I was pretty busy with Husker Harvest Days and final deadline for Kansas Farmer, so I was able to spend most of today without thinking too much about the date, 9/11.
Ignoring the memories of that horrific date weren’t so easy when I got back to the hotel tonight, turned on the television and caught up on messages on Facebook.
I was in a unique place 11 years ago – a World Trade conference in Wichita at the Hyatt Convention Center. A Japanese trade group was in town and companies from all over the state had gathered to talk to them about the prospects of doing business with Japan.
Of course, back then, the tsunami hadn’t happened, Fukashima hadn’t melted down and we were basking in the long, fruitful expansion of the 1990s, not reeling from the financial collapse of 2008.
I got there early; well before the conference opened to have breakfast with an old and dear friend from my college days who was working for the Kansas Department of Commerce, so I was in the hotel long before the news broke and the towers came down.
I remember best how everybody thought it was an accident when the first plane hit. We all watched the TVs in the lobby and wondered how such a thing could have happened. Where was Air Traffic Control? It was a clear and daylight, couldn’t the pilot see he was about to hit a building and make a turn? When the second plane hit, the awful truth was obvious – our country was under attack. In our lifetime. On our soil.
I called my daughters and told them to turn on the television.
Many of the people in the room came from offices in the Twin Towers and had friends and co-workers in there.
It occurred to me that I was the only reporter in the Hyatt. The press hadn’t shown up for the start of the conference when the first plane hit. And anybody who tried to get into the building after the news broke was being turned away by security.
I had a notebook with me but I was afraid to take it out lest I immediately be booted out to the sidewalk with a horde of other reporters wanting to talk to the people in the room with me. So I walked around, making conversation, and trying not to sound like a reporter. I remember being frustrated that couldn’t ask anybody’s name or how to spell it or write it down.
So I talked to people I knew, including Cowley County farmer Stan Ahlred, who at time was president of the Kansas Farm Bureau. And my friend, Sally Lundsford, from the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Eventually, around 11 a.m., I got caught. And booted. And I went back to the Eagle and tried to sell the editors on a story about the experience of being at a World Trade conference when the World Trade Center was destroyed. No sale. I didn’t have names or direct quotes and there was a LOT of news to be covered.
So I didn’t write about it. But I will never, ever forget it.