Light breaks on what I think will be a typical first day of a computer conference—NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta, to be exact. After eating breakfast, I head back to my hotel room and flip on the television.
One of the towers of the World Trade Center is burning. A plane hits the second tower, a scene that will replay on TVs and in our minds for years to come.
Perhaps without thinking, I head over to the MARTA rail system to get to the convention center. The few people on board are staring ahead blankly. Someone asks if its true. She doesnt need to define "it." People nod their heads. A cell phone rings, and someone says the Pentagon has been hit.
I estimate that there are a few hundred people on the N+I show floor, rather than the thousands that should have been there. Most are vendors who arrived the day before. Dozens of people are crowded around a small TV, not believing the images that are appearing before their very eyes.
I decide to take a detour, to the CNN building. Its sealed off. Two hours later, Key3Media closes N+I.
Back at the hotel, people gather, trying to figure out how to get home. I find out that Microsoft has chartered two buses for its employees. I ask if theres space for one more—Washington state is at least closer to my home, San Francisco, than Atlanta is. Im told I can catch a ride. I am grateful.
The plan is to drive nonstop to Seattle, a trip that will take some 48 hours. Almost all of the approximately 50 people on the buses are Microsoft employees, but there are some hitchhikers, like myself.
Riding through Kansas, I see—literally—spacious skies and amber waves of grain. I realize how lucky we are.
Some people seem strangely giddy. Others talk about the terrorist activity. A very few talk about technology, for which Im thankful. I do wonder to myself about the FBIs Carnivore technology. Was it used? Will these events mandate its use across the country?
We arrive in Westminster, Colo., at about 8 p.m. local time, more than 24 hours after we started the trek. We decide to stay the night before heading the 1,300 miles to Seattle. From there, Im slated to take an Amtrak train to Emeryville, Calif. If all goes well, Ill arrive home about four days after we started out.
Some on the bus fear the attacks and the aftermath will trigger a recession. Others simply want to get back to work—their solace, the thing that takes them away from the problems of the world.
A change in plans: A few people, including myself, decide to splinter off, rent a car and drive directly to San Francisco. Almost there.
The attacks of Sept. 11 will no doubt leave huge problems in their wake, and everyone will have to focus on them eventually. For now, however, all of our problems have taken on a very different perspective.