Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago, for the first and only time in my life, I invited my wife to come along on a business trip from Seattle to New York.

On 9/11, I was sitting in the restaurant at the W hotel in Midtown Manhattan having breakfast with some bankers. I had recently been hired to see if I could make something out of a startup that was trying to manage aircraft parts sales and inventories over the web. My incredibly ill-timed pitch to the bankers was that the commercial aviation business, which had been somewhat in the doldrums, was on the verge of a turnaround. Oops.

My wife came down to breakfast to tell us something funny was going on in the news. We ended up going to one of the banker's hotel rooms -- he had a penthouse suite with a balcony from which we watched the now-famous and horrible events play out.

The rest of the day was odd to say the least. People on the street flinched whenever a plane flew over. The entire island emptied out, such that in the evening, we walked through Times Square and not a single care came through in 5 minutes. Someone was skateboarding in lazy circles, I suppose just because he could.

For us, 9/11 fortunately was only a hassle. We scrambled to find someone to watch our kids in Seattle, and found the last rent car in the city and ended up driving all the way back to Seattle from New York. We still made it back before air travel resumed.

Many of our friends were not so lucky. As both my wife and I were grads of the Harvard Business School, we knew scores of people who worked in the WTC. Over the coming weeks, word floated in of friends that had died that day, including our friend Steve who did not work there but got talked into going to a training session he really did not want to be at. I actually think of him many times, when I am asked to do tedious business trips I see not value in. I have learned to skip a lot of them. Life is too short.

  • ErisGuy

    My condolences on the loss of your friends. Many who do not deserve death are killed in war.

    "not a single care came through in 5 minutes"

    I can't decide if this is brilliant or a typo. Works both ways.

  • Smock Puppet, Proponent Of The Good Thing About High Speed Rail

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    Sorry about to hear about your friend.

    A friend of mine was born on September 11th. One of his first comments was, "Now I know how it felt to be born on December 7th".

    I always like to point out that, something interesting about America is that, after a blow that would have utterly devastated most nations throughout all of history -- the loss of at least 10 billion dollars in wealth and 3000 lives, our nation is so capable and powerful that we had replaced the lost income AND people within 12 hours ("replaced" in the sense of "had 3000 children" of course -- the loss to the individuals who knew them is not a replaceable thing).

    That's not quite the same as landing on the moon, but it's worthy of being a point of pride, that we can handle blows like that as readily as we can hand them out. Most people fail to grasp that power comes in two forms -- blows you can give, and blows you can take. The first is easy, the second is hard. America has both kinds.

  • me

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Coyote. The reminder of how the life of people who were in the process of making the world a better place can end abruptly through no fault of their own is something that I think back to on this day as well. Remember the dead, live as if every day could be your last and try best to make up for their loss.

    I see very little to be proud of in the reaction America has shown. Would that we had been better than devoting ourselves with all our might and means to revenge against any scapegoat regardless of guilt, shredding our own principles along the way.

  • Ignoramus

    Bill McGinn was an FDNY first responder at the 1993 WTC attack. He was convinced that the terrorists would be back. With the support of his epidemiologist wife he helped make Squad 18 the first FDNY unit specially trained to handle bioterror. Ironically, he and his crew were in the North Tower on 9/11.

    I had the honor of meeting Jim McGlynn socially a couple of years ago. He was an FDNY Lieutenant on 9/11 and one of about 15 people who crawled out of the collapsed North Tower alive. He and his crew had the luck of reaching ground level in Stairway B of the North Tower at just the right moment ... about 90 seconds ahead of McGinn's crew.

  • Rob

    9/11/01 was the day I started paying attention to politics. An Irishman told me that day that the USA's foreign policy was to blame for the attacks. This was not so tactful to say, the evening of, but it sparked my curiosity. 

    I was sitting in class when it all happened. It was an all afternoon class at a satellite building so instead of going back to the main campus to work on my team project, I went to the nearby Parc de Sceaux with my laptop for a few hours. So, I didn't find out about everything until ~7pm when a couple of friends knocked on my dorm room door. And in fact, at the time, the French news networks werent showing the plane crash or towers collapse, so it really wasn't until about a year later that I saw the video footage. I don't know if it is the lack of being bombarded with videos post-911 or what, but Ive never become desensitized to the horror of that day. I've heard that it was all the media talked about for months.

    Anyway, at the time, I thought I'd better get the essentials packed up and head into Paris, from the suburbs. Just in case transportation stopped, and if the USA found cause to retaliate against a country, I wanted to be within walking distance to the US embassy (not too far from the Louvre). I holed up at my local watering spot, an Irish bar about 1 block from the Notre Dame, where I met said Irishman along with other Americans. With flights grounded, there were many people stuck. We made a night out of it, including watching Bush's speech at one of the few places open at the wee hours of the morning on a week night. I actually got double billed at the 2nd bar, but wasn't too upset because the bartenders at the first bar were very sympathetic and had given me happy hour rates and some free shots (... I always tip well). 

    It was quite the night which ended in a 24-7 Internet cafe where I IM'd people back home to check on family in NYC (luckily OK).

    I don't remember if it was days, weeks, months later, but there was a worldwide moment of silence for the victims. I happened to be at a grande supermarche (bigger than a super walmart) when this occurred. It was quite touching to see foreigners stop what they are doing in the middle of the store in order to observe. So, even if the French aren't popular, in some circles, I can assure you that this moment, coupled with other sincere gestures of sorrow, proves that even with our differences that there is a common bond that we all share.

    9/11/01 changed my view of people and the world.

    I've never told my story before this moment.

  • John Moore

    I was awakened by a call from my wife who just happened to be on the East Coast. I was not surprised that we had been hit with a mass casualty attack - I had been expecting an effective (probably biowar) attack for several years from Al Qaeda. The mode of attack was a surprise, and the biggest shock to this engineer was seeing the first building go down - I didn't know about the unique construction of the WTC and it never occurred to me that a fire could bring down a skyscraper!

    Prior to the attack, I had been in online debates about whether strong encryption should be allowed - I was leery because I felt it would enable the kind of terrorism that was coming, but in reality it could not possibly be suppressed anyway.

    We have been very fortunate since then that our forward defense policy, flawed as it has been, has stopped these bastards from, so far, repeating their success of 9-11. A good bit of lucked also helped.

    But they will be back. It won't be because we fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, or any other foreign policy reason. It will be because we are the most economically and militarily powerful nation, which at the same time holds and exports values that are anathema to radical Islamist barbarians.

    Coyote, condolences on your losses.

    --- To Rob: I lived in Paris throughout the Gulf War (1991). The French were very friendly, and wee happy that we were letting them in on the fight, but annoyed that their job (left flank) didn't let them do much fighting.

  • Doug

    9/11 is indeed an emotional day, as it should be.

    However ... "gee, what a tough day that was ... I lost my friend Steve ... life's too short"? That's it?

    I'm curious to know what the libertarians in this audience think the US should have done in response to the 9/11 terror attack, not sad stories. I've heard Ron Paul's attitude, and seen how he's been labeled "a kook" for it. What about all of you?

  • a_random_guy

    What should we have done? Nail any part of Al Qaeda we could reach quickly and easily, send elite squads after the leadership, shake up our intelligence agencies. That's it, nothing else.

    The worst thing we could have done would be to let a few terrorists change our way of life, or bankrupt ourselves by pouring blood and treasure into the sands of the Middle East. The worst thing we could do would be to allow political opportunists to exploit this as an opportunity to expand their governmental empires. "Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

    Terrorist attacks have happened before, they will happen again. This time, the terrorists got lucky, causing the towers to collapse. That tiny bit of luck is all that differentiates this attack from any of the others - and our complete overreaction to it has handed them an unexpected and undeserved victory.

  • Ignoramus

    @Doug, I'm not into Church or ceremony, especially, but a 10-year anniversary does beg a moment's reflection if you know people who got killed.

    I agree with Random Guy 100% on what we should have done. I'd add that "Iraq" made Bush a weak President domestically from 2003 to 2008, where he had to buy support that we'll be paying for for a long time, and brought us Obama, who needed "Iraq" as an isse to outflank Hillary.

    We can't do a "Ron Paul" withdrawal from the World military stage without reaping bad long-term consequences. But we shouldn't get dragged into land wars on foreign continents, or doing nation building. "Walk softly, but carry a big stick"

  • Mark

    I recently drove from Hartford CT, to San Diego Ca. Not going too fast - just following traffic, and it took me 56 hours. I was home in 2.5 days. Not typical, but it is fairly easy to get East to West in 3 - 4 days, especially since you get 3 extra hours to drive. (takes 6 hours longer to drive W-E than E-W)

  • Dan

    A Random Guy:

    Great comment.