I was Mr. Mom in the morning. My wife heads out to work way to early, so I was always the one getting the kids off to school. They were 11 and 10 years old at the time, and we’d gotten the routine down pretty well over the years. We didn’t usually turn on the television in the morning unless there was a good reason to, or unless someone was ready to go and was just waiting around for the others. The morning of September 11, 2001, I was ready to go.
To give a little background, I moved to New York from Southern California when my father transferred to a new job there in 1968; I was 4 years old. I became a Yankee fan at my first visit to the Stadium, plus my older brother was a Mets fan, so there was no way I was going to be one too. We lived out on Long Island, but visited the city often enough to watch the World Trade Center towers grow from their very beginnings. The occasional trip to the top of the Empire State Building was always an amazing thing, and looking over at what were going to become the new “tallest buildings in the world” as they went up was source of fascination for a kid.
We moved back to SoCal in 1973, not long after they were completed. I went back and visited several times as a teenager, and I’m very happy that I was able to take my wife for her very first visit to NYC in April of 2001. One of my fondest memories of that trip was sitting on a bench waiting for the ferry to pick us up from our visit to Ellis Island, the entrance place of so many immigrants over the past couple of hundred years. It is an amazing place to visit, and we were just relaxing and gazing over at the city skyline. An Irishman and his family were sitting next to us and he turned to me and said, “It looks like every movie I’ve ever seen in my life”.
It did. It was that familiar a sight. It is still a regret that I never went to the top floor of the WTC, but I guess I figured I’d always have a chance to do that somewhere down the road.
When I turned on the TV to one of the usually lame national morning shows a little before 7am, my heart sank as I tuned in just in time to see a quick recap of what had happened followed shortly after by the live collapse of the South Tower. After a quick explanation to the kids of what was happening and what it could mean, and a call to my wife debating whether I should take them to school that day or keep them home, I got them into the car and took them to class. We figured that our little neighborhood was not much of a target, and being around other kids their age was probably the best way for them to process and deal with the events of the day. Glad we did that; it was the right call.
After dropping them off, I started driving home like I normally did, and then I stopped and pulled over to try and breathe. I realized I couldn’t be alone with my emotions watching this; I needed the connection to others that being on the air at KCAL has always given me. I turned around and just headed to the station with no idea what the rest of the day would bring. I remember thinking, and saying on the air, that somewhere deep inside of us all something had been altered, a switch had been flipped, and things would never be quite the same as they were before.
Now I’m sure others on these pages will tell the story of the events of that day at the station as the news came in following the attacks in New York and on the Pentagon. The hole in our hearts that we all felt at the loss of so many people who died simply because they showed up at work that day. The realization of the unbelievable courage of the passengers on Flight 93, who hearing about the other hijackings from family members on their cell phones, rushed the cockpit and took out the hijackers even though they were sealing their own deaths when the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
I know each of us gave our absolute all to being there for our KCAL listeners, and I can only hope that we somehow helped some people not feel like like they were alone on their emotional roller coaster. A couple of years ago my boss told me he’d come across a tape of what we did on the air that day, said it was pretty amazing to listen to, and wanted to know if I wanted a copy. I told him that I don’t think I can listen to it without reliving it. To quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers: I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day.
No, I want to talk about what happened after that day. All of the listeners that just called in to talk about the range of emotions they were going through. Just calling to tell me that they were needed to talk so they wouldn’t break down and cry again. The compelling stories they had of friends and family that were affected by the attacks. The members of the military that I spoke with that were just waiting for a chance to jump and take action against the terrorists who had done this to us. And their parents and loved ones that were simultaneously proud of them, and scared for what might happen to them. The many police officers and firefighters and emergency responders who were volunteering to go and help in New York City, and the others that were doing everything they could here.
I want to talk about how strange it was to not see any planes flying in the sky for days after the attacks, and how it was unsettling for awhile to see them when they did come back. How eerily quiet it was with no sports going on, and how I decided that as soon as baseball started back up a week later that I had to be at a game so I could be part of a crowd singing the National Anthem, and how much that moved me. So much so that I am going to be at the Yankees/Angels game in Anaheim on 9/11 this year to mark the 10th anniversary. It just feels like the right place to be.
I want to talk about how the normal divisions that keep us apart and defensive melted away for a little while and we were all just Americans doing what we could to help each other. How each and every one of us felt the need to do something. How we all thought is was so sad that it took something like that to make it happen. I try to remind myself about that sometimes. It doesn’t always work, but I try.
But mostly, I want to talk about how I knew we were going to be alright.
The aftermath of the attacks left me feeling like nothing was funny anymore. I can’t remember how long it actually was, but it seemed like it took forever until I laughed again. It is such a part of what we do at KCAL. That’s why I will always recall fondly the first 9-11 related story that finally made me crack up and I had to share with the listeners on the air. A small city was holding a memorial for the victims in their downtown area and decided to release a bunch of doves that would fly away in a show of remembrance. Unfortunately, they were experiencing a budget crunch and some idiot decided to save money by not renting the flock of trained doves from the professionals, but instead buying pigeons from a poultry store, birds that were raised as food and never supposed to fly in the wild. So when they released the birds, they flew haphazardly in all directions, crashing into windows and buildings, falling into the stunned crowd! There was a picture of one of them laying on the helmet of one of the firefighters they were honoring and he had the most annoyed look on his face.
I laughed so hard that I had tears rolling down my face. That’s when I knew we were all going to be okay.