9 – 11 : Where Were You When …

by on September 10, 2021 · 7 comments

in San Diego

Twenty years ago, tomorrow Saturday, our world changed.

Some see 9-11 as a generation’s “Pearl Harbor” of December 7, 1941 infamy.

Yet, many of us of different generations certainly remember where we were when the NYC Towers, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania (thanks to a brave contingent on board) were all hit. For the past week, the mainstream media has been running memorials and memories. You couldn’t miss them.

So, here is your chance, dear reader, to offer yours. This is an open thread so the comments are for the taking.

I remember. I was dressing for court in Vista when I emerged from the bedroom to find my daughter of 12 sobbing in front of the tube. I watched the second plane smash into the skyscraper. She told me she couldn’t go to school that day.

On the long drive to Vista court from OB, my mind raced at the possible loss of life. Once inside the courtroom, scared deputies ushered us all out the large, new courthouse and closed it down. Coincidentally, back in OB, this was the first day that Starbucks on Newport Avenue opened and I knew there would be fellow activists in front urging a boycott. There had been protests about Starbucks’ opening for months – some of them with hundreds of people.

Out amongst the picket signs, I tried to convince my friends that today wasn’t the day for a protest, imagining losses of 20,000 to 30,000 – we didn’t know then. Heated words were exchanged and the picket line continued. People driving by were just screaming at the gaggle in front of the new store. Starbucks finally had the good sense to close early – as much of the rest of the country did.

Fast forward some, many in OB knew a war was coming – yeah, a war with a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks, and the group OBGO (OB Grassroots Organization) staged many a demonstration and protest against the war that was coming. And of course Bush’s lies brought the war.

Everybody had their own experiences. Chris, one of our regular commenters, had this to say about his memories:

I was in Darwin Australia for a port visits (stationed onboard the USS Peleliu). We steamed out of there the following morning and headed for the Persian Gulf where we spent the next 4 and half months. The USS Philippine Sea fired the first missiles (from the gulf to Afghanistan) to officially start Operation Enduring Freedom. We watched from the flight deck. Quite a surreal experience.

One thing is for sure, whether or not we should have gone to war in Afghanistan or handled things over there the way we did or how long we should have remained there will never be a consensus. I will reveal something about myself. This is a bit on the dark side and in retrospect it was probably not a healthy attitude. I was angry and full of hate. I was actually thrilled to watch those first missiles fired off into the night and slept very well that evening and actually taking comfort in knowing the destruction they were going to cause. Looking back I realize that’s a terrible way to think but I was caught up in the moment. I also realize I had the luxury of being 900 miles away from the actual fighting (cheering for the deaths of other human beings) while the Marines embarked onboard had to experience combat full boots on the ground. Thank God we had no casualties among them and they all returned back to the ship safely. So for me, 9/11 DID change at least some of my views.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

judi September 10, 2021 at 12:38 pm

I was the Deputy Director of Penobscot Job Corps in Bangor, Maine. We were one of the Eastern States Job Corps Centers and many of our students were from New York, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, etc. A great number of our students had family that worked in the areas that were hit by the planes. Chaos reigned for days until we parents, friends, relatives, etc. were accounted for. Almost the entire Center viewed the planes crashing into the buildings, because a lot of the teaching was done by television. It was a very difficult day for the students and staff. The next month or more was spent on mental health healing rather than teaching and learning.


Peter from South O September 10, 2021 at 1:42 pm

I was working from home in Carlsbad, remotely managing a network and providing tech support to a recording studio in NYC (I would fly out for two weeks every three months) on West 23rd Street. Up early because of the three hour time difference, I was listening to a local morning show (DSC) on the radio when the hosts broke into a wacky humor recording to tell everyone to turn on the television “it doesn’t matter what channel”.
I spent the rest of the day chatting back and forth via email with my boss while we checked off each employee’s status when they checked in (a lot of them regularly commuted through the subway station under the Twin Tower’s plaza).
It took awhile, but finally everyone was accounted for.
I was scheduled to fly out a month after that, and I indeed did. The city was a different, solemn place.
I still have a picture on my wall taken by the studio manager from the roof of our building, with smoke rising entitled “Chelsea Sunset” (Joni fans will get it).


Paul Webb September 10, 2021 at 2:25 pm

I was backpacking in the Sierra Nevada, attempting to summit Mt. Whitney on 9/11. Someone on the trail had a radio and different stories about what happened were spreading up and down the trail, every person you passed either asked what you knew or wanted to share what they knew. We knew something had happened, but nobody knew exactly what.

When some people talked about planes crashing into the WTC, I thought of a photo I had seen taken in the 20’s or 30’s of a plane that had crashed into the Empire State Building. The plane was still hanging on the side of the building but there was no major, irreversible damage to the structure. I thought that maybe people were blowing the story out of proportion, not knowing that we were talking about jet airlines, not small single or twin engine airplanes.

But as I kept going up the mountain, more and more stories, most of which turned out to be false, were being spread along the trail – martial law being declared, major roads and highways anywhere near military installations being blockaded, gas stations being ordered to close, radio and television stations off the air, etc. In my own mind, I was dismissing all the doom and gloom I was hearing as overblown fears of poorly communicated information, sort of an alpine version of the old game of telephone. Surely, it couldn’t have been that bad!

Then I realized that the only airplanes is saw in the sky weren’t the normal flights of commercial air traffic across the Sierra, but fighter jets flying combat air patrol along the spine of the mountain range, I presume to force down (or shoot down!) any airplanes attempting to cross the mountains. I turned around and made my way back to Outpost Camp on the main Whitney trail, and eventually back to my car.

On my drive home, I finally learned of the scale of the horror of that day from my car radio. To this day, I have not watched any video of the plane impacts on the buildings. I can only imagine the shock and horror of waking up and turning on the TV while getting prepared for an ordinary day of work or school, only to see those terrible images happening live.


sealintheSelkirks September 11, 2021 at 12:59 pm

My ex and I had separated at the start of the year and I was living 5 blocks south in the Mt. Shasta rental I had bought with the inheritance after selling my dad’s San Diego house in 1995.

I had come home from the Hog Farm’s 3-day outdoor Pig-Nic rock concert just a week earlier that had been through the 1st & 2nd, and after ten days on site as a Staff troubleshooter security rover I was still emotionally broken up from having a young woman dying in my arms (an overdose) whom I managed to keep alive long enough for the Rock Med docs to get to her (this story is in my book Massacre Sites Working for the Dead).

I was doing the last tune-up and winterizing on the quad that I used at concerts I had worked that summer. Pic-Nic was that last concert of the season.

The oldest stepdaughter (who had moved to her own place) phoned asking if I could come hook up a tv at the family house. She told me there had just been a terrorist attack in NY. I grabbed the bike and rode up the hill and hooked it up. Watched the planes hit the buildings, watched them fall into their own footprint like a stack of pancakes.

Look, I was raised a Viet Nam war resistor kid, was well aware of the US history of lies about all its invasions and bombings; well-read and aware of the lies by government politicians, the MIC, the corporations that profit, and the mainstream media that have always justified US invasions and coups overthrowing elected governments in other countries long before and since Viet Nam. Like Reagan’s Iran/Contra scandal and that massive cover-up full of lies or the invasion of Grenada, like HWbush’s lies about Iraq when he invaded, like Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia and the never-ending bombing of Iraq. My reaction at the time was not the bloodthirsty mindless revenge that was being pushed by every media outlet in the country.

The instant invasion of Afghanistan when there wasn’t a single Afghani involved that was supported by every damned congresscritter except Congresswoman Barbara Lee…something smelled and it was coming from Wbush and Dick Cheney and the other nasty neocons in DC put in power by the unSupreme Court of neocon justices. After 9 months of them being in office I knew many thinking people who were already becoming appalled with what they were doing and saying.

But they got their Pearl Harbor the neocons were wanting and wrote about in their 1998 ‘position paper’ Progress for a New American Century document, didn’t they? Anybody else read it or at least parts of it? Imperial conquest is so ugly to read…

It’s taken 20 years for Rep Lee to be proven correct. The ONLY one in Congress that was. And too many of those that did vote for war are still in office and shouldn’t be for their votes to invade; and for their enacting the PATRIOT Act that effectively destroyed the Bill of Rights in the Constitution without even bothering to read the damned thing.

20 years later this country is still running around with like a chicken its head cut off. How many people knew that the Taliban government (put in power by the CIA after they ran out the Soviets) agreed to hand over bin Laden and surrender if their leader was allowed to live out his life in respect in that country? Not very many that I’ve talked with. So many lies and war crimes by Dick Cheney and Wbush and Donald Rumsfeld et al still go unanswered nor prosecuted and, obviously, never will be any more than Pres Lyndon Johnston and Nixon’s war crimes in Viet Nam were.

Less than two years later I stood in front of the Mt. Shasta City Council to give a short speech on why the city should join others in refusing to support the breaking of the Nuremberg Principles and the Geneva Convention treaty in the coming illegal war crime in the 2nd invasion of Iraq along with many more town residents. More lies spoken by Dick Cheney and Wbush that the leader of Iraq was involved. Not a single mainstream media outlet reported the fact that Saddam was on bin Laden’s hit list and was not his bosom buddy muc less that he, too, was a product of the CIA. So the US went ahead and destroyed that country over a lie, too. Then it was Libya’s turn…and Syria’s…and…what the hell is wrong with our so-called leaders anyway? Are they all mind-sick? Without a doubt in my mind that they are.

Will this country’s leaders ever finally learn what they didn’t in Viet Nam? I don’t think so but then I’m pretty cynical about the type of people who gravitate to power.

an afterthought:

By the way, my oldest stepdaughter who called me that morning who was born on Longbranch in OB? She turned 21 that morning…and turned 41 today.



Seth Connolly September 11, 2021 at 3:29 pm

On 9-11, I was on vacation in Reykjavik, Iceland, with my (now) wife and stepfather. Back home, I worked in downtown Boston in a building with a view of Logan Airport, where the two WTC planes took off from. I would later come to find that my father was two planes back on the tarmac from the second plane on his way to Seattle. The terrorists had targeted cross-country flights because they had more jet fuel, and at one point amidst the confusion, CNN apparently announced that his flight was unaccounted for. They were actually safely grounded in Syracuse, and my father would later tell me that while they had a good sense of what was happening, his big concern was for the flight crew to finally serve them the food he knew was sitting back in the galley.

In Iceland, we had gone to a public geothermal pool for the morning. There were a lot of elderly men there who were wearing far too revealing speedos. I’m no prude, but I chose the outdoor hot tub on the far end from the bulk of them before discovering that they were arranged by temperature and that mine was 110 degrees. Not recommended.

When we came back to our hotel apartment, the desk clerk rushed at us, crying and stuttering. At that time, the overwhelming share of tourists in Iceland during the shoulder season were from NYC, DC, or Boston, as IcelandAir had started promoting themselves as a layover city on trips to Europe from those cities. Spend a day or two on the way to London or Paris, hit the Blue Lagoon, walk around town for the day, and stay in our apartment buildings. Hopefully you will see the Northern Lights (we did). She told us that there had been a major terrorist attack in New York, and that is was “that man,” which we both surmised to be Osama bin Laden. No idea how we both knew that within an hour of the attacks, but I guess he had been in the news.

We went upstairs and watched BBC Europe on the small TV in our place. This was during early internet days, and information was not as instant or ubiquitous as it is now. For several hours, we watched the footage of the buildings burning on loop. At one point, there was only one tower standing, and they eventually announced that one had fallen. Soon there were none. We switched over to the music video channel, and they kept playing “Virtual Insanity” by Jamiroquai, which I will forever associate with that day.

We eventually went downtown and walked aimlessly in a state of shock, ending up at Reykjavik’s iconic church. I’m not religious, but we went inside and saw that many people had come to light candles, which was comforting somehow. Later on, we went in a bar to watch CNN for better info and have some drinks. When George Bush came on to speak, a small group of college students erupted in laughter and mocked him repeatedly. I didn’t vote for the man, and know full well that we played a role in making ourselves a target, but it made me a bit furious. Thousands of people had died that day, and it was just felt deeply disrespectful, whatever you thought of our President. Either I glared at them long enough, or someone informed us that we were American, but they eventually settled down.

We were originally supposed to fly back on the 11th, but changed it to the 12th last minute. Iceland is a cool place, but not the place to be stranded and stuck in limbo in that situation. We thought that we could be there for weeks, but showed up for our flight anyway. They told us to come back each morning with our luggage to check in and get updates. On the 13th, they told us they at our plane to Boston was leaving in 10 minutes and we ran and boarded it. It wasn’t until we were actually on the plane that we realized that there was an approximately zero percent chance that we were flying into the airport where the two WTC planes had taken off from two days earlier. As we considered that, an older man walked up and down the aisle sizing up each passenger, apparently looking for Middle Easterners or potential terrorists.

We had been hearing for the last two days that Canadian airports had been swarmed with diverted flights, and that there were no rental cars or hotel rooms available, which I contemplated as I looked down at the shoreline of Greenland. Sure enough, they flew us to Montreal’s more remote airport, an hour outside the city. They deboarded us onto the actual runway with our luggage, then turned the plane around and took off as we watched.

Eventually, a shuttle bus came to get us, and took us to customs. The airport terminal was a madhouse, but we were eventually assured that IcelandAir had rented two buses each for NYC, DC, and Boston, and that we should just go line up outside. We had been running into a lot of these other US tourists over the last few days, sharing our small bits of information and trying to be supportive of each other. We lined up outside, and the Red Cross soon showed up and gave us generic diet colas and cheese sandwiches. It felt weird to accept them, because we figured that they had actual people to help somewhere, but we were also hungry. Some Canadian punk rocker guy in a leather jacket walked up and down in front of us for a bit, waving a $20 USD bill in our faces while mocking us about how all our American money couldn’t help us now.

That wasn’t worth punching someone at an airport during a major crisis, but where it got dicey when the two Boston buses arrived first, and all the New Yorkers tried to force their way onto them. They were figuring that there was no guarantee more buses were coming anytime soon, and that they could at least find a way home from Boston. Notable that none of the DC people did that, but it was a hard week to be a New Yorker. It was getting pretty heated when their buses finally showed up shortly afterwards.

We got to US customs in Vermont in the middle of the night, and they came on the bus with dogs and AKs to check us out with flashlights in our faces. The buses arrived at South Station in Boston the next morning, and I felt a little bad about just being able to get on the subway downstairs and head back to our apartment while the rest of the passengers still had to figure out ways to get back to Connecticut or wherever they were from.

I went back to work the next day, and my job at the time was working as a research assistant for American Express and their new black cards, which offered a sort of concierge service to the super-wealthy. We had a few thousand clients, with nearly half in Manhattan and maybe 100-200 of them in the WTC buildings. In the early internet days, we were basically just googling stuff for rich executives and their assistants. Search engine optimization didn’t really exist yet, and I am still a total beast with boolean operators to this day. That info was always out there somewhere.

We opened our services to anyone with any sort of AMEX card in the weeks after 9-11, and were a sort of de facto command center for getting information out to all sorts of people impacted by the attacks. No water below 20th, anything below 8th is still evacuated, that subway line is not running, and sure, we can get you a hotel in Jersey somewhere, just hang in there. Most of our clients were entitled jerks the rest of the time, but some were great and we had our mission, however peripheral to the actual event.

One client worked in the WTC and had an apartment a few blocks away that he had been evacuated from. He didn’t even have a place to stay yet, but called us because his young niece’s birthday was coming up the next day. She lived in rural Ohio, and he had promised her that he would get her a particular toy for her birthday the next day. It was literally the only thing he was concerned about despite his situation, and he told us to just make it happen. Turned out that the toy in question was the Tickle Me Elmo or PlayStation 5 of that year, and it was out of stock everywhere.

I finally found a toy shop a 45-minute drive from her house that had a couple left in stock. I was working with the shop owner to find a delivery service, but it was late in the afternoon in rural Ohio and we were striking out. I told her that the guy worked in the WTC and didn’t even have a place to stay, and she just told me straight away she would personally drive it to the girl’s house as soon as she closed up at 5. She wouldn’t even take any extra money for it. We both started crying over the phone, and I still cry every time I tell that story. No idea why, but if there is a good part to 9-11, It is that people came together for a bit.

One of my coworkers was at AMEX corporate on the day of the attacks. It was directly across the street from the WTC buildings. After the second plane hit, they were evacuated into the basement. The first tower crumbled only a few hundred feet away from them and she told me that they were all convinced Manhattan had been nuked for a few minutes. They were led out of the basement and had to climb over big piles of rubble as they watched and heard bodies from the upper floors of remaining tower hitting the ground nearby. It’s hard for me to even contemplate what that experience was like. Wherever she is today, I hope she’s doing OK.

I spent the next few weeks erasing WTC clients from our database as I came across them. I bartended on day cruises on the weekends for extra cash, and on that following Saturday morning, a couple of us cut through a fancy hotel to get to our dock. They had a huge setup for a brunch for several hundred people. Their waitstaff was standing around and told us that their group had no-showed, and that when they looked at the billing address to call them, it said that their company was located on one of the highest floors of the North Tower. What a surreal scene to have cooked them breakfast five days later.
Other bits and pieces come up as we do this anniversary each year. Like most of you, I was not directly impacted. It feels weird to talk about the collective shock and trauma that we all felt that day as if I somehow was. Still, when the anniversary pops up or when I go back to Boston and inevitably drive past the hotel some of the attackers stayed at the night before, all these bits and pieces come rushing back. I also think of past and future people I knew and the stories they have. It seems that everyone has a story about that day.

One friend was driving on the Washington Parkway and watched the plane come down into the Pentagon. Another watched everything from his apartment deck in Brooklyn, and a couple of papers from WTC file cabinets eventually landed right next to him after the Towers collapsed. Another friend worked in bar in Chelsea and slept through all everything at his apartment in Hells Kitchen, awakening at 2pm to maybe 200 voicemails from his worried family back in Wisconsin. A Palestinian-American childhood friend who ran an autobody shop in Cambridge essentially soon had his entire staff of Palestinian immigrants deported just because. My brother-in-law took a job in management at Goldman Sachs years later, and was given an office on a lower floor of a Manhattan office building, before being told that it was because they could get him out quickly in the event of an attack. I semi-wondered if that meant the admin assistants had corner offices on the 80th floor.

While living in Cole Valley in San Francisco a few years later, there were one or two nights I would pop into a local bar for a drink because I couldn’t sleep and would sit next to a picture of Mark Bingham, an apparent regular at their bar who helped to lead the passenger insurrection on Flight 93. I would just look at the photo floored by the bravery of the people on that plane who were willing to kill themselves just so that others wouldn’t die. Could you do that if called upon? I don’t have a hero complex, but I wonder about that every time I get on a plane to this day.

It was a tough moment in time, even if it probably pales to what has been happening in the last year and a half. But running through all the possibilities of what could come next over the next few weeks after the attacks, I don’t ever recall being more fearful to just be alive. In the weeks after the attack, I would watch CNN talking about how the terrorists wanted to poison water supplies or do subway attacks, and would then have to wake up and shower before getting on the subway the next day, standing in silence with all the other scared commuters. Obviously a rather small bravery compared to the first responders at the WTC, and what the men and women who ended up going to Afghanistan and Iraq had to endure later on, but there was also a fear that was on your mind most every second in the weeks afterwards for so many of us. Which, of course, was the primary point of it all.

The recent events in Afghanistan are horrible, and it all happening nearly 20 years to the day from 9-11 feels like a page has been turned somehow, with a chapter closing. There’s just so many things about it all. I wish that our civilian leadership had given our military more achievable goals in the days and years moving forward, and not tried to use them to build democracies at gunpoint. I feel for our military and their families, as well as those of the people in Afghanistan and Iraq who suffered and are still suffering. Maybe Vietnam felt similar, but it’s just hard to find the meaning in any of this. Why did it all have to happen like that? No idea.

What a day.


Frank Gormlie September 11, 2021 at 4:17 pm

Thanks Seth for your incredible story – and good to hear from you, mi amigo.


Chris September 12, 2021 at 7:38 pm

As was stated in my quoted response to Ernie’s article in THIS article, I was in Darwin Australia (Northern Territories). We were at the MGM Grand (yes in Darwin) hanging out in the bar. We watched things unfold on the news and while watching we saw the second plane hit. The whole place was glued to the monitor. Every crew member and embarked personnel throughout the town were ordered to report back to the ship immediately. We (three of us) ordered in more pitcher of beer knowing it would a very long time until we’d be on dry land again. We finished the pitcher and took a cab back to where the ship was docked. It was quite the chaotic mess to say the least. Picture a bunch of inebriated Sailors and Marines all standing in line to cross the quarterdeck. Even though we were docked, we were in General Quarters status. In some ways this whole scene kinda comical. As we crossed the quarterdeck my buddy was pulled to stand watch in the armory despite his condition. We steamed out of there early the following morning. Quite a hangover to head out to sea and not only go to war but be part of actually STARTING what would be America’s longest war in history.


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: