Like most everyone else I’ve been thinking about where I was 9/11/01. Like Esbee’s husband, a fellow DC-to-Winston migrant, I was working in downtown DC and after a long day I too made it home. We lived about 30 miles south of DC and I worked about three blocks from the White House and at the time I was commuting in to the city on a commuter bus that stopped at the Pentagon for its first stop. That meant I was in the Pentagon parking lot an hour or two before it was hit, and I had no car to get home in.
That morning I originally intended to stay in my office until things calmed down, especially after looking out my window and seeing the gridlock on L Street, but our building management made us leave and I ended up on the street trying to figure out how to get home. Unfortunately the last time I’d talked to my wife that morning I’d told her I was staying put and I couldn’t get another call out to her to let her know my plans had changed.
I took the Metro to Union Station to see if the commuter train (VRE) was running since I was pretty sure the buses were out of commission, and it occured to me that I’d made a dumb move when I realized I was the only person on that particular Metro train. Seems that everyone else had the sense to head away from targets like Capitol Hill. They closed Union Station right as I arrived so I ended up on the lawn in front with a couple hundred other people trying to get calls through on our cell phones. That’s when I remembered that I’d gotten a Palm VIIx as an early birthday gift and just a couple of days earlier I’d signed up for Palm’s email service ($9.99 a month). So I fired it up and started emailing everyone I could think of to let them know I was okay, where I was and what I was planning to do.
After I got off the last email I started walking west, towards the bridges that crossed the Potomac to Rosslyn, VA, which is where my brother worked. On the way I dropped down into the Metro stations to see if the trains were running and I was able to get on the Orange Line to Rosslyn. On the Metro platform I ran into a friend and she told me that the towers had collapsed, which I hadn’t known. Once in Rosslyn I found my brother’s building locked down, so I decided I’d try and walk to his house a few miles up the road. Right then a car pulled up directly in front of me, standing in the middle of thousands of people, and the driver jumped out and offered a ride to anyone who needed to get to Woodbridge. That was just a couple of miles from my house, so I jumped in along with an Army Major who’d walked over from the Pentagon (His office was hit, though he’d been in a meeting on the other side of the building. He smelled very strongly of smoke and he was pretty much in shock). While we were driving south I kept emailing from my Palm and eventually I did get one reply from my Mom who was just a little relieved to hear from me.
It took a couple of hours to get to Woodbridge and once there the driver dropped us off at the commuter lot at Potomac Mills mall. The mall was shut down, but the Silver Diner across the street was open so I grabbed a table (I was one of maybe three customers) and the waiter sat down to talk while I was eating.
After my meal I checked my email and I had a reply from my buddy Ted. I emailed him back to see if I could get a lift home and he sent me a message back saying that his employee, Robert, would drop by and give me a ride on his way home. Robert, who is now a good friend, also took the time to call my wife and let her know I was okay. So at about 6 o’clock I was welcomed home with a big hug by my wife.
Now I keep that old Palm VIIx in my desk drawer as a reminder of that day and as an example of how fast technology is changing. Heck, now my cell phone is a Pocket PC that can do email, take pictures and video, and I’m not sure what else and it’s smaller than my Palm was. I’m not sure, however, if my email would get through in a scenario similar to 9/11 since my carrier (Verizon) is the same for both voice and data. I hope I never find out.
One last thing I think is cool about my Palm. It runs on two AAA batteries which means that even all these years later I can still use it if I want to. I guarantee you that if I still have my Pocket PC in 2011 I will have lost the charger, and I won’t be able to find a replacement battery (or charger) and its only use will be as a paper weight. I also don’t remember ever having to re-boot my Palm. Of course if I’d had my Pocket PC in 2001 I’d have pictures uploaded to Flickr that I could point you to. Life really is all about tradeoffs.