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Friday, Sep 21, 2018
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Otto: Remembering 9/11, a day that changed our lives

A dozen years ago, I listened on the car radio as I drove into Mother Trib's parking garage.

I was tuned in to Jack Harris and Tedd Webb, and they were talking about a fire in one of the World Trade Center towers. There was even a suggestion that a plane had crashed into one of the skyscrapers.

I don't remember whether they brought it up or I just recalled the time a plane had crashed into the Empire State Building. It was a B-25 bomber that hit on a foggy day in 1945, killing 14 people, including the three-man crew.

I walked into the newsroom, which at that time of the morning was still quiet. A couple of editors were watching the TV monitors, and I meandered over and looked at the screen where you could see smoke coming out of the side of the building.

It was obviously a big story but not the kind of story that earned more than passing interest while you stood there sipping your coffee.

Then came the second plane into the second tower, and the world changed.

Usually the newsroom stumbles to life slowly, but on this morning the bodies came drifting in with a sense of urgency.

An editor walked over to where I was standing with a knot of reporters watching the chaos developing on the screen. He said they had made a decision to put out a special edition that morning and asked whether I wanted to do a column. He wanted it in 45 minutes.

I've heard it said that each generation has its “moment,” that event everyone alive at the time can recall with certainty where they were and what it was they were doing at the time.

I know for earlier generations there was the moment they heard about Pearl Harbor or the day Franklin Roosevelt died.

Later on it was the day a man landed on the moon or the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I had a feeling this was going to be one of those times.

It certainly wasn't the first time I'd started writing with only a vague idea of what I was writing about or where it was going. All I knew was things were going to change.

I don't know how many copies of that special edition made it out of the building. I know we had volunteers on the street downtown. Kim MacCormack, who coordinated much of it, says she thinks the number we gave away was close to 15,000.

I dug out a copy the other day and reread the column.

“We rage against government interference in the privacy of our lives,'' I wrote, “and demand the right to go when and wherever we please.”

“Now you wonder how the events of today will change our lives. Will the America of yesterday be the same six weeks or six months from now?''

I probably should have added six or even 12 years from that moment.

“How will access to air travel change? Will our skyscrapers become armed fortresses? Will our lives become less our own?

“Terrorism has come to the United States from outside and the feeling of helplessness was evident, as TV commentators appeared to lose some of their polish and watched with the same unbelieving awe as the rest of us.''

That was a dozen years ago this morning. It seems like a lifetime.

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