Monday, September 11, 2006

Sobering Reminder

This morning, someone apparently came in and ordered a coffee type beverage. They sat outside for an indeterminate amount of time, and then left. They left behind a mysterious, non-descript package. Leaning up against the bench of a table.

One of the girls who works at the coffee shop, a very pretty and very eccentric barista named Sarah, noticed the package and pointed it out. Another barista, Denise, also pointed out that it was the five year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

An hour and a half later, and we still weren't allowed back in the branch. Police were called, the building was evacuated, and a bomb-sniffing robot showed up to determine the exact nature of the package left at our door. I was able to go home for an hour of that time, as I was slated to take lunch. It got me thinking about where I was five years ago, when we first heard about the attacks.

I was in Hampton Bays, working construction at the time. Hanging sheetrock allowed me a flexible enough schedule to take off to coach women's softball for my alma mater in the spring and fall. We were hanging soundboard (thick, coarse cardboard like material that absorbs sound) and our spacklers were on the same job, meaning it was a rare time I was able to work with my brother, Tommy.

The construction field is filled with coarse people, and we use coarse language and humor. The radio is always on, blaring one rock station or another, often with some of the more outgoing workers changing the lyrics on the fly, like when Mark MacKenzie, a massive mountain of a man, sang at the top of his lungs a version of The Who's "Long Live Rock" that went "Long, Thick Cock." (Apparently, he needs it every night.)

When the music was interrupted with a news report, the entire crew groaned. When we were informed that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, our foreman made a joke that our boss (his own father-in-law) must have gotten drunk and flown his Cessna into the city. We all laughed. Then the radio said a second plane had flown into the other tower. We stopped laughing.

I was the junior rocker, so I had to go get our lunch from the deli. I can clearly remember that drive, even five years later. It was like something out of a Michael Bay movie. Another construction site down the street was at a stand still, all the carpenters huddled around a radio, their hammers at their sides, inactive. Three utility trucks were parked in a line on the side of the road, their drivers gathered at the middle truck, listening. In the deli, people stared at the television, slack-jawed and crying, as the smoke bellowed.

Lunch was eaten in complete quiet, the radio reports filling the silence. The rest of the day, we worked like the house was on fire and we had to get it done before it burned. No jokes, no jackassery.

The ride home was torture. It felt like it took an hour, even though I got home in record time. I walked in the door to the images of the North Tower collapsing on my television. A replay, of course, as would be seen a hundred times over the course of the next few days. I immediately got on the phone and tried to contact my friends. I reached them, and found out they were all safe. I had escaped that great day of tragedy without it having become a personal nightmare. But I never forgot that day, as I'm sure no one ever will.

Towards the end of my lunch break today, I finally got a call from my head teller. The mysterious package was revealed to be books, being transported by one of the bus passengers who had stopped to get a coffee. Crisis averted. But a sobering reminder of the fateful Tuesday that had changed all of our lives forever.

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