The Pentagon on a Tuesday morning

pentagon-02

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001–as we did every weekday–my wife and I rode the bus from our home in Northern Virginia to the Pentagon Metro Station, where I still daily marveled at my proximity to one of the most iconic buildings on the planet. As I described it to my then mother-in-law: “big building, five sides, it’s in all the movies”.

Moving with the crowd, we descended into the station to ride the train, parting company in town as she headed to work and I headed for an Amtrak train to Baltimore. It was Day Two of a scientific conference that I was covering for my publication MDD.

An hour after we got off that bus and headed into the tunnel at Pentagon Metro Station, the plane struck one of those five sides.

Below is the latter half of my report on that conference. The first half was a litany of instrumentation, seminars and breakthroughs that immediately became unimportant to everyone in attendance.

But the focus on the show floor quickly shifted from biomolecular screening to terrorism. People by the dozens flipped open cell phones, holding fingers to open ears in an attempt to better hear dial tones that were not there, moving swiftly from the floor into the atrium hunting in vain for a signal from above.

A voice boomed from the public address system letting us know that the impossible had indeed happened and that planes had struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All speech ceased as a thoughtful pall descended on the floor, with only the perpetual whine and click of the robotic plate handlers breaking the silence. Finally, the voice broke through to tell us that it would try to keep us up-to-date as information came in.

But the waiting became too much as the line for computer access became longer and the cell phones were intermittent comfort at best. A crowd formed around the booth hosted by Beckman Coulter, which had turned its large screen monitors to CNN, and we all stood transfixed as we witnessed the madness that was New York. Some of the witnesses wiped away tears while others whispered silent prayers.

By noon, the day was over and convention center staff moved through the hall trying to herd attendees into the atrium while company representatives threw swatches of cloth over the equipment and turned off the lights. Without a defined place to go, however, the attendees milled about the atrium for several minutes before finally flowing as if by gravity into the streets around the convention center.

The conference that started with such high scientific hopes was interrupted by an act of insane brutality.

0 1 0 9 1 4 - F - 8 0 0 6 R - 0 0 3    FBI agents, fire fighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on Sept. 14, 2001, where a high-jacked American Airlines flight slammed into the building on Sept. 11.  The terrorist attack caused extensive damage to the west face of the building and followed similar attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.   DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill.  (Released)

DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill. (Released)

Thank you

Varied of tradition, but singular in purpose.

Varied of tradition, but singular of purpose.

I just walked to the grocery store without a second thought beyond wondering whether milk would be on sale or if I could get there and back before it started to rain.

Thank you.

Last night, friends and I filmed puppetry vignettes in which we satirized recent political events and social attitudes, laughing freely and openly.

Thank you.

On Saturday, I met a friend for bacon sandwiches and then walked home along the beach, smiling at kids playing in the sand and dogs excitedly greeting each other.

Thank you.

Today, my biggest concern is whether I will get off my backside and walk two blocks to change my cellphone carrier or if I’d rather just bitch about the one I am presently using.

Thank you.

My home hasn’t been destroyed. I’m not worried about my next meal. My family hasn’t been slaughtered. No one will kick in my door because I made a joke online. And you and I can completely disagree on local, national and world politics and social trends.

Thank you.

And even with all that, five “thank yous” is not nearly enough to express my gratitude to the men, women and families who have sacrificed everything so that all of the above is true.

I live in Canada. It is Memorial Day in the United States. And none of that matters. The international boundary does not make any of what I have written less true.

We may choose different days and express our feelings in different ways, yet we have but one purpose: gratitude.

Thank you.

From Ottawa's Parliament Hill to Washington's National Mall to France's Vimy Ridge, we must never forget and always be grateful.

From Ottawa’s Parliament Hill to Washington’s National Mall to France’s Vimy Ridge, we must never forget and always be grateful.

Flight paths

Having spent a fair amount of time in airports, I have seen plenty of jets, but airborne behemoths still impress me, so recent trips to Washington, DC and British Columbia added new flavours to my fascination.

Art-chitecture of Washington

Washington, DC, is an odd town for a variety of reason…it is steeped in history and yet is constantly in a state of renewal as its four quadrants cycle from decay to rebirth to affluence to decadence, and the people within the town, depending on money and power, move from quadrant to quadrant accordingly.

Being the political and international heart of the US, however, means that it is also a showcase–in the museum display sense–of what the US has to offer architecturally.

I’ve tried to capture some of that here.

Songs of Washington

Okay…with this last batch, I promise that I have officially run out of photos of birds (hehehe) from my trip to Washington, DC…but they’re so beautiful.

Spring takes wing – Washington, DC

So, it seems to be the season of the sparrow this year as they were out in profusion across Washington, DC, although the starlings did their best to make an appearance or two.

The hardest part about getting some of these photos was keeping vacationing children on the Washington Mall from scaring potential subjects away.

Contrasts

Every once in a while you see a sign that seems so amazing, so eye-catching, that you have to wonder if the owners could really be so oblivious to its irony.

This was one such day for me, as I wandered past a little restaurant called Social Reform.

By the way, I don’t necessarily hold myself above my condescension, walking by with my digital camera and full belly, but I do what I can to help.