New York (WXYZ) - I got a Facebook message the other day from Dontryl Alexander. He asked what seemed on the surface to be a simple question. "What was it like covering the story that changed America and everybody's lives including yours?"
It turns out the first part of Dontryl's question was pretty simple and straight forward: "What was it like covering the story that changed America."
I'll start with a little back-story. The answer to that inevitable question: "Where were you?"
I had just moved to Colorado from New York in the summer of 2001. On the morning of September 11th I was at a Denver TV station on the first day of a new part-time freelance job. When the planes hit those towers I got busy in a hurry. The part-time job turned full-time for the next 36 hours as I followed Denver Mayor Wellington Webb around the city as he tried to figure out if his city was under attack.
Pretty quickly I got a call from my old bosses at CBS network news asking me to catch the first plane to New York, which lifted off early on September 13th.
For the next week I spent twelve to fourteen hours a day at Ground Zero doing non-stop live shots for TV stations from Los Angeles and Boston, to Sydney Australia and Tokyo. I stood on a platform just west of ground zero, breathing toxic dust, staring into blinding lights with my producers back at CBS in my ear constantly shouting updated information as I talked. Mixed with my observations from the scene I helped inform and supply some context to Americans in a very turbulent time.
So the answer to the first part of Dontryl's question is simple. "What was it like covering the story that changed America?" It was chaotic, heart-pounding, frightening. It was exactly the place any reporter on earth wanted to be at that moment. It was an honor that the "Tiffany Network" had considered me up to the enormous task.
Now this brings me to the second part of the question. "What was it like covering the story that changed America and everybody's lives including yours?"
I think I have avoided answering that question for ten years for a couple reasons. The main one involves why I was in Denver that morning of 9/11 in the first place.
As I mentioned, I'd left New York only a couple months earlier. I didn't mention why.
My local station had cut me loose and the freelance work at CBS News wasn't enough to support the family. So at my wife's suggestion we sold everything and took off on a four-month road trip with our two young daughters. My intention was to wait for a new job to come along. What happened, though, was far more profound. I discovered a family I'd been largely ignoring and taking for granted. My job hunt became a vision quest of sorts that was eventually chronicled on the Oprah show.
So when the planes hit those towers that morning my fragile new world came tumbling down. I had just begun to enjoy a slower-paced career, spending more time with my wife and daughters who turned out to be a couple of really cool kids.
But suddenly my happy little family had been hurled into a world where terrorists drove airplanes into buildings. A world where you have to practically strip to get on an airplane. A world where you hate yourself for being suspicious of another human being because of his accent or name.
So, since that September day when I talk about terrorists and shoe bombs and water boarding and anthrax I sincerely hope my children aren't listening. I fear my information, that was so enlightening ten years ago, is now simply frightening my family. And yours.
So Dontryl thanks for asking, but the answer is profoundly complicated.