I remember

There really was this nice stretch of weather in New York in September of 2001. I don’t remember if it was Saturday September 8 or Sunday September 9, but I know I was at Jones Beach with friends. A couple of us took a walk from Field 4 to the West End jetty. It was perfectly clear, and I remember being amazed that the Twin Towers were visible on the horizon, some 25 miles to the west. They weren't something I saw often, but I saw them one last time, from a distance, that weekend.

That weekend was also the start of the NFL season, one of promise, as my Giants had surprised many with a trip to the Super Bowl earlier that year. Later in the week, I was to fly to New Orleans, going to a Saints game and knocking the last continental state I hadn’t visited from my to-do list.  

I remember staying up late on Monday, watching those same Giants lose a Monday Night Football game to the Broncos. Still, I woke up Tuesday morning and got to work in plenty of time for my 8:00 start. I remember the short walk from my car to the building, and thinking that the weather couldn’t be more perfect.

I settled into work and the last thing I remember before everything changed was a silly email I received from a co-worker, explaining that he had seen a clip from a Seinfeld episode that he didn’t recall that was driving him crazy and wanting to know if I had ever seen it.

Then the department secretary, who sat 15 feet from me answered her phone, and quietly said several times, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” I peered around the corner to see if everything was ok, as did a few others who passed by. She said that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

Now, the 1993 attack on the WTC was pretty fresh in my mind, but I also think I recalled that a small plane dinged the building a couple of years earlier, so I wasn’t sure what to make of this. I immediately went to the CNN web site and saw the first pictures. Clearly, this wasn’t a little plane that had hit it. Something truly terrible had just happened. 

As office chatter started to swell, a second co-worker received the call that a second plane had hit the other tower. There was little doubt at this point that we were under attack.

A small crowd huddled around my desk. As I recall, CNN and other news sites were flooded, and only those who had gotten to the page earlier could get on. Co-workers started getting calls about missing planes, a possible strike at the Pentagon, etc. Many started worrying about family and friends.

A few minutes later, I was in the office of a colleague who was listening to the events on her radio when the live report of the first tower collapse came in. Meanwhile, TVs were set up in a few spots through our building, and we watched for a chilling few minutes. We were dismissed for the day before lunch. I learned as I left that one co-worker couldn’t reach her son, who was in one of the Towers.

I got home and sunk into my couch, and remained there all afternoon, watching news, rather in shock. I was relieved to learn that my extended family was safe (two were downtown at the time).

My emotions went in every possible direction the next few days, as the horrific images poured in. Sorrowful. Angry. Useless. Frightened. Humbled. Confused. Defiant. Hopeful. I mean how could this have happened? Then again, I recalled my drive home from work that morning and seeing emergency vehicles race pass me on their way to the city. Help was on the way.

But, that footage--the dust clouds. Poor souls jumping from the buildings. The people running from the building. The wreckage at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. It hurt watching.

Then there was that footage of those who saw fit to dance in the streets in places where we are not liked. Watching that hurt too, but also stirred rage.

Conversely, there were the national and international headlines those next few days. Oklahoma City and London letting us know they were there for us as we had been there for them. Iranian fireman expressing their sorrow at the sight of our firemen rushing into the buildings, just as they would do. There was something reassuring in all of that.

I took great comfort knowing that the USS Theodore Roosevelt was rushing to our harbor. I remember thinking that our enemies could send every boat and every plane they had at us now. Go ahead, try and get by that ship. And I remember feeling safe for months later whenever I caught our shores being watched, whether it was while watching the Leonid meteor showers at Jones Beach late on a November evening and seeing planes flying in circles high above, or being in Florida on a business trip that December and having the Navy ships far off the coast pointed out. There was definitely something comforting in all of that.

But in the days following September 11, and as the news poured in, the roller coaster of emotions never stopped. There were those events that emerged about Flight 93—this flight had just been hijacked and the passengers learned what had happened to the two previously hijacked planes, Flights 11 and 175, and so those heroes took action and stopped the terrorists from meeting their objective. I realized then that no plane would ever be hijacked and used as a weapon like that again.

Really, though, so much was lost. Our leaders, locally and nationally, seemed to say the right things, and it was nice seeing political differences set aside. Still, there was no escaping that we had been attacked on our soil.

My flight to New Orleans was of course canceled, and that was fine, as I really didn’t feel like going anywhere. Many, though, were urging people to get out and do things--to help where you can, to spend money and contribute to the economy and get things rolling again, anything other than wallow in pity. Sure enough, about 12 days after the attack, I did feel the urge to get out. I went to see my father in Pennsylvania. From there, I continued on a miniature version of a great road trip I had taken 10 years earlier.

I drove to the Midwest to see some baseball games. Proudly displaying a flag in my rear window, I went to ballgames in Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee. My New York plates caused many people to blow their horn, wave and offer other signs of support. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the site of sending some kids into a frenzy as I honked, obliging their request as they draped a flag over an overpass. Nor will I soon forget the driver in Chicago racing through highway traffic to catch up to me, blowing his horn until I looked over, and then bowing his head as he tapped his chest. The White Sox played the Yankees in this game, and I wasn’t particularly cheerful or boastful, but not a single negative vibe was felt from anyone even though I wore Yankee gear.

When I drove west in 1991, part of my route led me on Route I-64 across southern Illinois. On this trip, I was heading south on I-57, which basically bisects the state top to bottom. As I came up to the interchange where these two interstates crossed, I remember looking up at the I-64 overpass and realizing that I must have driven across it 10 years earlier—I had been in this exact rather remote and unfamiliar area before? I can’t explain why, but in a big way, it struck me right there how much everything had changed…

Reminders are everywhere. I will never forget.


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