There’s a saying in New York City that you can have a great job, a great apartment and a great romance, but never all three at the same time. Somehow, in the spring of 2001, I had managed to complete that impossible trifecta by getting a job as an art director in the World Trade Center for an amazing boss. This wasn’t just any job, this was a dream job with subsidized office space and cafeterias, in a legendary tower built as a tribute to the working day – all without a subway transfer on the local 1/9 from Christopher Street.
Every day that summer there was live music in the plaza next to the Atlas statue.
I couldn’t believe that I got to take my lunch in such a beautiful place and I purchased a ridiculously expensive pair of shoes from Cole Haan to celebrate that I still don’t wear.
That morning I was indeed late for work. But, not late to work in that twenty-something way; late to work because I just simply kept running into ridiculous obstacles and ultimately embracing my tardiness.
My sister calls this my ‘angel’ putting obstacles in my way. Well, it sure seemed like someone was messing with me but I didn’t take it personally since all of the red line was suffering too. My commute was supposed to be 26 minutes. The 1/9 Train from Christopher to WTC was about 20 minutes local and I could make it to the station from my apartment in 5 if I ran/walked.
So I had a Palm Pilot. Gather round, kids, we had to plug those monochrome things into a desktop computer and run a syncing program that would update the text files you requested (like headline news and the like) via a land line. So, my news that day was from around 8:15am and was all about the supersonic flights to Paris being renewed out of JFK. They had shut down the supersonic jets temporarily due to some fire a year or so prior and I always thought it would be cool to take a supersonic to Paris so I downloaded that story and others and headed to the subway.
Train after train passed by the platform – not just the express 2/3 but also the local 1/9 trains were not stopping at Christopher street and from the looks of things the cars were packed full. It was 8:30am and usually I had hopped a train by now so I waited and waited and read my story about supersonic jets. Finally a local train stops with barely enough room to fit half of the folks gathered on the platform. Whatever, we all jam in and hold on until Chambers street when the train comes to a halt across the platform from an express 2/3 and announces that both trains are no longer in service. The Chambers street platform was wall to wall people and it was about 8:50am so I decided to get out of the station and hoof it over to the office one stop over.
It was to be the first day of work for the first intern I had ever hired. I had told him to meet me at 9 in the studio and we would go from there. Well it was 9 already and I had just stepped onto the plaza a little out of breath from the jog over from Chambers. I knew I wasn’t going to impress anyone with my arrival time to work so I decided to confuse the issue by buying doughnuts. After all, my boss was on vacation in Florida and I was in charge so that meant that having donuts on a Tuesday was perfectly acceptable.
Coming out of Crispy Crème I had my Palm Pilot in my hand still reading that story about the science of commercial supersonic flight and wondering what kind of shenanigans my pilot father would get into with that kind of flying power.
The mind will always struggle to make sense where there is none present, to bring form to the unformed and to derive meaning where there may be none. The mind will substitute the known for the unknown and make assumptions about your vision and auditory input based on what you believe and what you have experienced.
Some weeks back there had been an incident where a never-named fighter pilot buzzed Manhattan, broke the sound barrier and freaked out residents. I can only imagine how much fun that would have been for the pilot. The news story quickly went away and I never heard what the pilot’s punishment was, if any.
So at 9:11 am on Tuesday, in the WTC Plaza, holding my Palm Pilot and a dozen Crispy Crème Doughnuts I heard a wildly revving jet engine followed by a loud boom and my immediate assumption was that those crazy supersonic pilots just couldn’t help themselves and HAD to break the sound barrier right off the southern tip of Manhattan. Hadn’t we been through this? Didn’t they know that breaking the sound barrier in Manhattan’s airspace was very much frowned upon? What a bunch of damn idiots. Someone’s going to lose a job.
Then came another sound. Was it rain? How weird, there were no clouds that day. It was like a light sparkly sound with more resonance. Loud rain? What would make loud rain?
That’s when I looked up. I don’t talk about this much because I really don’t remember what I saw. It was a hole. It looked like it was around the 72nd Floor where my buddy Joe worked for the Port Authority. Where the hell was Joe? Was he up there? Did he know about this?
After that I can only piece together what I know from later evidence. It’s like I have a collection of still photographs in my mind that are still too confusing or too horrible for my mind to want to remember.
I ran. I stopped at a phone booth because my cellphone didn’t work and felt the urgent need to call my boss in Florida and tell her that I wouldn’t be in the office that morning because I didn’t think it would be safe to go into the building. I remember her yelling over the phone at me to put the phone down and run. So I ran. I ran to SoHo to where Pete worked and to their reception desk and asked to use the phones. Phones were down. Ran from SoHo to my apartment on West 10th and Washington. It was weird. Like I was running a marathon or something. Everyone else was facing South while I ran North. I didn’t understand why everyone wasn’t running but I didn’t dare look back.
When I got back to the apartment all phones were down but for some reason Yahoo Messenger was still functional. We managed to get in contact with Kristen in Arizona at the time and she reached out to our families to let them know we were ok.
What came in those following weeks in Manhattan was such an outpouring of love and caring and arm-in-arm cooperation for the sake of the city. People lined up around the block and down the street at St. Vincent’s Hospital to donate blood for victims who never arrived. There was a rush on canned goods and water but people only bought enough for a week or so and openly discussed plans of action in the orderly checkout lines. There were no cars allowed below 14th street except for residents so the village turned into a giant mall. And the entire world grieved for us, sent us love and helped to heal the city that I owe so much to.
My wish on this day is that we find a way to come together to understand that we all are one people. We are all citizens of the world and we all feel pain when others are hurting – that we believe in our humanity and that our love for one another will triumph over evil.
Give your loved ones a tight hug today,