It seems obligatory at this point. People on the “interwebs” ask and tell, sometimes sincerely, other times as though at confession. People in Florida don’t much notice. It’s not that we don’t have hundred of residents from the NY/NJ area down here, mixed in with the Cubans and the Haitians and the Puerto Ricans, the Chileans, the Colombians, the Jamaicans, Canadians… you get the idea.
But the sun makes you forget things. The impending Igors make you forget the Wilmas and the Andrews. And maybe it’s that we don’t feel as important as the “serious states” because we’re really just a vacationland so we drown ourselves in margaritas and fix our blown-out flip-flops and go on about our days. Which means no one asks “where were you” (for local catastrophes like Hurricane Andrew, horrific events like 9/11, or memorable sports championships), though they may ask if you’re from “around here” or simply “here” at the edges of “season” when locals and tourists actual mingle.
On September 11, 2001 I was at my crappy day job, my “stupid day job.” I may have even been singing “Stupid Day Job” under my breath. I was in a gray and glass office building, plugging away at a computer, in Corporate America just like many of the people whose stories of that day are far more heartfelt or tragic. Except, I was clicking and trying not to fall asleep in Delray Beach, FL, so far from what became Ground Zero that it might as well have been an alternate dimension.
The news of the morning’s events didn’t come in the form of frantic neighbors or plumes of smoke but in emails from more-connected friends and outsiders. Our collective hive-mind seemed to go from not-knowing to knowing about the planes in the same was we went from not-knowing to knowing about a layoff or unexpected pregnancy. It just felt like it should be different.
We all knew it was going to be one of those events people talked about for years to come, a JFK assassination or a moon landing, but most of us had no connection to it. A few of us had visited NYC. Some of us had lived there, even, during that youthful artistic period where we’d tried to become Actors or Artists or Musicians or Writers before coming back to the parents’ spare bedrooms or cheap condos (as this was still before the FL RE boom hit its peak and jumped out into the waiting abyss). Some of us even had family in one of the “other” boroughs.
I was not one of those people. At the time, I only knew one person living there and that was abstractly (the father of a friend, a father I still hadn’t met yet at the time, and who on that fateful day was safely in his office so many blocks from the site of the action that when my friend and I later walked from his office to Ground Zero it took us a whole morning). Which is why, I looked to my left and took in the hysterics of a woman who had once eaten in a deli “near there,” looked to my left and noticed the goofy confusion of a guy from the Deepest of the South and felt conflicted.
On any other Corporate America day, especially before the economy started its slow fall and most certainly before it took up deep-sea diving, an opportunity for distraction from our mundane tasks would have been great. We’d have eagerly wandered to conference rooms or huddled around desks to watch a soccer match gone awry, a video of a dog licking a cat, a fantasy football draft. Some of us left our desks to watch the towers fall in those same conference rooms. Some of us tuned our little plastic radios (which had been silenced by the “no intrusive noises” emails) to news stations for play-by-plays and running commentary.
I kept working, checking my email a little more frequently to keep in touch with loved ones I was suddenly glad hadn’t “made it” or who worked in government offices less obvious than the Pentagon. Somehow it seemed wrong to fake a connection to get out of work — odd when ordinarily I drank about two gallons of water a day so I’d get out of work to pee — on a day when people with a connection had every right to be frantic or distraught.
I got an “award” in the form of a small business-card-sized piece of flare for continuing to work, for continuing to type in skus and stare at catalog pages because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. So, I guess the answer is, the only day I ever felt really connected to Corporate America was “the day America fell to its knees” (as Ani Difranco would sing).