Thursday, September 11, 2008

September Eleventh, Two-Thousand and One

The morning of September 11th, 2001 was a perfect late summer/early fall day.

Not a cloud in the sky.

The sky was blue and Michael Jordan was set to announce his third comeback. The night before, I had hung out in my new first post-college apartment with Angry White Dave and seen Ed McCaffrey get his leg FUCKED up on Monday night foootball while eating wings.

I was feeling pretty good.

I had an early meeting at my job at 111 John Street in my boss' office on the second floor that looked out onto John Street and straight up Broadway. A typical meeting, we were droaning on and insurance and such things.

I recall a loud noise, but nothing really out of the ordinary for downtown New York.

Then, we hear another HUGE explosion. We all immediately stopped and went to the window.

Now, you could see up Broadway to the north tower of the World Trade Center's twin towers but not the south tower because another building blocked the view.

My (super-hot) boss Diana shouted, "What was that?!"

I said, "look at those two trucks that are stopped in the middle of the street - they had an accident."

"No", said my evil co-worker defacto boss, Stephanie, "it's the world trade center!"

We looked up to see the north tower of the WTC with a big fire in the middle of it.

Now, Stephanie and Diana both had friends in the towers and were very concerned. I remember thinking that, like, a huge air conditioner unit or something had blown up. I went back to my cubicle to check it out online and my Aunt Susan called me.

"A plane flew into the World Trade Center!"

"What fucking idiot flies into the World Trade Center?" I asked myself as I hung up and went back into the office.

Diana and Stephanie were frantically calling people and I stood and watched for a while and eventually decided to make my way to the street.

I got out onto John Street to a crowd standing there looking up.

"Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center!" Someone announced. I figured it was a prop plane.

I stood there for a while and then started up John to Broadway.

I got up to Broadway and realized shit was serious: both towers were on fire.

At that moment, I realized it was a terrorist attack. I stood there looking up at the burning buildings with hundreds of other people - just staring.

I could feel the heat emanating from the building and there was glass shattered on the street.

Kind of shocked but pretty much with my shit together, I started wandering back to my office.

Now, I had just seen that. It was about three or four blocks back to my office and it was a surreal scene but everyone was pretty calm, as was I. People had pulled cars over and radios were blasting and everyone was talking.

"Terrorist attack."

"They bombed the mall in Washington."

"There's one headed toward The Empire State Building."

"They blew up the Whitehouse."

Anything could have been possible and I didn't really doubt it. This was crazy.

I was - we all were - pretty rational about it given the circumstances.

I returned to the building to find Diana and Stephanie. They hadn't known where I had gone and were all worked up.

We stood there, not really knowing what to do and not allowed back in the building. Cell phone lines were down. So, we stood in awe.

Then we heard a sound. Unless you were there that day I'm not sure you can fully appreciate the sound. It was so loud, the earth was vibrating. I mean really really overwhelming - couldn't hear anything loud. Imagine that. Now multiply it by 100.

We all turned west toward the sound and saw an enormous cloud of smoke - like maybe 20 or 30 stories high - shoot up Broadway and seem to make a right turn toward us (and we were like 3 blocks away).

"Let's get the fuck out of here!" I shouted as we took off in the opposite direction.

At that moment, I was certain I knew what was going on: someone had just blown up another building and guys were going to pop out and mow us all down. No question. And it sucked. I didn't really feel true fear, as much as just knowing this was my fate and it sucked.

I'm not trying to be macho in saying I didn't panic. It was scary, but it's always struck me how I, and just about every single other person I was around that day didn't panic. I'm not sure if we were all just in shock or clicked into survival mode or it was just the New Yorker (or North Jerseyan!) or what but it was kind of strange or something how everyone remained really calm.

Well, we ran for a while and soon it became evident no one was going to shoot us at that time so we started to walk uptown.

Up Water Street to a Projects and made some phone calls - my boss' fiance' was downtown looking for her. He had snuck in on an emergency vehicle - pretty badass.

Another thing that struck me was how, out of nowhere, appeared cops. Everywhere.

On every block was a cop or CIA or FBI. Mad regular people with all kinds of badges, tags and guns.

We were standing there in the Projects and this kid on a bike with another kid on the pegs in the back with a camera rolled up.

"The World Trade Center fell."

"Get out of here", I said in disbelief.

"No, both of them - look they'd be right there".

I looked at empty air and smoke where the World Trade Center had stood just an hour earlier, in total disbelief.

We walked back downtown against the traffic and found her fiance' and headed back up town.

We walked to the Brooklyn Bridge with the sound of fighter jets criss-crossing Manhattan and got half way across when a UPS truck picked us up.

I rode, on the bumper of the truck, looking back at the smoke-filled skyline of lower Manhattan.

People were walking, joking and, generally, in much better spirits then you would expect.

In retrospect, I think it was, in fact, a combination of New York grit combined with shock and the survival instinct.

We got to the end of the bridge and men with machine guns were everywhere. It felt like a war-zone. I guess it was.

Anyway, we got off the truck and, as everyone jumped off I noticed some people were robbing it blind. I mean, that was the least of anyone's worries but some people just had as many packages as the could fit under their arms.

There was much heroism that day but this was truly the other side of human nature as well.

We walked back to my boss' apartment and I called my parents and girlfriend and friends - all of whom had been very worried, naturally. My parents were in Sweden so they, in particular, had no idea what was going on and were panicking and, of course, were relieved I was OK.

Diana, though, spent the night worrying about her friend that worked on the top of one of the towers for Cantor Fitzgerald.

She went home to Long Island and waited for her friend, the one who was going to be her maid of honor in her November wedding, to call.

Addelle was a loud Long Island type girl. Very energetic and sassy.

Di's best friend.

Addelle never called.


Open Bar said...

Very powerful. Well written.

RIP Addelle.

Side Bar said...

Wow. Given the reams of paper devoted to September 11 over the last seven years, it is amazing that this short, straightforward account of that day can still bring back so many powerful memories and emotions. If they ever start handing out prizes for essays on random blogs read by fifteen people or less, I know which one I am nominating.