If you ask your parents or grandparents, they can tell you exactly where they were when JFK was shot....same thing goes for MLK, Jr. For my generation, September 11, 2001 is one of those days that can never be forgotten. Every New Yorker has a story, whether they escaped the carnage covered with soot from the burning towers, or they walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to finally make it home hours later.
At the time, I was working for an early morning news program which meant I needed to be at work at 4am. I was not at work that morning because I went to a concert the night before, and took the day off. The plan for the day was to meet up with my mom, a relative from out of town, and my brother for a day of sightseeing. September 11th is also my brother's birthday, so a day of celebration was planned.
I had the TV on while I got dressed and prepared to leave my apt in Hell's Kitchen (just west of Times Square.) I saw the second plane hit the towers, but the enormity of the situation didn't really dawn on me. In my mind, we were planning to go to the Empire State Building, so our sightseeing plans would not be affected by what was happening downtown.
As I sat on the 42nd street cross-town bus on the way to grand central terminal, I heard people speaking of a plane crash in Washington. I thought that was a strange coincidence, but continued on to meet my mother and visiting aunt. Once I got to the train station, there was mass chaos. Police where evacuating the building, and I actually stood there and refused to leave because my mom (who is not very city-savvy) wouldn't know what to do once her train arrived. A policeman finally told me that all trains were stopped, and would not be coming into the city. I walked outside of grand central, and I have never seen so many people just walking around in the streets...unsure of what to do.
I started to walk home, as I passed through Times Square reality started to set in. The jumbo screens were broadcasting the nightmare that was unfolding in downtown New York City. I glanced up to see one of the towers collapsing. That's when I started running, and I didn't stop until I got home. I just couldn't believe what was happening.
Once home, I was able to get my brother on the phone. He hadn't left Brooklyn, and planned on staying put. I called my dad, and left numerous messages. I was getting a little irritated that he wasn't returning any of my calls. NYC was under attack, and he couldn't bother to call me back! Later on, I realized that the phone lines were all screwed up, and he couldn't reach me. My mom and aunt eventually made it back to White Plains....walking most of the way home.
As the day wore on, I was glued to my TV, and watched and waited to see if anything else was going to happen. I watched the firefighters and police at the scene. The news reports soon focused on crying relatives gathered at hospitals, and near the site. It was a horrible day, but I was thankful that nobody I knew died that day. I was thankful that I lived in mid-town, nowhere near the towers.
NYC is the city that never sleeps, but there wasn't a soul outside when I stood on the corner the next morning, looking for a cab. It was very unsettling. After a few minutes, I watched the slow approach of headlights, and thankfully it was the cab that would get me to work for my 4am shift.
At work, I watched more footage of those who jumped to their deaths, distraught relatives holding up pictures of missing loved ones, volunteers and first responders working long into the night trying to find anyone who might still be alive. It wasn't until almost a week later that I sat down and cried. The 24/7 news coverage got to me, and I cried for the city that I loved, but would never be the same.
As each year passes, it seems as though the rest of America has moved on. For myself, and other New Yorkers it is is hard to forget. I can only imagine the pain of those who lost someone they loved. I got a little teary-eyed today, as I always do, but hopeful that something like this will never again happen to my beloved city.
Until next time....