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Where We Were 

When wounds like 9-11 leave a lasting scar on our memory


The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, is indelibly marked on the memories of people across the world. Millions of us can remember exactly what we were doing the moment the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the buildings crumbled, killing thousands. The Bohemian asked a number of North Bay community members to share their recollections of that morning 10 years ago.

Reb Irwin Keller, spiritual leader, Congregation Ner Shalom

My drag a cappella group was opening an off-Broadway show at Studio 54, so it was a very exciting time for us. We'd left San Francisco and moved to New York that week. Sept. 11 is my birthday, so I was planning to fly home first thing that morning to be with my family, but we decided to hold our scheduling meeting with our executive producer, so I couldn't fly out of New York until 1pm. I woke up, and my roommate said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We had a production meeting in Midtown in the theater district, so I took my suitcase because I was going to the airport right from the meeting. By the time I got there, the second plane had hit. Everybody was traumatized.

Our producer's office mate was there. His wife was a trader at Cantor-Fitzgerald. We sat and held him as we watched the buildings came down on TV, hoping somehow that his wife had got out. But she didn't.

The rest of that day was out of a dream. Manhattan, deserted. People wandering the streets, not knowing quite what to do. We went home and taped towels and sheets over the windows. Nobody knew what was in the dust or what would happen if you breathed it.

Brian Romanoff, NorCal Truth blogger and organizer

I lived in the Hotel Petaluma, of all places, at the time. It was the first time in years that I watched TV for a few hours. I stopped by my dad's house on the way to my new job at an upscale Sausalito restaurant. The words that to this day sum up the day's events are "surreal" and "unbelievable."

My shock at the attack itself was somewhat overshadowed by my shock at the unanticipated destruction of the World Trade Center buildings. I now know that planes and fires did not bring down WTC 7 or the Twin Towers, hence the disbelief. We are still in shock-and-survival mode. War, torture, the PATRIOT Act, being guilty before innocent on any TSA interaction, unaccountability in government and domestic surveillance are all a problem in my book.

David Goodman, executive director, Redwood Empire Food Bank

I was on a train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., heading to Sen. Feinstein's office to talk about childhood hunger. They stopped the train in Baltimore and had everyone get off. I walked outside, and there was a taxi line and a few hundred people there waiting for cabs. I asked the taxi-stand guy how to get back to Philadelphia, and he opened the cab and pushed me in and said, "Philadelphia." It took hours to get there. I gave the cab driver a hundred dollar tip because I knew that was a day where he could have made a lot of money.

Two days before, I was actually on a train from New York City to Philadelphia. The perspective from the train was over this sea of treetops, and these two buildings were just pointing out of the trees. These enormous buildings. I asked my wife, "What are those buildings?" and she said, "That's the World Trade Center." Two days later, they were gone.

Lisa Hemenway, owner of Fresh by Lisa Hemenway

My brother-in-law called us and said, "You won't believe it. The World Trade Center's been bombed. There's smoke billowing out of it, and you need to turn on the TV," and we did . . . We just kept watching it and watching it, and the wave just kept coming. It was very intense. We were glued to the TV. Everybody calling everybody and wondering—the speculation. In 1989, I was in Candlestick Park when the earthquake hit. It was one of those things where you had all those feelings, like "Oh, my God." All the information coming in throughout the day was absolutely mind-boggling. I just kept trying to make it less than what it was in my mind. I kept saying, "Probably somebody had a bomb." I couldn't believe somebody flew an airplane into it. But as the morning progressed, then you saw the airplane hitting. And they kept playing it over and over. To this day, I see it and I get goosebumps. I just couldn't believe it.

Keith Caldwell, Napa County Fifth District supervisor

At that time, I was still the fire chief for the American Canyon fire district. I was on vacation with my son, who is also a firefighter. We owned a very remote cabin up by Susanville. No TV, radio, power or anything. We drove into Susanville about noon. I remember seeing pickup trucks with huge American flags. I remember saying, "Man, they're pretty patriotic in this town."

We stopped at a gas station and there was a correctional officer, and I said something about the vehicles to him, and he looked at me like I was from outer space. He said, "Where've you been? They crashed two planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." I said to him, "Wow, there must be hundreds of people dead." And he looked at me and said, "Hundreds? No, thousands." I tuned into talk radio in the truck and placed a call into the station. They had put us on standby with a possible deployment into San Francisco. The intelligence was that there could be a planned terrorist attack in the Bay Area.

I immediately went back to the cabin, and we headed home. We stopped in Chico, and there was a TV on there, and that's when I saw the first footage. That's when it really hit me, the extent of the attack. I'd been a fire chief for 25 or 26 years. I probably didn't look at it the way a normal person did; I looked at it from a rescue perspective. What was the ability to actually perform rescues? What were the chances that there were people alive?

After 24 hours, I went through the grieving process for both the victims and the 343 firefighters who died in the WTC. We were all part of the same family.

Heather Murray, executive director, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art

I was living in Riverside, Calif. I was asleep and my mom called, and that's how I found out. I immediately went to be with my family. My husband and I drove the hour or so to my parents' house. I remember seeing the American flags on the road. I remember the music that NPR played, by far the saddest music I'd ever heard them play. I remember having a conversation with a mail carrier at my parent's house. My brother and his family also came over. There was this sense of needing to physically be with family and see them and know they were OK, and to have conversations with people that you don't normally have conversations with. There was a very surreal sense of insecurity that no one in my generation had experienced.

Will McCollum, web developer, musician

I had lived in Petaluma for just two months after moving away from New York. I'd lived in a place in Manhattan for eight years that was just north of Canal Street. I remember waking up and my flaky roommates telling me that the Twin Towers had been hit by planes, which I didn't initially believe, so I checked the New York Times website to confirm that this had happened. Then I watched the news for a little bit but got tired of the repeated statements, which were basically lack of information. I checked with my family folk and made sure they were OK. I remember being concerned about the Bush administration's propensity for overreaction. It was more of a bizarre kind of thing for me. It didn't really hit home until I went home for the holidays and there was a big hole in the New York skyline. I thought it was creepy that people were going to visit the hole.

Madeline Kellner, mayor of Novato

I got up early on Tuesday. I don't watch TV, and I didn't turn the radio on. I got dressed and got in my car and put my radio on then. I was almost to Corte Madera, and that's when I heard what happened. My colleague and I met at a place that had a big TV screen over the counter and it was showing these pictures over and over. And I said, "Let's move into the other room." I felt disbelief, shock, like, "Is this real?" It seemed pretty surreal. For that month, it was hard to get anyone's attention. The mind-share and the emotion-share was so much of what happened.

Steve Jaxon, radio host, 'The Drive,' KSRO

I remember I was asleep when the first plane hit. My wife at the time woke me up. We assumed it was a horrendous accident. I stood mesmerized in front of the TV, and the realization of what happened actually made me dizzy, and I had to sit down.

I was working on the old Q-105. I had to be on the air that afternoon. It seemed so wrong that I was on the radio playing contemporary country music while this tragedy was unfolding. I had to play "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" while all this was going on. It just didn't feel right.

Ralph Morgenbesser, Ralph's Courthouse Classics

I was at home and I was having coffee. All of a sudden the pictures came on the TV, and my first thought was that it wasn't real. I thought it was something like that thing they did with the Martians landing, that radio program that scared all the people. Then I realized it was real, and I was in horror. The whole day I was in shock, sad, because I'm from New York. That's been my skyline forever; the Twin Towers were such a part of that. I also felt so sad for the people. My mouth was open, I couldn't believe it. I moved closer to the TV and tears were running down my eyes. It was that impactful to me. I had to turn my head. I didn't want to see the people jumping. It changed my heart. It just hit my heart so deeply to see what went on that day.

Ten years—amazing how 10 years have gone by and what's happened since then. It's changed so much of our lives. In travel, war, terror. Such an important day, not only for New Yorkers, but for America.

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