Pausing to reflect, 9/11/18

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

The WECK Coffee Club paused at 8:46am this morning.

This morning we pause to remember… where we were, what we doing at the moment when we found out our world had changed.

We remember that moment…

We remember the people who were sitting at their desks in the World Trade Center and The Pentagon… and those who wrestled evil on a plane over Pennsylvania.

We remember the first responders who rushed in to help…

We remember those who volunteered to defend our country…
and we remember those who who never returned home.

In their honor, I hope we also remember the way we came together as a country and as a people, and try to find some way to bring that feeling into our daily lives– and remember what we have in common as Americans, in honor of those we lost on this day 17 years ago.

Taking 9/11 Out of it’s Box: September 11th, Ten Years Later

I’ve been writing this for a while, but felt moved to finish it this 10th anniversary morning. It’s really about my struggle with coming to grips with 9/11. I really can’t bear to think what the struggle’s been like for those who lost someone, or had their lives directly altered forever.

My feelings on the September 11th attacks on America are really a lot like the box of recordings I made that day; preserving for posterity the radio coverage which I was a part of on our country’s worst day.

When the first plane hit, I was sitting in a cubicle with some radio and TV equipment, listening back to Bills Head Coach Gregg Williams talk about the Bills season opening loss to the Saints.

I looked at a TV monitor (they were everywhere… I was working at Empire Sports Network and 107.7 WNSA), saw the smoking tower, and remember seeing some television reporter standing on the top of another building with the smoke as a backdrop.

Terrible accident, I thought. Didn’t that happen to the Empire State Building during World War II?

Interesting, but my job was to get sound bites ready for the day’s sportscasts. I was wearing headphones and was engrossed in listening about Rob Johnson’s paltry performance as quarterback.

I know I sat there even after the second plane, wanting to keep busy, not wanting to be a part of the wild speculation and fear that was going on in front of those TVs. My friend Ricky Jay, a sportscaster at WNSA, seemed almost crazed when he came over to talk me, saying we’re at war now. He was ready to take up arms.

I didn’t want to be crazed. A.) I wanted to process this all, eventually, but B.) I had to be able to perform my job. I had learned from the age of 15, working in the WBEN newsroom, that you often had to buckle sown and suspend reality to get through covering news. Couldn’t worry during snow storms, or cheer during Bills games. The pressure was greater this day, but it was the same matrix for me.

Howard Simon was on the air, and really having a hard time of it. I remember hugging him as he sobbed, watching his hometown of New York, looking like a war zone; worrying about his parents. This wasn’t a football game or a snow storm, but I pushed it out of the way to get the job done.

My main job then was producer. I helped put talk shows together, then technically ran the radio station while the shows were on. My fellow producer Neil McManus left early that day to go get his kids; and I can remember spending most of the rest of the day… From mid-morning to evening, mostly alone in the radio studio, running CNN’s audio, with the occasional legal ID, and just recording.

There alone, of course, was a lot to think about. But I used all the will I had, however, to not think about it.

I had that job to do, and getting emotionally involved in this would prevent me from doing my job. So I stoically blocked it out. I’m really still paying for it to this day.

Suppressing my worry for our nation was one thing; but I was also dealing with some pretty big personal questions relative to the day.

Were my fiancée and I going to have to cancel our wedding two weeks away?

I’m sure I fielded calls from Monica that day, but I don’t really remember. I know we were worried about our wedding, and our European honeymoon, complete with transatlantic flights already long booked.

But at my station, behind the controls I stayed, until it was time to go, around 6pm. The ride home was perhaps the longest I’ve ever taken.

It was 9 hours after it all began before I’d allow myself to even consider what the hell had happened in New York, to our country, to our world.

What had spread over the course of the work day for most people was hitting me like a rainstorm of bricks; but I also felt the guilt of not expressing any emotion during the day. I was a mess.

At home, I remember our couch was in our dining room as we remodeled our 100 year old house.

I’m sure I was happy to see my fiancee, and sure we talked about our wedding, but all I can remember is laying on that couch in the dining room in the fetal position, weeping, watching TV coverage, and letting the day’s emotions catch up with and wash over me.

It was back to work the next day in a different world. We talked about sports on the sports talk station, But only insofar as a Bills game being cancelled for the first time since the JFK assassination. I recorded it all. I can also remember recording WBEN that day.

Mike Schopp had the idea that he’d give a dollar to the Red Cross for everyone who called the show and just talked about what was on their mind. I liked it and also pledged a buck per call. In the end, dozens of pledges and hundreds of calls meant thousands of dollars for the Red Cross relief efforts. I recorded these shows.

Mike also had the idea to start playing Ray Charles’ America the Beautiful to end every show.

I know a bunch of us from the station went to a noon mass on September 12th. For a few, it was the first trip inside a church for a long time.

My then fiancée and I joined Chris Parker and the then very pregnant Kirsten Parker on a MetroRail trip from our Parkside homes downtown on the metro rail for the big candlelight vigil in Niagara square.

We all felt a need to come together and be a part of something larger, something that meant something.

As the days, months, and years passed, the new normal that we all have become used to took hold.

Some have even watched TV shows and read books about that horrific day, many so that ‘they don’t forget.’

I guess that’s part of the reason I spent the hours and days following the attacks on America recording what was going out over Buffalo’s airwaves– I did it so I wouldn’t forget. But the little box with all those tapes from that day… Remains taped shut, with the same tape I applied in mid-September 2001.

But now, it’s a decade later, and even with all that’s changed, I haven’t come close to forgetting.

Today, my wife and I have a little trip planned to celebrate our 10th anniversary. I watch The Parkers’ son, a big 9 year old, grow up and enjoy life on Facebook. The conversations about life and beyond I have Ricky Jay these days are some of the most fulfilling and meaningful, soulful conversations that any two men might have with each other. I’m also back on 107.7, as WBEN now simulcasts on the station where I worked then.

In my world, relationships and feelings have grown and changed since that date, September 11, 2001.

Perhaps the only relationship that is exactly the same, still as stark and vivid as it was that day, is my relationship with that day’s events themselves. I don’t need to open that box.

I haven’t watched any documentaries; I’ve avoided any prolonged exposure to people talking about that day. I see the footage, I change the channel.

When I say I want that box kept closed, I mean it. I too easily feel that same pit in my stomach that I felt laying on the couch 10 years ago. It’s just as strong. I wept as I edited a story for WBEN about this 10th anniversary. I felt moved to vomit as I looked at photos from that day to put on our website.

I don’t want to open that box, but today I am, letting audio clips and feelings see their first light of day in a decade.

Not because I want to, and not because I think anyone’s forgotten. How could you forget? I’m opening the box for the other reason I rolled all these tapes on that day: For the sake of history. It’s history now.

Some college kids, certainly high school kids and younger, have no good direct memories of that day.

I don’t think any of us that were around will ever forget, but now, a decade later, we’re all charged with making sure the next generation knows.

It’s quite painful to open the box, but we all owe it to the thousands who lost their lives that day.