Three years ago, as part of my year out between school and university, I obtained a two-month temporary job with a small, high-end electronics company. My brief at the time was to design from the ground up a database, which would tack onto the main company database and store a detailed history of each of their products which they built in-house, to help them mainly in keeping their ISO 900x quality certificates. Although I had next to no knowledge of Microshit Access when I started, by the time I left the module was completed to the engineers' satisfaction, with lots of automated scripty goodness to make data entry less painful. I left shortly afterwards to start my first year of university.
During my first Easter holiday a few months later, I was accepted back at the company to talk through requested improvements with the engineers and implement them. This didn't require much relearning of Access on my part, so I was done in the space of a few weeks and off I went again.
When I returned for the final time in August of 2001, shortly after I met earenwe, the number of employees working at the company had tripled. Unfortunately, with more employees came more office politics, and in the month or so I spent there I was given hardly anything to do by my supervisor. One task I did have was to clean out their new contact management system, but that was hardly worth mentioning because of the dullness factor involved.
It was shortly before 2pm one day when the company systems admin, who sat a few desks behind me (and was later sacked for incompetence and timewasting), piped up that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. There was no TV in the office that we could switch on, so I had to rely on my trusty handheld radio while I hit the web. Sure enough, a deadpan Mark and Lard came out of a track on Radio 1 and quickly handed over to Newsbeat for a special bulletin.
Thereafter, Radio 1 went into full tragedy mode, jettisoning much of its upbeat playlist and playing as much of what it could reasonably keep for most of the time, separated by bulletins every fifteen minutes and occasional deadpan "can't put this into words so let's play some music" mumblings by the DJs. As the full horror developed, I tried to hit the web for the latest information only to find that most of the major sites were slow-loading to unreachable, knocking a lot of them off-line. For some reason I couldn't believe the stories until I had seen the pictures, so after much digging I hit upon the idea of visiting the web site of Iceland's main "broadsheet" newspaper, Morgunblaðið. Sure enough, I saw a grainy picture taken from the helicopter footage of one of the towers billowing smoke, and I had to rely on my reasonably advanced understanding of Icelandic to read the attached article text. I remember later visiting CNN.com to find a much less graphics-intensive front page, with bullet points listing all of the available information. I still have a print-out of that page somewhere, as well as a Register article reporting on the day's events.
When I got home that night I talked with Mum about what had happened. At the time she was out of regular work, so she was home that day. I had asked her to record Diagnosis Murder for me that afternoon (love that show), and she had set the timer beforehand; the programme was scheduled to start on BBC One merely ten minutes after the news first broke, so when the VCR kicked in it actually caught the first hour's worth of breaking news, as predictably BBC One threw its schedules out of the window and simulcast BBC News 24 instead. Mum watched it all unfold as it happened.
For the rest of the fortnight, most of the audio/visual channels remained in solemnity mode. Radio 1 had very little talk, a lot of music, no trail advertisements whatsoever, and news every half hour instead of the usual hour-on-the-half-hour. While on the train home from work on the Friday the 21st, I listened to the main evening edition of Newsbeat, which was the last that was almost entirely devoted to the attacks. The last three minutes of that bulletin were probably the most memorable, as they played an audio montage of everything that had happened in the past week-and-a-half. Only then did the full force of what had happened that day hit me.
Much later I found out about some of the other things that had happened during the attacks. David Angell, exec producer of Frasier, was one of the more well-known victims who lost his life on one of the first two planes; he was remembered at the end of a later episode of the sitcom which I saw a few months later on Channel 4. Closer to home, I learnt from a friend of mine living in California that not only had a former alumni of the high school I temped at back in 2000 lost his life on one of the first two planes, but a Marine friend of mine who I met while in California, and who actually drove me to LAX on my way home, narrowly escaped with a ripped-up uniform and his life when the Pentagon building was attacked that day. He was in the car park, walking towards the very section of the building when it was hit.
For the sake of his family and our friendship, I'm glad he survived. I also offer my condolences to the friends and family of those who did not, and to anyone affected by the tragedy. I have a few vaguely political and controversial things to say about the anniversary of this event, but I'll save those thoughts for now.