Tuesday September 11, 2001, started out like any other day of the week for me. I got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, hopped in my car and headed to work. At the time, I was employed with a rental car business located in downtown Columbus, OH. After clocking in on my green screen computer terminal, I began performing my normal job duties which usually included assisting customers who were either returning their rental vehicles or stopping in to pick up a car on reserve, handling financial transactions, answering the telephone to schedule reservations and prepping automobiles scheduled to go out later for the day. Then, along with a couple of co-workers, I jumped in a rental with my clipboard, ball point pen and customer contract in hand, and proceeded to drive to a nearby body shop to meet a customer who had arranged for delivery service while their damaged vehicle would be repaired over the course of the next 1-2 weeks. On the way to the body shop I was still groggy, trying to wake up (I’m not a morning person at all) and desperately hoping the day would fly by, thinking that this would be just another run of the mill, typical, uneventful, boring day at work. How wrong I turned out to be!
We always listened to Howard Stern on the radio at work and this day was no different. So when the brash, outspoken and often controversial yet always entertaining radio personality began reporting about a huge explosion involving a plane flying into a building in New York City, we took it for nothing more than some elaborate practical joke meant to distract us from our rat race existence. But as the broadcast continued, it became evident that this was not a joke and certainly no one was laughing. This was real. Something horrible was taking place and everyone began to wonder aloud. The questions began to swirl: Was this an accident? Was this intentional? Is it an attack? Are we going to war? How could this happen? We still didn’t have a clear idea of exactly what had transpired when we arrived at the body shop, but as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we all ran inside to see if anyone had any more information. Unfortunately, the collision center did not have a television and we were left to sort out the rumors amongst ourselves and the auto workers who had also been listening to the radio news reports.
It wasn’t until maybe an hour later, and after the second plane had crashed into the other tower, when I delivered another rental car, this time to a customer waiting at an automobile dealership on the city’s east side, that I was able to watch a television broadcast and view those horrific images. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing with my own eyes. It was like watching a trailer from an action/adventure movie with the latest digital special effects; surreal. Everyone sat in the lobby in complete disbelief and shock, watching and waiting to see if the towers would be able to withstand such a huge impact to their structural foundations.
When I drove back to the office, we got word from our management that for the rest of the day we would be shuttling vehicles from our office and the other offices around the city straight to the airport for customers to rent since all flights had been suspended. I can remember the frustration of all those people stuck at their plane terminals, trying to figure out how they were going to get home. It was complete chaos and no one knew exactly what was going on. People began to panic, understandably so, and it was literally a free for all, a first come first served scenario, as everyone in the airport made a beeline to the rental car desks. I don’t recall how many trips we made around the Interstate 270 beltway that loops around the metropolitan Columbus, OH, area that day in route to rental car offices and the airport, but it seems like it was continuous for the latter part of the morning and entire afternoon.
Near the end of the day, I had one last delivery to make on the south end of town. I was very eager to finish up my shift so I could go home and watch the news uninterrupted. I shook hands with my customer after we finished our business, and dashed down Parsons Avenue in a rush to get back to the office and clock out. I passed a gas station and it had been completely destroyed. Apparently the owners, as many did across the nation, decided to take advantage of the tragedy that had taken place in our country, and raised the price of gasoline to over $5.00 a gallon. Apparently the blue collar, hardworking good folks of Columbus’ south side decided that the gas station’s actions were quite un-American and rioted! Glass was shattered everywhere. There were broken bottles, trash and debris all over the parking lot, which by that time was deserted. The pumps appeared to be shut down and there wasn’t a person in sight. It looked like a scene from Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing after Mookie through a garbage can through Sal’s Famous Pizzeria’s front window. I wonder how long it took the owners to clean that mess up?
Every generation has its defining moment in history where they look back in time and ask the question, “Where were you when _______ happened?” (Fill in the blank) In the decades to come, Americans will undoubtedly continue to ask that question; where were you? Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor? Where were you when you heard about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X? Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded? Where were you on 9/11? So I guess it’s only fitting to end this article appropriately by asking you, the reader, where were you on September 11, 2001?