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Q: Where Were You on Sept. 11?

Today we ask Washington, D.C. journalists one question:

Where were you on Sept. 11?

Politico‘s Roger Simon: “I was just climbing in the car to drive to work when my wife came rushing into the garage to tell me of the attack on the first tower. Made phone calls and scribbled notes while driving into work, by which time second tower had been hit. Began making more calls, taking more notes and writing when the plane hit the Pentagon. More calls, more notes, more writing. Journalism can be a great anesthetic…until it wears off.”

The Hill‘s White House Correspondent Sam Youngman: “I was in college at Western Kentucky University. We had put the school paper to bed the night before, so I was sleeping in when my roommate woke me up. We sat there in silence watching the TV as the towers burned. He got up to get a beer, and I walked to the newsroom. A couple days later, my hillbilly buddies and I were ordering hundreds of bourbons at an all-you-can-drink bar. It seems silly, but listening to my drunk country buddies talk about what they would do to bin Laden gave me hope for the future of the country.”

Roll Call‘s John Stanton: “I was at the Inside Washington Office news room in Crystal City, which had a pretty great view of the Potomac and Pentagon. My desk faced out of a window, and I was just sitting down to check Drudge to see if he had any stories on the plane crashing into the building in New York. Something caught my eye over the top of my monitor. When I looked up you could see smoke and then flames coming from the Pentagon.”

HuffPost‘s Ryan Grim: “I was working at Chestertown Middle School on the Eastern Shore as an aide in a classroom of kids with behavioral problems (the same middle school I attended, actually). I remember giving a lesson about who Osama bin Laden was and why al Qaeda hated us. They actually sat and listened quietly to the entire thing, unpersuaded by my promises that Osama had no designs on Chestertown. My girlfriend, now wife, Elizan, was in Manhattan, and I was able to get a hold of her in the afternoon. Three weeks earlier, I’d turned down a job with Morgan Stanley on the 42nd floor of the second tower, a decision I’m very pleased with on a number of levels. Though I suspect I’d have been fine because I’m not one to be in the office by 9 a.m.”

Politico’s Julie Mason: “I drove with a coworker in a berserk, hurtling panic in a rental car from D.C. to NYC and covered the story from there for the Houston Chronicle for about 10 days. The thing that no one likes to say is that it was really the story of a lifetime — a huge challenge to try to understand and explain. And the trickiest part was writing about it clearly, without being overwrought — especially when you felt overwrought. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years.”

NBC and MSNBC “The Daily Rundown” Host Chuck Todd: “I was at ‘The Hotline,’ our offices at The Watergate on the third floor. We decided to publish, didn’t know what else to do. We turned it into a public service of sorts. Just loaded it up with every bit of info we could get our hands on, whatever every network was reporting. I’ll never forget the visual of my staff racing to the big windows we had overlooking the Potomac and simply staring in the sky wondering if another plane was coming – total frozen fear. I wouldn’t let anyone take the Metro home. A few of us with cars took everyone home. The four issues of that week 9/11,9/12, 9/13 and 9/14 are the proudest issues I oversaw during my days there. I still have them, framed.”

WaPo Opinion Writer Jonathan Capehart: “On Sept. 11, I went to vote in the Democratic Primary and then headed to my desk at the Bloomberg for Mayor campaign. At one point, I looked up at the bank of televisions and said, ‘Look, the World Trade Center is on fire!’ The rest of the day was a literal nightmare.”

C-SPAN Communications Director Howard Mortman: “Ten years ago I was still with ‘The Hotline,’ writing my online column.  Sept. 11, 2001 was the day of the New York City mayoral primary.  That morning, I boarded an Amtrak train to go cover the primary.  I even had an invite to Michael Bloomberg‘s election-night party.  The train left Washington around 8:30 a.m.  As I approached Baltimore headed north, my cell phone went off twice.  My wife of four months and a good friend both told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Both warned me not to continue on to New York.  A minute later, the train arrived in Baltimore.  I decided to abandon the trip and got off.  The train left the station (I learned later that that train was one of many that became stranded that day).  In Baltimore, I saw on TV what was happening.  There were already huge lines for taxis.  No real options to head back south to D.C.  Back down on the train tracks, the light rail was still operating.  I got on a deserted light rail train. But it terminated at BWI airport.  About 30 minutes later I arrived at BWI airport.  By that point airports had stopped operating.  BWI was full of stranded — and dazed — travelers.  I saw on TV that the twin towers were gone.  I had no way of getting home, so I called my parents. They drove from Greenbelt and picked me up.  They took me back with them, where my wife met me.  We drove back to DC (we lived then at 22nd and L Streets, NW).  An eerie feeling getting into the city, when so many were leaving.  The city was empty.  Outside our building was a humvee and soldiers holding machine guns. We went out for a walk, toward the Pentagon, saw the fire and smelled the smoke, saw more soldiers, walked near the State Department and White House, then returned home and watched TV the rest of the day and night.”

Slate’s Dave Weigel: “No great story here — I was in my parents’ house in Delaware, a few days before heading back to school. My granddad was watching TV while I was upstairs updating my HTML blog. He called me down, and then we watched TV, and then my mother called from a barber shop to ask if we were watching. We picked up my dad from his evacuated building, and later my friends who’d also gotten the day off hooked up with me for a trip to buy the new Dylan album. Returning from that, I updated my blog again.”

The Washington Examiner‘s Nikki Schwab: “Sept. 11, 2001 was a day of immense sadness, but for those of us living in Southwestern Pennsylvania, it was also a day of massive confusion. I was a senior in high school at the time, having lived in the small town of Ligonier, Pa., my entire life. After the World Trade Center had been hit in New York City my friend Brea ran into Ms. Barr’s jazz band homeroom and said, ‘We’re being attacked.’ We threatened a mutiny against music that morning and informed Ms. Barr that we wanted to watch CNN. She finally obliged. We watched the Twin Towers collapse and heard the news about the Pentagon. I always carried my cell phone, what we nicknamed ‘the contraband,’ to school even though it was against school rules. Using that phone my friends secretly called their parents from the instrument storage room. That’s when we found out about how close Flight 93 was to where we lived. My friends’ moms had seen the plane wobbling through the air before it finally came down about 30 miles away in Shanksville, Pa. At the time we didn’t know why one of the hijacked planes was flying through our backyards. Rumor on the street was that it was on its way to attack Pittsburgh. (Yeah, right). Now we know that it was the heroism of the passengers and flight attendants that most likely saved countless lives right here in D.C.”

AP’s Phil Eillott: “I was a junior at Ohio University on Sept. 11, 2001, and the managing editor of our independent student-run daily newspaper, The Post. It was our first week of publishing for the academic year and I was the late editor the day before. I was at the office until after 4 a.m., making sure the edition got to print by the 6 a.m. deadline. I was still asleep when the first tower was hit. An early editor called with few details to wake me. I was getting ready for work when a second phone call came in with news of a second plane. Not quite understanding what was going on, I made a quick stop at the bookstore to pick up a textbook on my way to The Post. By the time I arrived in the newsroom, the significance of what had happened started to sink in.”

HuffPost‘s Christina Wilkie: “I was an intern at The Brookings Institution, and I arrived at work just after the first tower was hit. Twenty of us crowded around a TV in the conference room as we tried to absorb what was going on. There was another new intern, Tracee, who had never been in a big city before and didn’t know where to go, so I took her with me and we walked up Massachusetts Ave in the middle of the street, 30 blocks to my house. We sat together, virtual strangers, for the next six hours.”

Politico‘s Keach Hagey: “I was in Manhattan, on my way to work. I ran into a friend coming out of the subway at 23rd St. who said, ‘Turn around.’ I looked down Broadway and saw the first tower fall. People were just standing in the middle of the street, screaming.” [Hagey was writing for non-profits at the time.]

C-SPAN’s Steve Scully: “I was on C-SPAN doing a segment on President Bush’s education agenda when I received a note about a plane hitting the first tower of the World Trade Center. It was approximately 8:47. The House was in at 9 a.m. so I was off the air at 9. I turned the corner and saw the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower LIVE at 9:02. Then immediately mobilized because I knew, we knew, this is not just an accident. We stayed on air for days after that.”

ABC White House Correspondent Jake Tapper: “I was in my apartment in Adams Morgan trying to figure out what I would write about that day when my then-boss at Salon.com, Kerry Lauerman, called. He told me to turn on the TV. I did just as the second plane hit. No one knew what was happening. Kerry soon called again because there were rumors that the Mall was on fire. In reality, it was smoke from the Pentagon. I hopped on my bicycle to go check it out; I didnt want to have to worry about traffic. Rumors were swirling — there was a bomb at the State Department, a car bomb at Treasury. At the Mall, traffic was insane, cars were at a standstill. I ran into a friend, Ellen Gamerman, then of the Baltimore Sun. Car radios were blaring news and people would gather around to listen. I decided to get out of there and gave Ellen a lift on the bike. When we got near the White House, a panicky policeman told us to get out of there as soon as possible since there were reports that a fourth plane was headed to the White House. Right around then is when the towers started to fall. The whole world had changed. No one knew what to do. I called around and made sure everyone I knew and cared about in NYC and New Jersey was OK.  My little brother was living in Cairo, so there was a whole new worry I immediately adopted. I was glued to the TV for hours. No one knew
how many people had died. Peter Jennings was great that day. A friend of mine and I went to go give blood. We just needed to do something. We walked to the Red Cross but they were overwhelmed so they sent us away. I think all that blood ended up getting spoiled anyway. Kerry kept calling me to ask me what I was going to write. [Read the story here.] It wasn’t easy to write that day. Looking back on it, I’m amazed at how dispassionate the story seems. I was overwhelmed with grief. The next day I went to the Capitol — I
worked in the Senate Periodical Press Gallery — and called Gary Hart
and Warren Rudman, who had chaired a commission warning of a terrorist
attack. Their warnings had been ignored. That day I got angry. It was a weird time to be a reporter.”

WaPo‘s Aaron Blake: “Getting ready for my first day of college at the University of Minnesota. I still went to class for some reason. I think that’s proof that this didn’t set in right away.”

Poshbrood Travel Blog Founder and blogger Elizabeth Thorp: ” On 9-11, I had a plane ticket to fly from IAD to Denver around 11 am. I was Executive Director of the National Campaign for Hearing Health and we had a board meeting in Denver. A few colleagues had gone out Monday. I don’t love to fly (ironic, huh since I’m a travel writer and founder of travel website and consultancy Poshbrood?) My grandfather was killed in a small plane crash and I grew up in a family of nervous fliers. Almus and I had been married a year and lived in a condo near the Cathedral. I had gotten up early to exercise, had come back and was making coffee, reading the paper and watching the news. I was extra nervous about flying that day, just had a bad feeling and was dragging my feet. My insomniac mom called from LA around 8:30 a.m. and I told her I was going to Colorado but really didn’t want to fly…she said the weather’s great today, you’ll have a smooth flight! Later I was watching the Today Show (way pre-George on GMA which is our new morning show) and they broke in to say a small plane had it the Tower and showed the footage. I had been in the building recently for a client meeting and thought ‘the building is huge, there is no way that’s a small plane.’ I got online (dial up!) and checked to see how many other United flights there were to Denver as I didn’t want to head to the airport yet (but should by 9:30 am). There were more flights and I decided to wait a bit before heading to airport. I kept watching the TV and live (I remember it was Katie Couric and Al Roker talking) watched as the second plane hit the Tower. My blood ran cold and I knew something deliberate, horrible and evil was happening and it didn’t matter if I went to the silly board meeting or not. My husband came in from his run and he said he knew by my face something was very, very wrong. My parent’s called me to make sure I didn’t get on the plane (duh!) and several people thought I might be going to LA from IAD and couldn’t get through to me because lines were jammed. We watched live as Jim Miklaszewski reported an explosion at the Pentagon which was the other IAD plane and got a text that the rest of the office downtown at 17th and K were evacuating. We went to the roof of our condo and saw the plume of smoke at the Pentagon and I couldn’t get my head around the malicious evil of “people” who would deliberately crash a plane of innocents. I still can’t. We then started hearing about the PA plane crash and acquaintances or classmates who were in planes or the Tower. I cried and watched TV all day. In the afternoon, I walked over to the Cathedral with our dogs and met some nice out of town visitors. They were seeking comfort because a colleague of theirs had been on the flight that went into the Pentagon. It was so very sad. Still is. I have my unused 9-11 plane ticket somewhere in a box of keepsakes. After that day for awhile I was always given extra searches, pulled out of line and had bags searched. Even when 8 months pregnant! Maybe because I was flying on 9/11?”

Roll Call‘s Paul Singer: “I was the head of AP’s bureau in Cleveland — we were in our statewide morning news conference call when the second plane struck, and everybody just said ‘Well, OK, scrap everything else we were planning’ and hung up. Shortly thereafter we got an alert that there was a hijacked plane with a bomb aboard that was being forced to land at the Cleveland airport. Apparently flight 93 was on the same flight path as another plane headed west, and there was air traffic confusion as they passed into Ohio (the regional FAA station is in Oberlin). Flight 93 did a buttonhook and went down in Shanksville; the other plane was sent to land in Cleveland. The airport is about 15 miles out of town, but the mayor decided to evacuate downtown Cleveland. It’s a small city with a few major roads and bridges which all instantly became parking lots with panicked people trying to flee. The mayor held a press conference and I had to basically climb over cars to traverse the four blocks from the AP bureau to city hall. I had taken the Cleveland job in May and I am pretty sure that the ‘hijacked plane/bomb/evacuation’ series was my first experience filing an URGENT series for the AP; I had no idea what codes to use or what format. I had our veteran sportswriter standing behind me basically dictating to me while I hammered on the keyboard. It was very nearly Sept. 12 before I was finally at my neighborhood bar with a drink in my hand watching reruns of the collapsing towers over and over again, and wondering what we had just lived through.”

The Daily Caller‘s David Martosko: “I was on my way up I-395 on my way to work in DC, listening to the radio with my wife Susan — who had a dentist appointment downtown that morning, when Flight 11 hit the North tower. By the time we made it to my office, the Pentagon had just been struck. It took me two hours to get to my where Susan was, just 6 blocks away. She was waiting on the curb since the dentist’s building had been evacuated. We spent another four hours in the car trying to cross the 14th Street Bridge. Eventually, when the bridge was opened to (outgoing only) traffic, we made our way home. Along the way we offered to pick up several people who said they were too scared to go underground into the Metro tunnels. I learned later on that some of my co-workers had gotten home to Virginia much faster by abandoning their cars and walking. As luck would have it, I was due for a blood donation — I had been giving a pint every two months since high school, since my own life was saved by an emergency transfusion when I was very young. I stood in line that night at a Red Cross donor center in Arlington, along with dozens of others. Many were first-time blood donors.  There simply wasn’t much else we could do at that point. Susan and I had  several lunches and dinners at the Afghan restaurant on Route 1 in Alexandria, since the owners had (literally overnight) covered the building’s roof-eaves with red, white, and blue bunting. It was the first of many signs that our neighbors of Middle Eastern descent would suddenly have to work twice as hard to demonstrate their love of country, and that they would need our support. The only other thing I remember vividly about that day was holding on to Susan, and she to me, and wondering if World War III had just begun.

A special note of thanks to all who responded.

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