MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12: TRAVEL DAY, NEW YORK CITYThe following tale is true. Names and some details have been changed for obvious reasons. I had planned on posting this later in the week, but today seems like a better idea.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: NEW YORK CITY
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14: NEW YORK CITY
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15: NEW YORK CITY
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16: TRAVEL DAY, HOME
"Your schedule for September is done. There's a new account in New York they want you to take point on," my boss says, then names the account. I live in Portland, Oregon, so my territory is the Pacific Northwest. I register surprise, which my boss picks up on. "Yeah, this is a little out of your way, but it's related to the work you did for them a couple of months ago. You can hit the ground running."
"OK, sure," I say. "How many people out there? When do they want me there?"
"Seven or so people. I'll send you the details. And your first day there would be next Tuesday, the 11th. Travel on Monday, report on site Tuesday morning at 8:30am. North Tower of the World Trade Center."
"Awesome!" I reply.
"You've been there?"
"Yep," I say, and fill him in on the details. I had spent so much time in New York in a previous role that I consider myself an honorary New Yorker. One of my previous customers had an office in "the Trades." It's one of my favorite places to visit in the city.
"Oh hey, bad news on that New York trip. The account executive saw your projected expenses and asked if we could send someone closer," my boss tells me.
"That's fine," I say. Expenses are always a big part of my business. I laugh. "Everyone is closer to New York than I am. Who are they sending?"
"Linda Carter, from Colorado. You know her?"
"Yeah, I've met her a couple of times. She'll do fine."
Seven minutes until 6am. My wife wakes me a few minutes early. Something about New York on the TV.
We have a small bedroom downstairs in our Portland house with a TV. Across from the TV is my treadmill. It's my habit to get up at six and walk on the treadmill for a half-hour or so before I get ready for work. I enter the room, turn on CNN, turn on the treadmill. Sure enough, "something about New York" is on the TV. Smoke is rising from one of the towers of the WTC. The angle is bad but it looks like the North Tower. Is it on fire? No... well, yes. CNN tells me that a small plane has crashed into it.
I get on the treadmill and start walking. I'm barefoot. Details start to come in. The fire is too big for it to have been a small plane. The anchors are doing their best, but it's clear they don't have a lot of information to work from. They're interviewing witnesses. They zoom in... the hole in the building is enormous. I frown. I see a plane flash by on the right side of the screen. They cut away.
When they cut back, an explosion is visible behind the North Tower. The anchor doesn't notice at first, then claims that this is the same building. But the angle is all wrong for that.
I stop walking. The treadmill carries me backward and my left foot is caught by part of the treadmill, giving me quite a gash on that foot. But I don't notice that until much later.
"Someone just declared war on the United States!" I say out loud.
Hours later. I'm in the office. There are three TVs in the Operations Command Center, used to allow the Portland Operations team to monitor world or regional events that might affect our customers. This qualifies. They're tuned to different news networks. Everyone in the building finds a reason to visit the Command Center for brief periods to check in, or they abandon pretense, pull up chairs, and just watch. Out on the floor, the TVs are replaced by radios -- everyone has brought one in.
There was a mandatory security meeting for 9am for Linda and the team in the North Tower. Everyone who showed up for the meeting evacuated safely. That's four people out of our nine. Two more are confirmed safe an hour later. As for Linda, it's only been confirmed that she had arrived. One of her colleagues was IMing her at the moment the tower was struck. Two other members of the team are also missing.
My boss calls me over.
"Linda's safe," he tells me. "One of the team got her out. She was still on her laptop, typing away, while the rest of the floor evacuated. Most of the rest of the team has also checked in. But Bran Stanton is still missing. They think he was on the raised floor." He pauses. "They don't think he got out," he says. "Linda's freaking out. She's out. You're back in. First plane you can catch to New York."
"There's nothing flying," I remind my boss. They had covered this on TV. No planes will take off for days.
"I know," he tells me. "When they do start flying again, book the first flight to New York. Plan on being out there a while. We have to help them rebuild." He tells me our customer has rented space in an office building off "Rock Center" -- Rockerfeller Center in Midtown. I'll be spending a lot of weeks in that cramped little building over the next few months, it turns out.
Portland International Airport. It's far too early. Dawn is just visible, tinging the skies.
I love this airport. Design-wise, it's one of my favorite airports in the country. One of its best features are the gates, which jut out from the main terminal, parallel to runways on either side. Huge glass windows give a panoramic view of the runways, the surrounding area, and the Columbia River just to the north.
I'm scheduled to depart on the second or third flight out: Portland to Seattle. The regulars call it "riding the missile." The flight is so short that you haven't finished ascending before the plane starts to descend. I suspect the regulars will call it something else today. The flight is usually near-empty. I suspect it will be even more empty today (I turn out to be right about this). Then the long flight from Seattle to New York City.
Somewhere over Chicago today, I will find my Swiss army knife still in my laptop bag. The new security screeners didn't find it, and I forgot it was in there. I will throw it away when I get to New York.
But for now, I'm with the others. We've walked up to the enormous windows. The first flight of the morning is visible out there, taxiing toward one of the runways.
And as it accelerates down the runway and launches itself into the sky, I and the others roar and cheer and applaud our approval.