Absorbing the shock

Tuesday was going to be a busy day in the Capitol. The legislative session was drawing to a close in just a few days and there was still much seemingly important work to be done.

Instead, Californians woke to the news that terrorists had crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even before Governor Gray Davis announced just after 9 a.m. that the Capitol and other non-emergency state buildings would be shut down, few could focus on work.

Hundreds of state workers, lobbyists and legislators wandered onto the streets. Some milled about in a kind of stunned silence, waiting at bus stops, unclear about what to do with this unexpected—and unfortunate—day off. Many poured into downtown bars, where they communed around televisions, taking in this unbelievable thing that had happened.

Brannan’s Bar and Grill across from the Capitol normally opens at 11 a.m., but it just stayed open after an early morning fund-raiser because of the tragedy. “We have regulars from the Capitol who will wander over here and want to find out what’s going on,” said bar general manager Elyse Kundert.

Some talked into their cell phones, commiserating or checking on loved ones. Others gazed at the televisions, frozen by what they saw. So intense was the focus on the tragedy that Jennifer Hanson, press secretary for Assemblyman Dean Florez, jumped in shock when her cell phone jangled before her. She let out a little nervous laughter before answering the call.

By mid-morning, downtown seemed to be in lockdown mode. California Highway Patrol cars were parked on the North and West entrances of the Capitol. The darkened federal courthouse was surrounded by stern-faced agents in bulletproof vests. Even the Downtown Plaza entrances were blocked by security guards. A sign on the door of the MiniMart at 7th and L read, “Closed due to today’s loss of innocent lives. May God help us all.”

Among the few civilians who wandered the streets were the Steketees from Michigan, who had hoped to do a little sightseeing while in Sacramento for a wedding. Standing outside the Jesse Unruh Building on the Capitol Mall, they surveyed the deserted scene. “It’s surreal,” Rich Steketee said. “It’s absolutely mind blowing.”

With Sacramento International and the rest of the nation’s airports shut down, Sacramento’s Amtrak station was inundated with would-be travelers shuffling through heightened security, hoping to board delayed trains. Fabien Rodriquez was supposed to be on a plane and seemed frantic to be back in Los Angeles: “I just want to get back home.”

But most Sacramentans did nothing. They just tried to absorb the impact. A larger crowd slumped around the Public Market Bar inside the downtown Sheraton. At least 50 people—some dressed in suits, some hotel employees, some in workmen’s clothes—gathered around two television sets as the bartender, Kristi Sherburne, methodically set up the bar for the day.

One man drank bourbon. One woman drank a Bloody Mary. As CNN replayed the scene of the airliner crashing into the World Trade Center building, over and over again, no one said much. They just shook their heads.