I wrote this post last year to mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
On September 9th, 2001, I arrived in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to attend a seminar at Lehigh University. The subject was improving coal power plant efficiency. I was there with two of the engineers who worked for me at the time. It seemed like the subject matter would be useful to us since we were always under pressure to make the plant run better. We got a rental car at the airport and drove into town, making a side trip up to the Lehigh campus, just to scope out where we would be going the next day.
I've always hated business travel, particularly trips that lasted a week, as this one would. I sleep badly in hotels for whatever reason. I wasn't really looking forward to the stay in Bethlehem even though I was looking forward to the seminar, if you understand what I'm saying. But it was a nice enough hotel, not the most expensive, but also not the cheapest. It did have a restaurant and a bar in it, always a plus when you really don't want to drive around a strange city.
On Monday, we attended the first day's session. Basically it ran 8 am to 4 pm every day except Friday when we'd end at noon. There was an enormous amount of material to go over, but the Lehigh professor who was teaching was actually quite good. The sessions were in a bright, airy room, with its own separate greeting area where a snack buffet was set up. The facility also had its own rest rooms, so it was a self-contained area. Like a little world of our own.
Tuesday was a bright, sunny fall day. The temperature was a little bit crisp in the morning, warming up to shirtsleeve temperature as the day passed. The leaves were just beginning to turn, showing the slight tinge that would shortly become the bright riot of color that marks autumn. We were in the seminar by 8 am, cocooned in our bright, airy and yet isolated area. So we never heard any of the news from 80 miles away for quite some time. We never left that little world of ours until after 11am. We didn't know the rest of the world had changed forever that morning.
Sometime after 11 am, we took a break and a few of us decided to walk around a bit. We went outside to enjoy the sunny, beautiful late morning. A young man ran past us and shouted that the World Trade Center had just collapsed, but he just kept running and we couldn't ask him anything. Another dazed looking young man walked by and we asked what was going on. He told us that airplanes had hit both towers and that both had collapsed a short time ago. We went in search of a television. And saw the endlessly repeating images one after another.
And the world changed. Just like that.
They closed the University for the afternoon (they did reopen it the next day). We couldn't leave Bethlehem, of course. There were no flights. So I called my boss, he said just stay and see what happened. We continued to attend the seminar for the rest of the week, but I honestly think that nobody actually learned anything. I can't remember a single thing from the rest of the sessions. By the end of the week, the airport still wasn't open. So we simply cut the last session of the seminar and drove the rental car all the way back to the Midwest with all the other heavy traffic on the interstates. We drove in shifts and went straight through.