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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002 - 5:20 p.m.

Unhappy anniversary

"I'm going to my friend Catharine's memorial service, then my friend's dad's service, then I'm just picking up a few things and going back up to Connecticut," Lori said. We were talking on our cell phones as I walked through the west side of Red Bank on my way to the bank while my car's oil was changed. She was on a bus coming down from her boyfriend's in Connecticut.

"She was the last person they found," Lori continued. "They only found her torso, though."

I knew Lori had some close connections to the World Trade Center (I believe her uncle worked there, or near there, and is still alive today), but I didn't realize she had a friend who died. Lori's always been reluctant to talk about September 11, and I haven't wanted to bring it up for the sake of discussion either. She's been dreading today, if only because she's wasn't looking forward to the day-long rememberances and look back on half of cable television. She's one of many, I think, who would rather instill a new leap year wherein we go from September 10 to 12.

At first I thought I wanted to just sit at home today and watch as much as I could, to learn more, understand more, remember more. Instead, last week I decided I should use today -- my last weekday off since I begin the new job tomorrow -- to take care of last-minute errands, like the oil change, getting my hair cut, and having lunch with Neil of the BlueClaws. I'm glad I did. I watched maybe five minutes of Today before leaving the apartment this morning, and then I listend to New York's 95.5 WPLJ on the drive down to Red Bank.

At 8:45 a.m., they went to the live broadcast of Mayor Bloomberg's introduction of the minute of silence, and at 8:46 a.m. -- the time the first plane struck the World Trade Center -- all that was heard was the wind on the microphones at Ground Zero. After a few seconds, the station cut the feed and went silent. To further understand the magnitude of that minute, I flipped through the my other preset stations, hearing silence on all of them. At 8:47, PLJ went back to Ground Zero for the reading of the Gettysburg Address by New York Gov. George Pataki.

Before all this started, Scott Shannon, one of the hosts of the morning show ("Scott and Todd"), said that after the minute of silence they station would play a nine-minute piece of some of what was broadcast last year, all their reports and talk on the air from 9-11-01. Despite this announcement, I forgot about it, so that following the Gettysburg Address, Shannon comes back on the radio and I am confused for a moment, thinking that while Pataki was speaking, PLJ had been playing music, a song, in fact, that took on new meaning after 9/11.

"Five For Fighting with 'Superman,'" Shannon said. "Now let's go to [the traffic lady] because something big is going on."

"It's a mess out there," she began, "apparently, a plane has crashed ..."

And at that moment, my heart stopped, in part because of some unexpected detour on my way to the turnpike had put me on an unfamiliar road and I was trying to find my way back to the entrance to Route 46. But when she mentioned a plane had crashed, I thought it was live. All in a split second, before she went on to say ...

"It hit Tower 1 around the 80th floor ..."

And with that, I got a sense of what it felt like a year ago. At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I was still in bed with Casey on the fold-out couch in the back room of my parents' house. A little after 9 a.m., her father called and that's when we learned what was happening. The second plane had already hit, so we saw everything from that point on. But I've always wondered what it would have felt like if I had seen it happen, or at least "been there" from the beginning. PLJ's short replay of some of last year's on-air broadcast gave me a very good sense of it.

Driving along the New Jersey Turnpike, I looked to the east and saw the Empire State Building through the haze. A year ago, I would've seen the smoke coming from Lower Manhattan. As I passed west of Jersey City, I noticed a bridge over the turnpike that's used as the backdrop for a photo inside Bruce Springsteen's new CD, The Rising. There's a billboard advertising the album near the same spot, incidentally. The bridge recedes toward New York, and though I don't think it's visible in the photo, the site of the World Trade Center lies in the distance.

I'm glad today's here, actually. I'm glad we are nearly 3/4 of the way through with it and soon it will be September 12, just another day. It's been in the back of my mind since last year that September 11, 2002, is the last hurdle, or at least the last obstacle. Getting this "one year after" out of the way, I think, will provide one last bit of closure for a lot of us. For those who had greater connections -- husbands, wives, co-workers, children, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins lost -- true closure will never come, but for some, I think the end of today will come with a great sigh.

I'm happy with my decision to run errands today. Instead, I got to listen to the radio and hear how the talk shows covered it, how the music stations played through it. If I got tired of it, I could pop in a CD and think what I wanted. On WFAN in New York, the all-sports talk station, Imus in the Morning went over how they covered it last year. When Sid and Jody came on at 10 a.m., they discussed their feelings and memories, and later spoke with the Mets' John Franco, who grew up and still lives in New York and who lost a firefighter friend on that day. Jody, I believe, made a good point when he said, "This is one situation nobody can say what is right." He was talking about how to cover it from a media standpoint, how to honor it from a personal standpoint, how to plan memorials, how to go about today.

On NJ 101.5, New Jersey's all-talk station (except on weekends, "when the music comes out to play"), Dennis and Judy took their mid-day show to the student center at Rutgers University. The station was going commercial-free all day, and taking calls only from people 21 years old and younger. It was their dedication of today to New Jersey's youth, and I thought that was a nice touch too.

Many people today have mentioned how great it is, weatherwise. It's sunny and pleasant, in the upper 70s-low 80s, just like it was last September 11. Only today, there is a strong wind, gusts up to 50 mph, they say. One CNN anchor suggested maybe it's "the breath of angels" or something, caressing us from above. On 101.5, a caller mentioned how it was making all the flags flutter straight, as if starched, displaying all 50 stars and the full length of all 13 stripes. I noticed more flags, too. Some storefronts hung them in their front windows, obscuring the view for the day. They were out in their normal places -- flagpoles, car windows, front porches -- but there were extras out today. My parents hung one on the porch in addition to the one they hang each day on the well by the driveway. Flying the flag or wearing red, white and blue today does little for some and nothing for others. But it doesn't hurt, because for some it may mean a lot. I'm wearing a t-shirt with a small flag on it as much for someone who sees it and smiles as I am for anyone else. I don't need any acknowledgement for it. At the barber today, a young boy getting his hair cut with his dad before the first day of kindergarten was dressed in a red GAP t-shirt, with the GAP letters decorated in stars and stripes, blue shorts, and white socks with white sneakers.

The wind continues now, but the sun is setting and the long shadows of the late-summer afternoon are growing. The light is taking on that golden/orange tint of September afternoons and the air is growing cooler. Temperatures could dip into the upper 40s tonight. I have a feeling it will be a spectacular sunset tonight, and even if I miss it, tonight might be a night to take the drive up to West New York and look out from the cliff across the Hudson at New York City, sparkling in the night.

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