How I Remember 9/11

The morning of 9/11 I was working for a National Voicemail company that had numbers all over the US… including New York City. I worked the East Coast Shift (6AM – 2PM PST) so about the time the first plane hit I was just getting off the already busy freeway.

When I arrived in the office the phones were relatively quiet but I did notice an unusual amount of calls from the New York area. Once I sat down and looked at the situation it seemed that the New York voicemail box was giving a busy tone to customers. A few had called in about it but the majority of the information was coming from the computer itself. As I called into the voicemail system from a land-line I too got a busy tone. Now a busy tone isn’t always unusual… boxes are computers… which are programmed by humans… which means that from time to time things go wrong and you get a busy signal. There is also a very rare occurrence that will give a busy tone as well: If more than 1000 people try to access their voicemail box at the same time.

Figuring the box just needed to be reset I used an internet connection to manually talk to the box. I was able to get in that way and found out that the box was operating fine… but that the box was busy… as in it was busy because more than 1000 people were calling in at a time. I had only seen it one time before and that was on January 1st, 2000 when the end of the world fever hit and everyone picked up the phone and tried to call their boxes at midnight. I sat there stunned. How could this be?

My answer came in the form of a ringing phone… actually many ringing phones… for it was at that moment that the second plan had hit the South Tower. I was still unaware of the disaster so figured that I was about to have 20-30 angry New Yorkers to deal with. I conjured up my nicest morning voice and began to answer calls… I didn’t stop answering them until 3:00.

My first call went something like this:


CLIFF: Good morning thank you for calling {insert name of company here) how can I help you?

CALLER: Umm yeah I just wanted to see if the voicemail is down because of what is going on at the World Trade Center

CLIFF: Sir I am aware of a problem in New York right now. I’m not sure what’s going on at the World Trade Center.

CALLER: Oh, that’s right you guys are on the West Coast… you haven’t hear yet.

CLIFF: I’m sorry sir, heard what?

CALLER: Well I can’t really believe it myself, but umm… well (he clears his throat) 2 planes have exploded into the World Trade Center here in New York.

CLIFF: (standing up and getting the attention of my co-worker) Two planes have exploded into the World Trade Center?

CALLER: Yeah… this is the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I can see it out my window. I’m watching it here on TV but I’m in downtown… I can see the fire from here.

CLIFF: Well sir, thank you for letting us know that. In regards to the voicemail everyone is trying to call the voicemail box at once, so there is nothing but a busy signal right now.

CALLER: That’s what I figured. Thanks for your help. Is everything quiet out there in LA?

CLIFF: As far as I know… I hope it stays that way.

CALLER: Yeah… me too. Thanks for your help.

CLIFF: My pleasure sir.


As soon as I got off the phone my co-worker already had the radio on (there was no television in our office). The phones kept ringing but we had to hear about what was going on. The radio had less information than my caller. They were still calling them explosions not planes. However, they did say that there were some unconfirmed reports of hijacked airplanes.

The rest of the day I spent on the phone with lots of people trying to retrieve and leave messages for loved ones. Some worked in the Towers and were trying to leave a message to let their loved ones know they were okay. Others had loved ones working in the Towers and were desperately trying to leave messages to see if they were okay. The emotion in their voices was overwhelming… but I knew if I broke down and let it effect me that I would be helping no one.

After staying an hour extra I finally goto in my car and immediately tuned into the radio. I hadn’t been outside all day so everything that was going on was only how I had seen it in my head. As I got on the freeway I finally felt the effects of just what that day had done to us as Americans. The 405 Freeway (usually a parking lot 10 hours out of the day) was almost completely empty. In fact the freeway had been more crowded that morning at 5:25AM then it was at 3:15PM. The final “sign” that all was not as it should be was the freeway alert signs… the read “LAX Airport Closed.” Then it finally hit me…

I pulled over to the side of the road and began sobbing uncontrollably. I had just spoken to people who had died and had spoken to mothers, husbands and parents that would be grieving the loss of a loved one after talking to me. Their voices still haunt me to this day and I will never forget them.

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