On Semptember 11, 2001, I was in Atlanta at the Networld+Interop trade show. My wife was pregnant with our second child, and I brought her and my one year old boy with me to Atlanta. That morning I was on the trade show floor at the Red Hat booth, preparing to launch a product that I had worked very hard on, the Red Hat E-commerce Suite. The trade show floor opened at 9:00, and people started to trickle in. I started to give software demos. All of a sudden, cell phones started ringing.
My wife was on the phone. "A plane had hit the World Trade Center." We started to bring up news sites on the web to see if we could see pictures and find out what happened. Before long, we were getting other flashes of news. We slowly started realizing that something terrible was happening. She called a few more times to update me, but slowly our cell phones stopped connecting, due to the fact that every living being in the convention center was on the phone. Access to the main internet news sites came to a virtual standstill. One of the only accessible sources of information was Slashdot, where people were re-posting news that they had gleaned from other sources. One of my co-workers, an ex-special forces guy, called some friends at the Pentagon and reported, ashen-faced, on what they knew. It was a coordinated attack with passenger planes, and there were still planes in the air.
By 9:40, companies were packing up their people and leaving the trade show. Red Hat rented a bus to take everyone back to Durham. I'm from Washington D.C. so I didn't go. Luckily, we had rented a car, because within an hour of the airport closing, every rental car in Atlanta was gone. My wife was was watching TV in the hotel, frantic, and worried that the CNN building (next to the convention center) might be a target. I left the trade show and took the train to the hotel. Normally on public transportation people don't talk to one another, but this trip was like group therapy. None of us knew much about what was going on, we were just fleeing downtown Atlanta and heading for the suburbs.
When my wife picked me up, I was so glad I had brought my family, and even though we were were displaced 800 miles from home in a hotel room, we were together, and we weren't in D.C. My good friend was at Cantor Fitzgerald the week before doing consulting, but had decided at the last minute to take some consulting work back in D.C. and not return to New York that week, and his life was spared, while all the people he had worked with that previous week perished. My best friend's wife was in the Pentagon on Spetember 11th, though she was luckily on the other side of the massive building and felt only a vibration when the plane hit.
We made it home safe by driving our rental car to D.C. My product, which was not ever really launched and hit the market when companies were paralyzed, was ultimately a financial failure. But it was a small price to pay to be safe and sound. A year before, I had stood at the window of the World Trade Center in the Cantor Fitzgerald office, looking out over New York, standing at the exact spot that the plane hit the building. It makes me think how only a twist of fate can bring us happiness or great misfortune.
Since that time we've seen hysteria and paranoia and the erosion of our personal freedoms in this country. More people now would like to see the press have less freedom, and would gladly accept less freedom for themselves in exchange for a little more safety, or even the perception of safety. Greedy people bellied up to the table in Washington to exploit the crisis for a handout. Even though the immediate aftermath of the attacks brought out the very best in people, with heroic deeds and noble sacrifice, the long-term aftermath has just as much brought out the worst in us, with cynical opportunism, political maneuvering, and exploiting the people's emotions for personal gain.
After this year, I hope there are no large-scale commemorations of the events of September 11th. Like all great tragedies, it should be remembered, but not ostentatiously commemorated or celebrated. Today, let's remember, and let's try to move on from this and make the world a better place. I believe that that's the best way we can honor the memories of the people who died that day, and it's the best way to make sure that the people who planned and executed that villainous attack will have ultimately failed to achieve their goal.