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September 11th, 2001
Give me love, give me grace
Tell me good things, tell me that my world is safe
If it had been a normal day, I might have still been at home with my tv turned to the Today Show, just ready to leave for work. Instead I was in a cab on the BQE, on a much delayed return from vacation.
From notes I made on 9/12/01:
9/9/01 - Train from Edinburgh was delayed; Missed flight at Heathrow; rebooked for Monday; spent night at Quality Inn.
9/10/01 - 9AM, left for Toronto; arrived at noon east coast time; 2PM flight to Newark delayed due to repairs and a fire at Newark; got on plane at 3, sat on runway till 4, flight cancelled, rebooked on later flight; later flight cancelled due to weather (hurricane-related rain) in New York; rebooked for next morning; stayed at Comfort Inn.
9/11/01 - Left Toronto on a 6:50 AM flight to LaGuardia; landed at LGA at 8:30; in cab on freeway by 9; asked driver to take BQE to Manhattan Bridge; a few minutes after 9 I looked out the front window of the cab and saw a plume of smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center towers; I didn't really process what I saw, so I asked the cab driver what was wrong with the towers, thinking it was something that had happened much earlier that morning; he didn't know either, so he turned on the radio (by the way, this is possibly the only cab driver ever who doesn't constantly listen to the radio.)
They were talking about planes having hit the buildings; traffic had slowed to a crawl and I rolled down my window; I heard a man on his cell phone in the next lane over saying he wished he had a camera, so I pulled mine out and started taking pictures; there were people everywhere on the streets staring up at the buildings; emergency vehicles screamed past. I cried on and off all the way down the freeway.
When we got to downtown Brooklyn all the bridges and tunnels were closed and we got shunted off the freeway into the streets. I could just see the smoke over the trees and noticed that the quality of the smoke had changed. It was now light grey and white instead of black. You could just see the tip of the radio antenna above the smoke. My cab driver had the radio off again, so I didn't know that this was the first tower collapsing.
Ash blew in the air as if we were downwind from a volcano. People stood in the streets in small groups talking. Some already had white dust masks on. Where did they manage to get them so quickly? We cruised through downtown Brooklyn and I finally had the cab drop me off, because there was no way to get back to Manhattan. As much as I wanted to be able to get out of the cab and talk to someone (because this was also probably the only cab driver in the city who didn't like to talk), I felt strange abandoning the familiarity of the cab to be dumped on the side of the road with my luggage amid an imense crowd of people. The driver took off without really even saying goodbye. He didn't seem especially concerned with anything more than getting a fare he could actually take somewhere.
I walked a bit and saw thousands of people walking across the bridge, heading aimlessly further out into Brooklyn. I found an ATM and got money, because I had given the last of mine to the cabbie. A teenager walking by joked to his friend that he was going to be there when everything broke down and the machine started spitting out money. People exchanged the latest bits of news or rumor they had managed to catch from the tv, radio or other people. I walked some more and found a bagel place that was open, so I ate my first food since some snacks at the airport the day before.
I checked out the Jay St. subway stop, but none of the trains were running. I went into the Marriott Marquis where they had set up a room for everyone to sit down. They asked people to open their bags before they let them in. I went in and sat for a while and watched the tv coverage, for the first time seeing the footage of the planes hitting the buildings and the towers collapsing. I talked with some people who had been blocks from the towers when they collapsed. I waited in long lines for the phones and tried various numbers until I could get someone to call Lisa, who I figured my parents might call when they couldn't reach me.
Finally the subway reopened around 1:30 and I was able to get back home. They weren't making people pay a fare, just trying to control the rush through the gate to get on the trains. When I emerged from the west 4th subway the city was eerily quiet except for the sound of sirens. The streets in my part of town were closed off to everything except emergency vehicles, but there were a lot of people out walking around. Everyone was subdued and no one really seemed to know what to do or where to go.
From an email to a friend on 9/20/01:
People are having all different kinds of reactions. In a way it's not too different than the rest of the country. Because New York is such a big city, and people tend to stay in their own areas of the city so much, there are a lot of places where it doesn't even seem like we're in the same place the attacks happened. Almost everyone has visited the financial district at some time in the past, but a large part of the city doesn't interact with it on a day-to-day basis, so it's almost like hearing something happened at a place you used to go on vacation. It still hurts, but it's not the same as if you were there every day. Of course, then there are people who live two blocks away from the WTC. For them, it's their home that's been violated, their local deli that's covered in dust and ashes, their local mall that's buried under the debris.
I think people are going through a condensed version of the mourning process. Fear, anger, a feeling like taking pleasure in your old life is obscene, a gradual return to almost-normalcy except for the moments it suddenly all comes back to you. I think the emotions are the same as they would be if you suffered the loss of someone close to you, but how long those feelings last and their intensity varies depending on your emotional distance from the tragedy. People were very skittish for the first week, because they suddenly realized their vulnerability. And there were a lot of fake bomb threats that caused evacuations of buildings. Tuesday morning, one week after the attack, you could tell from the silence on the subway during the morning commute that everyone was remembering where they had been a week ago. No one spoke and very few people were reading their books. It felt more real to me than a lot of the scheduled moments of silence.
So people are varrying degrees of nervous. I've actually been thinking about leaving New York for almost as long as I've been here, because I seem to be happier as a medium-sized fish in a small pond, instead of a tiny fish in a gigantic pond. But none of my thoughts about leaving were ever because I felt unsafe here, and I still don't. In fact, the recent events make me want to stay right where I am, because for the most part I really do love this city.
Some other, more articulate, thoughts: