My friend Max Hammond
I had to spend the weekend in the Boston area, because I had business meetings, so I decided to spend the weekend with my friend from graduate school, Max Hammond. We saw another friend of ours, Greg, and we discussed plans to get some of us together in Las Vegas in the coming spring. We were very excited, and we had a wonderful time reminiscing and discussing our futures. As the weekend ended, we said our good-byes, and I headed back for the Boston area.
That was Sunday, September 9, 2001. Two days later, everything changed.
I was watching Good Morning America, getting ready for the trade show that I was about to attend. I remember watching the coverage of the World Trade Center, where, at the time, they were reporting that a commuter plane ran into the building by accident. Of course, it was strange, since it was a bright, sunny day – how could something like this happen?…
As the commentators were grappling with what was happening (as we all were), I noticed something on the right hand side of the screen. It looked like a plane or maybe a helicopter, but it was there for just a moment, moving really fast, now hidden behind the images of the smoldering tower. It didn’t come back into view, so it must have been nothing. And then…
The explosion that we would all come to know as United Flight 175 hitting the second World Trade Center tower. We’ve all seen this footage since the tragedy of 9-11, but I was watching this live. I remember then, as I remember now, that my mindset shifted – it was the exact moment when I went from the pre 9-11 world to the post 9-11 one. I remember distinctly thinking, “This is no accident. We’re under attack!” Thinking that we could be attacked at home was unimaginable before now, but here it was – happening live.
A half hour later, the Pentagon was hit, and it confirmed everything about being under siege. I immediately called my wife Stephanie at about 6:30 AM Pacific to let her know what was happening. I had no idea whether they’d hit Chicago next or set off a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. No one knew. She needed to know, just in case more of the unimaginable was going to happen.
I eventually had to go to the trade show, but there was barely anyone there. Trade shows were being lightly attended anyway, but this was different. No one had their minds on business or software or networking – only what this day of September 11, 2001, was and would mean.
Eight of us, graduating from UCLA with PhDs, in 1993
I later received word that Max was scheduled to be in Los Angeles that afternoon, and possibly was on one of the planes. I left messages on Max’s cell phone, urging him to contact someone and let us all know he was OK. I was contacted throughout the day by friends who knew Max, asking if we’ve heard anything new. Maybe he never got on the flight. Maybe he was late to the airport. We were all looking to reasons to give us hope. Later that evening, we got word that he did make the flight, that he was on the plane, and that he was in fact lost to the day’s tragedy. It turned out that he was on Flight 175, the very one I saw live earlier in the day that changed everyone’s reality.
That night, I eventually broke down and realized that I had lost my dear friend, the one that I had seen only two days before.
The whole national transportation network was shut down that week. While I was visiting the East coast for business, my stay was understandably extended. My boss and friend Brad and I were scheduled to fly home later that week, but no flights were leaving the Boston area. In fact, we tried to get out via Providence, RI, but no flights were leaving there either. We decided to keep our rental car, drive to Syracuse, and stayed the night on our way to Cleveland. We were able to finally get a flight back to Los Angeles, via Houston, eventually making our way back home after a long and weary trek.
Fast forward ten years, and as we all know, it comes back into our memories. Things changed that day, and things have changed since then. We are now ten years older, especially my daughter Monroe, who then, at not yet two years old, had no understanding of what 9-11 meant. Today, she does, expressing love and concern for my own safety about flying on a plane on the tenth anniversary.
September 11 has obviously affected me personally, taking from this world one of my dearest friends. I have always chosen to honor his memory and the memories of the others that were taken from us that day, by wearing a red, white, and blue ribbon lapel pin with my suit and tie.
However, on today’s tenth anniversary of 9-11, we reflect upon how the world was, how we’ve all changed, and what we do now to live stronger lives. I remember every time I wear my lapel pin, to honor my friend and the memories of others. I choose not to be terrorized, taking a flight from LA to DC today to be here for Monday business meetings. I recognize that the world, which we strive to make better and safer every day, is not yet completely good and safe. There can be no real closure (although the fact that Osama Bin Laden is now gone doesn’t hurt…), but we can all move on – in some ways, stronger.