Where I was
I was, inexplicably, heading down to Dothan to try to sell promotional products. To funeral homes. Yes, it was a bad idea, as was continuing to head that way after I stopped in Troy and saw TV coverage of the first strike. I think I was just kind of in shock after that, especially after hearing on the radio about the second strike, and the slowly dawning comprehension that this wasn’t an accident.
I stupidly continued to try to pull door knobs (I believed in the unpleasant necessity of cold calling in those days, in a way I do not any more). What was really stupid is that many of the people I called on did take a moment to speak with me, as if this were a normal thing to be doing (as a sidebar, funeral homes do use promotional products – calendars, pens, etc., so this was not QUITE as stupid as it seems. But it was stupid.). It was strangely like doing business on a holiday or while tornados are striking on the other end of the state – we inevitably talked about it and moved on. Not a single one of them said “Why are you out making sales calls today?” I think we were ALL numb – not sure what to do about it. Not sure where to go from here. They still had funerals to plan; I still had pens and calendars to sell.
By the afternoon, two or three things were happening. The shock was beginning to set in. My designated target market was starting to have services on their properties, so even I wasn’t going to be crass enough to walk in while families were on the premises (did I mention this was a stupid business plan for the day?). And I had learned about the strikes at the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 (note to those who might be reading this who are too young to remember – never forget when analyzing the coverage and the stories of that day that we didn’t know what the heck had happened or was happening, or what might happen). So not only was I sad and angry, I was now beginning to be scared.
How many planes had they hijacked? Where might THEY be headed? And that’s when it finally dawned on me to worry about my wife and children (George was 3 and Nathan was almost 2 years old). And myself. Not that anywhere between Dothan and Prattville was likely to be a target, but Maxwell AFB conceivably was.
And not that I could have done anything about it anyway. Diane and I had talked on the phone a few times – she was staying home with the kids in those days, so she had been able to watch the TV coverage. She didn’t say anything about me coming home.
So that’s my tale of numbness, mundane-ness and stupidity. Within a week, I was out trying to recruit a focus group for a car stereo company (the real theme of 2001 for me was being broke, trying to piece together a living after a disastrous 5 months working for Conference America in Montgomery, and trying to make it as a young father). And wasn’t that a treat? A few days after was when people were collectively very depressed, and shocked. There was some traffic at the shopping centers where I was trying to approach people with the proverbial clipboard, but THOSE were the days when people would look at me with the obvious question in their eyes: Why in the world are you talking about that at a time like this?
I wasn’t even alive in 1963, but I liked how the Mad Men episode depicted the Kennedy Assassination – how everyone learned about it piecemeal, how the tendency is to try to keep going with whatever crass commercial thing you were doing (I assume the accountants were attempting to keep on working with their spreadsheets), and how the shock sets in later.
Where was I when I really understood what had happened? A few years later when Prattville High School played in the state championship at Legion Field in Birmingham. Legion Field sits about where the planes tend to turn around and begin final approach to the Birmingham airport. Several planes came in for landings that evening, just as they do every evening. A high school football game, even a state championship, fills only a fraction of a collegiate level stadium, so it was relatively quiet at times during the game. The planes were relatively low as they turned near the stadium. Their engines changed pitch as they made the turn and spooled down for the landing, just as they always do.
And I watched every single one of them until they were heading away from the stadium.