9/12 -- Wish The World Away.
Traffic jam in DC on the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings

This is a picture taken from Washington Circle at noon on September 11. Imagine the sounds of wailing sirens in the background, and you've got the full picture. There's often gridlock during rush hour, but rarely during the middle of the workday. Until today.

I never learn to appreciate a normal, boring day until something happens to knock the day so far away from normal that I wonder how things will ever be the same again.

I stopped by Bread and Chocolate and bought my normal breakfast of a muffin and a skim latte. I got to the office, greeted my co-workers, caught up with a co-worker who'd just returned from the French Riviera (and undoubtedly wishes she'd stayed the hell in France, I'm guessing), settled into my cube, and started posting updates to the various parts of Project Titanic. Normal. Boring. Routine.

And then my cube neighbor's mother, who also works for the Big Company, came to us with an ashen face. "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." And we said "Oh my god" and did our best to pull up news sites on the Web, but no dice. The sites were already overloaded and timing out. At this point, I had no idea that this was anything more than a bizarre, tragic accident.

And then the news started filtering in from employees with radios: A second plane had flown into the other tower of the World Trade Center. That was no accident. This was probably the first time I heard the name "Osama bin Laden" come up.

And then the next item of devastating -- and terrifying -- news came through: Another jet just hit the Pentagon. They're hitting DC. They're here. God, they're fucking here. My hands turned cold and my stomach tightened up and I had a thought that would prove stunningly unoriginal and trite: Jesus -- this is like being in some stupid TV movie.

The floodgates burst after that one. We had plenty of Oracles of Doom walking through our halls bellowing out any and all stories and tidbits and half-assed rumors that came over the radio: One tower of the WTC just collapsed. The other tower just collapsed. A car bomb just went off at the State Department. There's a fire on the Mall. There's a fire at the USA Today building. There's a fire at the White House. There's another hijacked jet heading right for us. A jet just crashed outside of Pittsburgh.

And I didn't want to panic and I wanted to keep my head and retain a healthy skepticism and not completely freak out, but Jesus -- once you've seen the World Trade Center disappear in smoke and rubble and once you've seen shots of the Pentagon in flames, you try remaining cool and detached about what could happen next when your ass is sitting right in Northwest DC within walking distance of the White House and a mere brief cab ride from the Capitol Building. If you can be all cool and cynical in that situation, then I bow down to your utter human superiority.

I've said many a time before that The Big Company prizes itself on not shutting down for anything: Snow. Hurricanes. Exploding manhole covers. We do Important Work, people all over the world depend on our vital information, and we Do Not Close. Ever.

Today, no employees gave a flying fuck about that noble mandate. When the (untrue) news about the State Department came through, people started getting the hell out of Dodge. (Some clarification: the State Department is on the same street as my building, although it's on the other side of the traffic circle. And they used to have offices in our building. Before I found out that the car-bomb story was false, I wondered if the terrorists knew the State Department didn't have a branch in my building anymore.) I called my mother to reassure her that I was okay and find out if she'd heard anything new, and then I called Bill. While I was on the phone with him, a message came through the phone system: The Big Company was officially closed.

We were torn about the best way for me to get home. Traffic, we knew, would be positively chaotic. Two major bridges out of DC into Virginia were closed down. And quite frankly, I was scared about taking the Metro. What if the fuckers behind this were waiting for people to flee the city, and then they hit the subway? Trapped in a tunnel full of smoke and flames ... Jesus. I sat there for another hour, talking to Bill, posting wildly on Crunchland, trying to get through to the Metro information line to find out what the travel was like, and waiting until I hadn't heard any recent news of new attacks. Finally, I decided I just didn't want to be in DC another minute. I wanted to be home with Bill and the cats and a warm blanket on the sofa.

I reached the lobby and saw something that you definitely do not want to see on a day like this: A huge yellow moving truck parked in front of our building, apparently abandoned. Our security guard, usually ebullient and smiley, was having a tense phone conversation with the police. As he told them about the truck, an older man walked across the street with a bag, hopped into the truck, and unpacked a hamburger.

"Oh wait," said the guard on the phone. "He was just getting himself something to eat."

Walking to the Metro turned out to be the scariest part of the journey home. I've noted in the past that during heavy snow days, drivers and pedestrians alike often act as if all known driving laws have been suspended. Well, drivers were doing that today too, and it wasn't in the least bit amusing to me as I started to cross at a light only to be nearly hit by drivers who were going to go wherever the hell they wanted and fuck what the traffic signals said.

Fortunately, as you can see in the picture above, the traffic was so gridlocked that even the people running lights probably couldn't have gone fast enough to hurt anybody. But I still gave myself a moment's amusement by giving the Darkest Stink Eye of Doom to some jerkass in a Porsche who nearly hit me as I walked the long way around Washington Circle (trying to cross the street with the signal and the crosswalk there would have been suicide today -- I'm not kidding you when I say that nobody was following the traffic laws).

alert sign in the MetroTo my surprise, the Metro was remarkably calm; I think I might have missed the initial wave of fleeing Washingtonians. I let one overcrowded Orange Line train go by, but the second one actually had plenty of seats. I felt fluttery and tense a few times as the train stopped in the tunnel for a couple of minutes between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn, but after that the ride was uneventful. But I felt ridiculously happy when the train emerged from the tunnel and the sun hit my face as we reached East Falls Church.

I took a bus to a nearby shopping center where Bill finally collected me. I could have taken another bus from there to our apartment, but Bill called on my cell phone to tell me he could meet me and I decided I wanted to be with him as soon as humanly possible. In the car I finally heard the radio reports describing the full horror of everything happening in New York.

And I finally lost it. Whatever fear I might have felt today cannot compare to the pain and the terror felt by the people in the Pentagon, the World Trade Center, the innocent people on the jets as they crashed into their targets, and the anguish all their relatives must be going through now. I've got the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's news on C-SPAN, and they're giving reports of people trapped in the World Trade Center rubble still alive even now, calling their relatives on cell phones and pleading desperately for help.

I don't want to think about that anymore.

I've watched the same scenes most of you have probably seen over and over again and it just doesn't get any more real or believable: People plummeting from the high windows of the World Trade Center in a desperate (and futile) attempt to save themselves. That second plane cutting a swath of fire through the second tower. And then the towers collapsing into themselves with the plumes of smoke and debris peeling away like petals. The fiery section of the Pentagon. The pulverized remains of the plane that crashed outside of Pittsburgh.

As if this wasn't painful enough, the news networks are showing shots of people in the West Bank jumping up and down in the streets and whooping. Celebrating. Even the children. Fucking evil shit-ass cockroach motherfuckers. Remind me not to feel bad the next time I see the aftermath of a big bomb attack in that place, I thought after one such scene, and then wished I hadn't thought it. Answering that kind of hate with more hate just feels like I'm letting the bastards win, like they're sucking the last of my decency from me.

I'm sure the Big Company will be open for business tomorrow, but I can barely fathom going back to work and carrying on as if nothing happened.

What next? What do we do now? Another Gulf War, or another Hiroshima? What's the answer? I don't know. I feel the way that the kind of people I usually sneer at on the news must feel. You know how you'll hear about a big and nasty murder in a high-end chi-chi neighborhood and always, always, there will be a TV news interview with at least one rich-looking neighbor who sputters out "We thought that kind of thing didn't happen here?" Well, that's me today. I know this kind of stuff has happened here before, but I never dreamed it could happen on such a scale, with major landmarks just crumbling to dust.

It's been more than 12 hours since it first happened, and I still can't get my mind around it somehow. My heart is breaking for those of you out there who've been directly affected by this in any way.

Indulging my inner hit slut

(Clix, please?)

Stop by the Insomniaville Forum and share your stories, your thoughts, or your random venting.

The next entry.

Previously, in Insomniaville ...

Main Page