Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Where Were You...?

This is the final cover art for my coloring book. Visually, it was a play off of the Weekly World News reports that there were "faces" in the explosion of one of the airplanes when it hit the tower. The two characters you should recognize are Osama Bin Laden and George Bush. The third character is fictitious and named "Joe Go-Getter." As we get into the story you will find out more about his role in this narrative. After the jump is a re-telling of my personal experience on 9/11.

I had an early art history class at the University of the Arts during the fall semester of 2001. I was up at 6:00 am on September 11th of that year, and caught a train at seven thirty seven. Nothing seemed different about the day, a sentiment I'm sure many would share. I can't for the life of me remember what art or artist we were focusing on that particular morning. The room was dim because the teacher used a slide projector, personally a huge problem due to the fact I slept barely 4 hours a night during my tenure in college. I kept nodding off, begging for the clock to move faster and get me to that first morning break. The break came, some time around 9:30, maybe... and I had a Butterfinger and can of Coke. If my mother was reading this now, she'd probably kill me. We were raised to not eat such things for breakfast, let alone lunch, but I was in my self destructive college mode. There'd be days where I'd eat nothing but a dollar bag of Animal Crackers and a ninety nine scent Figi water from the local Rite Aid.

I went up to the twelth floor, where the computer labs and Multimedia mail boxes were housed. It was here that I ran into another student in the same major, who had used the break to check her email. She was scatterbrain... frazzled might be a better word. "Did you hear what happened?" I had not. "Well, a helicopter crashed into the capitol building." Nothing could have been further from the truth and it didn't even have the slightest hint of sinister behavior to it. Another student called out, "Yeah and a plane hit a building in New York." More and more passersby chimed in with more ridiculous claims. I took out my cell phone and dialed my house number to get a definitive answer from my parents. The general consensus was that the World Trade Center had been hit by two planes as the cell phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, my mother picked up and I asked, "What's going on?" She confirmed the stories that were swirling around me and followed it with "I think you should come home."

My art history class had started back up without me, and as I entered the room I can recall the teacher saying something about my tardiness. I wasn't paying much attention. I picked up my bag and notebook, turned and exited the class... feeling 30 sets of eyes follow me on my way out. They'd know soon enough. I was out the front door of the building and a block from my school on the way to Surbuban Station. The street was quiet. It wasn't till I was a block from City Hall that I saw anyone panic. A woman pushed her way out of an office building nearby and immediately looked up at the sky, as if the next attack would be hitting HER building. Then ahead of me, more people began to spill out of their respective office buildings and ran. When I reached the tracks at Suburban, the quiet morning had turned into hell. People were running this way and that way, bumping into eachother, spilling their things, cursing and fighting. I've never seen that particular station more crowded. My train, the R2 to Marcus Hook wasn't coming for another ten minutes, so I had a seat. I think I was the only one to actually use the seats on the platform, because everyone else was piling into the nearest train.

Panic is an awful thing, and it brings out the worst in people. The train closest to me had been full for about 10 minutes now, but people were still trying to pile on. Passengers had started to climb into the baggage racks overhead. This particular train was so full of people I swore it would burst its windows. And that's when the horrible announcement came. All trains running on Amtrak lines had been cancelled for fear of another attack. One after another after another, these trains filled to the brim with passengers were shut down. Whatever insanity that had taken place during this evacuation seemed to pale in comparison to what followed. The cancelled trains emptied their contents back out onto the platform. Grown men were crying. Fist fights were breaking out all around me. And I thought, "I'm going to die in this place."

The majority of trains had been cancelled, leaving a select few as options to leave the city. There was still hope. You might be thinking that I over reacted and that I could have just spent the night in the city somewhere. But the people around me were positive that the world up above had ceased to exist and that any building with more than two floors was a target for terrosit attack. In their minds, no one was safe... and I was beginning to believe them. The R3 Media/Elwyn train was my best bet for getting home that day. I could call my Dad once we got above ground again on the train and tell him to pick me up there, because my car was still at Marcus Hook. I got in line behind the hundreds of people that had just emptied from the most recently cancelled trains. Within seconds, the train was filled. I was still behind at least two hunderd or so people. That panic that had affected all those other people began to set in to me. More people started breaking down in front of me, seeing that the train was full. I remember seeing a mother and child crying in front of me. I turned around and went back to my seat, admitting defeat. And that's when salvation came, in the form of five more Septa cars reversing their way down the track and connecting to the R3 Medial/Elwyn. I don't know what the record is for the longest train in Septa's history... but the one that took me home on September 11th, 2001 must have been in the top 10.

Every seat was taken in my rail car, but no one had to stand in the aisles. Once the train went above ground, I called home again to relay my need for a ride home. My father answered this time and the conversation was brief and to the point. I put on my head phones and listened to news on the attacks the entire trip. Misinformation and faulty claims turned into facts and figures, thankfully. I listened to one of the towers collapse in real time on that ride, and saw the replay after I got home. As I sat there watching the news coverage, a strange thought entered my mind. "I wonder how long it will be before I get over this." I was exhausted both physically and mentally so I went up to bed. When I woke, it was dark and quiet. My parents' house is directly in line with one of Philadelphia International Airport's landing paths. On any given day, you'll hear 100 planes fly overhead, but not that night. The commercial railroad track a block away was still. There wasn't a car on the road. It was TOO quiet. A few of my friends stopped over and we sat on my back porch discussing the day's events. There was talk of revenge and war, with none of us knowing what the future held. What if there was a draft? What if they attack again? All these crazy things that you'd never think we'd think of were being tossed around. It was obvious... that things had changed.

Tomorrow: the beginning of the coloring book and "getting back to normal."

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