Eleven years ago today the weather was very similar to today. I remember the beautiful, bright and sunny day, because it was so peaceful. I emerged from the subway on Chambers street to the most magnificent view of the World Trade Center and I paused. How strange that I took that moment on that morning. Later, I realized it was the quiet before the storm. There were very few people since many people were headed to the voting booths. I had an early meeting in my office.
We had been talking for only 15 minutes when we were evacuated by police due to a “bomb” that had gone off at the World Trade Center, just a few short blocks down. I have never seen anyone run as fast in heels as the women with whom I was meeting. They actually made it to the subway before it was shut down. That’s FAST!
I was the only person in the office beside the maintenance guy, so I wanted to make sure all was locked up properly with him. When we got to street level, I saw the second plane zoom above our heads and crash into the WTC. We were all in complete shock and stood planted on the corner watching the trade towers burn. There were papers and all sorts of debris flying out of the buildings. All too soon, we realized that the objects falling straight down were not pieces of office furniture. We were close enough to see people making the actual jump out of the inferno.
As the only member of the senior management team at the office that day, I needed to make sure our staff was properly evacuated. Luckily, people formed groups quickly and fogured out the logistics. I don’t think I could have done that! After making sure that all of our employees had a route home with other colleagues, I ran back to my office. Cell phone networks were already jammed by 9:20am. There were lines of people at every payphone. So, I used the office landline to call my fiance, parents, brothers and friend who lived in DC at the time to make sure she hadn’t been near the attack on the Pentagon. I couldn’t reach Zack. I tried for 15 minutes before I finally left my office to make the long walk home.
My assistant had just started the day before, and she had never worked in “The City” before. She was in complete and utter shock. I took her with me. Knowing that her husband worked uptown, I figured I could put her in a cab or SOMETHING on my way to 62nd Street. Every few blocks, this poor woman stopped to vomit. It got worse when the first building came toppling down. Now, we had to start running because it seemed that it would reach us and we would be completely engulfed.
We ran. As fast as we could, we ran. From around Franklin Street all the way up to Canal Street where we turned west to the West Side Highway. We didn’t slow down until 14th Street. That’s when I realized that my feet were THROBBING. That morning I had actually contemplated wearing comfortable shoes, but since I had a meeting with some important people, I had opted for the 4″ heels instead. Luckily, they were wedges. I tried to take them off but the pavement was entirely too hot.
At some point around 23rd Street, a taxi full of people pulled onto the highway. We flagged the cab down and I literally shoved my assistant in, asking that they drop her off as close to Columbia as possible. Needless to say, I never saw Christine or heard from her again. She literally disappeared. I don’t blame her.
As for me, I made it uptown. By 42nd Street, I had cell service back. I got a hold of Zack and told him where I was. Since he still hadn’t started his job as an attorney, he had been biking. He biked down to meet me and helped me get back home. I remember the actual sizzle when I removed my shoes and the incredible pain the ice cold foot bath caused. But I was safe. I was home.
We were very lucky not to have lost anyone in our immediate family or circle of friends. But the city was a strange place for the few weeks and months after the attacks. The smell of burning buildings and bodies wafted all the way uptown. The normal sounds of the city (like cars backfiring or trucks going over grates) took on new proportions and made us all jumpy. We became more suspicious, more cynical (if that’s possible in NYC). We became more aware.
The other night, I saw a commercial asking that people be aware and cautious and report to the police if they see a suspicious bag/article. It took me back to my childhood in Israel. That message is constant there because suspicious packages have led to numerous explosions and atrocities. I know many more have been prevented by someone making that call so a bomb squad could handle the situation.
I’m glad that people here have continued to live and to make sure that the world knows that we will not be beaten down. Israel has lived this reality for years, yet we do not live in fear.
This is the message I hope my daughters really get as they grow up in our world. Be aware, take precautions, but live life to its fullest. Don’t let fear bog you down. You never know what tomorrow will bring and there’s no time like the present. Make the most of it.