It has been at least a decade since I have shared a full account of what the terrorist attacks of September 11th looked like through my eyes. Now, I live one block south of the World Trade Center Site (aka Ground Zero) and am bracing myself for those eerie bells that sound as each plane hit and each tower fell.
However, now I’ll take you back to that sunny autumn day in Manhattan and show you how that horrible attack unfolded through the eyes of a not-so-average New Yorker. (You’ll understand shortly.) My story goes back to May 2001. I was working as a producer and reporter in Knoxville, Tennessee too close to home and often feeling like I might never get out, when I suddenly felt the urge to pursue my dream and move to New York City. I started applying for jobs on a Saturday and sent out about a dozen resumes. I was contacted two days later (on Monday) and offered an interview with a niche public relations firm located in the Empire State Building. On Thursday night, I boarded a plane and interviewed the following day. After spending the weekend in New York, I was offered the position on Monday via voice mail while flying home. I accepted it immediately, and in less than two weeks I was a New Yorker! I moved into a spare room with some college friends in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) on June 4th of 2001. That was back when Williamsburg wasn’t cool and we were living in an old bodega front that wasn’t actually intended to be anyone’s home.
On September 1st of 2001, two of those college friends and I moved into our Manhattan digs in Hell’s Kitchen. I had learned a lot since moving to New York. Mostly, I had learned that I could easily move up through this company quickly as the responsibility had already been piled on my plate.
By September 11th, I had unofficially moved into a new position within the company helping micromanage the troupes along side the firm’s president (who had very recently overthrown the rest of her family to gain control of the business in a shady corporate take over). For many weeks prior, I had been working up enough nerve to ask for a raise and better title. When my alarm went off at 8am on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001; a little voice in my head said that today was the day. Little did I know that that same time, terrorists were aboard Flight 11 with plans to attack our country. I finally rolled out of bed and hit the door by about 8:30am. That was around the time that flight did a U-turn and headed back for New York City. I was well ahead of schedule and, for once, was set to arrive early. I knew I had to make myself seen so I could remind her that I was early as I wheeled and dealed later in the day.
I only had about 15 minutes before the clock struck nine, so I was moving quickly to drop my things off and grab my coffee mug. However, just as I was arriving (at around 8:46am), my co-workers who faced the south side of Manhattan saw what they thought was a small plane crash into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. They called for everyone who had arrived early to come to that side of the building to watch the events unfold. It certainly didn’t look good, but it seemed to be an isolated incident, so we all headed back to work. In the few minutes just before nine o’clock, many of our colleagues had rolled in with stories from the ground. Just as we were listening to the buzz, one of our co-workers jolted out of his office door and said he thought he saw a plane that seemed to be coming toward the Empire State Building but had veered south. Just as we turned to look for the plane, we saw flight 175 change paths and run right into the South Tower.
Merely a few minutes before the evacuation sirens started to sound on the 65th floor of the Empire State Building, we entered the stairwells and headed toward the ground. It seemed to only take a couple of minutes before we spilled out onto 5th avenue. It felt like a scene from a horror movie. Traffic was sitting dead still, and people were gathering around televisions and radios to find out that we weren’t the only city under attack. We were sectioned off into block sections like you might be for New Year’s Eve in Time Square. Only,we certainly had no reason to celebrate. Within 10-20 minutes, the Pentagon had been attacked. The White House was evacuated and the Vice-President was moved to an undisclosed location. Worst of all,we were positioned at Broadway and about 30th street with a clear shot of vision down to Ground Zero.
Before 10am we were told that no one was going anywhere since the airways were closed nation-wide and all bridges and tunnels leading to and from the Island of Manhattan were closed. At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed right before our eyes; and at 10:28 we watched the North Tower do the same. I don’t remember much more about the greater part of the day of September 11, 2001. I’ll never forget seeing what looked like items being thrown from the towers at nearly 40 blocks away to soon realize that it was hundreds of people jumping to their death. And as the wind blew the stinch of the fire uptown, that horrible smell embedded itself in my mind to never be forgotten either.
Now I have just about 15 minutes before the first bell is sounded a few blocks away 11 years later. Today, I will remember those who were lost on 9/11/01 and give thanks for those of us who were spared whether having ever been the intended target or not. Celebrating life is a good thing! We should do it more often.