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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday Morning

I was a (not so) Big (anymore) 3 automotive engineer, and my principal mandate for drawing a paycheck at that time was figuring out how to make the '04 hybrid-electric mini-SUV battery yield an acceptable service life. Although it was basically a car platform, the mini-SUV was considered a truck, and therefore our design reviews went through the truck chain of command. There we were on Tuesday morning, in the design center conference room taking turns making presentations to the truck division VP and executive leadership in what was to be a 3-hour review. My turn had not yet come, and based on the way the agenda was unfolding, it didn't look like it was going to. I had mixed feelings about this prospect - face time with upper management is generally good career medicine, but the hot seat is rarely the most comfortable in the room.

In one of the first of many things I was going to find unusual this decade, an admin from one of the nearby executive offices interrupted our review with an announcement: "A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York," at which point the meeting facilitator suggested that anyone who had loved ones in NY would be welcome to step out of the meeting and try to call them. A fair percentage of the 30 or 40 meeting attendees stepped out, which I also found unusual. I didn't realize I was surrounded by so many New Yorkers. About that time, the meeting basically ceased to operate, with people milling in and out, providing scattered updates, etc., so I decided to proceed to the other thing I was supposed to be doing that morning, co-teaching a class at the training center on the other side of town.

On the way out of the building, I stopped by a TV screen in the hallway, where CNN was patched in. It was then that the magnitude of the situation became clear to me. A few other engineers and I watched in horror as smoke billowed out of the towers (by that time the second tower had been hit, erasing any possibility that it was a random occurrence). A part of me died when the second tower to be struck fell, right there on live TV. One of the fellows standing with me observed that he suspected the Palestinians. I said no, probably not, the Palestinians are the Keystone Kops of terrorism; it was probably Saudis, or at least Saudi-funded.

The 30-minute drive to the training center took me past the airport, which by then was surrounded by emergency vehicles and police. All air traffic had been grounded, following reports that other planes were being hijacked. Another strange thing for the record books - one of the largest airports in the country, with no air traffic above it.

The scene at the training center was much like that of the design center - grim faces, a mixture of emotions, slow motion chaos. Many people were looking at the video monitors. It was the same inside my classroom, so I dismissed the students and told them I'd send them instructions for completing the class later. Here's another odd thing - there was a group of Malaysian students from our Asia-Pacific marketing team in my class. They appeared to be completely unaffected by the attack. There they were at their table, talking and joking, playing paper wad football. When I approached them to tell them they were dismissed, their main concern was who was going to collect the homework.

By that time, we had been informed that another plane had stuck the Pentagon, and yet another had crashed in rural Pennsylvania. I left the training center and proceeded straight home to be with my wife and children, who had been dismissed early from their grade school.

That was Tuesday morning, seven years ago. I think I'm demonstrating my firm grasp of the obvious by observing that the entire world has undergone considerable changes since then. Politics, the economy, even religion - nothing's the same anymore. Are we better or worse? Well, we're certainly more starkly aware of a lot of things, not the least of which is the persistent presence of evil around us. Not that ignorance is bliss, but I was a lot happier when this kind of thing was confined to places with strange names known only to their hapless denizens and Rand McNally. Aside from a brief uptick in spiritual awareness in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I'd say no, we're not any better as a people. Worse, maybe. Darkness can make light seem brighter by comparison, but can never actually make it so. One thing I do know - the line of demarcation between them is clearer than ever now.

So much for my Tuesday morning; how was yours?


  • At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Truck Reviews said…

    That Tuesday morning will always be imprinted in our memories as the day we were brought into the chaos of fundamental radicalism. Something that most of the world has been touched with that we thought would never hit that close to home for us. I prefer to not dwell on the past, but to learn from the experience of knowing that even here at home we’re not immune, and we can overcome our fears and demand our leadership to address our vulnerabilities. I still can’t stop thinking of the image of our president, after being told of the attack, sat reading to school children as if he didn’t know what to do.

  • At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Truck reviews, President Bush was TOLD not to do anything until it was determined where he should go. No one knew exactly what was happening and what target would be struck next. His safety was of primary concern.

    "Nuanced conversations" with those who are hell bent on our destruction won't ever solve the problem of evil.


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