It just doesn’t seem right to post about food on this day. Especially because I had to attend a court conference for a client this morning, which I had been dreading since July when it was scheduled because the courthouse is steps away from the WTC site.
I was fortunate enough to be in midtown on this date 11 years ago. My story from that day is not extraordinary. It is typical. It is one of shared frustration and fear. And one of coming together to do whatever we could for each other.
It was my second week of work as an excited first-year associate. That morning I was running late, having stayed up to watch the Monday Night Football game. I didn’t even turn on the TV, which was a rare occasion for me. Around 8:00am, I boarded the No. 33 DeCamp bus to NYC to make it in time for my 9:30am training session. At that time, to save money I was still living in in Montclair, NJ, where I had been since lawschool, which is about 12 miles and 45 minutes away from the city, depending on traffic. I was still enthralled with my new job and loved to look out the window of the bus as it rounded the turn before heading into the Lincoln Tunnel. The view of the Manhattan skyline, with the Twin Towers and Empire State Building signifying all that was possible in New York. But that morning, I had my headphones on and was oblivious to the world around me.
Stepping out of Port Authority and walking through Times Square to my office, I recall it being unusually quiet. No one seemed to be around. The sky was a beautiful blue and cloudless. It was a gorgeous day. Looking back on it, I always find it strange how quiet it was that morning because when I was walking through Times Square, it was still just another workday in midtown.
Walking into my office on 44th and 6th, there was no hint of how the day would go. But as I reported to the 40th floor for training, it was clear something was wrong. Someone said the first tower was hit and that another plane had hit the second one. People were very confused, with conflicting information surfacing, and it didn’t feel like we were under attack. At first, there were reports that it was an accident. I never thought that could be the case given the flight paths and how hard it would be to miss the towers on such a clear day. But it soon became very obvious that it was very intentional.
We were dismissed from training, and everyone crowded around one of my friends. Our immediate concern was for her father, who worked in the second tower. As we scrambled to the window to see the view of downtown, nothing was visible but a plume of smoke. Once the news officially reported that it was an attack, it was a calm chaos.
Cell phones, if you had one, did not work. Landlines were overloaded. I knew my parents would panic even though they knew I worked in midtown (you never know when I’m going to be someplace I’m not supposed to be). I finally reached them on the landline and gave them and the rest of my family and friends I could reach the relief they were seeking. It was surprising how many friends had called my parents to find out if I was ok — even people I hadn’t talked to in years. A surreal and advance glimpse of how you can touch people’s lives.
Then we spent the day waiting. Waiting for news about my friend’s father, the motivation for the attacks, the death toll, and to figure out how to get back to our loved ones. The bridges and tunnels were closed, and there was no real way for me to get out of the city and back to my apartment. So after a few hours of trying to find out if my friend’s father was alive, I finally left the office and went to another friend’s apartment nearby.
The streets were empty, and most businesses were closed. No one knew what to do or how to respond at a time when we felt so powerless. For a city that runs 24-7, it was at a standstill. We watched the news for hours until we needed a break and some food because in a crisis, food is comforting. But almost nothing was open. So we ended up having dinner at a little Italian place on 50th and 8th. Every day I walk by that restaurant on my way to and from work. I’m thankful that they are still around when so many businesses fail. I cannot take any credit for this as I’ve never eaten there since. I can’t bring myself to.
Finally, word came that my friend’s father was alive. For some reason, he hadn’t been anywhere near his office that morning. That was, at the time, the only person somewhat close to me that had been in immediate danger. Had I made different decisions, chosen a different law firm, I could very well have been in the WTC that day or going through the subway below. But luckily, life worked out as it did for me and my loved ones. After the names of those who perished were announced, I learned someone I went to highschool with had died in the attacks. We were not close, but hearing of his death made the trauma of the day hit me in a different way. That life can end so abruptly when it’s just getting started is not something anyone wants to think about, but now it was a reality I could not ignore.
In the aftermath, the city was in a state of shock. A collective PTSD. Although my firm did not officially close that week so that people had a place to go and phones to use, we never recommenced training. And nothing would be the same again because we no longer had a false sense of security. The protective measures commenced, airline security increased and searches of our persons and things are now routine. But this is our way of life now, and for those of us who knew it differently, we will never forget. We cannot forget.
As I looked up at the Freedom Tower under construction, with the church in front of me and the American flag flying before it on another gorgeous September day, I thought how life goes on, whether you want it to or not.
And because you never know when your time on this earth will end, you must make the most of it.