9/11 Memories of a Shocked Nation
by an Englishman living in the San Francisco Bay Area
My American wife, Elizabeth, and I had just moved from beautiful Walnut Creek, California to Concord, California. We had just purchased a lovely two bedroom -two bath townhouse after our two years in San Francisco and four years in Walnut Creek. We had a lovely little back garden and we often had to escape indoors as it was really too hot at times. One day it was 107 degrees + even hotter in our enclosed garden! I love sunbathing but this was way too much, even for me!
Liz happily worked as an Executive Assistant for Bank of America, way up high in their San Francisco skyscraper. I only ever went to visit her on her office floor once and it was sickening to me…. 41 floors up. I felt so dizzy. On that visit my daughter Stephanie was visiting us from England and between us we managed to entertain just about everyone that got anywhere near us because we were terrified and laughingly clutching at anything in sight. Liz took us to say “Hello” to Mike, her wonderful boss, but looking out of the window from 41 floors up didn’t work for us English scaredy cats!
I bobbed and weaved between day jobs as my professional Wedding and Event DJ business was really, really busy at certain times of the year and then out of the wedding season it got slower so I would often take a day job (or sometimes nights where I could get some peace and quiet) until Christmas when business was bordering on me not being able to keep up the work – deejaying properly is tough!
In 2001 I was working full-time as a Security Chief at the very nice Kirker Creek Apartments in Pittsburgh, California just up the hill from our home near the Concord Pavilion. I had a lovely small team of staff, and we all took turns in manning the front gate to only allow residents and their guests inside. It was a simple job and it suited me as I could deal with wedding and corporate guests on my cellphone or by email and even sit outside in the often blazing sun leaning into the guard shack (complete with a TV supplied by me) to push the gate barrier button when needed. We had to be careful as drug deals were quite rife in the area but they seemed to keep away from the security guys as the team were a bit on the large side. We had to be careful too as we never knew if someone was going to lose it and pull a gun!
On August 5th 2001 Liz and I walked out our home’s back door and rode
up the hill to see ROXY MUSIC. To say we were excited would be an understatement! I had seen Roxy Music play in 1973 (in the Guildhall, Plymouth, England) and it was quite an experience! Earlier this evening at about 5pm I had been on my flash chopper style motorcycle (Suzuki Intruder 1200) and was riding down the hill towards home and on my left there were thousands of people and big trucks everywhere all coming and going from the Concord Pavilion entrance and exits. I was really excited!
So into the Concord Pavilion we went, all excited. Rufus Wainwright was the support act and there was an enormous stage-sized drape right behind him …. hiding the Roxy Music delights.
The Pavilion was packed with a 12,500 capacity crowd. What a beautiful venue and enormous stage at the foot of glorious Mount Diablo. As the sun went down the dramatic intro music started and then, like magic, the drape dropped to reveal the original Roxy Music line up (minus Eno) and with the likes of the brilliant Chris Spedding, backing singers and a great keyboard player called Colin Good.
Straight into Re-Make/Re-Model and boom! The capacity crowd were on their feet! It was awesome from beginning to end with the haunting exit to the strains of “For Your Pleasure” and it’s “Tara” ending. Wow!
We rode home and were both slightly shell-shocked at the experience, with Elizabeth “loving” Bryan Ferry thereafter.
- Just a few days later America changed….
I remember the usual weekend wedding DJ/MC booking in the Wine Country of Napa County and even the dove release which would have been splendid if the doves weren’t really disguised pigeons! However, the happy couple and their guests were lovely as usual.
I would have finished my DJ show with the Bride and Groom’s requested dance song/tune and faded into a low-volume track which was usually always “Falls” by Ennio Morricone. It was nice to be able to shake hands, get hugged and waved at by guests leaving with a classy bit of music gently playing. “Falls” will always remind me of the San Francisco Bay Area and my DJ work. Gear packed (groan) and my roadie/minder Raynard would have been busy loading equipment neatly into my people carrier with all the seats down. Raynard was a superb friend of mine and besides being a former US Navy officer, Microsoft PC expert and Security Guard at Kirker Creek Apartment was also African–American and my oh my how we enjoyed chatting about everyday life. Between us we fixed our native countries’ problems and put everything in the world to right. Bless Raynard as he’s passed away recently.
- Tuesday September 11th 2001
Liz had a week off work at the Bank of America (41st Floor) and was spending her time getting our lovely townhouse/condo in order. I remember her getting up at the same time as me which was 7am. The sun was already up and the air conditioning on. It was going to be a hot one.
I would have been panicky as I was due for a shift at the luxury apartments and can’t abide tardiness. It would have been a couple of swift coffees and uniform on, then out to my beloved fancy motorcycle. I was aiming to be at the Apartments by 9am and it was just 5 minutes up a hill, past the Concord Pavilion… First, I popped into Safeway and bought my usual warm bagels and a strong coffee, waving at people I had gotten to know and of course a big wave to the police officers enjoying a haven in their cars. Everyone was happy and smiley, and it was all so American to me, the import!
I was at the Apartments in no time and hopped off my motorcycle at the rear of the guard shack (it was quite nice really and a shame to call it a shack!) I would have been in shorts with a white shirt and black tie with California guard badge so must have looked a bit ridiculous. I just didn’t want to burn a hole in my nifty police issue black trousers! So, first thing was shorts off and trousers on and a quick buff up of my shoes. I was in the rear of the guard shack and heard the overnight guy listening to something on our small TV and the words “Fuck” “Oh No” “Shit” “Fuck” and so on coming from the night shift guy. I asked, “Good Movie?” as I peered around the door…… little did I know.
As I came closer I looked at the first plane hitting the towers and said to the night guard something like “What’s on, Die Hard?” We had a bit of well-mannered back and forth-ing and after about a minute I totally understood the moments I had missed whilst getting to work. One horrifying clip shown live on TV was that of people jumping to their death from the towering buildings. That really was upsetting and to say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was glued to the news rotating the same images and updating America on the latest events, of which there was much. I called my wife who had been happily unpacking boxes and making our townhouse look all lovely. She answered and I asked her if she has seen the news. She said no and switched the TV on. She was stunned and we hung up on each other promising to keep in touch all day.
Liz called her department at Bank of America, located at 555 California Street in downtown San Francisco which was a building of 52 floors and her office was on the 41st! Concern all around…… There were no answers anywhere and then a colleague of Liz’s’ finally picked up a phone and said “Yes we’ve seen it on the news and the bank building has been evacuated.” Deep concern all day…. thousands of deeply concerned office employees on the streets, keeping far away from tall buildings….there was also gridlock all day and night on all roads and public transport.
Back at the apartment complex where I worked all the staff and residents were deadly quiet and sad. It was a moment I will never forget. Even the usually boisterous and funny maintenance department were quiet and getting the American flag pinned up around the department. Flags started appearing from balconies, windows, doors, car ariel antenna and from the back of trucks – big and small. I was very aware of the tiny Union Jack flag I had on my motorcycle’s flyscreen at that time and decided to leave it there as we in the UK and USA are so close as nations and the UK jumped to America’s side as soon as the shocking news broke.
The day seemed to go fast and on my way home I popped into Safeway for something or other and there was a deathly silence in there with quite a number of shoppers in this upmarket area in tears and talking in small groups. I remember police everywhere and everyone seemed to be watching out for whatever was next. It was all most surreal and scary. We had a couple of guns in our home and some boxes of bullets and I distinctly remember one local gun shop selling out of just about everything. I bought some more bullets and Liz hid them all at the top of the stairs in our home.
The very next day the 12th of September was even more surreal than the 11th. Everything had sunk in and people (including me) were really tired. Many people were angry. American flags were, defiantly, appearing everywhere.
At the Apartments one of the Directors drove up to the security barrier, swiped his entry card and yelled “Keep your eye out! Bin-Laden is coming through on a horse!” which he thought was funny. I didn’t. The maintenance team arrived in their pickup trucks with American flags flying and yelling out their anger at me, but not aimed at me….. They were venting, as they knew I was a nice pro-American Green-Card-waving and proud resident married to a lovely lady from Detroit. There was always a “How ya doin’ buddy?” after each vent and it was quite saddening. I was desperate to get home…. and watch more news…..
The first wedding job after 9/11
As you may have gathered, I had been a professional DJ/MC for a few decades and on arrival in California in 1995 (downton San Francisco to be precise!) and after my immigration interview and permanent resident alien status (Green Card) was granted, I was straight out there looking for jobs.
I was really flattered by some of the job offers and took several temporary positions to begin with!
In 1997 I “went out” to see how some big name multi-operator DJ companies worked at weddings. I met “bosses’” of these wedding and event DJ services and went out to gigs…seeing everything from the loading of vans to the beginning and end of the events and weddings. After being involved at a few events I decided it wasn’t for me, working with these so-called big guys. I saw DJs at weddings yawning and looking at their watch, dancing like chickens and really not at all what I would have expected!
So I started my own little DJ company called Tux de Lux Disc Jockey Co. which I quickly changed the name of to Get Ritzy Disc Jockey Co. It was just me, with Liz helping when she could. Everything was classy and a lot of fun which was great. It was good for me and made me so happy! I bought some high-end equipment and even had six speakers!
Sunday September 16th
I had received several phone calls from a lovely young lady who had booked me for her wedding at a very nice restaurant/function room called His Lordship’s on the marina in Berkeley, California. She was extremely nervous and was asking me what to do about her upcoming wedding reception and I was asking her, more or less, the same thing. We finally came up with a solution as the wedding was still going ahead and there were many guests flying in from Boston, Massachusetts with the rest from the San Francisco/San Jose areas.
The lovely bride-to-be was as nervous as I was so before her big day we planned that I should go ahead and write a very classy, yet poignant, introduction to the wedding which would be read to about 300 guests. I struggled a bit while thinking about this and then in a flash I typed my introduction up and emailed it to the bride and groom. The introduction would NOT mention terrorist’s or the horrific events of but a few days ago, instead I would thank everyone that was at the reception for their strength in attending the wedding. The evil people would not get a look in and guess I just had to get the rest of the wedding party up and dancing! I did! The floor was packed and I cheekily asked if the bus boys and kitchen staff would like to join in! Many did! Shake Your Booty by KC and the Sunshine Band will remain with me forever. It was quite a party and at times people just wanted me to play background music so I played great American Rat Pack-style music and everyone looked happy and felt patriotic. At the end I played America the Beautiful after the last dance and everyone sang along. It was beautiful and everyone was weepy and happy,
This will stick with me forever.
Liz and I moved back to England in 2019 and settled in Plymouth, Devon. Liz is now a British citizen and happy living in her other country!
We decided to hold a 9/11 10th anniversary memorial ceremony in Plymouth, Devon on September 11, 2011. The event just had to be held at the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth (where the Mayflower sailed from) and because I was the official Plymouth Town Crier at the time, I planned to be the MC along with Liz. Our American Expats in Plymouth group all attended as did the USA America’s Cup team that were visiting at the time!
It was a very poignant event and was attended by people of all backgrounds, colours and religions – just like it should be.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my memories.
On September 11, 2001, at 8:45 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors.
As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television
cameras broadcasted live images of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767—United Airlines Flight 175—appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center and sliced into the south tower near the 60th floor.
The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and onto the streets below. It immediately became clear that America was under attack.