Friday, September 9, 2011

Where I Was on 9/11

Everyone has a story about where they were on September 11th, 2001. If you live on the East Coast, chances are you were just arriving at work when the news hit. For those in New York City, the experience was a first-person one. All you had to do was look out your window to know something was going on.

The horror unfolded in stages. The first plane hit the World Trade Center, and the prevailing view was that a terrible accident had occurred. Then the second plane hit. The nation and the world struggled to get their collective heads around what that meant. Clearly, this was no longer an accident. Then, just as people were getting used to that idea, the first tower collapsed. Then the second tower came down. For many, time stood still. The workday became irrelevant. Office workers huddled around televisions, transfixed. One can only imagine what life was like for those inside the airplanes or the World Trade Center towers.

I was in a very different situation at that moment. I now recognize what a uniquely American situation it was: I was washing my Ferrari.

I'd been in Lake Placid, New York with a group of Ferrari enthusiasts. We were on a four-day drive with wives and girlfriends, lodging at some of the region's most celebrated inns: The Woodstock Inn in Woodstock VT, The Pitcher Inn in Warren VT, and The Lake Placid Lodge in Lake Placid. At each of these establishments, we instructed the chef to pull out all the stops. There were some seasoned diners in our group who would not be easily impressed. They were not disappointed.

I was more than a participant in this adventure. I organized it. I met most of the participants through the Ferrari Club. They came from as far away as North Carolina to partake in my tour. I had spent the previous six months arranging the details. Driving routes were tested. Emergency road service was put on standby. I even had special shirts and jackets made for everyone. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a free ticket, whereas the other couples each paid thousands of dollars to participate.

They could well afford it. The group comprised highly successful entrepreneurs, self-made types with a passion for cars. That description would fit over 99% of the members of the Ferrari Club of America, whereas the public generally equates Ferraris with rock stars, professional athletes and others with more money than brains. Ferrari owners tend to be mechanically-inclined, and they are drawn to these cars partly for Ferrari's unwavering engineering mandate: the relentless pursuit of performance at any cost. The owners also like that they are supporting a cottage industry in Italy. In few other places in the world will you find such dedication to automotive craftsmanship.

I got up early that morning. It was a cloudless day, and I wanted my Ferrari looking good for the day's drive. So I drove from the Lake Placid Lodge over to my mother's home to give the car a wash in her driveway. Midway into the car wash, I saw something I'd never seen before: two F-16 fighter jets screamed over the house at an unusually low altitude. Moments later, my cell phone rang. A friend in Connecticut called to tell me about the first jet hitting the World Trade Center.

Several years later, I learned that I actually know one of those F-16 pilots. He and his wingman were on their way to patrol the airspace over New York City.

So while we were indulging in the most American of dreams, America herself came under attack. We felt safe in our splendid isolation, but there was no escaping the fact that life as we had known it would never be the same.