My Own Personal 9/11

Here’s my story from 9/11/01, the day of the terrorist attacks:

The first photo I shot on 9/11/01.
The first photo I shot on 9/11/01.

I was at Ada Junior High early, taking a picture of a student and the teacher who saved his life, which we were trying to get into the paper that morning. I overheard some chatter about a plane crash in New York City, and mention of a Boeing 767. My ears perked up. I only caught a couple of details, something about two planes, when I decided I needed to get back to the office so I could hit our deadline.

I was shooting that day with my first digital SLR, the Nikon D1H, which had only been in my hands for about three weeks. It was making deadlines decidedly easier.

On the way back to the office, I heard a parcel of scanner traffic, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department captain was telling his firefighters to fuel up all the trucks because the price of gasoline was about to shoot through the roof. I happened to be passing my usual fuel stop, so I pulled in and topped off my tank for $1.35 a gallon, and at the time I didn’t think much of it.

Adans answer the call on 9/11 by donating blood.
Adans answer the call on 9/11 by donating blood.

Back at the office, I went straight into my office, which was still the darkroom then, and swiftly worked my image, then popped into the newsroom to let editors know it was ready and on the server. I found everyone in the conference room, crowded around the television. There it was, the smoke and chaos that became known as 9/11.

For the rest of the day, I went around town shooting images of the local effects of a national crisis. The Ada Fire Department raised the giant flag in Wintersmith Park that normally only gets used on July 4.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute had a line out the door and down the street of people trying to donate blood.

By 2 pm on 9/11, people were lined up for blocks to buy fuel
By 2 pm on 9/11, people were lined up for blocks to buy fuel
The woman who threatened to sue us because she was not saluting the flag
The woman who threatened to sue us because she was not saluting the flag

By noon, the gas stations had lines out the door and down the street, and prices were above $4 a gallon. I thought it was pretty selfish of the station owners to jack their prices, and I also thought it was pretty selfish of everyone to buy every gallon of gas in sight. What if the crisis had been much more severe and the military needed it? I thought it was pretty unpatriotic, and if I’d know what was really happening when I was about to gas up in the morning, I wouldn’t have tanked up.

In the days that followed, I shot a lot of images of people “doing their part.” Some of it was genuine, some of it was self-serving. 9/11 happened on a Tuesday, and that Friday night, football was replaced by a candlelight vigil at ECU’s Norris Field in Ada. Like the previous days, some of it was genuine, and some of it was indulgent. Overall, the vigil itself was appropriate.

The reason for its importance to me isn’t it’s photojournalistic value, but the fact that the woman in it threatened to sue us over it. (I cropped out all the faces for our protection.) The reason? She isn’t saluting during the Pledge of Allegiance. She said it made her look unpatriotic. Look at the photo. Is she saluting? No. Does that make her unpatriotic? No, of course not. What makes her unpatriotic is that in the midst of the most deadly terrorist assault on American soil in history, she only thought of how it made her look. What a bitch.

This is another view of area motorists lined up waiting to buy fuel, the price for which was going up as they waited.
This is another view of area motorists lined up waiting to buy fuel, the price for which was going up as they waited.
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5 Comments

  1. I was one of the poor schlubs who actually *needed* gas that day. My gauge was on “E” when I left work, and I was not happy about the 45-minute line to fill up.

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  2. You called me and had me turn my television on. I thought it was happening some where else. Not us, not here. My mom called and had me go fill up as well. She wanted me to be able to come home if I needed, home was Wewoka at the time. I went to work at Hastings, not one person came in, no one. We had some mini TV’s we opened and plugged in to stay informed. I donated blood as soon as I could the same for the OKC bombing. I heard that Oklahoma provided more than a third of all blood products during 9/11.

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  3. I was working for the relatively new daily newspaper in Denison, Texas, that morning. One of my publishers (there were three, and three heads are not necessarily better than one) came in about 8 a.m. and, passing by my desk, said, “I think a plane hit the World Trade Center.” I didn’t think anything of it because we were hyperlocal and I didn’t really give a shit about New York CIty. (I was the assistant or desk editor at the time.) Of course, two hours later, we were embroiled in one of the busiest news days of my life and, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the worst days of my life, period. We saw the second plane hit and knew, at that moment, that this was no accident, we were under coordinated attack. Then word of a plane crash at the Pentagon. And reports of a fourth, missing airplane that later crashed in Pennsylvania. It was a day of terror — random, inconceivable, unfolding live on our TV. It was also an interminably long day. When I finally went home (at 5 p.m., in a mockery of an ordinary day), I felt drained, emotionally and physically. By then, networks had figured out how to inform us multiple events at once by instituting “the crawl,” a breaking-news feature that still exists today, only to inform us of such newsmakers as Donald Trump and Blake Shelton. A long, bad, worrisome day I will unfortunately never forget.

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