Where I was on 9-11-01

I was a 28 year old newly minted LL.M. in transnational law (along with my JD/MBA) teaching full time hours as an adjunct college professor and looking for a full time job in academia (which would come a few years later at the same college for which I was teaching).

I was living in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, driving the same car I do today. Mt. Holly was a livable, affordable place, near a number of New Jersey military bases. The apartment complex I lived in disproportionately was occupied by military folks. And it was quite diverse, though in a heavily blue collar way.

I’d imagine many of my neighbors there headed to the Middle East shortly thereafter. Not very often, but on occasion I’d head to a few of the local bars where they were an inevitable presence. I remember one day chatting with a division a few weeks before they were shipped off.

I had a 10:30-11:45am class. I had gotten into the car around 9:40am without having turned the TV on. I still teach that same class — Business Law I, often in the same time slot (but not this semester).

As part of my routine, I turned on the Howard Stern Show — back then when it was broadcast on terrestrial radio, 94WYSP in Philadelphia. I flipped the channels to make sure it wasn’t a joke and then flipped back to Stern to hear his coverage.

When the first building came down, I just turned the radio off and headed to school.

This is what I listened to:

Everyone was talking about it at the college, of course. They didn’t cancel the class I had to teach; but they canceled classes when that class was over.

I did manage to get through the lecture.

I drove home and was with my family in our old house at Yardley (Lower Makefield), PA which we subsequently sold. We found out a number of residents of our town died on the attacks including one of the pilots.

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19 Responses to Where I was on 9-11-01

  1. Chris Berez says:

    I actually have an MP3 of that entire Stern show. In fact I have a small collection of 9-11 shows, including Don and Mike, Opie and Anthony and Ron and Fez. Every once and a while I’ll come back to them, but stuff like that, as well as footage and real time documentaries are still extremely difficult to get through. All the memories come flooding back like it was yesterday.

    I had just started my sophomore year at Marlboro College in Marlboro, VT. My girlfriend and I had a room at Marlboro North, which was the dorm that was off campus by about two miles. I had work study in the video lab at 9am. My girlfriend dropped me off, and I walked into the lab and my film professor asked if I’d heard about the plane that had hit the World Trade Center. He said his wife had left him a message and he didn’t know any details. Then the phone in the lab rang and it was my GF, who had turned on NPR on the way home and had heard about the plane, as well as reports of explosions in DC, as well as bombs at Union Station in DC (that later turned out to be false). I told her to turn around and come back. I tried to call my dad, who was working with INS at the time because I was scared he was at Union Station where (I thought) there were bombs but the cell towers were overloaded by that point. Then I had to go find the school psychiatrist to help my GF because she was having a major panic attack. I found the psychiatrist, and while we were walking back to the film lab, my own panic that I’d been fighting back broke through and I started crying.

    We didn’t have TV hooked up. Marlboro students tend to pride themselves on being disconnected from that for some reason I never really understand (Hippies, what’re ya gonna do?). Connections ARE available, though. Someone just needed to hook up the TV in one of the buildings to the sole satellite dish. For the time being, the majority of the campus gathered in the dining hall where we sat silently and numbly and listened to the coverage on NPR. Eventually the TV got hooked up and we went up to Dalrymple to watch ABC. My GF and I stayed and watched the news coverage for 8-9 hours straight. Some of the students organized a candlelight vigil in front of the dining hall around 10pm, but we didn’t go to that. I think about that time we went back to our dorm room and tried to get some sleep.

    Oh, I did get an email from my mom finally sometime mid-to-late afternoon letting me know everyone was OK. Turns out my dad was on a business trip on the West Coast, so he wasn’t in DC when the attacks happened.

  2. D.A. Ridgely says:

    (from a 9/11/08 PL post)

    I have told this story before, but I was in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. As it happens, I was far enough away from the site of the crash that I couldn’t say for sure that I actually heard or felt anything at the moment of impact. A few minutes earlier, although there wasn’t a television set or radio handy, rumors of the attack at the World Trade Center were already circulating throughout the building and we were trying to get more information through the internet.

    What I did finally hear and pay attention to only moments later was the sound of other people rushing down the corridor, heading for the nearest exit. I still didn’t know what had happened, but if they all thought leaving the building was a good idea, well, you know. I joined the crowd and literally less than two minutes I was out in the South Parking lot, walking rapidly away from the building.

    The South Parking side of the Pentagon is to the south of the Heliport side where the airplane hit. I couldn’t see anything over there except a huge and rapidly growing plume of jet black smoke. The most likely inference at that point was a helicopter crash causing a fire, which was what I assumed. As people continued to pour out of the Pentagon, however, it also became clear that it would probably take at least an hour or two before the “all clear” signal was given and the crowd of some 25,000 people could re-enter the building. My car was parked not far away, so I simply kept walking to it and then drove off.

    It was only when I turned on the car radio as I pulled out of the parking lot that I discovered what had happened. In fact, as I took the ramp exit to I 395 South / Washington Blvd., I could finally see the burning crater in the side of the Pentagon where the airplane hit. I could hear sirens approaching from every direction as I drove away in the opposite direction.

    Not that it would have done me any good, but I didn’t have a cell phone on September 11, 2001. (I own one now, at my wife’s insistence, and that is frankly one more thing I hold against the terrorists, trivial as that is.) I drove to my wife’s office and we decided, since we had no idea how extensive the attacks were or whether there would be more, to pull our children from school and then determine from there whether to leave the immediate Washington, D.C. vicinity. As it happened, we remained at home glued to the television. I would do exactly the same thing if the same situation were to occur again.

    Obviously, the situation at the World Trade Centers was vastly worse. Still, I went back to the Pentagon the next day and entered long enough to witness the incredible smoke damage even as far away from the point of attack as I had been the previous morning. While none of the victims were personal friends, a number were people with whom I had done business over the years.

    Mine isn’t, therefore, a particularly dramatic, let alone tragic story. More like a brush with history, actually. It’s worth remembering, though, how much the U.S. has changed since and because of 9/11. Normal is whatever you grow up with or grow used to. America’s continuing psychological sense of siege in what increasingly seems not only to be a long but a perpetual war against terrorism feels more and more “normal” all the time. Surely, that is a far greater harm than even the terrible death and destruction of seven years ago.

  3. James K says:

    Thanks to time zone differences I slept through the whole thing. By the time I woke up the first tower was confirmed to be down, and there were unconfirmed reports the second had fallen. I don’t think we heard about the Pentagon until later. I was still living with my parents (I was 19 and finishing my second year at university), and the whole family was glued to CNN for about a month.


    America’s continuing psychological sense of siege in what increasingly seems not only to be a long but a perpetual war against terrorism feels more and more “normal” all the time. Surely, that is a far greater harm than even the terrible death and destruction of seven years ago.

    I can well believe it. Ultimately human beings have two sets of drives when dealing with people outside their tribe (with rare exceptions) – the drive to truck, barter and exchange and the drive to murder, burn and pillage. Felling threatened pushes people toward the second drive and away from the first, and that not healthy for a country.

  4. I was in a motel room in Fort Collins. The day before, I had just visited a professor of French I had had at Colorado State University when I was an undergrad. I woke up, turned on the TV, and there was Peter Jennings saying, if I recall correctly, “the twin towers are no more” and then “the Pentagon has also been attacked.” I went to the Greyhound station (at the time I lived in a suburb of Denver, Lakewood, and got back and forth from there via Greyhound) and bought an earlier ticket home than I otherwise would have bought. I got off at Boulder and took RTD (the Denver metropolitan area bus system) back to Lakewood because the Greyhound bus station downtown had been closed.

  5. yoshi says:

    I worked for a major financial company as a information security engineer. When I walked in our office I discovered everyone around a TV set. It was at that moment the building was ordered evacuated (we shared offices with the FBI). I only found out the details on the way home listening to the radio.

    When I arrived home we had an emergency security design review session. Requests to reroute data connectivity from data centers at the Twin Towers to backup sites were starting to come in from businesses that had systems hosted at those sites. I ran the meeting and my published notes for that meeting started off with “Life and business continues …. all design modifications approved”.

  6. Franck says:

    Two weeks before my 17th birthday, I flew from my hometown (Antananarivo, Madagascar) to Réunion Island in order to continue my studies. If I count well, I had just gotten off the plane when the first plane struck. Due to a long, traffic-jammed trip between the airport and my eventual residence, both towers had alrady collapsed when I got there.

    It was a call from my mother (who had stayed in Antananarivo with the rest of the family) that warned me of what had happened. My aunts and uncles who were housing me interrupted the welcome party when we turned the TV on and saw that a huge cloud of dust and debris stood where the towers used to be.

  7. Michael Enquist says:

    I was in the 3rd month of my campaign for Libertarian Representative to the Washington State Legislature. I had a day job, and the moment I arrived at work, one of my colleagues shouted, “They’re attacking America!” I tuned into television via computer just in time to see the second plane flown into the WTC.

    A few days later, I was one of the candidates at a forum hosted in my town. I began my statement with something like this:

    If they hate us for our freedom: We should be more free.
    If they hate us for our tolerance: We should be more tolerant.
    If they hate us for our love: We should be more loving.
    This is the time for each American to look into the mirror and say, “How will I lead America in this time of crisis?”

  8. Matty says:

    I flew from Vietnam to Thailand that day, my main memories are that it was nearly impossible to find out anything. There was a tv in Hanoi airport showing English language news but it was focussed on the Singapore and Hong Kong stock exchanges and while they kept talking about how “events in America” would affect them there was no explanation of what those events were. I think I was actually on the plane in mid air before I found out any details.

  9. James Hanley says:

    I had just moved to Bloomington, Indiana, for a post-doc at Indiana University. I heard a rumor from someone about an airplane hitting the WTC, so I tried to get some information online, but suddenly couldn’t access any news sites (apparently because everyone in America was trying to do so at the same time). That was my first inkling that it wasn’t just an airline accident. We had no television at our house yet, so we went down to the research institute and huddled with others around a tv that had quickly been set up and which had a very fuzzy image so that it was hard to make out what was going on. After a while it seemed like earthquake coverage in California–no real information but non-stop blathering about the 2 bits of information we did have. After a couple hours I just went back to work (although the event remained on my mind, and as the major topic of conversation).

    What struck me was how little it did affect me, or anyone around me. Not until I dropped someone off at the airport and saw the military guards there did it become much more than a type of particularly realistic movie.

  10. Chris Berez says:

    That’s a great opening statement. If only those in actual power had felt the same. Hell, if only the majority of the American people would hold those principles…

  11. AMW says:

    I was just starting my graduate studies in economics at GMU. I had a brown-bag presentation to get to, and was walking across campus to do so. In the main plaza (across from the Johnson Center, for anyone who’s spent time at Mason) there was a large crowd of students, mostly just standing still. I went over to see what was up, and it turned out they were all standing around a radio. I heard some talk on the air about an airplane striking one of the towers, and how it might have been an accident. I stuck around for 5-10 minutes, then walked over to where the presentation was to be held.

    Once in the building, I saw a TV set* reporting the news that both towers had been hit, that it was a terrorist attack, and that one of the towers had fallen. I thought “well, I guess we’ll be cancelling the presentation.” Nope. The the only notice the present faculty took was to switch the topic, having one prof dust off an old paper on the economics of terrorism and present that. The whole hour, I just kept thinking “we’re horrible, horrible people.”

    As the day went on, it became clear that Americans everywhere were scared, angry and desperate, and the level of crazy just kept escalating for quite some time. I remember serious talk of nuclear(!) retaliation, though not coming from military brass or elected officials. For a good two years after the attacks I felt like the nation had gone truly insane. For the last seven years I think the it has been slowly regaining its sanity, but I’d say the residue is still there in the psyche of a good 40% or so of Americans. Worse yet, the institutional residue will remain for decades to come. As callous as my profs were to the events of the day, I would rather the bulk of the populace had done likewise instead of following its natural (but disastrous) instincts.

    *With the exception of those few minutes of footage on 9/11 itself, I didn’t see any video of the attacks for at least a week. My wife and I didn’t have a television set at the time.

  12. James Hanley says:

    I was just starting my graduate studies in economics at GMU…The whole hour, I just kept thinking “we’re horrible, horrible people.”

    I’ve always assumed that was a common experience. *grin*

    I didn’t realize you went to GMU. No wonder you always seem to make sense. I often say to myself, if I had it to do over again, I’d do econ, and I’d try to get in there. I don’t have it to do over again, but I pay more attention to the GMU folks than those elsewhere. Tyler Cowen and Russell Roberts have had a big influence on my thinking–or rather, their work showed me how to make better use of–and have more fun with–the way of thinking I’d begun to get from reading a bit of Hayek and a considerable amount of public choice theory.

  13. Chris says:

    I remember waking up that morning to my clock radio alarm telling me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, and that details were sketchy. Assuming that it was a small plane (the lyrics to this song popped into my head immediately, particularly the first verse), I got up, took a shower, got dressed, and then turned on the television to see what the latest update was. Within 30 seconds of my turning the television on, I watched live as the second plane flew into the south tower, and knew immediately that this was deliberate. I watched the coverage in horrified silence until the south tower collapsed. I was so disgusted and upset that I couldn’t watch any more, got up, woke my son up, took him to daycare, where no one knew what was going on, and then drove to campus. I listened to NPR on the way, and heard as they announced the collapse of the North tower. I stopped at the 7/11 across from the University of Texas campus on MLK, and asked the cashier if he had heard what was going on. He hadn’t heard anything, so I told him to turn on a television or radio. Then I went to the lab, where the one other grad student and I searched the internet until we found live, streaming news. We ended up streaming NBC, CBS, Fox, and CNN on different computers (our lab had 13 back then; we were small time). All we did, all day, was look out the window (our window overlooked the capitol and downtown Austin) at the planeless sky, and watch live streaming news on the internet, until 2 pm when we had a social psychology course. In that course, we spent the entire time (3 hours) discussing the psychology behind terrorism, with interesting inputs from an Israeli student, an Iranian student, and a Palestinian student. Then I went back to the lab for a bit, drove to pick up my son, and drove home to spend the rest of the evening watching the news.

    I remember one more thing very distinctly. As I crossed Interstate 35 in south Austin on the way home that evening, there was a man standing on the overpass waving a giant American flag over the edge. I can still picture him very clearly, and I remember thinking that this would mean war, war, and more war (at the time, I was a very active peace activist). I figured it was only a matter of time before we invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. And I think that upset me as much as the attacks themselves.

  14. AMW says:

    Yeah, it was good times. I never spent much time with Cowen or Roberts, though. (For those who read EconLog, I did take Caplan’s Intermediate Micro course.) I was mostly at the Arlington Campus with Vernon Smith & company.

  15. AMW says:

    In that course, we spent the entire time (3 hours) discussing the psychology behind terrorism, with interesting inputs from an Israeli student, an Iranian student, and a Palestinian student.

    That was, doubtless, more informative than the paper I had to sit through (I don’t remember a thing about it).

    I can still picture him very clearly, and I remember thinking that this would mean war, war, and more war (at the time, I was a very active peace activist). … And I think that upset me as much as the attacks themselves.

    Ditto. As bad as the carnage was thought to be (remember when the original estimates had 50,000 – 100,000 dead?) my biggest fear was what crazy stuff the powers that were would do in response, and what kind of crazy stuff the people would be willing to put up with. I think history has been better than what I imagined, but it’s been bad enough.

  16. James Hanley says:

    I saw Vernon Smith speak at Oregon just shortly after GMU bought him from Arizona (or as my adviser put it, just after GMU bought a Nobel Prize). I remember walking into a room filled with people I knew and thinking, “who’s that old hippie?” He fit right in at Oregon, not just because of his looks, but because he seemed down to earth and not an arrogant ass.

    He gave a good talk, and I ended up reading a fair amount of his experimental work. Not “fun” reading like Cowen’s books, but fascinating, and great work. Had I ended up at a research institution, I probably would have kept working in that vein myself (if not necessarily at that level).

  17. AMW says:

    I remember walking into a room filled with people I knew and thinking, “who’s that old hippie?”

    Ha! That’s exactly what I thought. He certainly could fit in to the Oregon scene, but he was born and raised in Wichita, KS. I lived there for four years, but never ran into anyone like Vernon.

    I’d never even heard of experimental econ until I went to Mason and the department just threw me in as one of the grad students for him and his team. It wasn’t a compliment to me; I’m pretty sure they sent me his way because I had the least background in Austrian. Anyway, I never had such a lucky break. Those four years changed my life.

  18. Mark Boggs says:

    I was working as a golf professional at a club in Park City, Utah and was working the parking lot, helping members get their golf bags from their cars onto golf carts when the kid I was working with came out and said somebody had crashed a plane into the WTC.

    I was able to sneak peeks at the coverage during the day and get updates from members (who continued on with their days and teed off as with their rounds). Our club also had numerous Delta pilots as members since Salt Lake is Delta’s western hub, so it was interesting hearing their speculation on how this happened.

    One of the eeriest things I remember was the silence above for the next few days. In fact, the day they lifted the no-fly order, I was out playing golf at the club and was very aware of the sound of that first airplane after the few days of silence.

  19. Michael Enquist says:


    Thank you.

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