On the morning of September 11th 2001, I woke up in my room at the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in downtown Atlanta GA. I was in town working at the Networld+Interop Trade Show being held at the Georgia World Congress Center, next door to the CNN Center in Atlanta. I went through my normal early morning routine, nothing unusual, then went on my walk from the hotel, down the street, and across the Olympic Park Plaza, to the GWCC. Everything was weirdly quiet, but I did not thing anything of it at the time. Once I got down to the show floor, everyone was clustered around the two giant tv screens that we were using at the center of the trade show floor, watching CNN cover the news that the first plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. You could hear a pin drop in a room full of people. A few minutes after I arrived, the second plane hit the south tower. People started talking and speculating. Being ex-USAF, I knew right away what I was looking at on TV.
Someone mentioned that the Westin Hotel (where I was staying) would be a perfect target since CNN had transmit/receive antennas on their roof, and that would take CNN off the air and scare America. Everyone was in shock and terrified to leave the building. I heard afterwards that a few people just got up, walked out to their vehicles, and started driving away from Atlanta. I actually had a rental car, so I was lucky. I remember that some rental car companies started charging thousands of dollars a day for rentals. The Atlanta airport shut down that morning and thousands of people were stranded there. I actually went back to the Westin, and managed to call my wife in Phoenix Arizona (where we lived at the time) to tell her I was safe, and that my plan was to head home as soon as possible. I packed my bag, stuck a FedEx shipment label on it, and dropped it off at the front desk to be shipped to my home eventually. Then I went back to the GWCC to work.
The show organizers and an army of volunteers started a massive coordination effort to get everyone involved in the show back to their homes. I remember that they rented some city buses and some RV's (don't remember from where), and started mapping out routes across the country where the vehicles would stop to drop off people. Everyone took down their trade show gear, packed it all up, and prepared everything for shipping back to wherever it came from. Then people started heading out in their assigned vehicles. I didn't depart until Thursday the 13th. I left with two IT guys from San Francisco. Our plan was to drive non-stop from Atlanta to Phoenix, drop me off, and then they were going to take the rental car to San Francisco, and eventually drop it off at a local branch of the car rental company. I think we took I-20 most of the way across the US, and switched to I-10 in Texas, then on to Phoenix. We drove around 27 hours, with the three of us taking turns driving, sleeping, or keeping the driver awake. Once we made it to Phoenix, I offered to let the guys stay in my guest room for the night before their 12-ish hour drive to San Francisco, but they declined because they wanted to get home as soon as possible. So I feed them, and sent them on their way. I never heard from either of them again.
The biggest thing that week that seemed to terrify people the most (where I was), was the sense of fear of the unknown. Not knowing what was going to happen next, or where the next target was, or how widespread the terrorist activities would be. I was just glad my job didn't require me to travel to New York that week, or this would have been a vastly different story. I was very lucky.
In an odd twist of fate, earlier that year (I think in the spring of 2001) I had been speaking to a recruiter about a job opportunity for a Linux Engineer to work for an insurance company that had their offices in tower 1 of the World Trade Center in New York. I turned down the job because I didn't feel I could afford to live in New York at the time, and wanted to stay in Phoenix. Lucky me.