Getting the News and Then Getting Home

I was in my office at the southeast corner of Connecticut and M before the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Someone in the office reported it almost immediately, having gotten it off an online service. My first thought was of the air corps bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building during WWII. Someone dragged out a television set, but we couldn't get good reception. We talked among ourselves and went back to work. But soon we heard of a plane hitting the second building at the World Trade Center and of a plane crashing into the Pentagon. We went up to the roof of the office building, looking for smoke from the Pentagon, but we couldn't see anything.

Of course, no one could work. We were listening to radios, going online, or watching grainy pictures on poor reception on television. There were reports of more planes heading towards Washington. My office was four or five blocks from the White House, but I never felt threatened. My daughter was in New York City. I emailed her and several friends there but heard nothing.

Someone said the World Trade Center had collapsed. "Do you mean," I asked, "that if you are in New York and you look towards the buildings, nothing is standing?"  The person didn't know.  I couldn't believe a 110-story building would collapse.

The radio reported that the government had closed. I looked out the windows and saw the streets were clogged with cars. Office workers wanted to get their children's schools and pick them up, but traffic wasn't moving. I saw an SUV turn off the street and drive down the sidewalk at more-than-safe speed.  The driver was obviously panicked.

I usually bused to and from work, but the buses couldn't move. I thought about taking the subway, which would drop me a mile from my house, but the radio reported that the terrorists might also target transportation hubs, so I didn't feel the subway was safe. Others in the office were leaving. Finally, at around 1 p.m., I decided the subway was probably safe and took it to Tenleytown.  The walk from there to my house was downhill.  It was a beautiful day. The sky was crystal clear.  The air was cool. And it was eerily quiet. Every commercial plane had been grounded hours early. There was almost no vehicular traffic. I had never heard such quiet. The silence burned the grief into my memory.

A friend told me of her quite different trip home to Alexandria.  She too took the subway. She lived in Alexandria though, and the police had stopped the subway at L'Enfant Plaza. Passengers bought for Alexandria had to walk across the bridge and then along the bike path around National Airport.

She didn't have walking shoes and said it was a long and painful walk. At National Airport, a policeman said radar showed a plane headed for the airport, and she was ordered to run for a short distance. She finally got to Alexandria and caught a bus home.

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