Sunday, September 10, 2006

I's been 5 Years...

I wrote this last year for another blog, and I realize the last two posts are sort of political in tone, but I will get back to writing about television. Or, will start writing about television.

I didn't plan on having this be so long, and so I apologize if it is too long, but once I started writing, I started remembering and couldn't stop. Also, I apologize for the general rambling nature of this, but the memories kind of comes out in gushes.

In the fall of 2001, I lived on the Upper East Side and worked in SoHo, so taking the 6 train was part of my daily routine. I got a late start to work that day, and I remember seeing small groups of people talking on street corners as I made my way to the subway. I thought it was just people talking about the primary elections, so I didn't really pay attention. I also had my Walkman on, so I was in my own little world. I probably got on one of the last trains that was going downtown. It wasn't until I got off at the Spring Street station that I noticed something was seriously amiss. My office was on Broadway and Spring and as I got closer to Broadway I noticed throngs of people walking uptown with what appeared to be clay on their faces. As I turned the corner to walk into my office, I ran into a co-worker who told me that I just missed seeing her dog and husband. Obviously confused I asked why and she told me that they were told to evacuate their apartment (they lived in Tribeca). She then told me that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center. For a half a second, I didn't actually believe her, but then the weird street scenes I had witnessed made sense.

We went to our office, and instead of going to my cubicle, I went to the first office with a television set. I worked in television, so every office had a TV set, but for some reason the office was pretty much split between the VP's office I was in and the conference room in an office on the other side of the room. I just sat down and started watching. I didn't get up for probably close to an hour and a half. Then I thought that I should get in touch with my family. So, I went down to my cubicle and tried to call my parents. I couldn't get a line. I thought to check my e-mail and saw several e-mails from family and friends trying to get in touch with me. I checked in on my boss whose sister worked in the WTC. He somehow got in touch with her via phone and learned she was walking uptown via Broadway. I e-mailed my family letting them know I was okay. And then was drawn back to the television set in the other room. We saw one tower fall. And then later, saw the second one fall. I don't remember much of that day except hoping that somehow the towers had been evacuated. I tried to do the math in my head in terms of whether enough time had passed before the towers collapsed. I gave up when I realized that the loss of life that occurred just by the towers slamming into several floors of the buildings automatically made the casualty rate high. I sat there with about five other office-mates until my boss came in and told us that our building had been evacuated an hour before, only no one decided to tell us. We only found out when his sister tried to get up to see him and was told by security that she couldn't come in. She called her brother to let him know. Meanwhile I checked my e-mail again and found several messages from my sister that instead of going home, I should go straight to her apartment. An executive came around and told us that we had to get out, but made sure that people had someplace to go, cause it was obviously going to be difficult for the people who lived in Jersey or Connecticut to out of the city.

It was around 12:30 when I finally left. I walked with two friends of mine, both of whom were going to the Upper East Side, while I was only going as high as 18th Street. And, to say that the walk uptown was surreal was an understatement. The northbound view was clear and sunny, while the southern view was like something out of a disaster movie. The sky was grey and sooty. And the people. They just kept coming and coming and coming. Some with scrapes and bruises. Some bleeding. Some shocked. Others just dazed. I would classify myself as dazed. There were fire engines and ambulances and police cars streaming down the street. Store owners were handing out water to whoever passed by. We passed a couple of clinics where doctors and nurses were waiting outside to see if they could be of any help to passers-by. One nurse tried to get one of my friends to stop and sit down because she looked really pale. There was just an outpouring of support that made one glad to be a New Yorker. And to this day, whenever anyone says that they could never live in New York because the people are too mean, I just remember that day and realize they don't know New York at all.

Once we got past 14th street, it was like another world. There was no traffic, save for the occasional emergency vehicle and the people walking uptown had begun to spread out among the various side streets, so there were no longer teams of people walking up an avenue. When I got to my sister's apartment, I gave my sister and sister-in-law a hug and just sat down. My brother who worked downtown was in Rome on a business trip and my sister-in-law was trying to get in touch with him. It turns out that his company was getting everyone who was in Europe at the time to England because that was deemed a safer country, although my brother said that the people in Italy couldn't have been nicer when they heard he was an American, and more specifically a New Yorker.

Both my sister and my brother-in-law worked in the corporate world so they knew people who worked in the Trade Center and they spent the next few hours trying to get in touch with their friends. I spent my time e-mailing friends and Internet contacts to let them know I was okay, but mostly I watched CNN. It still hadn't hit me yet. At around 4 p.m., I decided that I had to go home. So, after convincing my (older) sister that I would be okay walking the 3 miles or so uptown, she let me go, but told me I had to e-mail as soon as I get there.

It was so quiet as I walked up 3rd Avenue. Usually when I walked home from work, I would cross over to 1st Avenue in the upper 30s because I liked the river view and walking past the UN building. That was most definitely not an option. There were tanks and what must have been National Guardsmen blocking the side streets along 2nd Avenue. I didn't cross over until 59th Street. Uptown things were going along as normally as they could. People were still stopping in at the Chinese restaurant to pick up dinner, but there was a hushed tone. I e-mailed my sister and checked my messages. I guess at one point it was impossible to get a line out from inside the city, so I had several phone calls from my sister's sister-in-law in Florida trying to make sure I was alright. As weird as it sounds, it felt comforting that there were people who cared enough to check up on me.

The next day I tried to give blood, but the line was around the block and a woman told those of us who were on the end of the line that we probably wouldn't be able to give. Instead she asked if there was anybody who wanted to volunteer inside. Since I had nothing better to do except go home and scare myself by watching even more CNN, I elected to stay. For the first few hours, I made some food runs and helped direct people to the proper waiting areas. In the afternoon, I was asked if being around blood bothered me. I didn't think so, so I was brought into the room where the actual donations occurred. I helped label the blood donation bags and get them ready for refrigeration (or transport). It was kind of icky, but I felt like I was doing something helpful. When I left, I wandered around the Upper East Side looking for a newspaper. A lot of people had that same idea because when I exited a store carrying a New York Times and New York Post, several people stopped me and asked me where I got them.

Since my office was below 14th Street, we weren't allowed back in until the following Monday, so on Thursday, my sister, her husband and my sister-in-law went to my parents' house in NJ for the weekend. They lived 55 minutes outside the city (with no traffic) and they got the smell and the soot from the towers. On Saturday, I went with a friend of mine who lived in Weehawken (right across the river from downtown) to pick up some necessities. She was staying with her parents for a few weeks because she was too distraught to stay in her apartment by herself (she worked at World Trade Plaza and was one of the people who had to evacuate). It was the first time I saw the skyline without the towers. While I'm somewhat used to it now, it looked like there was a hole in the city and was shocking. When we got back to the city on Sunday, things seemed to have calmed down, but the smell in SoHo on Monday morning was so strong, I can still remember it today.

One other bit of randomness about the week. My sister (whose apartment I stayed at) and her then-fiancée were supposed to get married that weekend. Although none of their close friends were killed in the Towers, they knew enough people who were mourning friends and family that after a great amount of deliberating, they decided to postpone the wedding until late October. Supposedly everyone they talked to from the rabbi to the caterers to the florists were great about a) not charging for the cancellation and b) rescheduling. Of course, they got married in the Rainbow Room around the same time that the anthrax scare was occurring at NBC and other news organizations, so they had some cancellations and no-shows due to fear. But, the last song played at their wedding was Frank Sinatra's rendition of "New York, New York," which we sang and danced to in a huge circle dance rockette style. While their entire wedding was gorgeous, that's what I'll remember the most.

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