I'm sure everyone remembers what they were doing on that fateful day -- just like my parent's generation all remembered what was happening in their lives when they learned of Kennedy's assassination. My story has a surreal element to it, and I thought I would share it after ten years of silence.
I arrived at my office around seven that morning. The day was going to be full -- I had a negotiation scheduled with a board member of our Saudi Arabian Licensee that day, and I expected it to take all morning. John was his name -- an American from Memphis, who was a trusted adviser to the family owning the company we'd partnered with in the Kingdom nearly two decades before.
I was hurrying that morning, trying to take care of apile of issues and items sitting on my desk, before driving over to corporate headquarters and the meeting. But I was running late -- I rushed to get out the door for a twenty-five minute drive, but only had fifteen minutes to get there.
Just before I left my phone rang. I answered, and heard the manager of our IT group, Mike, on the line.
"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center," he said.
"What?" I asked, not comprehending.
I couldn't quite grasp the situation. For some reason I assumed it was a small private aircraft, which had somehow flown too close to the massive WTC towers. I thanked Mike, hung up the phone, and ran for the door. Driving to corporate headquarters, I didn't give the incident another thought.
When I arrived, however, I found John and several of our company's senior managers sitting in the operations center, watching CNN on the large screen TV as the tragic events of the day unfolded. I saw the second plane smashed into the south tower, saw the aftermath of the crash at the pentagon, and saw -- with horror -- both the twin towers fall.
The news already had information about the suspected terrorists, and even if the finger hadn't already been pointed at Saudi citizens, it would have been impossible for us to conduct the negotiations. We sat glued to the television coverage, our business dealings seeming so small compared to the disaster in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC.
Later that afternoon, I arranged for a car to drive John part way back to Memphis. I stayed at Corporate Headquarters, continuing to watch news coverage, and caught sight of Air Force One as it approached Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska, bringing the president to Strategic Air Command headquarters. It seemed as if the world I had known all my life had suddenly ceased to exist -- or, perhaps, everything up to now had been just an illusion, stripped away in the moments of those horrifying disasters.
A few months later, I traveled to Germany and met with the Saudi partners to try to finish our license renegotiation. I was shocked to hear the elder Saudi brother explain to me how the disaster in New York was nothing but an elaborate Israeli plot to frame-up the Arab world. He stated he had it on good authority that Jewish employees working at the twin towers had all received phone calls that morning, telling them not to go to work. He explained how the media in the west was acting as a servant to Israeli interests and suppressing the truth.
I sat in shock and disbelief. The story was so preposterous -- that thousands of people would successfully conspire to keep something like he described a secret -- it was beyond crazy. The man was a very successful business person -- educated in London -- and well traveled. Yet, I could tell he believed everything he said from the depths of his soul. That was the first time I recognized just how vast the cultural gulf really was.
In the end, we decided to go our separate ways from our licensee, which brought us into conflict even more as they stole our technology and proceeded to compete against us in the marketplace -- but that's a different story.
So, that's my tale of where I was on 9/11. Where were you?