Five years ago today I was attending a Sun-internal conference StorageAces 2001 which was being held at the Newark, CA, Hilton hotel.There were a bunch of us there from the Australian operation, our flight had gotten in earlyish on the Sunday morning so we were actually too early to checkin at the hotel.
One of our rooms was ready though, so we dumped our bags there, hopped back into Dan’s rental car and hooned off to Fry’s at Fremont. It was just about the only place we knew would be open, have at least semi-decent coffee and where we could waste 3 hours with ease.So we did that, came back, checked in and got on with the conference. The Monday sessions went fairly quickly and I woke up early (05:45 US/Pacific) on the Tuesday.
I turned on the tv though forget which channel it was, and I saw the first plane fly into the building. I wasn’t really awake though, and I didn’t really hear what the newsheads were saying except that President Bush was talking about a terrorist attack. Then they cut back to the camera trained on the WTC and we saw the second plane hit.It was surreal. I did not believe what I was seeing, and I figured that President Bush was being melodramatic ...
So I went to the hotel’s gym for a quick job. There was a tv on in the room and I thought I should change the channel, but I didn’t — I guess I didn’t want to believe or put the pieces together. After about 15 minutes I went back to my room. By that time my brain was working and I began to realise wtf was going on.
I called J back in Sydney but only got our answering machine so I went and had breakfast. Everybody in the hotel was in shock. When I went back up to my room there was a vm from J, a little frantic, so I called back immediately. A good friend of ours had called her as well and J was watching Channel Nine, getting more and more frantic and scared. I was scared too. She was particularly worried when she heard talk of “Newark” on the tv, not realising that the talking heads were referring to Newark, NJ on the other side of the continent. I don’t recall whether I rang my parents or not, I assume I did. I asked J to keep the SMH for me until I got back.
All I was getting in the USA was the US perspective and since I didn’t have a laptop and the conference on-SWAN facilities were always in use by others I wasn’t able to read the SMH or the ABC online.
I felt so cut off, it was heartbreaking.
The Aussie contingent had a meeting a little later in the morning, and then I went and rang Sun’s 24 hour support number in Australia because I knew that I’d be able to get through to the oncall engineer and he or she would be able to get in contact with everybody’s manager. One of the Sydney-based SSEs had only recently moved to NYC, he worked in Sun’s office in the WTC and we were very worried for him —as much as for any— and everybody else of course.
The conference went downhill after that point. Pretty much everybody would gather in the bar to watch the Fox coverage … I vividly recall one Colorado-based SSE talking about how an immediate (ie, within 24 hours) retaliatory strike against Afghanistan was the best course of action… and then watching the towers crumble.
We had a world-wide headcount operation that morning. Not having been involved in a disaster before I had no idea what to expect. I bet the plans that Sun put into action that day were ones that they’d never thought they would ever have to use.
Whatever the case, from my point of view those plans worked just fine. Over the remaining three days of the conference with no planes flying into or out of SFO it was just surreal. Nobody really wanted to attend any sessions, we were all preoccupied with the thought of getting home. A lot of the attendees from the east coast started carpooling and drove all the way back so that they could help with reconstruction.
When a jumbo flew overhead at about lunchtime on the Thursday everybody cheered. It was amazing. We’d gotten used to the silence, but it was still eery, then that plane came in and the relief was palpable.
By the time the conference wrapped up on the Friday and we’d all checked out, the numbness was unbelievable. We couldn’t wait to get on the plane. I managed to score an upgrade to business class which after that week I really needed.
I rang J about 4 hours into the flight using the inflight satphone. I waited until then because I was still scared that we could have been hijacked too. We were a fair chunk of the way to Hawai’i by then so I figured we were ok. Unfortunately I scared the heck out of J – she assumed that this was my “goodbye darling, my plane’s been hijacked and I’m gonna die” phone call.When our flight landed at Sydney and we got through customs + immigration, I saw J waiting for me at the gate, and the relief was intense.