Do you remember where you were when news of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania took over the media? I do. Collin had just left for work that morning–he was still standing at the bus stop when I looked out the window as I was getting ready to go to the library. The Today show was on TV. From the bedroom, I heard Katie Couric saying something about the World Trade Center being hit by a plane. I went back into the living room as the second plane hit the South Tower with the TV cameras already on it, looking at the fire and smoke in the North Tower.
I went to the library anyway, but took my pocket TV and earphones along so I could follow the news. I called Collin when he got to work. He hadn’t heard yet, but someone at the restaurant put a radio on, I think. By then, a third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. When the fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, it was believed that the passengers had overtaken the hijackers and crashed it there to prevent it from reaching its target. That was soon confirmed. It’s still not known whether that target was the White House or the Capitol building, but a group of brave people, knowing they were already doomed, had definitely made the choice to prevent even more deaths.
I was still following the news on the pocket TV in line at the grocery store after I left the library. Everyone was talking about it. People had jumped from the towers to escape the fire. Others were trapped. First responders had entered the towers. Some of them would die there, too. US airspace had been closed, planes grounded. Some flights had been diverted to Canada. We didn’t yet know who had attacked us.
For me, it brought back a memory of the first and only time I’d been in the World Trade Center.
In the fall of 1985, I was in New York City to meet with my agent, editor, and executives from Berkley Publishing. My first novel, Alexander’s Empire, was under contract and they had big plans for it. I was excited. My agent, her assistant and I were going out for dinner on my first night in New York. I wanted to go to the World Trade Center, since it was one of the more significant settings in the book. We had dinner at Windows on the World at the top of the North Tower. Because I was still doing research, my agent managed to get me a copy of the menu, and I took a couple of matchbooks, even though my characters didn’t smoke.
Looking forward to the view from the restaurant, I was soon disappointed. There was a heavy fog that night (now I know where the term “pea soup fog” comes from. The windows looked like they were covered in pea soup. I mentioned this to our waiter. “We’ve had a couple of close calls with planes flying into the airports,” he said.
I told Maria and Elizabeth it would make a good plot for a thriller: terrorists crashing planes into the towers.
I still have that menu and the matchbooks. But when I think of that night now, it just feels creepy.