***I wrote the following a few days ago for BTE BACKSTAGE, which was soliciting submissions from people concerning where they were on September 11, 2001. They titled my post "The Locker Room Radio." I've made a few tweaks, but this is basically what I wrote.***
It’s funny what you remember about "big" events. Often, it's not the event itself that sticks with you. Rather, it's the surrounding circumstances that leave the most lasting impression – what you were doing, where you were, the song playing on the radio. Oh, and the irony. That sticks with you, too.
Maybe that’s why when I think of September 11, 2001, I think of the weather. Because, as I walked out the door to head for my regular Tuesday morning racquetball game on Harrisburg’s west shore, I couldn’t help but notice the brilliant blue sky. A few clouds floated above, but they were white and puffy, the friendly clouds that never hurt anyone.
I don’t recall exactly what time I left, but it must have been about 8:45 since we usually met around 9:00. I believe I had the TV tuned to one of the morning news shows before I left the house and certainly had the radio on in the car. Still, by the time I got to the gym and put my purse and cell phone in the locker, this Tuesday still seemed like any other.
The first indication that something was not normal came as we took a break between games. We sat on the benches outside the racquetball courts and that’s where I heard the song "When You're Falling" by Afro Celt Sound System with Peter Gabriel. A radio station had been piped in over the PA system. The gym didn't usually do that. But, all I heard was music, so I played another game or two of racquetball without thinking any more about it.
Not until we returned to the locker room, maybe around 11 a.m., did I realize what was going on. Once again, the radio was my first clue. It had been piped into the locker room, but this time, there was no music. Instead, a reporter was talking about hospitals in lower Manhattan preparing for mass casualties. I remarked out loud that something big must have happened. At that point, another woman in the locker room said something like, "Don't you know what happened? Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center and both towers are down."
The image that formed in my head was of a small, private plane and a pilot who obviously didn't know what he was doing. But, as I rushed to the TV in the lobby, then rushed to find a phone (I think my cell phone was dead), the reality of the situation became clear. This was a tragedy and I, a veteran broadcast journalist, didn't know about it until at least two hours after the fact.
The rest of the day is something of a blur. I rushed home to shower then drove to work in Harrisburg, dropping off my dog at a friend's house along the way. By the time I arrived at the TV station, coverage plans were already well underway. We frequently broke into the non-stop network coverage to provide updates on the local situation: where people could donate blood, steps being taken to secure state and federal buildings in the city, responders from central PA gearing up to head to New York. There was no shortage of stories, and we were so busy covering them that, at least for me, there really wasn’t time to immediately absorb the emotional impact of what had happened.
By 11:30 p.m., things had settled down. We had a crew on the way to the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, but with no more local newscasts scheduled until the morning, there wasn’t much else to do. On a normal night, the newsroom would be empty until 5:00 a.m. But, this wasn't a normal night – there could be another attack, right? - and I didn't feel that the newsroom should be unattended. So, I stayed at work through the night, alone in an eerily quiet newsroom, monitoring the TV networks, which showed constant pictures of Ground Zero illuminated by flood lights, just waiting for the next shoe to drop - and really, really hoping that it didn't. I finally left sometime in the morning once coverage plans for the day after were in motion.
So, that's how I remember September 11, 2001. A terrorist attack on a beautiful day. A broadcast journalist who didn't find out what happened until hours after the fact. A work day that started late but ended up being one of the longest of my career.
And, one final instance of irony. In the weeks and days before September 11, I and several others at the TV station had been preparing for a station-sponsored event that involved a series of functions centered around wine. In fact, one of our reporters was scheduled to shoot a preview story on September 11. The name of the event? Très Bonne Année, which translates to "very good year."