Friday, September 10, 2010

September 11, 2001

Do you remember where you were that day?

I was in a Bible study. The first meeting of a Bible study at a church where I only knew one person, and not very well.

But it started before I left home. I remember the Today Show. Matt Lauer had a funny look on his face. "We have breaking news . . . no, we're going to commercial first." I was in a hurry getting ready to leave for the Bible study but I made a point to see what would happen after the commercial break.

They came back with a live shot of the twin towers with smoke pouring out of one of them. They still thought it was a small airplane and didn't have much info.

I remember going into the bathroom. We had a small black and white TV in there, on the shelf above the washer/dryer. My husband was in the shower. I turned on the little TV and pulled it off the shelf so I could turn it and show him.

But, I had planned to leave for this Bible study so a couple minutes later I got in the car. The second plane hit while I was driving down the driveway. I remember the local talk show personality talking about it, he'd seen it on TV. "I'm watching a second plane hit the other tower!"

I didn't believe it. I was convinced that the TV people had found someone who had footage of the first plane, and they were showing it. It wasn't a live shot. It couldn't possibly happen that 2 planes would hit the two towers so close together.

It took 20 minutes or so to get to the Bible study. By the time I got there, I was realizing that it was true, both towers had been hit. But I'm still thinking, small plane, burning building, tragedy . . . but not realizing the magnitude of the situation. Maybe because I couldn't see it with my eyes.

I told the Bible study leader about what I'd heard. Most of those attending had apparently not been listening to a news channel on their car radios. We prayed for the people in the towers and started the study.

About an hour later someone's cell phone rang. She went out and answered it, then came back and told us, "That was my husband on the phone. He said that both towers have collapsed and 100,000 people are dead."

I think I felt like you feel when someone suddenly dies. You don't believe it. Denial. This couldn't have happened.

So then the pastor of the church came in. He gave us more details. More planes. The pentagon. There were at least 6 planes, he said. There was a truck bomb at the Capitol Building.

Bible study was dismissed. I went outside and looked up at the sky. Was a plane going to crash into one of the buildings in the small town of Ballston Spa? What should I do? Where should I go?

I didn't have a cell phone then. But I was within 5 minutes from the school my son attended, so I went there. "Take him home," the Principal said when I entered the school office. "All the parents are taking the kids home."

I went into the church office (the school is a private school on the grounds of a church). They had a TV on, and I was able to see a bit of footage, my first visual confirmation of what had happened.

I went downstairs to the 4th grade class. One of the other students came up to me and asked, "What's going on?" They only knew vague details. I was able to answer that I didn't really know much.

The teacher was in a panic. Her daughter lived in Pennsylvania and she was worried the plane crash there could have killed her. I didn't know enough details to be able to reassure her.

I took my son home. The kids turned on some cable children's channel in the living room and I was very glad for cable channels that just kept broadcasting their regular programming, and also for the fact that we had another TV in the house.

My husband had stayed home, once he saw the second plane hit. No one was going to buy anything from him that day, anyway. We sat in the bedroom and watched the coverage. All the hospitals waiting for lots and lots of wounded people, and only a few actually showing up. People holding up pictures of people who were missing.

And the towers falling . . . they replayed that over and over and over. My little guy said, "There it goes again, the tower falling down." I had to explain that it happened once, but they were repeating it again and again. He seemed to understand -- after all, the channels he watched repeated shows again and agian, so he was familiar with the concept.

I remember for the following month, being still in denial. "I can't believe the towers actually collapsed."

I looked up World Trade Center in my encyclopedia. We have the 1972 World Book, which my parents bought when I was a child. The article about the World Trade Center shows a photo of a mostly-completed building. They were built *after* I was born, they were younger than me and they were gone.

Remember all the flags? Everyone flew a flag. We were all united. We didn't have Democrats bad-mouthing Republicans. But now, looking back, that didn't last that long, did it?

I can remember every detail of that morning. But it feels like we've already forgotten.

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cash Registers of the Future

As I went through the self-checkout lane at my local grocery store, I realized something.

When I was a kid, most gas stations were full service. Remember those? If you're under 40, you might not. Here's how they worked: you pulled in, and a person came to your car. You rolled down the window and told them what kind of gas and how much you wanted. They pumped it and then you paid them. If you wanted to pay by credit card, they had a little plastic tray that hooked onto the partially-open window of your car. The tray contained a multi-part sales receipt and had a slot for your card and a pen. Once you signed the receipt, they took their copy and the tray and left you with your copy and your card. If you wanted to, you could ask them to check your oil and water levels, among other things.

Then came the Energy Crisis and gas prices doubled. To reduce costs, many stations started letting you pump your own gas and save some money by doing it. Within a relatively short time, most gas stations went to most or all self-serve pumps. Now, I can't tell you where there is a station that has anyone who will pump your gas for you.

But the grocery store clerks still man the cash registers. Stores have a few self-serve lanes, but most are manned by a real person.

I'm wondering when someone will realize they can promote lower prices if you scan your own groceries. It might put the cashiers out of a job, but I'm thinking that by the time my children are my age, they'll say, "I remember when grocery stores actually had a person who scanned your groceries and took your money. Now all of the stores have only machines and I don't know a single store that has cashiers."

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?