Today is the tenth anniversary of the day the world changed. At least that is what many are calling it. And I guess it is an accurate description. It certainly changed my world.
You can never really know what things would be like if your life took a different path, but I can say that 9/11 was a very significant event that certainly made a huge impact on me.
It is an eerie coincidence for me and my wife because on the night we were married, during our reception, Princess Diana was killed. Then a week after we had made the biggest change in our lives, moving to New York City on Labor Day, this incomprehensible attack happened.
We were excited. This was going to be the big move that would take our careers to the next level. I was going to study with a top voice teacher for the first time. Gina was going to study voice also and study dance at some of the best studios in the country.
We sold our cars, packed a couple big suitcases and flew to New York with a one-bedroom, one-week rental apartment in the East Village as the only thing we knew for sure. Everything else was yet to be determined.
That first week was filled with looking for a place to live and finding some kind of work. There was a lot of getting to know the city, as well. By the time our one-week rental was up we hadn’t found a place to live. So we found another short-term rental on the Upper West Side.
This was an extra bedroom in a nice apartment with an older couple. They were very friendly and it was only a block from Central Park. We moved there on Monday.
On Tuesday we were making our plans on where we were going to look for an apartment that day. We had already gone over to New Jersey on Sunday. We thought today we might go up to Washington Heights to look.
As is the usual routine Gina was in the shower first. Next was my turn and she was watching the Today Show on NBC while getting ready. While I was toweling off she knocked on the door and said, “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center!”
We had been seeing the tour planes and helicopters flying up and down the Hudson River, and for a split second I wondered if one of those had made a mistake. Gina even asked out loud if that was what happened.
But that thought was short in my mind. I have a little background in aviation, and I know how responsible pilots are. (As was shown some years later by “Sully”, who landed his airline in the Hudson after a bird strike on take-off) There was no way a pilot would allow this to happen. He would ditch in the river before there was any chance of hitting a building.
I knew it was on purpose. I told her “it’s an attack”. Just as I came into the bedroom and started watching the second plane flew through the camera shot and hit the other tower. We were in shock.
I always felt it was ironic that here we were, not more than a few miles from where this was happening, and we were learning of it the same way we would have if we were still in Minnesota. But now we could look out the window that faced the park and look south and see the black smoke blowing out to the Atlantic.
We didn’t know what to do. Everything in our life was up in the air. And it wasn’t going to get figured out today. Not now. So we got dressed. And kept watching.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we watched the towers collapse. By this time we felt we needed to get out and do something. We went down the elevator and walked out to the street, and the first thing we saw was a Fire Engine screaming down the street, headed south.
We stopped at a shop across the street and picked up a Bagel and Cream Cheese for breakfast. Then we started walking downtown. We didn’t know where we were going, we just wondered how far we could get.
The biggest thing I remember about that morning once we got outside was how crisp and clear it was. The sky was a beautiful blue and the air was clean. It just was the perfect atmosphere juxtaposed with this horrific event that was still unfolding.
We had heard that all public transportation had been canceled and bridges and tunnels closed. We saw a pair of F-16 fighters patrolling around the city. The whole island of Manhattan had been shut down. No one was allowed in and if you wanted to leave you had to walk.
We had heard that they were going to need blood because they were expecting a lot of injuries. Sadly, they later learned that there weren’t going to be as many as they thought.
So we started heading south to the Red Cross near Lincoln Center. We just kept walking. Occasionally we would overhear the same conversations between different people. They were all talking about what was happening. And wondering what was going to happen.
There was a very real fear that there might be something more coming. When we got to the Red Cross they said they weren’t taking any more donors. They had more than they could store at this time. Maybe they would need more in a few days.
So we kept walking. I think we walked because we had nothing else to do. And it helped keep us occupied so we wouldn’t have to think too much about was was going on. The phones were not working, so we couldn’t call home to our parents.
We decided to see how far we could get. How close we could get. Just so we could see for ourselves. And help in any way possible. We walked through Times Square around Noon. Normally at the height of lunch-time this would be packed with people, cars, trucks. Today it was almost deserted. We walked down the middle of Broadway. Occasionally another Fire Truck would come racing by with sirens blaring.
As we got farther south we started to see more and more people walking past us the other way. It was obvious they had no desire to be anywhere near what was now being called “Ground Zero”. They were covered in a grey dirt and dust. They had a blank look on their faces.
At Washington Square Park, as well as others we passed, we saw all of the pictures asking “Have you seen…”. We realized that all of those injured people that the Hospitals expected were now instead missing victims.
When we got to within 6-8 blocks we came to the Police barricade. We couldn’t go any farther. But we didn’t need to. We could see the smoke and the jagged wreckage that was one of the buildings. By this time, mid-afternoon, things had settled down some. There wasn’t so much panic in the streets as there had been in the morning.
We walked down some of the side streets and saw the dust over everything. I remember a NYPD squad car that was parked. It was covered in the dust that filled lower Manhattan that morning. We took pictures that are packed away somewhere.
As we looked around we talked about how just two days before we walked through the World Trade Center court after taking the PATH train to New Jersey. We had discussed coming back to go up to the observation deck sometime that week.
By later in the afternoon we had worked our way back up to the West Side and sat down in Riverside Park. It was still a beautiful day. We finally got through to our parents on our cell phones. Although we were right there, we still felt isolated from it all. We didn’t know anyone involved. We barely knew anyone at all. We had just got there. It really felt like limbo.
Later, after a year or two, as we met people who had been living there for some time and talked about our experience, we learned that many people who were in the same situation as us, just moved to NYC, had actually left. I guess it never occurred to us to leave. At least not for a few more years. And then it wasn’t because of 9/11.
The rest of that week was tough. The city was effectively closed. We felt lucky to find an apartment by the end of the week. But the temp-work industry had shrunk. We always heard from singer and actor friends that temping was a good way to make enough to live on and pay for lessons and classes. But there was much less work now, because a lot of it was downtown.
Gina actually did work a couple temp jobs during that first month. One was in an office that overlooked the site. I don’t think she liked that much. She worked with people that were directly impacted.
My memory of the next month is filled with the song “Amazing Grace”. That was the song of choice for many of the funerals for the Police and Fire fighters lost. It was every day for a long time.
I don’t know if New York ever got back to normal while we were there because I only knew it in a post-9/11 light. I know everyone felt it for a long time. For many months we would see workers on the subway covered in dust and you knew that they were working on clearing the debris.
We visited the site whenever friends would be in town. So we saw the gradual dismantlement and clearing of what remained of the buildings. We noticed the increased number of police, heavily armed police, at the bus stations, main subway stations and train stations.
And then there where the airports. We unfortunately had to fly whenever we went home to visit. The first time was a month later in October to go and get the rest of our belongings for the move.
Everywhere had high security. We were out putting up flyers to advertise my website and voice teaching. We happened to pass the David Letterman show and they had people on the street trying to get people to come in for the show. There was very little tourism after the attack so they were having a hard time filling an audience.
So we decided that this was a good chance to see the show. We had our backpacks with us and never thought anything of the fact we had scissors. Well they certainly did. So we had to give up our scissors and pick them up at the stage door after the show. A fun byproduct of that is we got to see Allan Coulter (the announcer) leaving.
I know I will always feel the impact of that day. Not only because of the significance it holds for our nation, but also because of the personal circumstances we happened to be in when it happened. Now, ten years later, I have my own children and I can’t imagine the incredible loss that was suffered by so many.
Our thoughts, as always on this day, go out to the victims and their families.