I wrote this brief first person a year ago for a friend who asked on his blog if anyone in the AV industry would be willing to share their experience of September 11th. My story is not that of those far, far braver than me who were trying to escape the buildings and it is irrelevant compared to those who charged into the buildings attempting to save others. It is quite like the thousands who experienced the day first hand and offer it up only as one record of a m0ment that is still not settled in my head.
While my story is not about escaping from the burning buildings, I was there on that fateful day, to be more precise I was about 20 blocks away.
The company I worked for then and ten years later work for again installed and had service contracts on the multimedia components for the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the National Museum of the American Indian and several offices in and around the WTC.
On September 11th I was walking down the West Side Highway making my way to MJH when the first plane struck. I did not see nor hear the plan roar in as I was, in a youthfull bout of folly, listening to my music at an obscene level (wearing a pair of Sony MDR headphones which I still own). Just prior to the impact I received a pager message to go to an install job at the Guggenheim first. I was pissed as this was on the east side and uptown- completely in the opposite direction. I cranked up my music louder and turned heel to find the nearest subway station. By my reckoning I entered the Houston subway at about 8:35.
We were finishing up some project rooms on the lower level when we heard a scream from a meeting room just down the hall. This was no ordinary scream - someone was hurt. We ran down the hall to find a great deal of commotion and on the rooms large screen TV the South Tower was also now on fire and visibly swaying. A second plane just hit, someone told me. I don’t remember sitting down.
As we sat and watched the live feed the news was reporting three, four, or more planes possibly being hijacked as flight control reported that their transponders were off. No one knew, yet, if this was just an attack on NYC or if other cities were to be attacked, but we did know that the subways were stopped and Grand Central had gone into lock down. Unsure of where the next strike would happen and what famous building would be struck next we decided to leave. We got outside just in time for my radio to crackle to life with high pitched voices describing the fall of Tower 1 - which we could see clearly from the front of the museum.
I could describe the horror. the shock- but what I remember the most is the near heavy quietness that overtook over the city. The scream of sirens that seemed ceaseless and the roar of fighter jets flying crossing patterns over the island broke initally through but eventually became swallowed up in the quiet shock.
All of the above does not consume me - it plays out like a TV show in my head, nothing more. What still haunts me are the posters and fliers of the ‘missing’ that were everywhere almost overnight. Thousands of faces looking back atop and surrounded by desperate pleas to call if someone found them (hopefully in a hospital bed with no ID).
Just about a week and a half after the event I was asked if I would be comfortable with heading down to ground zero to diagnose, set schedules and prepare the museums - especially the Museum of Jewish Heritage - for re-opening. Nothing could have prepared me for the devastation, the still smoldering steel and the smell. The smell of concrete, dust, and charred flesh. The latter hung in the air like a sheer curtain and lodged itself in your nostrils. The walkways were lined with plywood boards filled with the photos of the missing, notes of love and grief, stuffed animals, flowers and lockets. It still causes me to stream tears when I think of it, even now. The sense of loss is too great to ever diminish completely.
My Strongest memory is of walking into Grand Central two weeks after the event and making my way to the missing persons boards that were placed around the facility, (something, it seems, that everyone did regardless of the fact that the pictures never changed). The quiet urgency that seemed to become our new normal was broken by a cry that expressed pain, surprise and, something completely unanticipated, joy. As if one we gathered around the board moving in almost instinctively. Grim faces turned and contorted in ways that many of us thought would not be possible again. I saw on the faces of those around me the same quivering lips and the same streaming tears as on my face, along with the biggest grins. To this day, this moment, the memory makes me weep openly and smile - to have seen that missing posted plastered with large red letters scrawled across - FOUND! Thank You NY!
I have never hugged so many strangers before or since. It was a turning point. She was ALIVE! FOUND and in the company of those who loved her. To me, then and now it meant hope was still possible.