Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where I Was

Today, in case you've been living in Antartica for a while and haven't heard, is the fifth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11/01. I've been reading and thinking a lot about that day five years ago. And after reading a post on DailyKos and its comments, I thought that I'd say where I was on that horrible day, what I was thinking, and what I was doing. If anyone else wants to leave their memories in my comments section, feel free to do so.

I was excited for September 11th for a few reasons. The first was that Bob Dylan's new album Love & Theft was coming out. I planned to buy it that afternoon. The second was that I was going to do my first (and it would end up, only) college visit. My dad and I were going to get up early and drive to Gainesville for the tour and orientation.

I was also looking forward to the drive because it meant that I could spend some quality time with my Dad. He had just been laid off from his job, and he was getting tired of the cycle of him being hired, fixing a company's problems, and then getting laid off. I was happy to help my dad talk through his problems, something that I'd found that I wasn't bad at with some other friends.

So early that morning, we got into his grey Saturn and headed west on 210. We turned on Lex and Terry on Rock 105, but we weren't really paying attention to it. Instead, I was listening to my dad tell me about how he really wanted to start his own consulting business. I was telling him that if it made him happy to do that, he should. I had no doubt that if he was happy what he was doing, we would all be just fine.

Then the clock struck 8:46AM.

The radio show came to a halt as news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. My first thoughts were "Oh, that sucks." I was thinking a Cessna hit the tower, which is a problem, but not a huge one. Then an airplane mechanic got on the radio, saying that only an airliner, like a 737, could have made that size hole in the building. Things got scary.

The second plane hitting, and hearing the DJs start to panic, made my stomach drop. A cold chill pervaded my interior, and I went momentarily blank. All I could do was listen. We managed to find a feed from the BBC on the radio, so we kept it on that. And reports started coming in.

A helicopter crashed into the courtyard of the Pentagon (to which my reaction was, "They infiltrated the military too!"). A unsubstantiated rumor that a plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania ("That can't be true."). I started yelling at the radio. "Where was the NSA? Where was the CIA? Where was the government?" Interestingly, questions that are, to some extent, still being asked.

In the confusion, we got lost in Gainesville. We somehow couldn't find the University of Florida. We stopped in a gas station, that I now think was somewhere around Waldo Rd and 39th Ave. I went to the bathroom, where a college age kid was throwing up into the sink. I'd like to think that he was disgusted and shocked about what was happening in New York and Washington. Most likely though, he was just trying to recover from a very harsh Monday night at the Swamp. I came out and waited next to the counter while my dad used the restroom. I listened to the portable radio that the clerk had set up there.

That was when the first tower came down. By the time we were pulling into a parking space at Criser, the second tower had come down.

We parked and walked into the welcome center, but I honestly couldn't believe that they would be giving a campus tour at a time like this. However, knowing UF now, of course they were giving the tour. We had gotten there late, so we missed the orientation but still got to participate in the campus walk. And it was bizarre. The campus was about to shut down, people were running around aimlessly, and a few people came up to the tour guides, even as they were talking, and asked if they were OK (a moment, that a year later, would allow me to answer the essay question for a Gator Booster's Scholarship. The question was 'Why do you want to go to the University of Florida?').

In the middle of the tour, we went into Jennings to see what a dorm would look like. And on the TV in the first floor lounge was video of a moonscape. I had yet to see pictures of what was happening in New York, and finally, here they were. I saw clouds of dust, people slowly coming into focus as they walked out of the haze, a fireman, completely gray, yelling at something off camera. Pictures of the tower collapsing. Video of people running into stores to escape the advancing cloud of debris. I stood transfixed. I was herded into the 'stereotypical dorm,' but I never actually saw what was in that room. My mind was still on that television in the lounge.

We wandered around campus a bit more, but eventually the tour was over. I literally don't remember anything between that dorm lounge and walking with my dad behind Tigret. I decided that I wanted to go to UF then, not due to any allegiance, but simply its size, its offerings, and its cost. We started home.

The road home takes you through Waldo and Starke. Neither are the most attractive of places, but both are a sort of highway crossroads, with many trucks coming through both towns. And I felt outrage and shock that trucks were still running. How dare they continue doing what they've always done. Didn't they know that everything had changed?

The most important thing I learned on that day wasn't about the honor and traditions of the University of Florida. It was that no matter how horrible things are, no matter what catastrophic events happen, life goes on. Bread must be delivered. Butterflies still dance in the sun. It all continues happening. I actually think I went home and wrote a poem about that, though for the life of me, I can't remember what I did with it. My mom probably has it hidden away in a box somewhere in my room.

When thinking about 9/11, the next most prominent memory actually comes from that Sunday. It had been raining since Wednesday, which I felt appropriate. Nature crying for this tragedy. Sunday was still rainy and cloudy, though it was a lot less persistent. I was working at Target that day, pushing carts from the outside to the inside. Football had been canceled and the president had told America to go shopping. So Target more crowded than I had ever seen it. Moreso than Christmas. So there I am, tired, hot and wet, sick of these stupid red carts. I had about 150 people come up to me asking if we had any American Flags. The answer, of course, was no. In my head, I'm thinking "You don't have one already? Shame on you."

But the once incident I really remember was one guy coming up to me. I'm pushing a long line of carts, and walked by and started talking to me. "We're gonna bomb the shit out of Afghanistan," he said with a thick Southern accent, "Get us some fucking Towelheads." At this point, I noticed the amount of teeth he was missing. At this point, I was fed up. I had heard all the horrible things said about Arabs, and I'd read books on Islam, something that very few people in my area could claim. I was just about to jump all over this guy, but I didn't feel like getting yelled at by my managers (and I probably would have been. Everybody was on a short fuse that day). So I just looked at him and said, "Ummmm...alright," and looked away.

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