Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years Ago Today

I know exactly what I was doing ten years ago today at this very moment.  On the evening of September 10th 2001 I was driving through central Illinois trying to make it to Champaign.  I would spend a good 12 hours behind the wheel that day trying to make a big dent on a trip to Nashville for the Radio, Television, News Directors Association annual convention.

I was thinking about the stop I would make in Paducah, Kentucky where I would get a chance to touch base with old friends.  I was thinking about the stop I would make in Clarksville, Tennessee where I would see my sister and brother-in-law.  Mostly I was thinking about the seminars I would attend where I might learn something to help my newsroom climb the ratings ladder.

It was a Monday and the weather was beautiful.  I got into Champaign very late and didn't get to bed until just before Midnight.  I slept like a rock, rousing myself just early enough knowing that I needed to hit Paducah around noon.  I literally stumbled out of bed hitting the TV remote and NBC expecting to catch the end of "The Today Show."  I blinked a couple of times.  It was a shot of a smouldering World Trade Center.  What the fuck I thought, how did it catch fire?  Then just as I was comprehending the picture it went crashing down.  It was the South Tower going down.  Then I began to listen.  What I heard left me stunned and scrambling for my cell phone.

I called my newsroom and they were already hitting the streets sending crews to key locations such as the federal building in Fargo and the air force base in Grand Forks.  I gave a couple of quick suggestions which were hardly needed and told them I would get back as quickly as possible.  I was so lucky that I had decided against flying to Nashville.

I headed into the shower where I broke down and cried.  I realized that our lives, the lives of my country, the lives of my family, the lives of my friends, were changed forever.  I cried for my sister Karen and her husband Keith in Clarksville.  Keith was serving in the Army and I feared that this coming war could put him in harms way.  I composed myself and got my things together and hit the road to retrace my 12 hour journey of the previous day.

I was stuck listening to radio reports from Chicago for the first three hours of my trip.  It was frustrating not being able to see what was happening.  I pushed the speed limit driving between 80 to 85 miles an hour knowing that state troopers had other, more pressing matters to consider than a speeder.  The interstates were strangely devoid of traffic.

As I drove I soaked in what I could from the radio and called every couple of hours to talk with my newsroom.  The team at KVLY had everything in hand.  The operations was in the more than capable hands of General Manager Charley Johnson who had served as news director long before my arrival. 

I remember coming into Minneapolis as evening fell and seeing American flags draped over bridges.  I made my final pit stop there just as cars began to pile into fill up on gasoline fearing there would be major shortages.  By the time I did make it to Fargo and my newsroom just before 10 p.m. there were long lines at the service station next to our building.  I completed my trip home in 10 hours, 2 hours quicker than the previous day.  The sense of quiet shock permeated the newsroom and my presence was an afterthought.  But I was there and it felt good to see everyone working together telling such a big story that touched Fargo/Moorhead deeply just as it did communities across our great nation.

By a stroke of luck we actually had a reporter in Washington, D.C. that day.  Roxana Saberi was at NPR taking part in some sort of seminar.  She quickly switched gears and rounded up key members of our Congressional delegation for interviews and live reports.  A handful of people with direct ties to our community had lost their lives on September 11th and we did our best to tell their stories.  It was a heartbreaking day that stretched out for weeks.

I got home shortly after 11 p.m. and watched television with the Czarina.  Exhausted, I watched the horrific imagines with the one fear that these acts would bring a loss of freedom that Americans had so savored.  My worst fears were eventually realized with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security along with laws that helped our government circumvent our rights in the name of protecting lives.  I understand it but that doesn't mean I have to approve of it.

Worst of all we are locked in a war that will never really end.  President Bush failed so miserably using the attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq, a war that should have never been fought.  Instead of a laser focus on Afghanistan we created a morass that will only help foster more Jihadists there and in other countries filled with Islamic zealots like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.  

The last 10 years have felt more like 20.  The attacks of September 11th helped wreck our economy.  But I believe it will inevitably make this country stronger and greater.  I think the new One World Trade Center and the 9/11 memorial that sits in its shadow is testimony to that.  God Bless America.

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