I used to be the senior technician at Dave and Buster’s. For those of you not familiar, it is a giant restaurant with an arcade filled with all sorts of games. We got to work a few hours before opening and I repaired the games while the other techs got the arcade portion ready for the guests.
That usually translated to I was trying to fix ten down games while they flirted with the waitresses or sat around playing games and laughing.
This morning was different. I was inside a cabinet rewiring a bad harness and the room was quiet around me. Well, as quiet as the room ever got with the whistles and bells designed to lure people to spend money ringing out all around me. But there was no talking. At all.
I was used to having to occasionally wrangle the guys and get them focused on getting things ready. We pushed the tokens and restocked tickets and made sure the stools were in the right place and so on. So I unfurled myself from my down game and went for a stroll to the front of the house.
They were all, and I mean all, standing and watching the television. So I yelled for them to get back to work without thinking. One of the techs saw me and rushed over. A plane had hit one of the towers in New York. I looked at the screen and shook my head sadly. An accident. A tragic one. But we had work to do, so I said we needed to get the place ready and then we could check out the news.
I didn’t know better. No one did. I had a job to do. So did they. How did any of us know this would change the world as we knew it? So I went back to my contortionist duties and crawled back inside the machine. My focus was on getting this one working before moving to the next. Then j felt a gig on my pants leg, the only part of me sticking out of the cabinet on the galaxy themed carpet.
The second tower was hit as well.
I soldered the wires. Gave the game a test to see it did what it should be doing and walked back up front. Everyone was standing there, pale and some had tears flowing down their faces.
I watched the smoke billow out of the gaping wounds on the sides of the landmarks. It made no sense then. It makes none now. There are some things in this world that defy explanation even in the face of a thousand explanations. We thought it was an accident still even though two of the exact same accidents seemed improbable.
I couldn’t comprehend it. So I went back to work. I got the game room ready alone. Five minutes after opening, when usually long lines of people began funneling in, we were empty still. Everyone was still watching the images on the screens around them.
The higher ups called and said they would be closing the store for the day while the world sorted out what had happened.
As surreal as the images were, it is the drive home that sticks with me. I listened to the news the entire drive. People were jumping out of the buildings. It was horrific. And the highways around me were empty. I was the only car for miles driving anywhere. The sky was empty as well. I live not far from the airport and had grown used to the sound of planes so much that the heavy stillness of the sky being empty felt oppressive. The world seemed to have stopped. I felt out of place, like I was disturbing the natural order by being out of my home.
The rest is jumble of sold out flags and desperately seeking answers. Not knowing we had turned a corner.
A few months later I was sent to Long Island New York for work to get a new store ready. Being in Texas, so far removed from the tragedy, it was almost like it happened in another world. But I remember getting on the tram to go to my terminal and a soldier sitting across from me with a rifle on his lap looking at me in suspicion. The lines. The new order. Taking off your shoes and belt. My tools needing to be shipped because they were no longer allowed on the planes.
And we made a trip into the city. Stood at the pits where the buildings had once stood. Looked at the banners and missing person sheets that covered blocks and blocks of the city. Listened to the spots on the radio telling peopke it was okay to still be traumatized. That somehow we would pick the pieces back up.
I didn’t lose anyone in the attacks that day. But we all lost something. Security. Hope. The once invulnerable bastion of freedom was stricken down in a span of twenty minutes. And I am not sure we ever recovered. But for a brief moment, we were united like I had never seen.
So today, I will remember Dallas being a ghost town. A tsunami of dust as the first tower fell. The three thousand lives lost, and the countless lives since. We were all FDNY that day. All hurt. All confused.
Make sure to tell your lived ones how you feel today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. And remember that moment when it didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican. If you were American or not. Tragedy doesn’t care about race, religion or creed. All we have is all we have.