The Eeriness of Sitting on a Silent Bus
That September morning had started like all the others: about 40 students of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, had crowded on the UTA bus to take the hour-long ride to school. We all happily chatted to the friends we'd made on this route, completed assignments at the last minute, complained about Spanish homework, or listened to our portable radios through headphones (since music wasn't allowed to be played out of courtesy for our fellow riders).
"An accident has happened at the Twin Towers!" one of the riders in the back suddenly shouted. "A plane crashed into them. My friend just texted me about it." Those with radios were turning up their volume knobs. We all knew about the attack on the Twin Towers a few years back, so we knew "Twin Towers" meant the World Trade Center towers.
"It wasn't an accident," one of the radio owners said, "the radio guy says they think it was intentional."
"Who would intentionally fly an airplane into the World Trade Center?" one of the other riders voiced what we all were thinking.
We were silent for a moment while we thought over the ludicrousness of the notion. I swallowed hard and finally asked the question that had been nagging me. "Was it a small plane or--"
"It was an airliner," the student who'd first announced the attack interrupted. "They say it was a fully-loaded passenger plane."
"Oh no," some woman said as she began to weep quietly. Most of us just stared at each other, not sure how to react. One passenger asked if it was conclusive whether it was an accident or an attack. We all sat in silence, our faces various expressions of disbelief, shock, sorrow, and confusion.
"Another plane hit the other tower," said the guy with the radio. "They're saying it's a terrorist attack."
By now, the bus driver had started listening. The bus slowed as it climbed the hill toward our school. It normally struggled to climb the hill that indicated we had about 15-20 minutes before we arrived at school. At that moment, it seemed like the bus represented our hearts and our heads.
We all sat in silence as it climbed. Only the bus engine noise filled the space left behind. Then some passengers started sniffing, no longer able to hold back the tears. Others just sat and stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing, and waited for the guy with the radio or the guy with his friend texting him to tell us more information.
Above us, fighter jets roared. We were only a mile from Hill Air Force Base, so we got a front-row seat to the military being scrambled to fight or shoot down any other terrorist-controlled planes. Then, more jets roared overhead.
It sounded like they were sending every plane they had. We sat on our bus seats, helpless to do anything but hug our backpacks and wonder if this meant we were going to war with some other nation.
The thing that still stands out to me today is how eerily quiet that bus was.
Only the announcement of the grounding of all passenger planes punctuated that heavy sensation. We had reached the school by the time that announcement arrived and wouldn't know about Flight 93 or the Pentagon attack until after we reached our respective classes.
I remember only one professor carrying on as if nothing had happened (and I understand: it was her way of coping with it all). All my other professors either canceled class or spent the time letting us talk about what was going on or what our fears or concerns were. But regardless of how the professors chose to use the day or how many students chose to stay at school instead of going home, one thing was eerily similar to what happened on that bus: that heavy and oppressive silence permeated the air like a fog that has refused to lift from my memories or my heart.