I hadn’t planned on writing a post about 9-11 today. After 13 years the events of that day are still etched in my memory. But it’s a day I don’t want to forget and the world should not forget.
I visited the National September 11 Memorial Museum a couple of weeks ago and everything came back to me.
I had arrived at my PR agency that morning around 8:30. A former client was flying in from Toronto and we were meeting for a lunch I had arranged with someone I wanted to her to meet. I had a voice message from her that she was in a taxi on the way in from LaGuardia Airport.
Then, shortly after 8:46, there was a news flash on the TV monitor hanging from the ceiling reporting that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. We all gathered around to see what was happening. At that time, we thought it must be a commercial airliner gone astray. We had no notion at all that this was a terrorist attack.
I called my husband at home and told him to turn on the TV. That was the last phone call I made that day, as the attack disrupted telephone communications throughout lower Manhattan.
Then the next plane hit – and the next, and the next. We began watching the attacks with the rest of the world in real time. We didn’t know if the Twin Towers were their only target in New York, so shortly before noon everyone left the office and began their journeys home.
No Way Home
It wasn’t easy as all New York City transit busses and trains had stopped running along with commuter railroads. Vehicular traffic was halted at all tunnels and bridges connecting Manhattan to the mainland. We were effectively isolated from the rest of the world.
I had no idea where my former client was so I walked to the restaurant (which was still open) and left my business card and a note telling Diana that if she needed a place to say she should walk to my apartment. Yes, our feet were our transportation that day. I was lucky – only about three miles.
Thousands of people began walking over the bridges – they walked and walked until they got home or family and friends picked them up. Authorities also began evacuating people from the financial district in ferries to New Jersey.
My office was only two blocks from Times Square, an inviting target. So we all headed east, skirting that tourist mecca because we didn’t know where the next strike might hit. Yes, we didn’t know at the time if we were still under attack.
Stories to Remember
While the rest of the nation was traumatized by 9-11 it hit New Yorkers particularly hard. Everyone, including me, knew someone who died in the Towers or knew a friend who had lost a loved one.
Many of us returned to work the next day. But the attack was a gut punch for our office because one young woman’s husband worked in the North Tower for Marsh and McLennan (295 died) and was still missing.
She and her family came to the office. I think they needed the comfort of our community as we continued to watch the non-stop TV coverage while they called local hospitals asking for Mark Rosenberg. Finally, they got a positive response from St. Vincent’s and rushed there. We were all ecstatic for them.
But it wasn’t their Mark Rosenberg who had perished in the attack.
These are the stories of everyday New Yorkers that I personally know of. There are thousands more just like these:
— My client’s taxi was turned back from Manhattan and she returned to LaGuardia, but, of course, all flights had been halted. She was trying to locate a hotel, still in her taxi, when two young men approached her. They lived in suburban Long Island and if she would give them a lift, they would find her a motel. They did and she spent that day and the next with one of them in his living room with his family watching TV. On Thursday of that week she hired a local taxi to drive her across New York State to Buffalo, on the Canadian border, where her husband met her.
— A young friend worked for Fred Alger in in the North Tower on the 93rd floor and had gone into the office early to pick up a proposal. He took the elevator down to the lower level and entered the E subway train going uptown. He smelled smoke and the doors kept opening and closing but eventually it began moving – the last train out. When he exited uptown he saw all the excitement in the streets but had no idea what had happened. All his colleagues perished.
— That night we ate dinner with friends in our building. We couldn’t be alone. They had visitors from Florida who had planned to fly back the next morning. Of course, flights were disrupted for days. My friends gave them their car to drive to Florida and they sold the car when they arrived home.
— Three colleagues from our sister advertising agency were in California on business. They rented a car and drove to New York.
— A member of my professional association and a former client was working in one of the Towers. She was on the phone with her family and said she would be walking down the stairs but first she wanted to retrieve her pocketbook from her desk. She didn’t make it out.
About a week after 9/11 my husband and I decided to visit the site. Many others were there, too. There was almost total silence as we viewed the iconic “fence” that was the only remaining structure standing. Every building for blocks was covered in soot. Under the pile of rubble were almost 3,000 innocent victims. It had become a sacred place.
We said a prayer and left.