Friday, September 9, 2011

One Decade

(I know this post strays a bit away from the topic of this blog,  but being a NYC based blogger, I'd be remiss not to reflect on 9/11 as the anniversary approaches.)

It really is astounding how one day can stand completely frozen in time. For me, September 11, 2001 was pretty much an average workday – besides the fact that I was up earlier than usual produce a radio media tour at a studio in Times Square. Still tired from the lack of good sleep the night before, my brother and I had a quick chat before he headed off to school and me to my waiting car service. His basic sentiment for the day was “let’s just stay home today.” Looking back, how I wish we could have spent the day safe at home.

The weird memories that come to mind when I think about that September 11th – how I was dreading arriving to the studio early, hoping that my driver would take the West Side Highway so we could get stuck at a few lights. Instead, he took the FDR which actually ended up depriving me of one last up-close look at the towers before they fell.

Arriving at the studio was business as usual. The radio media tour I was producing went along smoothly until one of the clients I was with tried to call his home office in St. Louis only to get a fast busy signal. “Maybe a plane crashed into the building,” was his rationale. If only any of us knew that had actually happened… but a lot closer to home.

Without a TV in the studio, we were getting bits and pieces of information. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center? What kind of fool would accidentally hit that building? I had remembered that some jackass got tangled on the Statue of Liberty a few weeks prior, so this also had to be some joke. Right?

Information started coming in fast and furious. Planes were hijacked. The Pentagon was hit. A tower fell. From the isolated studio I was in, I could not compute what was happening because I had no visuals. Calls to my parents further explained the situation and all I wanted to do was get back to the familiar surroundings of my own office.

Walking from the midtown studio to my East Side office was one of the longest walks I ever had to make. People were gathering in the streets, huddled around radios and TVs to listen to the news. Others were running, crying. No one could make phone calls because, unbeknownst to me, both buildings had already fallen and cell phone lines were down.

As I passed by Grand Central, people were flooding out, yelling that there was a bomb inside - which honestly, in that moment, could have been plausible. I paid no attention to the streetlights…crossed at greens (something that I NEVER do), smacked the hood of a taxi that almost had hit me. All I could focus on was getting back to safety to find out what the hell was going on. And when I arrived at my office, the magnitude of the day hit me.

I couldn’t get home to Brooklyn that night, so instead, I took the LIRR out to my aunt and uncle’s house. The walk to Penn Station was eerie. The sound of ambulance and police sirens had been so commonplace that day that I actually tuned them out. Trying to sleep that night was next to impossible – part adrenalin, part fear. The sound of fighter jets broke the silence of the night and I wondered what kind of world we would wake up to.

For me, the worst days happened after September 11th. The images of that day were played over and over again on the news. Missing posters of those who worked at the WTC were plastered all around Manhattan. And there was the smell. The awful smell of burning. A smell that I will never forget.

I actually had a vacation planned for October 2001. While my family and friends wanted me to cancel it, I refused. I was not letting the terrorists win. So I hopped on a plane at Newark airport on my birthday – the same day that there was a concert for NYC being held at Madison Square Garden. On vacation, I represented my city by wearing an I Love New York shirt. And during the trip, fellow vacationers came up to say hi, ask my story and send their regards to my hurting city.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since that terrible day. And as much as we have all moved on, it’s hard for me to forget all of the little details of that day– what I wore, things I said, and that feeling of complete and utter fear and helplessness. But in the face of tragedy, I have never, ever been prouder to call myself a New Yorker.

What's your 9/11 story?


Jess said...

Wow! I can't even imagine, being only like 20 miles from the city, I also experienced a crazy day, but nothing like yours because I was still in high school. My town lost 7 citizens in the attacks.

Maggie said...

Steph! I can't imagine what you went through that day. I was in High School and at band practice when the first tower got hit. We watched live footage of the second tower in my second period English class. It seems like it was yesterday. I still can't believe it's been 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Steph, This made me cry. I remember this day all the time. Getting ready for work and had the news on and then it happened. The next few hours were a flurry of phone calls as I tried to find my family members especially those that worked down town.
I immediately started recording the news. It was history. Then I put our flag out.
My family(for the most part)thankfully was safe, but they saw and witnessed horrible things that I wish can be taken from their memories. My sister seeing the plane hit from the subway going over the Manhatan bridge. My godfather seeing burning bodies falling from the sky. My Uncle and cousins fleeing the towers. My Aunt had retired from Cantor Fitzgerald she lost 80 friends and colleagues. My Mom's cousin Irene did not make it out from the Towers. Sadly, we did not know her well, but she had a good life and like every other victim did not deserve this.
A co-worker lost his mother he has not been the same. She had called him on the 10th and he did not get a chance to call her back. He lives with that guilt to this day.
The next day I went to Church and prayed. It was packed. They had a book on the alter where you could write then names of those lost. The longer someone was up there the harder it was. If they had to turn the page I cried.
Regina Coyle was a fixture in our community. She ran scouts, softball and every school fundraiser. Her son was one of the firefighters lost that day. We went to the funeral it was packed, even the mayor came. We stood helpless as this strong fierce mother wept behind her son's semi-empty coffin. In weeks that followed we would see other mothers and bereft family memebers crying and all we could do is pray.
(It is not like you can explain this senseless act.)
I pary for the souls lost, the people left behind, and even for those who caused it.
To this day all I can do is pray and never forget. God Bless Us Everyone.

Stephanie said...

To those that have shared their stories - thank you! I feel that by telling our stories, we're helping to preserve the history of that day.

Bill F. said...

Steph this is very moving. I had always wondered if you guys were safe that day. Obviously, I moved away but my heart was in NY with you guys.

Here's my story:
I was a broke college student. The only way I could get spending money was to sell my blood plasma. That morning was no different. I had an appointment for 9:30am. I remember driving to the Plasma center and hearing the story of the 1st plane hitting coming across the airwaves. I thought...this is crazy...I couldn't believe it.

My appointment was business as usual. When you donate plasma they have TVs on with movies playing. I remember we were watching Brown Sugar...again. And then all of a sudden half way through my appointment they switched the TVs to the news. I sat there in my donation chair and watched as the 2nd plane hit. I watched as the newscasters hypothesized that maybe in fact we were under attack. And as this was happening...I really believed that I was hallucinating or passed out from giving the plasma. It's not common but it does happen to people sometimes. I couldn't believe what I saw was real.

When I was done with my appointment I immediately called my mom and Dad. No doubt about it...this was real. Then my next thought was all you guys. I had remained in contact with only one of my friends from Brooklyn...I knew Anthony was safe...I called him and he was at his house in Brooklyn. Others not so much. Word came from my mom that her best friend's husband worked in Tower 1. A couple of days later we officially got word that he had died.

I was going to school at Florida State at the time (went there for a year and a half). This was my last semester at FSU as I was soon to transfer to UF. FSU is in Tallahassee. The news started to say that other sites could be targeted throughout the day. Tallahassee being one of them because President Bush's brother was the Governor of Florida and Tallahassee was the capital. Later in the day me and my roommate Karl walked to the capital just to see what it was like. The city was empty...except for National Guard not allowing anyone within 1000 ft of the Capital.

In the weeks that followed I contemplating enlisting in the Army. I was 19 years old. I was from NY. I was angry. I wanted revenge. After a lot of serious thought I decided against it. But I remember never being more proud of the way our country acted after the attacks. We came together. And even though I didn't live in NY anymore...I still felt it.

I don't think I ever rooted harder for the I did during the 2001 Playoff Run. It seemed like it was the Yankees destiny to win the World Series that year. To help NY heal. As it turned out the Yankees did help NY heal. Because those home games in Yankee Stadium in late October and early November gave NY hope again. And for all the rest of the US that was hurting and weren't Yankees fans...they got their wish the Yankees lost in Game 7.

Thanks for sharing Steph. Love your site.