Sunday, September 11, 2011

Points on a Line: Remembering 9/11

I will preface this with the declaration that I do not know a single person who perished that beautiful clean, crystal clean, autumn day ten years ago when terrorists got the incredible idea of using a civilian commercial aircraft as a weapon of war. I do not even know anyone who knew someone. Then, as a life-long Midwesterner, events in New York seemed a world away.

Expressions like "a New York minute" and "the Big Apple" and flying in and out of JFK or making travel arrangements for others to do so was the extent of my contact with New York City.

I remember we had had rain in the Chicago area, but finally were having some beautiful days. My grandmother had always loved the incredible blue of the sky on clear days in the fall. I recall thinking of skies as that shade of "Parthenon blue", like similar days when I traveled in Greece in August and the creamy limestone seemed to emphasize the blueness of the day. I coined the phrase "Parthenon blue" as a memory cue.

I was working in Schaumburg for Motorola that day in September in 2001. I had gotten to work just a few minutes before 8:00 AM. I had an 8' by 8' cubicle next to the office of one of our global supply chain managers from New Jersey. She flew in from her home in New Jersey to Schaumburg, IL every Monday and Friday. She usually rolled in a few minute after 9:00 each day, luggage in tow.

A particularly obnoxious co-worker stopped at my cubicle to tell my some little plane had just hit a skyscaper in New York City, she was streaming the news in her cubicle from CNN. I was reading my email, and I was thinking, okay some private pilot had a seizure or a heart attack and that was a pretty bad result; but, Hey! Woman get to work, we have reports due and meetings, a conference coming up, that database to clean...

A few minute later she's back. "You need to come see this." I peek into her cube and I'm thinking, Crap, NYC has some issues this morning. "Hey," a sudden thought comes to mind, "What building is that?"

"Twin towers of the World Trade Center," she replies.

"Do we have people there? Customers, salespeople, office space?"

"Oh my God..."

And that "Oh, my God.." is particularly telling.

And suddenly, the second plane hits and everyone in the global supply chain is scrambling to locate everyone on the east coast. Communication relays for all the 911 systems for the New York City firefighters and police are in Building 7 of the World Trade Center.

When the Twin Towers collapse, emergency communication for New York City are demolished as well.

Some of the salespeople from New Jersey are supposed to be in the Trade Center that day for meetings. The woman from New Jersey rolls in. Her husband is one of those salespeople.

"What's going on?" My cell can't get a line. I wanted to tell my husband I got into O'Hare..." She trails off, seeing the streaming video on my co-workers screen.

It turns out her husband is stuck in traffic on one of the bridges into NYC. She gets stuck in Chicago for about three weeks when they ground the planes. She considers renting a car, and driving home, but suddenly she realizes we have other issues and by the time she thinks about driving home there are no rental cars to be had.

In the ensuing days, we realize our borders are effectively closed with the grounding of the commercial air fleet. Motorola, one of a handful of global companies at the forefront of the money-saving move to outsource its manufacturing; with its heart and brain in the Chicago area, has literally had its head severed from it manufacturing hands abroad.

The air filters in the hand-held units for the emergency communications supposed to be replaced every two years, in the clouds of dust and debris in the air after the collapse of the towers, need to be replaced every 48 hours.

The design engineers in Schuamburg get up from their desks, walk out into the parking lot of the Schaumburg headquarters and begin building an emergency communications tower on the back of a flat bed semi-trailer.

Anyone who has every sourced a part in all of Motorola is suddenly scrambling to find back-up radios, air filters, and parts for the tower. Because I am a designated "superuser" and as such have access to the part sourcing software for the Global Supply Chain, I find myself calling warehouses in remote dessert areas out west; cajoling jobbers to literally walk out and double check bins for parts where they list them as being unknown or less than ten. Parts that are not worth ten cents that with the borders closed, the failure to locate even a single critical part means failure to restore emergency radio communications in NYC.

The design engineers bring in tools from home to help them in the construction. They work around the clock and literally have the tower on the trailer on the road by 5 PM. on the Friday after the Tuesday of 9/11.

A few weeks later when I saw the first airplane take off from O-Hare over my son's school, I broke down and wept.

Since then, time has passed. I realized I could not continue in my marriage and moved home to central Wisconsin to be near family. My child has grown from a child to a man here in the hometown of my birth.

The woman from New Jersey resorted to extreme medical interventions to finally conceive and delivery a child.

The obnoxious co-worker retires.

My US Representative from Illinois; a young, eloquent, black man by the name of Barrack Obama, is elected President.

Motorola has since been divided into two corporations, spun off subsidiaries and part of itself been bought.

Osama bin Laden, a man whose name I had never heard, becomes the world's most wanted terrorist. He is hunted down and killed by Navy Seals.

Things change, for better or worse.

We keep moving down those points on a time line of which we can see neither the beginning nor the end.

Time marches on.

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