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Writer's Block: 9/11

Where were you?

I was late for work. This was habitual. I had a job on the fourth floor of the North American headquarters of a large Japanese company. I was on Interstate 71, on the bit where it goes through a tunnel and loops around downtown Cincinnati, when a voice broke into the classical music I was listening to.

"Um ... I just got this off the teletype ... it says a plane hit the World Trade Center." He paused. "It says ... two planes?"

At work, nobody noticed me stumbling in in my long black skirt (no time for hose) and frumpy red sweater. "You heard?" someone asked me. "Yeah," I said. My colleagues stood about in nervous clusters. A few people stared intently at their screens, willing CNN.com or ABC.com to come up. Occasionally someone rushed past in agitation. A girl I later learned was an Iranian immigrant brushed past me, near to tears, and said, "The Capital's been bombed!" "Where did you hear that?" I demanded. "It's all over the news!" she said.

There were a few TVs on the floor below as part of the AV equipment in the conference rooms, and periodically we migrated there. We watched the second plane over and over. We heard about the crash in Pennsylvania there. I learned about the Pentagon crash, and called my sister in DC, but (IIRC) the network was too busy; the call didn't go through.

(I later learned she spent the whole day stuck in traffic. To this day she has only a vague idea of the sequence of events, though she was so close to them, because unlike we bystanders she was cut off from the media, couldn't spend the whole day following them.)

We kept trying to get updates. The news was mostly people being shocked, people cautioning us that information was scanty, and the same horrible footage being shown over and over. Even though we were drawn to the televisions, we would drift out again. I tried to think of something useful to do for work, and couldn't. I went to the Red Cross website and donated $100.

Around noon it occurred to me that even though there was no getting through to any US news network website, there were other news networks in the world, who would have US correspondents. And some of them were run by English speakers. And since Europe was hours ahead, they wouldn't have as many people hitting their sites as the US sites did. I went to bbc.co.uk. Finally, information.

I'd called my mother early on to let her know. I told her two planes hit the World Trade Center. "An accident?" she breathed, horrified. "No," I said, helplessly.