Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Where I was...

NOTE: I posted this on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. I will continue to post this each September 11th.

Here's a story that, outside of immediate friends and family, I've never shared with anyone before. Indulge me for a moment, as it is, somewhat, card related.

After weeks and weeks of endless "phone tag," a date and time had been set. At 1:30 PM that afternoon, Lloyd Pawlak (the guy whose facsimile signature is on the reverse side on all of your Fleer autogamers) and Jim Stefano would be interviewing me for a potential opening with Fleer Trading Cards.

This was the opportunity I've been waiting for my whole life. I mean, me, the ultimate card geek, was about to interview for a card geek's ultimate "dream job." Not only that, but their headquarters were only a short twenty minute ride up I-295!

As the days slowly ticked away, I planned out everything I would do that day right down to the millisecond. First, I was going to get up bright-and-early (well, 6:30 AM anyway), and call my boss with some BS "I'm sick" excuse. Next, I was going to hit the Wawa for my daily cup of joe and a doughnut. Finally, I would pick up my "interview suit" from the dry cleaners.

I was so amped with excitement, that I was able to accomplish all of these items by 8:15 AM. Still, I had five hours to kill until the interview. What to do?

At around 8:30 AM, on a total whim, I decided to "preemptively celebrate" my all-but-assured future sports collectibles career, by treating myself to breakfast. But not just any breakfast, but breakfast at the greatest greasy-spoon in the whole world: the Waffle House in Elkton, Maryland. (Yes, we have Waffle Houses up North now, and from time-to-time, when I need my fix; I make the pilgrimage down I-95 to Elkton.)

I think it was around the time I was on the down slope of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, approaching the $3 toll, when Ba-Ba-Booey interrupted Howard with news that an airplane had just flown into the World Trade Center.

It was all an accident. No big deal, right?

I think it was around the time I was finishing off my waffle and about to tear into a ham-and-cheese omelet plate, that the Waffle House's manager informed his staff, and the half-dozen-or-so customers, that the other WTC tower and The Pentagon had been flown into as well.

It was at that moment it all started to sink in. These were no accidents, or isolated incidents. These weren't just merely acts of "terrorism," whatever that word meant on September 10th. This was an act of war against the United States of America. For the first time in my life, after hearing twenty-seven years worth of stories about Pearl Harbor, I now knew exactly what my grandparents felt on December 7th, 1941.

While I continued to sip on my half-full and quickly becoming half-empty coffee mug, contemplating what was happening a hundred or so miles to the immediate Northeast and Southwest of Elkton, it occurred to me. How the hell was I going to get home? I still had to cross over that bridge. If those bastards -- keep in mind we still didn't know al-Qaida was responsible, or if there were any other "flying bombs" still left in the sky -- targeted the Twin Towers and The Pentagon; then the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the keystone of the Washington-to-New York transportation corridor, might be the next logical target! What was I to do?

After a few moments of contemplation and reflection, I slammed down my coffee mug, left a $20 bill underneath my half-eaten omelet platter, and high-tailed it back to South Jersey as fast as my '91 Mercury Capri could take me. I had to get home before they closed that bridge. Or worse.

I think it was around the time I arrived back home and turned on Channel 6, came the news that a fourth plane had crashed in some place in Pennsylvania none of us had ever heard of before. And then the first of the Twin Towers collapsed. And then the other. The look on Marc Howard's face after seeing the WTC towers vanish in front of all our eyes, is an image that will be burned in my memory forever.

My mother, as well as the rest of the Eastern Time Zone's labor force, was let out of work early, arriving home at around Noon. I immediately gave her the biggest hug a son could possibly have given to his mother. Her immediate concern was that the Air Force might recall me back to active duty and send her oldest son off to war. (I left in '99, but the USAF had until October of '02 to recall me. I never got the call, but if Uncle Sam needed me, He knew where to find me.) I had never seen my mother acting this way before. I can't think of the right word to say it. I wouldn't call it hysterical, but not quite despondent either. But as we embraced, I just kept whispering to her, "It's going to be all right. We're Americans. They're never going to get us here. It's all going to be all right."

At around 1:15 PM -- minutes before I was scheduled to have my dream job interview -- I called Jim Stefano to cancel. I got his voice mail, which leads me to believe that Fleer closed shop early as well. A few days later, I attempted to go to what was being called "Ground Zero" to pay my respects, but got no farther than Jersey City as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels were closed. I rescheduled my Fleer interview for the next week, and wound up not getting my "dream job" after all. But that story is for another time.

Hard to believe that it's been five years, eh? I invite you to share your 9/11 stories in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading that Chris. Not that the subject matter was any fun, but it was interesting to read about that day and how it effected everyday life.

I remember actually going to work that day. In retrospect, it seems a dumb thing to do. I worked evenings then, so I watched the news all day up until that afternoon when I had to leave. What was weird was how every TV channel was showing news. Driving to work was weird being that I had to drive past the entrance to Camp David on my way to work. Earlier that day it was reported on TV that the plane that went down in Shanksville was heading to Camp David. Something I don't thing was accurate.

Sorry to read you didn't get that job. Knowing the way things work out in life, Fleer would have assigned to a job that dealt solely with Football cards, not Baseball cards.

Also, I never knew you were in the Air Force. Me too.

--David said...

It is amazing the things we remember, the things we did (or did NOT do) in the time leading up to those fateful minutes.

Thanks for sharing!

Matt said...

I was still in High School in Central NJ. I remember walking past the lunch room and wondering why they had all of the televisions on, then shortly thereafter they made an announcement over the loudspeaker. Riding back home that day on the bus, everyone perfectly quiet and fixed on the radio is still one of my more surreal memories.

Retrofan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Retrofan said...

Being Canadian, I perhaps have a much less visceral story. It was my last year of High School (which we call OAC). One of the nice things about OAC is that you can pretty much make your own schedule. I hadn't heard anything more then there was a large plane crash somewhere in the US until around 2pm when of all classes, history class, we were confronted with the true scope of the terrible events of the day. We had no TV to watch, so we couldn't get facts, so class went on. When I got home though, around 3pm the first thing I did was turn on the TV. On a more personal note, one of my uncles who then and now lives in Chicago was at the World Trade Center only a day before on a business trip to NYC. I maybe didn't have the emotional connection most Americans had, but we all had the same reaction, utter disbelief. Eight years has passed and it seems almost unfathomable that justice has still not been executed.

Chemgod said...

I was working in Whitehouse Station, NJ. When the second plane hit, I left work and headed down to my parent's house in Red Bank NJ. We went to the Highlands and watched from across the river. I saw both buildings collapse. I will never forget looking at my dad and seeing him cry. He grew up in lower Manhattan, and remembered when they were building the towers. I had just taken my friend up the towers a mere 2 months earlier. We did it at 8 in the morning. I can't help but think of the people lining up to go up the tower to the observation deck. 9/11/01 will be a day I will never forget. I can still see the towers dropping.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post Chris, I will never forget where I was when this happened. I was in Puerto Rico on the Navy Base as I was on Active duty at the time. My Unit was never called into action but it was a sad day. I was so nerous I went to the PE on the base and bought a few packs of 2001 Upper Deck baseball (Yes the PX had baseball cards) I could not belive it either. I went back to m Barracks and opened them.Did not get anything just some commons to help fill my set. Thanks for posting this. Probably better that you did not get that fleer job as Upper Deck bought them anyway. I also wanted to remind you that the Attenna Card Show is Sept 20 th I talked to the promoter last month Bob and he said he has no issue with you bringing in a video camera to shoot some footage for your site. A few new products I will have at the show is Topps Chrome FB, 2009 Upper Deck goodwin, 2009 Bowman chrome baseball, I also have 2009 ginter boxes, 2009 sp legendary cuts boxes, and other 2009 baseball and football boxes. I think you will also be able to fill some want list items there. there are about 50 tables ther. Pretty large show for an old throw back rent a hall have a card show shows of the 90's

maine mariner said...

Thanks for sharing that Chris.

I had just started covering our 3rd shift for a colleague the night before, when my Wife called that morning to let me know we were under attack. When I answered the phone I was half asleep and thought it was a crazy dream. I only wish it were..

maine mariner said...

The thing that I will always remember from that day was I picked up my daughter at kindergarten and shortly after being in the car she said Daddy why did those men fly those planes into the buildings.

gritz76 said...

I had just got back from my honeymoon! We got the last, and I mean last, flight back from Jamaica late Sept. 10th. We spent the night in O'hare because the flight was so late and took the first bus home. We just snuggled in bed to take an early morning nap when my mom called to make sure we weren't on the plane that hit the first tower. She talked to my wife, who didn't fully understand what it all meant, when my wife told me, I knew it was much more than an accident. I quickly turned on the TV just a few seconds before the second plane hit the towers. I'll remember those 5 minutes for the rest of my life. We spent the whole day and night in bed watching TV in disbelief. I don't even think we ate that day.

deal said...

This post never gets old - I remember the first time I read it and it remains moving. Thanks for reposting.

Anonymous said...

I remember the first time I read this. Its funny how life moves you from one direction to another.

Mike Matson said...

It's odd. When it happened I was working in the mill back home for shutdown.

I'm a Canadian, so it is more detached for me, but my friend's dad told me during my break and I just couldn't comprehend what was being said. I thought it was the normal issue I have sometimes where things don't always process.. Went home and it was all over the news..