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?