I had gone to DOE's Forrestal Building to get some advance information on the 12-SEER public hearing scheduled for the following Thursday. I hoped to get a list of the scheduled speakers and a final agenda for the hearing. I also hoped to check the agency's Freedom of Information library for background on the earlier comments regarding the 12 SEER vs. 13 SEER debate.
I did not get any of the information I was seeking. And suddenly all the federal buildings, all the museums - every building in DC - was closed.
The guards now standing in front of every federal building would not say what was happening. There were many police and fire sirens throughout the city. I decided to go back to the Metrorail station and return to my hotel.
The station was filling up rapidly. Everyone had been sent home by this point, but I learned that federal employees were just as clueless as I was to what was going on. There were lots of rumors; I heard something about the World Trade Center in New York City, but no details. The police and Metrorail employees would say nothing.
My route, the Blue Line, would take me through the Pentagon and National Airport stations. It was announced that both of these stations were closed; the line would pass through without stopping. After getting two stations from the Pentagon, the Blue Line was closed down.
Now I knew something major had happened and deduced that it was somehow military in nature. As I left the Metrorail station, I looked for a bus; none were running now. I looked for a cab, but it was absolute gridlock on the streets. I realized walking would be my best bet to head back to my hotel in Alexandria, VA.
I asked a local man who was waiting for his wife for directions. He got me started in the right direction.
It would be a long walk accompanied by many other walkers. A cab that was flagged along the way would not stop. He wasn't going my way.
Hearing the NewsAs I was walking, I overheard a CNN employee talking on his cell phone trying to find out where his truck had gone. It had been at the Iwo Jima Memorial; while he was on his way from his day off, it had moved near the Pentagon. I asked him what was happening.
He described how the two planes had been hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center's twin towers, bringing them both down. He said that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon and he was heading over there now. He heard that Ft. Myer, which was a short distance ahead, was on alert. We then separated.
As I walked along the highway past Ft. Myer and looked through the chain link fence with razor wire across the top, I saw two sentries in fatigues and face shields, with weapons in hand, standing in front of their barracks. They were looking up and down intently. All the other soldiers looked to be outside relaxing, but they were also in fatigues with weapons.
Every barracks had sentries with soldiers outside. I surmised their weapons were locked and loaded. This did not look like a drill.
I continued to walk. Every store I encountered so far was closed. I couldn't get any water or any other beverage. Once I got far enough away from the downtown DC area, I found a gas station that was open. I bought a soft drink and got more directions.
I walked and sipped my beverage. This area now was hilly. Up and down I walked. I finished my beverage.
I found another open gas station. I bought bottled water and got more directions from a police officer.
I eventually made it to I-395. I had been told I could walk along the freeway to Alexandria. But as I made my way across a pedestrian bridge on I-395, I saw that it was closed from that point on. And in the distance I could see huge plumes of smoke rising. The Pentagon was burning. I just stood there and stared for a while.
I continued my walking. I finally stopped at a gas station in Arlington and asked if the counterman would please call a cab for me. I had been walking for 31?hours and my legs were cramping. I couldn't walk anymore.
He graciously called for a cab. After a wait, the cab arrived and I was on my way back to my hotel in Alexandria, now resting my exhausted body and getting more information from the cabdriver.
After calling my wife, talking to my editor-in-chief, and canceling my early Wednesday appointment, I sat down to write this story. When I finished in the early evening, my work day was finally over. I was drained, but I was still alive.