We all have 9/11 stories, here's mine, more of a 9/12 story.
Prelude. I was packing up my hotel room in
Würzburg after the 1993 STACS conference. I flipped on the TV,
the hotel only had German stations, and saw police and fire engines
around the World Trade Center and caught the word
"explosion". It wasn't until I reached the airport later
that day that I learned the towers suffered no significant damage.
In 2001 I worked for the NEC Research Institute in New Jersey. In
September I attended the first EQIS workshop in Tokyo and
the following week visited the quantum computing group near the
University of Tokyo. On the 11th I took a day trip to visit the
quantum computing group at the NEC Lab in Tsukuba.
The first plane hit the towers at 9:45 PM Japan time after I had returned
to Tokyo and I went to bed that night unaware
of the events unfolding back in the states.
I learned the news when I booted up my laptop the following
morning. I then turned on the Japanese TV (I never get CNN when I really need
it) and saw the shocking images all at once.
Tokyo had a normal day on September 12 when I wanted to world to
stop. I was the only remaining American visiting the group and I felt
quite alone. During lunch one of the non-Japanese asked what
America had done to deserve this. I almost slugged him.
I gave a talk as scheduled in the afternoon still in quite a daze. That
night I insisted on doing something completely mindless and the
Japanese complied, taking me to a small Karaoke bar.
I returned to the states on the 16th, three days later than my
original schedule. As the plane approached Newark I had a clear view
of Southern Manhattan and saw a plume of smoke still arising from where the
World Trade Center had stood. The America I was returning to was
vastly different from the one I had left two weeks earlier.
As many of you know we lost a member of our community that fateful
Lewin, an MIT graduate student and co-founder of Akamai. The STOC
best student paper award now bears his name.