I found out about 9/11 from the radio. My alarm was tuned to NPR when Bob Edwards informed listeners that “a twin-engine plane” had just hit the World Trade Center. Assuming it was a tragically off-course Cessna, I didn’t think much of it until a few minutes later, when Bob–this time, with a somewhat quizzical tone to his voice–told us that “another twin-engine plane” had followed suit.
Then I turned on the TV and learned things were far worse than I could have imagined–and then got still worse when American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. (No, I didn’t hear it from my condo in Arlington.) But I remained in enough denial that I thought I would just work from home until an editor got through to my home line and told me to head into the newsroom.
I biked to work, thinking Metro might close, and finally saw the crowds streaming out of the city on foot–so dense that I had to ride in traffic on the Key Bridge–and the enormous cloud of black smoke rising over the Pentagon. Then it was real.
The rest of the day was a blur of horrifying images on the TVs in the newsroom, failed phone calls and successful conversations over instant messaging with friends in New York that yielded tidbits for our stories, and my increasingly pointless attempts to work on a column about Windows XP.
The next day, I set aside the XP review, telling my editor “I can’t do this,” and instead pounded out an essay about how the Internet’s resilience made it an effective way to reach people on 9/11. I also learned from one of my better freelance contributors that he had lost his sister, a flight attendant on AA 11.
(After the jump, you can read the account I posted to a mailing list for tech journalists late that Tuesday night.)
3,519 days later, I found out about Osama bin Laden’s demise from social media.
I was in central Florida for the NASA Tweetup and was driving back from dinner in Orlando with a college friend. But as 11 p.m. neared, none of the radio stations, not even the NPR affiliate I was listening to, had broken into their programming with the news. I stopped by a restaurant where a few Tweetup attendees had gathered, saw it had closed and checked my phone to see if they’d moved on to somewhere else–and then finally saw Facebook and Twitter lighting up with mentions of the news I had been waiting to see since 2001.
I jumped back in my car and was incredulous not to hear a single station cut in with any announcement. I got back to my lodging, flipped open the laptop and turned on the TV and learned of the crowds already gathering in front of the White House and the World Trade Center site. (Sure, some of that celebration got over the top. We’ve been through a lot. Deal with it.) I wished I were back in D.C. and not alone in a rented house in Cape Canaveral.
Reading other people’s Twitter messages and Facebook comments helped, but it wasn’t the same as being present in my city. All I could do after watching President Obama’s address was stop by the nearest dive bar to toast bin Laden’s demise. That seemed like a bad idea when the first fellow I met there responded with vile idiocy about how Congress was a bigger threat to the nation. But then I got to break the news to a second customer who was glad to hear it, after which a third walked into the place with her hands in the air saying “he’s dead!” and high-fiving everyone. That was more the reaction I was hoping to see.
I agree with the Post’s Gene Robinson: It’s right to rejoice in the defeat of an enemy of not just our country, but of civilization itself. Wherever you may find yourself at the time.