I rarely write anything too political, serious, or personal on this site because, well, its a blog about beer and its supposed to be irreverent and something of a fun hobby for me.
But today, as I’m sure many people are aware of, marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Thinking back, its truly amazing how much has happened and how much has changed since then. Its also amazing to me how quickly 10 years has passed.
I thought I’d post my experience of that day, some thoughts about the Towers, and hopefully, you’ll share yours too.
For me, it was like any other day. I worked in New Jersey, right across the Hudson River, from what is Upper Manhattan. As anyone who lives or works in NYC area knows, even though the distances are pretty close ‘as the crow flies’, (15 miles or a 30 minute drive) I might have well been 100 miles away from what became known as ‘ground zero’.
Funny thing is, it could have been a much different day for me had I previously not developed a loathing for going into ‘The City’ over the years. Too congested. Too crowded. Some people are energized by the City, I’m drained just thinking of going there. I had registered for a SUN Microsysems training class for work that was located at this address…
Sun Microsystems Educational Services
New York, NY
2 World Trade Center
25th & 26th Floors
The training course ran from Tuesday, 11 September 2001, to the end of the week.
Turns out that it was a good move to have cancelled that class the week before, and reschedule to take it in Edison, NJ. (BTW, SUN had 300+ employees working at the World Trade Center, and it seems everyone got out safely while their offices were totally destroyed. Unfortunately, some of their people were on the doomed flights.)
Aside from the fact that I was spared from not having to actually be there, I remember a few other things about the day.
I had gotten to work around 9AM, which of course was after the first plane hit, and someone came to me (being the tech guy) telling me that the news was reporting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Did I have a TV? I did not.
Its interesting that in 2001, the modern age, all we had at the office that day (15 miles from ground zero) was a clock radio. I remember thinking this was what it might have been like during WWII, or when War of the Worlds was broadcast live in 1938.
The radio, and your imagination. Like I said, we were about 15 miles from lower Manhattan, but we couldn’t see or hear a thing, televised or otherwise.
Anyway, it was reported that it was likely an accident, probably a Cessna or some small plane off course somehow. The Internet, at the time (we had an ADSL connection) was pretty much useless as the rest of the world jumped online for the same reason I wanted to. I remember there was a very low-rez page up at CNN.com that posted updates.
I called my Wife at home and told her to put on the news and let me know what was happening. She did, and I couldn’t believe what she was describing to me. “One of the towers is on fire. There’s a giant hole in it and smoke is billowing out. It looks like a giant smokestack.” It didn’t seem to be a Cessna anymore.
Of course, everyone thought it was a terrible, terrible accident. How can a plane fly into a building like that? I remembered reading that in July 1945, an American B-25 bomber had crashed into the Empire State Building, so its happened before. Well, we soon found out this time there was no accident.
Right over the phone, I listened to my Wife describe, in complete disbelief and horror, a plane smash into the second tower right on live TV. This is what she was watching…
At that point, everyone knew what was happening. It was no accident. Its interesting to listen to the commentary of the live reporting though. While it seems most people with brains realized this was a terrorist attack, the newscasters were wondering how errors in navigational systems could put two passenger planes into two office buildings withing minutes. But I guess it reflects the mindset of the time. We just didn’t think about that sort of thing in this Country.
At work, as the news trickled in from the outside world from the radio and people calling in, the fear of what was happening outside intensified.
Then we hear about an explosion at the Pentagon. “What the fuck is going on out there?” Just as people were discussing what would happen to the World Trade Center, “It’ll have to be dismantled”, or “they’ll patch it up or just use the lower floors for the time being” we got word that one of the towers had collapsed.
Collapsed? Yep. Gone. How can that be? Did it fall over? What do you mean collapsed? Again, I got on the phone to call my Wife who confirmed to me the horrible news. One of the buildings that defined the lower-end of the Manhattan skyline for a generation was gone. Not long after that, the second tower fell as well.
Again, I’m playing this out in my mind’s eye based on what people were telling me. All we had was a radio.
I went outside and drove home for lunch as I do from time to time, wanting to see for myself what was happening on TV. All the horrors I had imagined were quickly confirmed. Footage of the day’s events were played over and over, just in case it hadn’t been burned into your memory yet. I remember that the Englewood Cliffs Police had blocked access to the Palisades Interstate Parkway, at least in the direction of getting onto the George Washington Bridge. I remember when I drove past the firehouse in Tenafly, NJ on the way home, the Fire apparatus was out, seemingly ready to go. Waiting for what was to come.
I remember feeling so isolated, and terrified by the number of people who must have just been killed. I’ve visited the World Trade Center as a tourist several times over the previous years – those were HUGE buildings, capable of holding many, many thousands of people. How many were gone now?
Other things I remember from that day are interesting to me, if not inconsequential. I remember that night, everyone on my street lit a candle and placed it on their front steps. I remember sitting on my front steps (I live on a busy road) and a lot of people were driving around waving American flags, and people from the neighborhood congregated on corners talking about the day’s events. This NEVER happens in my town.
I remember how quiet it was without the Bus traffic that runs past my house. With the bridges and tunnels into New York closed, there were no commuters to transport. Living near 3 international airports, the sound of commercial aircraft overhead, which one becomes accustomed to, was also missing. Eerie silence. Of course, the entire airspace was closed down after the attacks, but I recall thinking how quiet everything was. This was for a few days…No buses, no planes.
I also remember how cordial and friendly people seemed to be for a few days after September 11. In this area around NYC, ‘Rat Race’ is an opt term for describing the traffic and frantic pace of things. That was dialed down for a time and was interesting to see. People were somber and cordial.
I remember my TV (not having cable) needing to be adjusted. The platform by which my TV got signals from was no longer there, and I had to adjust my antennae in the direction of Alpine, NJ, and I remember the week-long 24/7 news coverage of the events without any commercials. I was almost happy to see a commercial again!
I also remember taking a ride to Eagle Rock Reservation in West Orange NJ, a few nights later, maybe September 14. Eagle Rock Reservation has stunning views of lower Manhattan, and I spent many nights up there when I was younger, particularly in the winter when the air was clean and clear to view the city at night from afar. Simply beautiful. This night, all I could see was the blackened silhouettes of the remaining buildings. The work lights and smoke made for a very eerie scene that filled me with dread.
Here’s what it looked like in July, 2001 from Eagle Rock Reservation.
The 10 years since has been very good, and very bad. While it seemed the world was falling apart though war, terrorism, new diseases and the financial crisis – some good things did happen to me personally.
I had my first daughter this year, and she’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I’ve got two little nieces and a nephew who thinks he’s George Washington! Many of my long-time friends, going back 30 years or more are still in my life and are starting little families of their own. My Wife and I are married 14 years.
I’ve also lost some friends, and some family along the way as is to be expected in life, but thankfully none on September 11, 2001.
So, those are my recollections of September 11, 2001 and some tangents that I trust you’ll understand. Living around here, the ‘Twin Towers’ were a part of the culture. I could see them lit up at night from my bedroom as a kid, and I was always amazed at how they captured the light of the setting sun, sometimes seeming like towers of neon orange. Then, it was all different.
I hope you’ll share your memories of the day too.