapsed and the Pentagon was hit. The schoolday was mostly filled with discussions about what happened and watching news coverage. My government teacher gave us an impromptu lecture on the politics of the Middle East and how it related to the US. I remember walking home with the Song “Drive” by Incubus stuck in my head, more specifically the line, “Whatever tomorrow brings I’ll be there”–fitting considering the uncertainty at the time.

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  1. September 2001 Was a Long Time Ago in the World of Technology Says:

    […] wrote about my memories of 9/11/01 a couple of years ago, on the eighth anniversary of the attacks. They involve me sitting at my desk at PC World in Boston […]