Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago today was September 11, 2001. Everyone in the US, and many others around the world, will be remembering the anniversary.
There's plenty of events, exhibitions, and other remembrances around the milestone anniversary date. There's a parade and various other events in New York. The NFL will have guests and recognition activities at their opening weekend games, especially the Bengals-Jets game across the river from New York. National Geographic has put together a photo gallery from the attacks. PBS interviewed many of the Pentagon survivors. And many, many more.

Personally, I mostly remember being very fortunate in 2001. I was consulting at the time, and that usually meant traveling someplace every week. I'd never been to the World Trade Center itself, but going to the greater New York area wasn't unheard of. But I happened to be in the rare situation of working at a client close enough to home that I could drive, back in September 2001. Not only was I not in any danger from the attacks, but I also didn't get stuck somewhere far away from home when flights were grounded and the whole system backed up for days. Many of the folks I worked with weren't so lucky - none of my co-workers were caught in the attacks, but several spent many days trying to get home from far-away work assignments.

The office where I was working on that Tuesday was a two-level open-plan layout. I remember hearing people talking about rumors of some kind of disaster early on in the day, but it wasn't until someone jury-rigged a big-screen TV in the middle of the office where everyone could see it that I realized just how significant the attacks were. Being IT workers, we all tried to find information from various news websites, but most of them were down, overloaded by the sheer number of people trying to find out what was going on. So the news on the TV broadcast was how we followed the events of the day. Not a whole lot of work got done that day; hard to concentrate on the mundane with the shock of the attacks still settling in.

On the day itself, I was mostly thankful to be able to go home safely, and that none of my close family and friends were in harm's way. The implications for the future certainly didn't set in right away. The idea of the US spending years at war, taking down Iraqi and Afghan ruling regimes, didn't cross my mind at all. If anything, I assumed that there would be a world-wide manhunt for the culprits, which did happen...but it took years longer than I'd have guessed at the time.

The changes to the airline industry were extensive, of course. When I once again started flying regularly, I spent a lot more time in security lines. Being a young man traveling alone who often changed flights at the last minute put me on the "extra screening" list an abnormally high amount of the time. Normal behavior for an IT consultant, but it triggered lots of warning flags on the heightened security screening checklist. I learned pretty quickly that arriving 30-40 minutes early for my flight wasn't good enough any more. It was several years before I could rely on getting through security regularly without long delays (at least, no longer than everyone else). There were also fewer flights to choose from, so I'd often need to take very late flights or spend an extra night away from home in order to maintain the same work schedule. That part hasn't changed much over time, as the airlines have tried to keep flight schedules leans and profits up.

Fifteen years on, I'm still very thankful to have been kept safe on that day, and the same for those close to me. I'll be remembering those who weren't so fortunate, and those they left behind, on this anniversary.

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