I don’t remember September 11, 1996, at all. If there was any press coverage of the Union Pacific takeover of Southern Pacific, I didn’t see it. My train interest in those days was dormant. I had liked trains as a very young child but somehow managed to forget about them some time around the age of eight. The interest came back around age sixteen when I discovered that I could hear them on my scanner. I even wrote a story about freight train hopping done by two teen runaways, but somehow my interest in trains went away again. It wasn’t until age twenty-four that I became a full blown foamer. And it wasn’t until age twenty-eight that I started listening to marine traffic on the regular.
However, this piece isn’t about September 11, 1996, which, despite my razor sharp memory, I don’t remember at all.
It is about September 11, 2001, which I vividly remember. I remember where I was, what I was doing and whom I was with when the news broke of America being attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. Get ready, readers, because I will show exactly how powerful my memory actually is:
That was sixteen years ago today.
The weather was sunny, dry and unusually mild for a Louisiana September. In fact weather wise, it was a very pleasant day.
I was an eighth grader at Vandebilt Catholic High and was sitting in the second period Reading class. The teacher, Mrs. Shellen Liner, was absent that day and we had a substitute, Mr. C. J. Tastet (my math teacher at first period and a distant cousin of mine, actually.)
We were probably given some form of busy work, which I don’t completely recall.
But then towards the end of the period, the principal, Mr. David Kiefe, activated the public address system and told of how the World Trade Center was bombed and had collapsed and that the Pentagon was also bombed. It was considered an act of war on American soil, something that hadn’t happened for almost sixty years.
When I heard this, I assumed that Iraq and the ruling Hussein dictatorship was behind it. I honestly thought that it was payback for the Persian Gulf War, ten years earlier. I was only four years of age during the Persian Gulf War, but remember it well thanks to my Paternal Grandparents (who helped raise me) keeping their television set locked on a news channel, usually CNN. I didn’t know anything about Al-Queda, the Taliban or Usama bin Laden. I remember seeing an article in Teen Newsweek some months prior about Buddhist statues in Afghanistan and how the Muslims there angrily destroying them. Afghanistan was originally a Buddhist nation, by the way.
As the day went on, we attended class, but no lessons were taught. I remember, during the third period, hearing how the Twin Towers could fit the entire population of Houma in them from my Earth Science teacher, Mr. Scott Ayo.
For Louisiana History, at the fourth period, I remember my teacher Mr. Rafe Blades saying how we are currently “at war.” He then turned on a boom box, tuned to WWL-AM and the announcer said the very same words “at war”, just as he turned it on.
There were some girls freaking out because President Bush was being kept safely at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana. I had a desire to comfort them but didn’t know exactly what to say.
Then there was lunch. I was quite underweight at the time, so I was drinking a Boost shake for lunch. Those things had an awful aftertaste and I was also taking Aderal, (misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD) which suppressed my appetite even further. A female classmate (whom I shall not name) saw I that I had a radio in my pocket. It was a cheap little Coby pocket sized radio I bought a week prior at Big Lots, that could tune in AM, FM and the audio portions of VHF TV Channels 2-13. Television broadcasting was still done in analog in those days, so such a device was possible. She threatened to tattle on me for having the radio. I don’t know what I said, but I talked her out of it.
This may shock some of you readers out there, but I didn’t own a radio scanner at the time. I had only known such things existed for two months prior to that and being an unemployed fourteen-year-old with fiscally conservative parents, I could never afford one anyway. I wouldn’t actually own one until a year later and when I did, it was an entry level table top model that I got for $30 on clearance at Wal Mart. Looking back, I wish I could have heard, at least what my local public safety personnel was talking about on that terrible day. It would have been interesting to hear railroad and marine traffic as well. All aircraft were eventually grounded that day, so there would have been no [civilian] air traffic to listen to.
Mr. Rafe Blades also taught me Physical Education that year and we didn’t dress out that day. We just sat in the gym and watched television.
For the seventh period, which would have been religious studies with Mrs. Kathy Tarantino, the whole school assembled in the gym and prayers were recited by Mr. Calvin Buxton. If there was anything good that came out of this, it was me telling my mom that the man who was reciting prayers was the same man who taught the girls physical education at the same period as the boy’s P. E. class I was in and he would frequently make peacock calls, something which always amused me. She told me who he was and not long after I befriended him. Unfortunately, he passed away in January of 2016, but I remember him telling me how I was one of his favorite students (he taught me Old Testament Religious Studies, my sophomore year.)
At the eighth period, the final period of the day, there was English with Ms. Rhonda Ledet. We continued to watch the television sets.
School finally let out. My mom, who also teaches at Vandebilt, drove me home and I remember tuning the car radio, but all stations were covering the events that had happened. Many were simulcasting each others’ programming.
I logged onto my family computer and dialed into the AOL server. My mom at first didn’t want me to use the computer for fear of a cyber attack, but for whatever reason, I did anyway. I then started my ICQ app and saw that people were virtually/figuratively lighting candles online. Social media was in its infancy at the time and there was no Facebook, no not even Myspace. The way to communicate was AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ.
Later my dad came home from work. My brother and sister also got off the bus. We tuned in the television to the local CBS affiliate, WWL-TV. I stood on the driveway with my Coby radio, also tuned it to the audio portion of WWL-TV and listened to Dan Rather anchoring the coverage of these events. I listened to that radio for the rest of the evening.
Eventually, I went to bed, not fully realizing that America had lost its innocence for good…
All kinds of laws that eat away at the Constitution, no matter how necessary in this post modern world, were put into place.
Also, I believe 9/11 probably didn’t help in preventing the Housing Market Crash of 2008.
On a personal level, because of these terrorist attacks, I frequently get questioned and sometimes even harassed when out watching railroad or marine traffic. Some of my older foamer friends tell me that before 9/11 one could walk into a railroad yard and watch trains all day long and even take pictures. I guess one could also go into dockyards and marine terminals and watch/take pictures of all the boats and barges passing by, without much heckling as well.
I guess these policies work because there has never been another terrorist attack in America that involved using transportation equipment and infrastructure. Most terrorist attacks on American soil were done with crude IEDs and bullets. Although in 2013, there was an unusually high amount of train derailments, however, I’m going to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist if I continue elaborating on that.
As for the impact, that day had on my growth and development as a person, I guess the main thing I learned is that life is short and no one is guaranteed their next breath. Come to think of it, 9/11 was a factor that made me want to write, but I remember thinking during school on that day to find any girl I had a crush on (there were a few) and stay near her as much as possible in case of a terrorist attack on the school and just try to shield and protect her. This idea stayed in my head for a few days until I realized there probably wouldn’t be any more attacks. Some of my stories I would come to write, years later did indeed incorporate these values and events in them. 9/11 is also partially a reason why I carry a flashlight with me everywhere, though it would be a little less than four years afterward (May 5, 2005,) that I began that practice. I think of being trapped in a building or transportation vehicle and its dark, but if I have a flashlight, I can help get myself and others out. By the way, in 2008 while an HVAC student at L. E. Fletcher, the power went out and I had my trusty flashlight on me. The same female classmate who wanted to tattle on me for having the radio on 9/11, gave me much kudos for having the flashlight! She still shall not be named, though. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about 9/11, is that while America leads the free world, many nations and organizations (both foreign and domestic) hate us with a passion. And not only that, they know our weak points and are like a brood of vipers ready to strike. The next attack, on America I believe will be against our electronics, personal, commercial, industrial and maybe even military, with an electromagnetic pulse. Such an attack would catapult us back into the nineteenth century and do collateral damage resulting in casualties that will make 9/11 look like Kindergarten…I pray that this will never happen, but will God answer that prayer?