Where were you that day?

Published 1:37 am Saturday, September 12, 2009

I was working in Birmingham at the time for a major daily newspaper.

I worked in the mailroom; the first shift.

I went into work at 5 a.m. every morning, went to the main Birmingham Post Office to get the morning’s mail and sorted it through a wall of pigeon holes.

At 7:30 a.m., I would return to the post office to pick up another batch of mail and then head to the post office distribution center where I would pick up several crates of mail, intercepting them before they made it to the main post office and saving myself another trip later in the day.

I would typically arrive at my final destination before 8 a.m. The mail wouldn’t be ready for another hour so I sat in the parking lot listening to the radio until it was my turn.

At the time, “Beaner & Ken in the Morning” was my favorite morning show. A little after 8:30 a.m., one day they made an announcement: A plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

A lifelong fan of the show, I assumed it was a radio stunt. Surely a punch line was to follow.

Nine o’clock rolled around and I had to go in and get my mail. What I thought was a prank was long forgotten until I heard someone standing in line mention the plane hitting the tower.

I loaded the van with mail and flipped to an AM station on the drive back, looking for a news program that would have more facts.

I quickly came to realize what I originally thought was a dumb prank was a huge tragedy.

I stowed the cases of mail under the counter and rushed up to the newsroom where a dozens of televisions are fixated on various news channels. I wasn’t alone. Almost the entire building was there, watching the events of September 11, 2001, unfold on CNN, FoxNews and a host of local and national news stations.

I was watching those same televisions when the second plane slammed into the second tower.

Regardless of where you were or what you were doing, that day changed our lives forever.

After a few days passed, I wasn’t allowed at the post office distribution center – my third stop every morning. I was a security risk.

Rather than sort the mail in the same spot I’d sorted it for years – on the second floor of the main building – I was moved to a detached garage and issued latex gloves and a mask that I was to wear while handling the mail. I was also issued stern instructions as to how to handle a “suspicious package.”

I was the middleman in germ warfare and this newspaper’s gatekeeper.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to not suffer any “real” losses eight years ago yesterday should be thankful.

I appreciate the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department’s efforts in remembering their fallen brothers and sisters yesterday. I hope each of you honored or remembered the men and women lost that day in some manner.