I was driving to work at Fortis Family on September 11th, 2001, just pulling into the parking garage around 8:45 am while listening to Neil Boortz on talk radio when he stammered and went quiet for a long couple of seconds. He stammered unintelligibly, and then stated in an incredulous tone that he had just been handed a note: an airplane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. I pulled into a parking space and turned off my truck, leaving the radio running. After verifying what I thought I had just heard, I sprinted inside the building and up four flights of stairs to the breakroom and turned on the television to CNN.
The network was scrambling to get any sort of information on what had just happened; news teams were mobilizing to get shots of the skyline of NYC where an appalling cloud of smoke was erupting from the side of the famous twin towers. The shock and horror was evident on the faces of the anchors that were struggling mightily to absorb and report the chaotic eyewitness reports that were pouring in across all sorts of media. Other Fortis employees were passing the break room, and on inquiring why the TV was up so loud I solemnly turned and said “something terrible is happening”. Nobody left the small hallway-sized kitchen; my co-workers reacted in one of two ways: they either crowded in and stared dumbfounded as the shaky handheld videos started being rolled out onscreen, or they turned stark white and ran to get their mobile phones to call their family and friends in New York. I distinctly remember someone asking desperately “which tower? WHICH TOWER!” because they knew a number of people at one of the insurance firms at the intersection of Liberty and Church Streets.
Fortis Family occupied half of the fourth floor of the building, probably 35 or 40 total employees, and most everyone was packed into the break room. Since I was the first person in, and closest to the TV, I was repeating the most concrete information that I had heard over every two or three minutes to keep new arrivals informed as more people packed into the small space. Just after 9 am, we all witnessed the live reports that a second plane had flown into the South Tower. In the stunned silence, broken only by the horrified stammering of the news broadcast, I turned to my fellow IT Project Leader Ben Leslie and said “this is not an accident; this is deliberate…”
After verifying that the second plane wasn’t some sort of sick joke or acid flashback, I hurried outside to smoke and I called my parents in San Diego. It was quarter after 6 am on the West Coast and I shouted into the phone to get out of bed and turn on the television. My mom, struggling to wake up, said she’d have my father turn on the TV. I called my brother Kyle, who travels to NYC often — he was in Las Vegas, luckily, and left him an urgent message; later I found out he had several friends from Stanford that perished in the destruction. After sucking down several coffin nails in a row, I went back upstairs to the break room, shouldering my way back into a space where I could see and hear the unbelievable efforts of CNN anchors who were barely keeping it together while trying to report this ghastly event in real time. I made it back up in time to hear the rumor, then confirmation, that a third plane had hit the Pentagon and that a fourth–and possibly a fifth and sixth–plane had been hijacked: targets, unknown. As news crews and amateur videos flooded in, there were gasps and cries as we witnessed people hanging out of twisted steel windows waving clothing and to try to get help, and eventually, bodies plummeting dozens of stories downward as people jumped from those windows. Some people fled to their offices and cubicles, tears streaming down their faces; others were desperately trying to get through to loved ones, only to receive “all circuits are busy”. Others shuffled away in stunned silence. A couple people were praying.
By 10 am, the break room had mostly cleared out. People were trying to figure out what to do in order to make sense of what they had seen. Some were trying to go back to work; others were huddled in little groups throughout the fourth floor talking in hushed tones, some comforting others. I have an unhealthy interest in catastrophic events, and I knew that there was no fucking way I was going back to work. In fact, I was planning to leave for home to be able to use my home computers and televisions to gather as much information as possible at once as this was happening. I can’t remember exactly who the four or five people were in the break room with me — I think Art Saul was there — when the South Tower collapsed in a slow motion rush of almost graceful destruction. The wall-hung 27″ TV could not adequately contain the shaky on-the-street footage of the most horrifying thing I have ever witnessed in my life. Every person in that room was transfixed in sheer awe; there are not words to describe the scant 10 seconds it took for the building to irrevocably change the NYC skyline by plunging millions of tons of concrete and steel downward “almost a quarter of a mile” into a choking, billowing cloud of debris that flooded the streets and overwhelmed the cameraman. Somebody screamed in the break room. Co-workers came running. We could only point at the screen with mouths agape. Someone said “it’s just gone!” Someone else sobbed; “oh my god there were people in there!“
The subsequent images on that TV were mind-numbingly awful: people covered in dust and detritus stumbling out of the surreal darkness; people on the street who were watching fleeing the scene. Reports of casualties kept flooding in; they were too much to absorb: firefighters, police, Port Authority…and regular people. Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania; the Pentagon was on fire; rampant speculation on who was behind this monstrous — and now apparent — acts of gruesome terrorism. There were many more people in the break room when the North Tower collapsed at 10:30 am, and I am certain that some of them did not believe that the first tower had crumbled. I couldn’t take any more; I left work and went home.
I didn’t turn my television off for hours and days. I watched the Congress of the United States, helpless and trying to lead a country rocked with multiple simultaneous attacks spontaneously sing “God Bless America” on the steps of the capital live on national television. I remember the President stating through a bullhorn “I can hear you! I can hear YOU! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” American flags and related items cleared the shelves. The stories of bravery and heroism continued to pour out of the news channels; hundreds of emergency personnel rushing back into the fray to rescue complete strangers; the ultimate sacrifice documented by cellular phones from Flight 93 who apparently rushed the cockpit with a drink cart to force the hijackers to plunge the plane into the ground rather than the nation’s capital as is the speculated target; a dead and injured toll that kept ratcheting up and up until it was too much for anyone, anywhere, to bear. And America set aside all of these petty differences we endure today, 10 years later, and in the face of horrific tragedy, we were a unified nation. True patriotism by 100% of the American people had not been challenged — nor demonstrated — in that same way since Pearl Harbor, and these were not military personnel: these were regular people like you or I going to their regular jobs and going home to their regular families in their regular neighborhoods.
10 years later the political rhetoric has ratcheted up to where the rest of the world believes that we are paralyzed and divided. Even the events of 9/11 are being politicized and leveraged in the never-ending pursuit of political power, monetary gain, and network ratings. This is the ever evolving “normal state” of the USA; our 24 hour news cycle and the advent of all of this real-time 21st century technology allows us to air our dirty laundry constantly in 160 characters or less all of the time. Do not make the simple mistake that America is divided or paralyzed. This is democracy across a federation of 50 states, and the most successful democracy the world has ever known. On the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I would present to you this very hallowed advice: do not fuck with the United States of America. It may take ten years and thousands of our people’s lives and millions of dollars of spending, but as one of our Presidents stated:
“Make no mistake: the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” ~George W. Bush
In the days and weeks following 9/11, I collected a huge number of nameless “basement” DJs and producers trying to express their feelings about this event, using songs that have deep meaning and laboriously, lovingly, and respectfully laying in samples of the newscasts that we witnessed that day. It is the innovation and leadership that I expect of my fellow Americans; all I have done is kept these archives for 10 years to share with you now. This is why my alter ego DJ Lurk will never produce any compilation that compares at all with this one: 09-11-01 In Memoriam. I hope this is my most-found blog post. I hope someone makes a lesson plan for high schoolers out of this. I hope Anderson Cooper calls me to interview me for my perspective. I hope that our political leadership downloads this entire album and it becomes required listening. I hope that the people who built these incredibly moving, inspiring, and truly important works of art find this and I can tell you that I love you for these tracks. I have blasted them out of my significant stereo system every September for a decade.
TL;DR: Listen to the first track, below: Faith Hill’s version of The Star Spangled Banner (WTC Mix) and see if you want to hear the rest.
DJ LURK — 09-11-01: In Memoriam
Faith Hill – The Star Spangled Banner
Blessid Union of Souls – I Believe
Live – Lightning Crashes
Collective Soul – The World I Know
Creed – Higher
Don Henley – New York Minute
Annie Lennox – Why
R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts
U2 – Stuck in a Moment
Live – Overcome
Sarah McLachlin – Angel
Higher Faith – Angels in Heaven
Splendor – God Can Explain
Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw – Bring on the Rain
Leeann Rymes – Please Remember Me
Jewel – Hands
James Horner – My Heart Will Go On
Lee Greenwood – God Bless the USA
Enya – Only Time
Here is an extra-special bonus clip: Depeche Mode did a little seen promo video for Enjoy the Silence on top of the World Trade Center in 1990.