— information leafblower

Time Stops

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I imagine most everybody came around these parts today for another MP3 or something music related. I would also venture to guess the last thing you want to do is ready yet another piece on 9/11, but longtime readers will know this is a subject near and dear to my heart. And honestly, this isn’t so much for you as it is for me.
I remember 9/11 pretty clearly. Parts of the day are still crystal clear to me. At the time I lived on Gold Street, just a few block away from the World Trade Center complex. I got up the same time I always did, jumped in the shower and started my daily routine. After I got dressed I turned on the TV and tuned into New York 1 so I could get the score of the Giants v. Broncos game even though I don’t have any rooting interest for either of those teams. When the TV powered on, NY1 was showing an aerial shot of the World Trade Center on fire with a caption running along the bottom of the screen that said something like “Plane flies into the World Trade Center.” My immediate thought is some stupid, rookie pilot crashed his Cessna into the building. I sat down to watch the TV and after a minute or two, there was an huge explosion in the second tower and I felt my apartment building shake and heard glass break. The first thought I had when I saw that was, “Holy shit, this is history.” And even though I didn’t even have a blog back then, I did what any good blogger would do. I grabbed my digital camera and went outside.
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I made my way up Fulton Street and tried to take in the scene. There were people everywhere and they were all reacting to what was happening in a different way. Some people were hysterical, some were solemn, but most everybody had their eyes on the two towers. By the time I got up to Broadway I started hearing people talk about the Pentagon getting hit as well. I walked up the Church Street, which was about as close as they would let anyone that wasn’t a first responder. I took a few photos of the Trade Centers as well as all the broken glass that was everywhere. After that I swung up to Ann Street and planted myself with the intention to stand there was long as I could and watch what would happen.
That didn’t last long however. A cop came around the corner and started screaming to everyone that there was a bomb threat in the area and everyone should make their way uptown as soon as possible. For some reason this seemed improbable to me (although I can’t say why), so I stayed but after another minute or two he came back and I heard an urgency in his voice, so at that point I decided not to push my luck and to head back to my apartment and call my parents to let them know that I was OK.
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I got back to my place and turned on the TV. I eventually settled on watching ESPN because they had the National ABC feed and if the world was going to end I wanted Peter Jennings to tell me, not the local news anchors. Around that time my phone, a land line, started ringing off the hook. The first call I got was from an old college buddy, Darren Sams. Darren and I went way back but had lost touch since I moved to NYC years earlier. I didn’t even know he had my number. But he was the type of guy that would do something like disappear for a long time and then pop up again when you need him the most. We talked for just a minute or two but I immediately felt better after we spoke. Partly because it was nice to know that someone was thinking of me and partly because it was nice to hear a familiar voice. After I hung up with Darren my Aunt JoEllen called and I asked her to call around and let everyone know I was OK. After that, I finally got a chance to call my Dad and talk to him. He kept telling me to leave but I wasn’t sure what to do.
It was around this time that the first tower fell. When it did, the sky got very, very dark. It looked like night instead of early morning. I had been pretty calm until then, but at that point I started freaking out. I went downstairs to the building lobby to check out the scene there and it was full of people covered in white soot. Most everyone was crying. I brought a pitcher of water and some towels downstairs and went back up to my apartment. The phone kept ringing off the hook and at this point, the details get hazy. I do remember being on the phone with someone when the second tower fell and I didn’t even know it happened. Tony Kulzer, a friend and co-worker that was in Brooklyn watching everything from his rooftop called to tell me. That was one of the weird things about 9/11 that sticks out for me. Even though the towers fell and I was just a few blocks away, I had electricity, phone and internet (dial-up no less) the whole time up until 7 World Trade Center (a separate building) fell later in the afternoon.
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At some point after the second tower fell, I got fed up with discussing my evacuation plan with my then girlfriend (luckily, she was safely up on East 81st Street, about as far away as you could be from Lower Manhattan) and I found a bandana, tied it over my mouth and went outside to get a look at the destruction. More than one person told me not to go, but I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t be that close and not see what happened.
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I was stunned at how quiet it was. There was no sound anywhere. The phrase “deathly quiet” took on new meaning to me. An occasional ambulance or fire truck would drive by but other than that, nothing. The dust and soot were omnipresent, in the air, on the ground, just covering everything. It was at least a foot or so deep in some places. But the most surprising thing was the paper. There were tons and tons of random sheets of paper blowing around in the wind or covering the ground. All the paper from the World Trade Center towers was now covering the streets in the surrounding neighborhood. Now, when I look back on that now, I wonder why I didn’t take some of it as a keepsake but at the time, that was the furthest thing from my mind.
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I made my way up to Church Street surveying the debris I could see the Police and Fire Department setting up their perimeters. I tried to stay out of sight somewhat so they wouldn’t make me go uptown without letting me go back to my apartment first. I walked down to the hospital down the block with the intention of volunteering in some capacity, but as everyone knows now, there weren’t really an survivors, so after a while it just became the hospital staff and a bunch of us standing around waiting for something to happen. They finally told all of the non-employees to go home. So I did. I went back to my apartment yet again, called a few more people and tried to take in what had happened. It was pretty surreal. When you step out of the shower in the morning, you never think you’re going to be on the front line of history.
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At some point that afternoon, 7 WTC fell and the power finally went out. If memory serves, that was around 3:30 or 4 that afternoon. I realized sometime around two o’clock that I hadn’t eaten anything at all that day. All of a sudden I was starving. I went out again looking for some food. Understandably, most everything was closed. Luckily, the diner across the street was open. It was literally the only open business in that area. There were 10 or 15 people there trying to get some food. They were taking it as quick as the cook’s could dish it up. I got a burger and fries and overpaid by a few dollars and told them to keep the change.
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All day I had been debating on whether to leave or to stay put. If I left, my only real option would have been to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn but I was worried that the bridges would be the next target, so I stayed put. After the power went out that afternoon, I decided I had to make my way uptown. My (then) girlfriend was at her cousin’s place on 34th street and I told her I would meet her up there. The subways were running above Christopher Street so I packed up a bag for me and one for her and I started walking uptown. Because I was carrying so much stuff, I had to leave our kitty behind at the apartment, something that I regret doing to this day (even though Kitty was fine and we went back and got her the next day. Still, you never leave a man behind). It took a few hours to get uptown but I was very relieved when I finally was able to sit down and not worry about very tall buildings falling on top of me. Later that night there was a bomb scare at the Empire State Building, just a few blocks from where we were staying. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it did little to calm our nerves.
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We got a little sleep that night and got up first thing the next day to go back to our place and grab Kitty and some extra clothes. I actually went to work the next day because my boss was being a complete asshole about me coming to the office (our office phones didn’t even have long distance capability at that point) but I only lasted a few hours. I rented a car online and headed up to my Massachussettes for the next few days.
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It’s hard to believe all of this happened five years ago. Alot has happened since then. I was eventually laid off from work, moved to Brooklyn, got another job, lost it, tore my ACL playing soccer, broke up with my girlfriend, and eventually landed here in D.C. Before I make this too much of a sob story, I think all of this has worked out for the best for me. I can honestly say I am happier now than I have been at any point post-9/11. I guess that’s a result of getting on with my life, getting a steady job (outside the music industry) and also getting out of New York. I enjoy going back to visit, but I’m much happier with my life here in D.C. I realize I am lucky to still be here today. I think about the towers falling alot. Mostly marvelling at the fact that they fell straight down. Imagine if they toppled over to one side. 9/11 was a horrible tragedy, but I try and look at it in more positive terms, like how many people were saved and how much worse it could have been. But I still catch myself looking up at planes when they are flying low overhead and I get a slight shudder everytime I see a plane come in for a landing at National airport here in D.C. It’s right off of the major interstate into downtown D.C. and it’s something I’m not sure I’ll ever be entirely comfortable seeing.
All of my photos from 9/11 are over at Flickr.