My brakes had been squealing so bad they simply couldn’t be ignored anymore.
Although not the most mechanically inclined, I knew I couldn’t wait for the inevitable grinding sound of steel on steel, so I made an appointment for a brake pad repair at a Midas shop for the early morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11.
I don’t remember the exact time when I arrived at the repair shop, but it must have been sometime between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. I dropped off my 1999 Dodge Stratus, then hoofed it across the parking lot to my gym, the now-defunct Lawrence Athletic Club south.
In late spring of 2001 I had started working out and part of that routine was hitting the gym on Tuesday mornings. I was working as a reporter and page designer for The Eudora News and The De Soto Explorer, two small newspapers outside of Lawrence and owned by The World Company, the parent company of the Lawrence Journal-World. The News and Explorer staff – which would produce the newspapers from the office of the News in Eudora – would finish laying out both weekly papers and get them sent to the printers on Tuesdays. This typically resulted in late nights, so I was allowed to come in later on Tuesdays in a tradeoff.
Upon entering the gym, I didn’t get clued in to what was going on until I made my way upstairs to a mezzanine that housed the aerobic machines. As I reached the top of the stairs, I noticed every television was tuned to same television station and each had a live feed of the smoking World Trade Center building. I powered on the treadmill, stepped on the belt, and began my workout, watching the television like everyone else.
And then, the second plane hit.
There might have been some gasps or moans or something from others in the mezzanine, but I really don’t remember. The only thing I recall from my time at the gym was watching TV with this thought in my head … “This can’t be an accident.”
I worked out for about 30 minutes and then went back to the repair shop to get my car. I remember talking briefly with the clerk about what we had seen on TV, but neither of us were really sure what to make of it. Returning to my house, I cleaned up and headed to work. The first stop was in De Soto, then finishing off the evening in Eudora to put together the newspapers.
After an hour or so of being in the Explorer office, I got a phone call from our photographer, Roger Nomer, who was spending the morning in Lawrence before heading to Eudora later that evening.
“Drop whatever you’re doing and go get gas now,” he said. “There’s talk in Lawrence of gas hitting $5 a gallon.”
Gasoline, in the Douglas County area at that time, was around $1.75 a gallon. I drove down to a little station I typically got fuel from and filled up for the normal price. There wasn’t a person in sight. De Soto was a pretty typical small Kansas town and except for what you had heard on the radio or television that morning, you wouldn’t have suspected life was about to change. Everything seemed normal.
I called my editor, Elvyn Jones, and we hashed out a story idea. There was a senior center two blocks from the Explorer office, so I went down to discuss the events with some veterans and how the day compared to the Pearl Harbor invasion. (See “Terror Strikes Home”) I wrapped up my interviews, closed up the office and headed to Eudora to write my story and start putting the newspapers together.
The drive from De Soto to Eudora is a short one, at no more than five minutes. Nothing was unusual when I left De Soto and upon the exit ramp approach to Eudora, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary … at first.
Then, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was mass panic. Cars lined up for blocks toward the Kwik Shop gas station as drivers volleyed for a slot to fill up their tanks. The prices were unchanged, unlike some gas stations around the area who had been charging $5 and $6 a gallon out of fear, but the panic that had set in were draining the station’s tanks. The station had completely emptied the low-octane, most inexpensive fuel. The Eudora Police Chief, Bill Long, was keeping everyone cool, guiding traffic in and out of the gas station. After parking my car, I walked over to him and chatted for a few minutes. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember I went to speak to him with the intention of “hang in there” and not as reporter vs. cop.
Until I reached Eudora, I had been rather calm. But after seeing the line of panic people trying to get gasoline of all things, I started to panic.
“How in the world am I going to be able to afford to get to work?” I thought.
The rest of that evening was typical for a weekly newspaper: there were stories that needed a final edit, there were pages that needed filled with copy, there were images that needed placed with a delicate touch to convey the journey of two small Kansas towns as they began their transition to a post-9/11 world.
The files were sent to the printer. The lights went off. The offices were closed. The staff went home, ending a very long day.
I drove home to Lawrence, in the still, darkness of night, and contemplated a sort of lost innocence at the beginning of the 21st Century.
And then, surrounded by three excellent roommates, I phoned my family members and told them how much I loved them.
This is how I remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001.