August 16th 1987 was my first Sunday as a California resident. I'd just moved my young family from New Jersey across the continent to enable me to take a senior manager's job at Intel working on the CAD software for the i486 project.
We were still reeling from our goodbye at Newark Airport two days prior. We'd left both our families in tears as we boarded. We were from the same town in New Jersey, from small families, and had just destroyed the nuclear family unit by not only moving 3000 miles west, but taking away one of the grandchildren as well.
The wife and I did a good job of not taking out our frustration on each other, though we were both homesick. Compared to New Jersey, California was bizarre and unfathomable. Front lawns were landscaped with palm trees and you had to make an appointment to take the driver's test at the DMV.
The only way for us to cope was to stay remarkably busy. Look for a home. Handle the address change issues. Set up the bank accounts. Do anything to keep the mind occupied - because when we lapsed into boredom, depression set in.
It was during one of these depressing times immediately after an early dinner that my wife picked up the car keys and her purse and announced she was going grocery shopping, even though we had just gone earlier that morning. We'd forgotten a few things, she said, and wanted to pick up some items for our daughter for dinner for the coming week - and I agreed. She went out leaving me and my 2-year old daughter alone.
I managed to get my daughter settled and playing quietly while I figured I might finally have a few spare moments to catch some preseason football action -- when the apartment literally shook with the deafening sound of airplane engines. It was as if a plane had suddenly decended to an altitude just above our roof and was passing overhead on its way to land.
It was so loud it frightened my daughter who ran to me. I picked her up and not so silently cursed the Intel HR department who had picked this location for us to live while we did our house hunting.
We must be in the landing path for San Jose airport, I presumed. Until then I hadn't heard a single airplane except as a distant ignorable rumble. The wind must have switched - I thought, and so now they were landing the passenger jets right over our place. We'd never be able hear ourselves think, much less sleep if the planes were going to be this loud. It would be impossible to carry on a conversation in the din.
Then the sound stopped with ludicrous abruptness. It cut off as if someone turned off the recording of nearby aircraft engines played at 100 decibels. It seemed the plane had lost its engines and was gliding in for a landing. I expected to hear a crash. I went to the window and saw nothing. I waited for a couple minutes, and still I saw and heard nothing unusual.
Later that evening the TV news reported that Northwest Airlines flight 255, bound for Phoenix from Detroit, had crashed on take off at 8:45 Eastern time, 5:45 Pacific time, the same time my wife had gone out for groceries. About twenty employees of Intel's Chandler, Arizona office had been killed. They had been at a conference in Detroit.
I started work at Intel the next day. For the remaining three months we lived in that apartment I never heard another airplane except as a low rumble in the distance.