Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Where Were You On 9/11?

Early on the morning of 911, I had driven to the DMV in Waukegan, IL, to renew my driver's license.  The DMV hadn't opened yet, so I went nextdoor to treat myself to a restaurant breakfast without the cats trying to get at my scrambled eggs.  Sipping my orange juice, I noticed a plane flying into the side of a skyscraper on the TV screen across the restaurant, but nobody else in the restaurant seemed to notice what was going on.  The volume was off on the TV, so I still didn't know what was happening.

So, on my way out, I stopped at the pay phone and called in to work.  Did they need me to come straight in and do the license thing another day?  No, finish renewing the driver's license and then come in.  The trouble was in New York, not Chicago.

Walking back to the DMV to stand in line, I listened quietly as people talked about what they had heard over the radio on the way there.  The only thing I had to add to the conversation was, "This means we're going to war."

Armed with my new driver's license, I went to my temporary job at the Lake County Coroner's Toxicology Laboratory.  The coroner's deputies were usually an upbeat group, very sociable over a morning cup of coffee.  But this morning everybody was busy preparing to be deployed to Chicago in case there was an attack there.  They would set up and run temporary morgues in cooperation with civil defense authorities and their Cook County colleagues, if necessary.

I walked back through the offices into the lab; the autopsy theater and the cold storage areas lay further back in the building.  There was no point in getting upset now.  Upset would wait for another day.  I set up my Abbott TDx machine and reagents; pulled the next series of urine cups out of cold storage; and began running the drug screening tests on the court-ordered specimens from probationers.  Cannabinoids and cocaine metabolites, mostly.  Here and there the court had ordered screening tests for opiates, benzodiazepines, and methamphetamines/amphetamines, depending on the offender.

Every now and then you'd get a tap water specimen from some fool who thought he was being slick.  Addicts can be so pathetic.  The machine just stopped and beeped.  Good-bye probation, hello Lake County Jail, fool.

Positive specimens I set aside for the forensic analyst to confirm with other procedures like thin layer chromatography (TLC):  "Blues that fade are 'ludes from Dade."  He would get to the confirmatory tests using the old methods in between setting up new procedures on the new gas chromatography/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) machine that the County Board had bought for the toxicology lab.  I had been hired to work down a three-month backlog of screening specimens in order to free up the forensic analyst's time to set up that GC/MS.  When I got the backlog whittled down, I'd do things like tidy up the lab, clean the cabinets and the countertops, etc.  The paperwork had to be typed up, etc., to be sent back to the judges.

I kept working, working, working, just to get through that day.  When I was done and ready to leave, I stopped by the office to tell the guys, "You know where to find me if you need me to come in for anything."

"We'll call you if we need you, Charlotte."

And then I walked home three blocks.  I stopped to check out the creek in the gully I crossed over on the way home; there had been an otter down there in the shadows one night when I was walking the dog.  When I got home and after I brought the dog in from his piddle run, I lay down to get some rest in case they needed to call me that night.  It was tempting to turn on the TV, but I had a headache.  Soon the cats were piled on top of me in the bed.

In the morning, Chicago had not been attacked.  Mayor Daley had ordered everyone to evacuate the Loop (downtown) in a quiet and orderly fashion.  People complied without any fuss or panic that I heard about.  Easterners sometimes make fun of Midwesterners for being such compliant chumps -- way too easy to gull or intimidate.  But the habit of quiet compliance and cooperation has its merits in most circumstances as long as you don't cross us.

Yeah.  We were going to war over this one.

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