Thursday, September 8, 2011

Welcome to New York: My 9/11 Experience

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 I long to be back in Manhattan, the city that welcomed me, tested me and took care of me even when she needed to be taken care of in days, weeks and years following That day. I had just relocated to Manhattan a mere six days prior to September 11, 2001. I was as excited as anyone at the prospect of living a Big City life and NYC was truly the center of the universe for me. The World Trade Center could be seen from almost any street, any avenue in Manhattan. They cast a long shadow and I longed to visit Windows on the World, the restaurant that sat at the very top of the North Tower. I had been in the city only two days and was already taking the towers for granted. "They'll always be there" I thought when I made a mental note of when I might plan my visit. For I didn't want to go and be a tourist, I wanted a REASON to be at the WTC...maybe covering a news story there, an interview with someone prominent at the WTC, anything that would distinguish me from the average "visitor." Ironically, it was the visitors to our city who would prop us up and keep up going when our economy and morale were in its darkest.
On That morning, I was on the border of the West Village and Chelsea doing the Alternate Side of the Street Parking dance and listening to Howard Stern when he abruptly changed to topic of his raunchy conversation to report that "a plane has struck" one of the WTC towers. Being that it was Howard Stern, I thought to myself "what a tacky joke." I parked my car walked towards Seventh Avenue. People were frozen, facing downtown with hands over mouth. I looked in the same direction and saw an enormous fireball and black smoke billowing from the upper floors. I was maybe two miles or closer to what had not yet become known as Ground Zero. I remembered sirens were suddenly omnipresent, horns, fire engines, time seemed to have stopped. I'm not sure how much time passed before my next memory of blinking and seeing a flash of the second plane then then billowing black smoke...and then the sound thunder. Honestly, I don't have much of a memory of what happened next other than I started walking TOWARDS the chaos. The reporter in me needed to jump into the fray. I made it as far as fourth street, I think, when the first towers sank...quietly it seemed until the a few seconds later, the roar traveled uptown. I stopped. I stood there until I was being passed by one dust-covered refugee after another. Someone touched my shoulder and said "you should walk the other way."
I've never walked the other way in my life. I tend jump right in head first into everything; sometimes with great consequences...other times not so much so. In hindsight, I'm amazed at how much resilience I had while living in New York. I never cried a day over my circumstances and I always bounced back from the emotional and financial hardships 9/11 caused me personally and the hardships I put myself through. That's what I miss about being a "New Yorker" the community, the camaraderie and the way we bounced back-together. I hope with the opening of the 9/11 memorial and the continuing rebirth of the World Trade Center site, there will be some sense of closure, some sense of peace for those who were deeper in soot than I that day and for those who lost more than I that day.