It was a Tuesday, and I was working at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, and I was going through my everyday routine of arriving at about 8A, having breakfast, and hitting the trading floor at about 8:20 to get ready for the 8:30 opening bell. I went on the floor at maybe about 8:15 on this day, and I saw a couple of friends glued to one of the many little 13" TVs that were always on all around the floor. On the screen is a shot of a building that appears to be on fire. I asked what happened, and one friend said something like, "Oh, it's weird, man, some yoyo accidentally flew a plane into the side of the World Trade Center." That blew my mind. How did someone manage to fuck up that bad and fly a plane into a big-ass building like that?, we wondered. It already had taken its place in my mind as one of the three most memorable moments that I saw on TV at work, along with the Oklahoma bombings and the O.J. verdict.
Then, right as we're standing there cracking jokes, whatever channel we were watching broke in with film of another plane flying into the building right next to the first one. The announcers' voices were shaking as they emphasized that this was not live footage of the first plane being replayed, but rather tape of a second plane hitting while they were filming the damage from the first plane. Everyone's eyes on that trading floor got as big as saucers, and we were frozen watching the coverage and muttering in disbelief, "This ain't no fucking accident."
The opening bell never happened.
In fact, once word got out that New York wasn't opening the markets at all, the floor slowly emptied out as people realized that something sinister was happening. The Pentagon plane announcement came a little over an hour later, and I distinctly remember saying to the co-worker who would become my lover a few years later, "I don't believe this is happening." It really did seem like a movie script playing out, an Independence Day-like scenario. I moved from trading post to trading post talking to co-workers and colleagues, trying to make sense of everything. By 10A, the floor was nearly empty, Bush was bumping his gums on TV, and the feeling I remember the most was the frustration from 8,137 news channels not being able to give any insight at all on who may have done this or why. I had to hear a number of theories from those around me, and most were way off base, but all we could do was theorize. Finally, with the floor completely bare, the Powers That Be gave word that there would be no trading that day, which meant that we the CBOE staff could finally leave. Yes, buildings being bombed for no reason, and the floor reporters and their supervisors were staying put until the higher-ups gave us the green light to leave. Hey, we weren't traders or brokers, and if trading did occur that day, we had to be there or else lose a day's pay. Actually, a couple of reporters left before the official word because they feared their lives over losing some salary. Everyone has their priorities.
Outside, it was bedlam. Not only is CBOE across the street from the Board of Trade, which obviously felt threatened due to their importance in the nation's economy, but it's a few blocks from Sears Tower, which obviously felt threatened due to their importance as one of the nation's most popular and most visible attractions. So, basically it was every person for himself, a bright, sunny day featuring hundreds of people hailing cabs, stuffing buses, and looking at each other with a mix of fear, sadness, compassion, and cluelessness, if that's a word. A usually empty LaSalle Street bus at 10:30A was filled with folks rushing home to their loved ones, with more filling up behind and in front of us. As usual, I had my headphones on, so I didn't hear what people were talking about with each other. What I did hear was the newswoman on a pop station that I was listening to trying to find an escape break in to say that one of the towers actually collapsed, with a countless number of people still in it. My body went cold, just as it is right now remembering all this. The thought of that happening, a building that big crumbling to the ground with so many people still inside...I could not even imagine how horrific that scene was. I wanted to throw up. The newslady announced the second building falling minutes later, and the usually loud and obnoxious morning guys were completely stunned silent.
There are a million ways 9/11 affected people, from the emotions to the actions it spurred some to take (like Pat Tillman, a damn good free safety for the Arizona Cardinals who quit football in his prime to join the military and wound up killed in Afghanistan) to the impact on the way we live. Me, I was financially affected by the fact that CBOE lost money a bunch of ways--the stock market dipped after 9/11, traders left fearing their safety in a downtown building, and security guards and metal detectors and new electronic entry methods were brought in. The staff lost their twice-a-year bonuses, a hiring freeze thinned us out trying to cover more ground when reporting the traders' quotes, and eventually a new hybrid system was phased in where traders could enter their quotes from their own handheld devices, and we were phased out, although that may have happened eventually with or without 9/11. I wasn't all that much affected by the trauma of the situation because ever since my mom's death when I was 10, I've become a master of hiding my feelings and not letting things get to me (which is why "Karen's" betrayal finally made me snap, because years of shielding my heart from pain exploded right in my face). I felt for the victims, sure, but I didn't know them, so they seemed as distant as the victims of all the other worldwide terrorist attacks. There was a trading firm in the towers that had an office in Chicago, so some guys at CBOE knew some of the victims, and being even that close to it made my stomach turn. I had no desire to get any closer. Getting very far away from it all really is the lasting impression that I have, in the form of realizing that because of how we as a country do things, someday something is going to happen that makes 9/11 seem like just a beginning. So I would love to get away and move out of the U.S., but at the moment I'd have to play the lottery a lot more than I care to in order to do that.
Sometimes I'm amazed at the political football that those in charge have turned 9/11 into. It's like they don't care about the lives involved and just want to use the event to shine a light on the other party's shortcomings. As jacked up as Bush and the rest of the Republicans have been at handling it, it's not like if a Democrat were voted president that Bin Laden would immediately be found. It's pretty clear that he will be found when he wants to be found, and not a second sooner. They're all concerned with the same things--making sure that those close to them would never be a victim of something like this (or have to go fight against it), making sure Social Security funds continue to be funneled into Capitol Hill call girls' purses, and pointing fingers at the other guys and taunting them, saying it's all their fault. I'm obviously no political pundit, but I'd say one of the most glaring things coming from 9/11 is the way it showed our "leaders" for what they really are...and the people of America for what they really are. I mean, when the lasting image of Bush is him hunched over a children's book on 9/11 trying to fathom what happened like he's a 2nd-grader who was just told there is no Santa, and that's our chief executive, what the hell does it say that he got re-elected?