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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you moments? Expanded...Part 1

September 11, 2001 started like every other day that year for me. Got up early, drove my wife to the subway so she could head downtown to her job at Bank Of America. Yes, we live in Canada, but Toronto is a big international city and all of the big international companies have headquarters here. That would become important later. Then I headed out to Mississauga to the barn so I could go train my stable of racehorses. As always, I listened to the Fan590 on the radio. I loved sports talk radio and had it on all day as I traveled back and forth and while I brushed the horses and cleaned the stalls. I had gotten used to listening to the Fan while doing my previous day job of traveling to customers to settle foreign exchange deals. It was what carried my day in the endless chores of training, feeding, cleaning, rubbing and brushing racehorses.
As I approached Hurontario Street on the 401, it was exactly 8:48am. I saw that on the dashboard of the car radio clock. I remember that as clear as day. The brief news update was being delivered and then the traffic was updated as was common in the mornings. Toronto has major traffic issues, as do most big cities, so if you listened to any station you always heard those.
Just as the traffic report was being presented, the morning talk host, Mike Hogan, cut in to say he had CNN on the tv there and that he could see images of a plane crashing into one of the towers of The World Trade Center. It was now 8:50. I thought to myself "What kind of crap pilot crashes a plane into The World Trade Center"? I was now less than 5 minutes from the barn, but I didn't think much about it. As I pulled onto Winston Churchill Blvd. and headed for the barn it was now getting close to 9am. I pulled into the barn and went inside. First chore was always to check on the horses and see if they were ok and give them breakfast. I did that. As they began to chomp down on their breakfast I went into the feed room and turned on the radio. It was now 9:05. Reality was starting to set in. This was not a random plane that hit the tower and something was amiss. Nevertheless, I was busy and had things to do.
Went out to check on the track, see if everything was ok before I harnessed up the horses for the days work. That took about 5 minutes. Everything looked fine. I remember that it was a clear sunny day, as bright blue and as shiny as could be. At that time good hay was hard to come by, but the owner of the barn's son, Lenio, had cut a whole field of wild grass and exotic plants, so I went out to gather some and pick them so the horses would have a good meal for dinner later after I went home. It was now about 9:20. I came back in and took two horses who were not going to train and led them into the paddock so they could run. Back into the barn and back to the crosstie area. I got the first horse out who would be jogged.
The radio was loud enough so I could hear it while I brushed the first horse. A second plane had crashed into the second tower at 9:15. Oh boy. You knew this was going to be a day for the history books. Being at the barn I had no way to see this visual. It was all on the radio for me until I got home later just after lunchtime. But I could picture it and it seemed very real.
It was now approaching 9:30. It was clear that this day was going to be different than any other day. I decided that there would be no jogging of the horses today. It just didn't make sense. I turned them all out and began to make some phone calls. It was now 9:55. I went over to the grocery store down the street and got some potato wedges that I loved but usually waited until lunchtime to get. Got back to the barn around 10:10. On the way I was listening to the Fan590 in the car. I pulled into the driveway of the barn and it was 10:15. The announcer, Mike Hogan, sounded grim and somber as he reported that the first tower had just fallen.

Within a few minutes he reported that The Pentagon had been hit by a third plane and there was significant damage and casualties. In the meantime, within minutes, the second tower fell. In the matter of two hours the World Trade Center, the poster child symbol for American dominance on the horizon of the most famous city in the world, was no longer there. Just a vast expanse of horizon filled with smoke on top of a heap of steel, concrete, ashes...and dead bodies. The reality of what was happening was now upon us.
It was now almost 11am. I got my cell phone out and called my wife. Of course, there was panic and shock everywhere. I was at the barn, in the country, so I was completely isolated and alone. She was not. Thousands upon thousands of office workers glued to the tv and riveted by the unimaginable. There was mild panic. I asked what she knew. She knew about the two towers, but she and most didn't know about The Pentagon. They also didn't know about the missing plane about to crash in the back woods of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where her sister was living. I did.
I told her, as I lay on grass on my cell phone, gathering up more grass and flowers and plants for the horses to munch on later, that this was much bigger than we could all conceive of.
Being that she worked for The Bank of America, in the heart of downtown Toronto, where a big sign hung to show all the world, just steps from another icon, the CN Tower, there was significant risk that they would be a target as well. I advised her to leave work, get on the subway and I would pick her up ASAP. I had no idea how long that would be. I imagined a panic on the scale of The War Of The Worlds and possibly horrible traffic jams on the highway as I headed back to get her and head home. I really had no idea what to expect.
I gathered up the horses and put them back inside, prepared all that needed to be done and was on my way to pick her up. On a normal day it would be a 20 minute drive. But this was midday and also no ordinary day. I headed for the highway and what could be a long journey back to the subway and then home.
It was now around 11:30. As I got on the highway one thing was very obvious. The whole city had vacated long before I got there. It was barren and empty, like a bomb scare had happened hours earlier. It was like driving home at 3am. Hardly a car to pass. I got to the subway in 10 minutes, probably the fastest I ever have.
Because I got there so fast I had to wait about half an hour for my wife to make her way up to the station I pick her up at. I waited in the car and continued to listen to the radio. I had my potato wedges so I chomped on those while I passed the time. It was now noon.
As I waited, I noticed many other cars waiting in that roundabout. It was always a busy pickup circle, but nothing like this. Many drivers would get out of their cars which was another very odd thing to see. They never did that. As their pickup and passenger would arrive one or other would be crying. Balling. It was obvious that this was affecting them in a way it wasn't me. This happened many times over while I waited.
One in particular sticks in my mind. There was a woman waiting in the car beside me. She seemed sullen, but still, for about 10 minutes. Then a man, dressed clearly as a Bay Street type of banker got out of the enclosure to the pickup area and met her halfway from their car and the enclosure. They embraced and were crying uncontrollably. It is likely they had a loved one who perished in one of the towers. I will never forget those few seconds I witnessed that. That is my strongest memory of that day, to this day.
At about 12:20 my wife arrived, safe and sound. She was calm, but a bit shaken. We made our way home, which was about 10 minutes.
By the time we got home, it was clear who had done this and how large this story and event had become.
We sat on the couch, for hours, probably until midnight, just watching the event. It was our generations JFK moment.
My strongest memory of all the images was watching a stream of people, probably hundreds of thousands walking over a bridge meant for cars from the city to some other destination. Won't ever forget that either.
That is how I remember that whole day.

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